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A curated weekday guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
President Biden’s trip to the Middle East this week will herald the start of a new and more promising chapter of America’s engagement there, according to a piece by the President published by the Washington Post. “A more secure and integrated Middle East benefits Americans in many ways. Its waterways are essential to global trade and the supply chains we rely on. Its energy resources are vital for mitigating the impact on global supplies of Russia’s war in Ukraine. And a region that’s coming together through diplomacy and cooperation — rather than coming apart through conflict — is less likely to give rise to violent extremism that threatens our homeland or new wars that could place new burdens on U.S. military forces,” the piece says.
The Biden administration is discussing the possible lifting of its ban on U.S. sales of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia, but any final decision is expected to hinge on whether Riyadh makes progress toward ending the war in neighboring Yemen. Senior Saudi officials pressed their U.S. counterparts to scrap a policy of selling only defensive arms to its top Gulf partner in several meetings in Riyadh and Washington in recent months, three sources have said ahead of Biden’s visit to the kingdom this week. The internal U.S. deliberations are informal and at an early stage, with no decision imminent, two sources said. Matt Spetalnick, Aziz El Yaakoubi and Mike Stone report for Reuters.
U.S. contractor, L3Harris, has cited support from U.S. intelligence officials for their bid to buy the Israeli NSO Group, according to people familiar with the negotiations. This support is surprising given that the U.S. government recently put NSO on a blacklist because the Israeli firm’s spyware, called Pegasus, had been used by other governments to penetrate the phones of political leaders, human rights activists and journalists. News last month of L3Harris’s talks to purchase NSO seemed to blindside White House officials. After the website Intelligence Online reported on the possible sale, a top White House official said such a transaction would pose “serious counterintelligence and security concerns for the U.S. government” and that the administration would work to ensure that the deal did not happen. Mark Mazzetti and Ronen Bergman report for the New York Times.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will meet with Biden in Washington tomorrow, following a souring of relations between the two leaders. Whilst during the Trump administration, the U.S. -Mexico relationship focused solely on immigration and trade, the Biden administration has tried hard to re-institutionalize the relationship, leading to issues coming up that López Obrador is less comfortable talking about, according to Andrew Rudman, director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center. During the meeting, the two leaders “will discuss a broad and deep agenda, including joint efforts on migration, food security and economic opportunity, and so the president looks forward to having that conversation,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Friday. Mark Stevenson and Zeke Miller report for AP.
At a meeting with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi on Saturday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed him to change his position and join the U.S. and partners to “stand up” against Russia’s war. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Blinken dismissed China’s claims to be neutral in the war between Russia and Ukraine as implausible. “I tried to convey to the state councilor that this really is a moment where we all have to stand up” to condemn Russian aggression, Blinken said, using the foreign minister’s formal title. “I would start with the proposition that it’s pretty hard to be neutral when it comes to this aggression,” Blinken said, pointing out that China’s leader, Xi Jinping, had stood by his declaration in February of a partnership with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and had even held a joint strategic bomber exercise in May. Michael Crowley, Steven Erlanger and Catherine Porter report for the New York Times.
The world’s largest crypto exchange, Binance, continued to process trades by clients in Iran despite U.S. sanctions and a company ban on doing business there, a Reuters investigation has found. In 2018, the United States reimposed sanctions that had been suspended three years earlier as part of Iran’s nuclear deal with major world powers. That November, Binance informed traders in Iran it would no longer serve them, telling them to liquidate their accounts. But in interviews with Reuters, seven traders said they skirted the ban. The traders said they continued to use their Binance accounts until as recently as September last year, only losing access after the exchange tightened its anti-money laundering checks a month earlier. Tom Wilson and Angus Berwick report for Reuters.
Election officials say they are preparing for a range of challenges ahead of the fall midterms, as they seek to ward off cyber threats and restore voter confidence after a flood of unsubstantiated election-fraud claims. On the cybersecurity front, Russia, China, Iran and North Korea pose persistent threats along with other concerns including ransomware, said Jen Easterly, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency—the U.S. government’s top cyber unit. Federal and state officials have said they aren’t only guarding against cyber threats, but also protecting physical access to voting systems. Alexa Corse reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Filming police officers will soon be a misdemeanor offense in some cases in Arizona after Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed into law a bill prohibiting certain recordings of law-enforcement activity. The law bans people from recording police if those filming are within 8 feet of officers and have received a verbal warning. It defines law enforcement activity as officers questioning suspicious people, conducting an arrest or generally enforcing the law. Omar Abdel-Baqui and Ginger Adams Otis report for the Wall Street Journal.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
A former spokesperson for the Oath Keepers militia group is set to testify at tomorrow’s Jan. 6 committee hearing. Jason Van Tatenhove, a Colorado resident and former tattoo shop owner, is scheduled to appear to detail his work as a national media director for the Oath Keepers in 2015 and 2016 and what he says was the group’s radicalization during that period. His testimony is expected to focus on the role that the organization and other extremists played in efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Dan Friedman reports for Mother Jones.
With his criminal trial for contempt of Congress approaching, Stephen Bannon, an ally of former President Trump’s who was involved in his plans to overturn the 2020 election, has informed the Jan. 6 committee that he is now willing to testify. Bannon signaled in an email to the committee that he was prepared to initiate discussions about a time and place for an interview after Trump said in a letter he would waive executive privilege if he reached an agreement to testify. The email broadly reiterated Bannon’s legal defense that he was previously unable to comply with a subpoena from the panel because at the time, in a claim that has been disputed, the former president had asserted executive privilege over his testimony. Hugo Lowell reports for the Guardian.
