“go back to school.” Mr. Trump’s last director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, chose not to release a threat assessment or testify before Congress last year.

View Source

U.S. Is Expected to Approve Some Arms Sales to U.A.E. and Saudis

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration plans to suspend the sale of many offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia approved under the Trump administration, but it will allow the sale of other matériel that can be construed to have a defensive purpose, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

The plan, which was briefed to Congress last week, is part of an administration review of billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that the White House announced soon after President Biden’s inauguration.

The original sales were met with strong opposition last year from Democrats in Congress, who are angry over the countries’ involvement in the war in Yemen and wary of the transfer of advanced military technology to authoritarian Middle Eastern states with ties to China.

The Biden administration will approve $23 billion in weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates, according to a State Department spokesman, including F-35 fighter jets and armed Reaper drones. Biden administration officials signaled at the time of the review that those arms, sold to the Emirates soon after it had signed a diplomatic agreement with Israel brokered by the Trump administration, were likely to be approved.

killings of civilians, including many children, because of the use of such bombs by the Saudi-led coalition.

Raytheon Company, the biggest supplier of the bombs, lobbied the Trump administration to continue the sales, despite a growing outcry from humanitarian groups, members of Congress and some in the State Department.

The suspension does not cover sales of any other kinds of weapons to Saudi Arabia, U.S. officials said. Weapons used by helicopters would still be permitted, as well as ground-to-ground munitions and small arms. Electronics equipment, including jamming technology, would also be permitted. The Saudi military receives almost all its weapons from the United States.

formally notified lawyers about the decision, which officials say was made this year as part of a lawsuit opposing the agreement brought by the nonprofit New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs.

The Emirates played a big role in the Yemen war but stepped back recently. As part of negotiations last year to try to persuade the Emirates to normalize relations with Israel, the Trump administration told Emirati officials that it would accelerate approval of sales of F-35 fighter jets and drones.

U.S. officials said on Wednesday that Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken received the report this week from other offices in the State Department, and that he was expected to approve it. The report would then go to the National Security Council for final approval.

“I and many other House members remain concerned about the proposed sale of $23 billion in arms to the U.A.E.,” said Representative Gregory W. Meeks, Democrat of New York and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He said he had “many questions about any decision by the Biden administration to go forward with the Trump administration’s proposed transfers” of the fighter jets, drones and munitions to the Emirates.

Israeli officials and some members of Congress have expressed concerns that the sales of F-35s would weaken what they called Israel’s “qualitative military edge” over other countries in the region, and that Congress requires presidential administrations to maintain it as a matter of law. Israel is currently the only country in the region with F-35s.

Other U.S. officials have been concerned about selling the F-35, one of the military’s most advanced pieces of hardware, to the United Arab Emirates when it is developing a closer relationship with China, which is notorious for technological espionage. American officials are worried about the radar and stealth abilities of F-35s and some drone technology, among other things.

Ms. Fontenrose added that some officials had additional concerns that the Emirates might employ American-made weapons, including Reaper drones, in the Libyan civil war, where it has intervened. She said the Emirates had provided the Trump administration with “assurances” on that front.

The State Department official, who requested anonymity to discuss policies that had not been officially announced, noted that it would take years to complete the Emirati arms deal and that during that period the administration would ensure that the country was living up to obligations, such as to protect American technology and to ensure that U.S. arms were not used in contexts that violate human rights and the laws of conflict.

Mr. Meeks echoed that point. “Fortunately, none of these transfers would occur anytime soon,” he said, “so there will be ample time for Congress to review whether these transfers should go forward and what restrictions and conditions would be imposed.”

Mr. Trump’s deal with the Emirates was approved soon after it had agreed to join the Abraham Accords, which normalized its diplomatic relations with Israel for the first time.

Some Democrats complained that the arms sales appeared to have been an inappropriate inducement for the Emirates to agree to the accords, which largely formalized a relationship that had grown steadily friendlier for many years.

“I still don’t believe it’s in our interest to fuel a spiraling arms race in the Middle East,” said Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut and a leading critic in Congress of the arms sales and of U.S. ties to Gulf Arab states. “I have requested a briefing from the administration regarding the status of the review of both the U.A.E. and Saudi sales.”

