All eyes on Geneva as Blinken and Lavrov try again to find off-ramp to Ukraine crisis


IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED: This morning in Geneva, Switzerland, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are giving diplomacy another go in an effort to defuse the crisis created by Russia’s massing of an estimated 100,000 troops on the border of Ukraine.

“I'll urge that Russia find its way back to the agreements it swore to over the decades and to working with the United States and our allies and partners in Europe to write a future that can ensure our mutual security but also make clear that that possibility will be extinguished by Russian aggression against Ukraine, which would also do the very thing Moscow complains about: bolster the NATO defensive alliance,” Blinken said in a speech in Berlin ahead of his face to face with Lavrov.

“These are difficult issues we're facing. Resolving them won't happen quickly. I certainly don't expect we'll solve them in Geneva,” