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President Trump, don't fall for North Korea's trap

Every week, I offer a glimpse of the kind of intelligence assessments that are likely to come across the desk of the ...

Posted: May 7, 2018 10:54 AM
Updated: May 14, 2018 8:34 AM

Every week, I offer a glimpse of the kind of intelligence assessments that are likely to come across the desk of the President of the United States. Modeled on the President's Daily Briefing, or PDB, which the director of national intelligence prepares for the President almost daily, my Presidential Weekly Briefing focuses on the topics and issues the President needs to know about to make informed decisions.

Here's this week's briefing:

North Korea: Beware of North Korean bait

While we work to finalize the substantive conditions for your meeting with Kim Jong Un, there are a lot of North Korean balls in the air.

The status of three Americans detained in North Korea is garnering attention, particularly after your Twitter message telling your followers to "stay tuned," and Rudy Giuliani's statements on their potential release.

The hostages' homecoming would be a welcome and positive step, but it is low cost for North Korea in terms of their strategic position and nuclear program.

The logistical details of your meeting with President Kim, Mr. President, are also grabbing headlines, particularly after you said that a date and location for the summit have been set.

South Korean President Moon is scheduled to meet with you in Washington on May 22, so the betting pools are putting your summit with Kim sometime in June. The "where" and "when" of the summit is getting a lot of attention alongside the "why."

Confusion around potential US force reductions on the Korean peninsula broke out after it was reported that you asked for troop reduction options from the Pentagon. John Bolton responded that the report was "utter nonsense."

Clearing up this confusion -- and any more that breaks out -- can take time away from preparing substantively for the summit. North Korea gains the upper hand if we lose our focus.

Kim may also be trying to goad you into a public exchange to take your attention away from the work at hand. On Sunday, North Korea reverted back to some of its previous PR tactics and said Washington was "misleading public opinion" by claiming that its "complete denuclearization" pledge was due to US sanctions or pressure.

They also said that Kim's "boldness, patriotism and leadership" contributed to the potential diplomatic breakthrough between the US and North Korea. Kim knows that you have credited your pressure campaign with getting him to the table and probably thinks he can throw you off by trying to steal your thunder.

The North Koreans have traded public insults and escalatory rhetoric with you before, and they may be trying to throw you off. They know there's a lot of real work to do, and sowing confusion or anger on our side may be a tactic to distract you and gain the upper hand in any upcoming negotiation.

Russia: The Czar wants to be loved

Putin's presidential inauguration -- for his fourth presidential term -- is on Monday, and we can already read the Russian headlines praising him. With at least six more years in power ahead of him, we assess that Putin will use his inauguration as a springboard to double down on quieting any domestic discontent so that he can focus on what he does best (causing trouble).

Putin has limited the ability of Russians to legally protest and arrested those that do, including on Saturday when police detained about 1,600 demonstrators protesting against him. The main opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, who was barred from running in the last election, helped organize the demonstrations in about 90 locations in Russia, and he was among those arrested at the protest in Moscow. The protests don't represent a strategic threat to Putin, but are a sign that (surprise, surprise) not everyone is behind Putin's ongoing reign.

After his inauguration, we can expect the government to further limit the rights of Russians to organize and demonstrate. Putin wants to at least appear beloved.

Putin will also continue to limit free expression. We know that propaganda is king inside Putin's Russia. On the surface, there's media variety in Russia, but most media outlets are controlled or influenced by the state, and there is "limited access to critical or independent coverage and diverse political viewpoints."

Many media outlets are propaganda outlets, not platforms for free expression. While Putin has said that Russians are "right to speak" about issues like "low incomes, faults with the health care system, housing, utilities," that's mostly hot air, and actual coverage of any complaints will be limited.

Israel and Iran: The clock is ticking

With under a week left until you are due to certify the Iran deal, tensions with Iran, and between Iran and Israel, are becoming even higher. Iran has said that US demands to change the deal are unacceptable, and we could see a US withdrawal ignite a series of escalatory measures by Iran against the United States in the region.