View Source

John Kerry Heads to China to Talk Climate

President Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, was set to arrive in China on Wednesday, the first Biden administration official to visit the country at a moment of high diplomatic tensions.

In its formal announcement of the trip, the State Department said that Mr. Kerry would “discuss raising global climate ambition” ahead of a virtual climate summit that President Biden plans to host for dozens of world leaders later this month. The summit’s goal is to prod countries to do more to reduce carbon emissions and limit planetary warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius, a threshold scientists argue is needed to avert catastrophic changes to life on the planet.

President Biden has invited China’s leader, Xi Jinping, to the summit, but Mr. Xi has not yet accepted the invitation. His participation in an American diplomatic initiative, were it to happen, would be a significant sign of China’s willingness to work with the United States despite rising tensions over sanctions and other measures the new administration has taken in coordination with its allies.

Mr. Kerry’s visit to China underscores the Biden administration’s intent to cooperate with China on shared challenges, including climate, the coronavirus and nuclear proliferation even as the countries are locked in an increasingly fraught political, technological and military competition.

Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and its military operations near Taiwan and in the South China Sea.

In a move likely to anger Beijing, the State Department also announced on Tuesday that a delegation of former American officials, including two former deputy secretaries of state, would visit Taiwan as a “personal signal” of Mr. Biden’s commitment to the island democracy, which Beijing claims as part of its territory. Chinese officials have sharply criticized the administration’s signals of support for Taiwan.

Mr. Biden has made clear that he sees China as a leading strategic threat to America. At a testy diplomatic summit in Anchorage last month, senior Chinese and American officials traded sharply critical assessments of each other’s policies.

The visit by Mr. Kerry comes after the release of a major annual intelligence report on Tuesday that warned China’s effort to expand its growing influence represents one of the largest threats to the United States. China’s strategy, according to the report, is to drive wedges between the United States and its allies. The report also identified climate change as a growing threat to the United States.

Biden officials understand that effectively tackling climate change requires cooperation from China, the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gas. As secretary of state in the Obama administration, Mr. Kerry himself helped to secure China’s agreement to join the 2015 Paris Climate accords.

specific new targets for reducing emissions. He pledged last year to speed up the point when emissions peak in China, which had previously been in 2030, and to reach “carbon neutrality” by 2060 — meaning that the country would emit no more emissions than it takes from the atmosphere by planting forests or engineering.

Environmentalists cheered those goals, but later expressed disappointment that the Chinese government did not detail how to reach them when they unveiled a new five-year economic plan in March.

At the same time, China has continued to approve new coal plants, one of the leading sources of carbon emissions, prioritizing social stability and economic development of an important industry at home.

Thom Woodroofe, an analyst at the Asia Society Policy Institute who is studying Chinese-American climate cooperation, said at a talk last month that both countries seemed to want to insulate the issue of climate change from their other disputes.

“From China’s perspective, there’s a recognition that they have more to gain than lose from finding a way to cooperate with the United States on climate,” he said.

While President Trump was in the White House, China raised its profile as a leading player in climate change policy. “With Biden’s inauguration, they don’t simply want that position to be swept aside,” he said.

Chris Buckley contributed reporting and Claire Fu contributed research.

View Source

Swiss Billionaire Is a Top Bidder for the Tribune Newspapers

Mr. Wyss, who has pledged to donate half his money to charity, has given hundreds of millions to environmental and conservation causes. Through his foundations, he has gradually increased his donations to groups that promote abortion rights, minimum wage increases and other progressive causes.

He became a member of the Democracy Alliance, a club of liberal donors, as well as the board of the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank that got its start with support from Democracy Alliance donors. The think tank and its sister political group have received more than $6.1 million from foundations linked to Mr. Wyss, according to tax filings.

Mr. Podesta, the founder of the Center for American Progress, has also advised the Wyss Foundation, including on the hiring of The Hub Project’s executive director, Arkadi Gerney, a former official at the Center for American Progress, according to people with knowledge of the arrangement.

The Hub Project came out of the idea that Democrats should be more effective in conveying their arguments through the news media and directly to voters. Its business plan, a 21-page document prepared for the Wyss Foundation in 2015, recommended that the group “be solely funded by the Wyss Foundation at the outset” and that it would work behind the scenes to “dramatically shift the public debate and policy positions of core decision makers.” The plan added that The Hub Project “is not intended to be the public face of campaigns.”