Pat Cipollone, Trump’s former White House counsel, testified all day Friday behind closed doors to the Jan. 6 committee. The interview was previously expected to last only a few hours. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), a member of the committee who was present during the interview, said Cipollone didn’t invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. “We did learn some things,” she said, while declining to provide specific details about the interview or whether Cipollone cited executive or attorney-client privilege in response to questions. Scott Patterson and Teresa Mettela report for the Wall Street Journal.
The president of Sri Lanka, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who hasn’t been seen or heard from publicly since protesters overran his official residence this weekend, has reconfirmed his plan to step down, the country’s prime minister said today. The president told the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, that he would resign, Wickremesinghe’s spokesperson said. Rajapaksa’s plan to quit was first announced on Saturday by Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, the speaker of Parliament. Vivek Shankar and Skandha Gunasekara report for the New York Times.
Two days after Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe was gunned down at a campaign stop, his Liberal Democratic Party and its allies swept to victory in a parliamentary election that gave them a chance to pursue Abe’s long-held ambition of revising Japan’s pacifist Constitution. The Liberal Democrats and their coalition partners gained enough seats in Sunday’s election to form a crucial two-thirds supermajority. They can now amend a clause in the Constitution, imposed by postwar American occupiers, that renounces war. That long-held goal would open the door for Japan to become a military power, capable of global leadership. Motoko Rich reports for the New York Times.
A leaked trove of confidential files has revealed how Uber flouted laws, duped police, exploited violence against drivers and secretly lobbied governments during its global expansion. The leak of more than 124,000 documents, spans a five-year period when Uber was run by its co-founder Travis Kalanick. Leaked messages suggest Uber executives were under no illusions about the company’s law-breaking, with one executive joking they had become “pirates.” In one exchange, Kalanick dismissed concerns from other executives that sending Uber drivers to a protest in France put them at risk of violence from angry opponents in the taxi industry. “I think it’s worth it,” he shot back. “Violence guarantee[s] success.” The leak also contains texts between Kalanick and Emmanuel Macron, who secretly helped the company in France when he was economy minister, allowing Uber frequent and direct access to him and his staff. Harry Davies, Simon Goodley, Felicity Lawrence, Paul Lewis and Lisa O’Carroll report for the Guardian.
The Pacific Island Forum will begin today in Fiji, with leaders meeting to discuss how to gather more international support and funding to fight the impact of rising sea levels and climate change, as well as China’s ambitions for greater security ties across the region. However, the meeting has been overshadowed by the withdrawal of the remote Pacific island nation of Kiribati. Kiribati President Taneti Maamau said in a letter that his country would withdraw from the forum because it did not agree with the terms of a deal brokered weeks ago to solve a rift between Micronesian states and other members, and wanted the meeting delayed. Kirsty Needham reports for Reuters.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – FIGHTING
Three people have been killed and 31 wounded after Russian shelling hit the northeast Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, the regional governor said. The mayor of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, said on Telegram earlier today that the shelling struck civilian infrastructure including a commercial property and a tyre repair shop. Reuters reports.
Ukrainian officials expect the death toll from an attack in the eastern city of Chasiv Yar to rise, as two dozen people remain trapped under the rubble of two high-rise apartment buildings reportedly struck by Russian missiles. Six people have been pulled out of the rubble alive, and 18 people have died. “Unfortunately, this is not the final number,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in remarks Sunday evening, promising to find and punish those responsible. Russia carried out dozens of airstrikes across the country this weekend, Ukrainian officials said, with an intensifying focus on the Donetsk region. Byran Pietsch, Annabelle Timsit and Jennifer Hassan report for the Washington Post.
Ukrainian forces have made unsuccessful attempts to push against the Russian defensive line in the southeastern Kherson region, according to the U.K. Ministry of Defense’s latest intelligence update. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has urged residents of these southern regions to evacuate immediately, ahead of planned efforts by Ukrainian forces to “de-occupy” the area. They should leave even if it means temporarily heading to Russia or annexed Crimea: “It will be a huge fight,” she said on television, according to local media reports. Bryan Pietsch reports for the Washington Post.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE – OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said his country has “passed the test” with its successful use of recently delivered American long-range artillery systems. However, Reznikov also stressed that the high attrition rate along its extensive front lines has made the demand for additional supplies, such as armored vehicles and drones, more urgent. He also said that the need for longer-range weapons continues to outpace the Ukrainians’ demand for shorter-range systems as the war shifts primarily to an artillery battle. Vivian Salama reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Ukraine plans a “million-strong army” equipped with NATO weapons to retake the south of the country from occupying Russians, Reznikov said. Retaking the areas around the Black Sea coast was vital to the country’s economy, he added. The defense minister’s remarks come as Russia makes progress in taking territory in the eastern Donbas region. BBC News reports.
The French government is bracing for Moscow to completely shut off gas shipments to Europe. Speaking at the Rencontres Économiques, an economics forum in southern France, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said it would be “totally irresponsible to ignore” the possibility that Russia cuts the flow of gas more than it already has.“Let’s prepare for a total cutoff of Russian gas,” Le Maire said. “Today that is the most likely option.” Le Maire also said that countries must encourage residents and businesses to curb gas consumption. French legislators this week will debate a bill that would give the national government broad power to restrict use. Reis Thebault reports for the Washington Post.
COVID-19 has infected over 88.59 million people and has now killed over 1.02 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 555.466 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.35 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
A map and analysis of the vaccine rollout across the U.S. is available at the New York Times.
A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. is available at the New York Times.
U.S. and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post.
A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.