We may also concurrently see Israeli measures against Iran predicated on fears that Iran will restart its nuclear program and concerns over Iran's ongoing malign behavior in the Middle East. On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu warned that Israel is "determined to stop Iran's aggression in its early stages, even if it ... involves a conflict." Israel has reportedly struck a series of Iranian-linked targets in Syria over the last several years -- some reports claim as recently as last week.

Last week, a bill passed in the Israeli Knesset that could signal Netanyahu is preparing for war, soon. The bill gave the Prime Minister the authority to declare war "in extreme circumstances" by consulting only the Minister of Defense, as opposed to the full cabinet as previously required.

These "extreme circumstances" aren't specified, which does give the Prime Minister a broader mandate. Iran is viewed as Israel's primary security threat, including its proxies in countries like Syria and Lebanon. It's possible that we will see an upcoming escalation in Israel's military operations against Iran.

When Netanyahu meets with Vladimir Putin on Wednesday he is expected to discuss Iran, the nuclear agreement, and the situation in Syria, all of which are potential flashpoints for Israeli action. He may warn Putin that, absent changes in situation, Israel may be changing its approach.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 34622

Reported Deaths: 1215
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds269748
DeSoto181818
Madison138236
Jones117349
Harrison104014
Rankin103515
Neshoba102274
Lauderdale94281
Forrest93943
Scott79215
Jackson72717
Washington64310
Copiah63115
Leake61320
Lee58621
Holmes57341
Oktibbeha56828
Wayne55416
Warren55320
Yazoo5436
Grenada5357
Lowndes52613
Leflore52256
Lincoln50935
Lamar5027
Pike47020
Sunflower4528
Lafayette4374
Monroe43635
Covington4195
Panola3996
Bolivar38018
Attala37524
Simpson3733
Newton35710
Adams34019
Pontotoc3266
Tate32313
Marion31312
Claiborne29310
Chickasaw29219
Winston28711
Pearl River27632
Noxubee2758
Marshall2693
Jasper2676
Clay25511
Union23811
Smith23412
Walthall2267
Coahoma2156
Clarke21425
Lawrence1992
Yalobusha1938
Kemper18014
Carroll17311
Tallahatchie1664
Humphreys15910
Montgomery1493
Calhoun1475
Tippah14411
Itawamba1418
Hancock13813
Webster12811
Tunica1193
Jefferson1173
Jefferson Davis1164
Prentiss1123
Greene10810
Amite1063
George1023
Wilkinson959
Tishomingo921
Quitman891
Alcorn852
Perry764
Choctaw754
Stone732
Franklin492
Benton420
Sharkey420
Issaquena101
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 49892

Reported Deaths: 1077
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson6030162
Mobile4418137
Montgomery4339109
Tuscaloosa254448
Madison19078
Marshall186611
Shelby150924
Lee149437
Morgan12205
Baldwin111410
Walker105127
Elmore98919
Dallas9639
Franklin92216
Etowah88214
DeKalb8416
Chambers65727
Russell6570
Autauga65313
Butler64328
Tallapoosa61669
Unassigned58626
Limestone5741
Houston5526
Cullman5395
Lauderdale5376
Lowndes48022
St. Clair4692
Colbert4656
Pike4595
Escambia4528
Calhoun4365
Coffee4074
Covington39911
Jackson3742
Bullock37010
Barbour3672
Dale3621
Talladega3497
Hale33722
Marengo33011
Wilcox2968
Clarke2946
Winston2893
Chilton2872
Sumter28512
Blount2731
Pickens2556
Monroe2492
Marion24514
Randolph2449
Conecuh2277
Perry2091
Bibb2081
Macon2069
Choctaw20212
Greene1928
Henry1433
Crenshaw1273
Washington1277
Lawrence1170
Cherokee1127
Geneva920
Lamar811
Fayette781
Clay742
Coosa621
Cleburne411
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