The Hub Project is part of an opaque network managed by a Washington consulting firm, Arabella Advisors, that has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars through a daisy chain of groups supporting Democrats and progressive causes. The system of political financing, which often obscures the identities of donors, is known as dark money, and Arabella’s network is a leading vehicle for it on the left.

The Arabella network has similarities to the operation created by the Kochs. Democrats have long criticized the Kochs and others who have engaged in the hard-to-track political spending unleashed in part by the Supreme Court’s decision in the 2010 Citizens United case.

The Arabella network’s money flows through four nonprofits that serve as parent structures for a range of groups, including The Hub Project. The nonprofits then pass some of the funds along to other nonprofit groups or super PACs.

View Source

Will Afghanistan Become a Terrorism Safe Haven Once Again?

“The terrorism threat from the Afghan region is not zero, but, at the moment, it’s less than it is in other parts of the world,” Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview on Tuesday. “So the question is, can we continue to suppress the terrorism threat” from southwest Asia “without our troops being on the ground in Afghanistan?”

If the United States withdraws from Afghanistan, it is not clear whether Al Qaeda could rebuild a base there for carrying out terrorist attacks against the United States, according to senior lawmakers with access to the classified assessments. And even if Al Qaeda could rebound, some officials have asked if the group might choose another lawless region over Afghanistan.

“What is that threat really going to be?” Representative Adam Smith, Democrat of Washington and the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said last month during a virtual conference on Afghanistan. “This isn’t the 1990s when Al Qaeda set up camps, and they had the Taliban and no one was paying attention to them.”

But collecting intelligence will become far more difficult once U.S. troops leave, current and former officials acknowledged. While some counterterrorism operations against terrorists inside Afghanistan can be conducted from far-flung bases in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere outside the country, they are risky and difficult to pull off. Mr. Biden or future presidents may be reluctant to approve them.

And with a weakened Afghan government facing pressure from the Taliban, conditions would be ripe for Qaeda cells to grow, some counterterrorism officials said.

“Ungoverned spaces, let alone a known terrorist organization like the Taliban dominating a nation, is altogether an ideal breeding ground for disparate terrorist groups that threaten the United States to find save haven and shelter,” said Marc Polymeropoulos, a former C.I.A. officer who spent much of his career working on counterterrorism operations, including in Afghanistan.

Though the threat from international terrorist groups operating from Afghanistan is low, it might not stay that way, said Michael P. Mulroy, a former Pentagon official and C.I.A. officer who served in Afghanistan. U.S. counterterrorism operations have put continuous pressure on terrorist groups throughout the Afghanistan war. Once the troops leave, he said, that pressure will decline and the ability to collect intelligence in the region will suffer.

View Source

The Biden Administration Is Quietly Keeping Tabs on Inflation

“We think the likeliest outlook over the next several months is for inflation to rise modestly,” two officials at Mr. Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, Jared Bernstein and Ernie Tedeschi, wrote on Monday in a blog post outlining some of the administration’s thinking. “We will, however, carefully monitor both actual price changes and inflation expectations for any signs of unexpected price pressures that might arise as America leaves the pandemic behind and enters the next economic expansion.”

Some Republicans call that posture dangerous. Senator Rick Scott of Florida, the chairman of his party’s campaign arm for the 2022 midterm elections, has called on Mr. Biden and Mr. Powell to present plans to fight inflation now.

“The president’s refusal to address this critical issue has a direct negative effect on Floridians and families across our nation, and hurts low- and fixed-income Americans the most,” Mr. Scott said in a news release last week. “It’s time for Biden to wake up from his liberal dream and realize that reckless spending has consequences, inflation is real and America’s debt crisis is growing. Inflation is rising and Americans deserve answers from Biden now.”

Economic teams in recent administrations spent little time worrying about inflation, because inflationary pressures have been tame for decades. It has fallen short of the Fed’s average target of 2 percent for 10 of the last 12 years, topping out at 2.5 percent in the midst of the longest economic expansion in history.

Shortly before the pandemic recession hit the United States in 2020, President Donald J. Trump’s economic team wrote that “price inflation remains low and stable” even with unemployment below 4 percent. As the economy struggled to climb out from the 2008 financial crisis under President Barack Obama, White House aides feared that prices might fall, instead of rise.

“Given the economic crisis, we worried about preventing deflation rather than inflation,” said Austan Goolsbee, a chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers during Mr. Obama’s first term.

The conversation has changed given the large amounts of money that the federal government is channeling into the economy, first under Mr. Trump and now under Mr. Biden. Since the pandemic took hold, Congress has approved more than $5 trillion in spending, including direct checks to individuals.

View Source

China Poses Biggest Threat to U.S., Intelligence Report Says

This year’s report offers a far more robust discussion of the national security implications of climate change, whose threats, for the most part, are long term, but can also have short-term consequences, the report said.

“This year, we will see increasing potential for surges in migration by Central American populations, which are reeling from the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic and extreme weather, including multiple hurricanes in 2020 and several years of recurring droughts and storms,” the report said.

It adds that the economic and political implications of the coronavirus would reverberate for years, predicting that the economic damage would worsen instability in a few countries, though it does not name them.

Combined with extreme weather caused by climate change, the report says the number of people worldwide experiencing acute hunger will rise to 330 million this year from 135 million. The report says that the pandemic has disrupted other health services, including polio vaccinations and H.I.V. treatments in Africa.

Typically, the director of national intelligence delivers the threat assessment to Congress and releases a written report alongside it. But no declassified assessment was issued last year, as the Trump administration’s intelligence agencies sought to avoid angering the White House.

In 2019, Dan Coats, then the director of national intelligence, delivered an analysis of threats from Iran, North Korea and the Islamic State that was at odds with President Donald J. Trump’s views. The testimony prompted Mr. Trump to lash out on Twitter, admonishing his intelligence chiefs to “go back to school.”

Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence; William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director; and other top intelligence officials will testify about the report on Wednesday and Thursday.

View Source

Pentagon Chief Orders New Review of Attack in Kenya That Killed 3 Americans

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has ordered a high-level review of an initial military investigation into an attack on a Kenyan base by Islamic extremists in January 2020 that left three Americans dead, the Pentagon said on Monday.

The brazen assault by about a dozen Shabab fighters at Manda Bay, a sleepy seaside base near the Somali border, marked the largest number of U.S. military-related fatalities in Africa since four soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger in October 2017.

The attack by the Shabab, Al Qaeda’s East Africa affiliate, revealed several glaring security shortfalls, an examination by The New York Times found soon after the assault, and underscored the American military’s limits on the continent, where a lack of intelligence, along with Manda Bay’s reputation as a quiet and unchallenged locale, allowed a lethal strike.

American commandos took about an hour to respond. Many of the local Kenyan forces, assigned to defend the base, hid in the grass while other American troops and support staff members were corralled into tents, with little protection, to wait out the battle. It would require hours to evacuate one of the wounded to a military hospital in Djibouti, roughly 1,000 miles away.

according to a statement that John F. Kirby, Mr. Austin’s spokesman, released late Monday. The Army appointed Gen. Paul Funk, the head of the service’s Training and Doctrine Command, to conduct the review.

“An independent review will provide added insight, perspective and the ability to assess the totality of this tragic event involving multiple military services and Department of Defense components,” Mr. Kirby said.

“It is the secretary’s desire to ensure there is a full examination and consideration of the contributing factors that led to this tragic event and that appropriate action is taken to reduce the risk of future occurrence,” Mr. Kirby added. “The families impacted deserve nothing less.”

An outside review of the Africa Command’s investigation could seek to avoid a repeat of the contentious Defense Department inquiry into the Niger attack in 2017. That report found widespread problems across all levels of the military counterterrorism operation, but focused in particular on the actions of junior officers leading up to the ambush — unfairly so in the view of many family members, lawmakers and even Jim Mattis, the defense secretary at the time.

ordered most of the 700 American troops in Somalia to leave the country, but not out of the region. Most of the forces transferred to nearby Djibouti or to Kenya, including Manda Bay, now with beefed up security. The Biden administration is conducting a review to determine whether to send any of those troops back to Somalia.

View Source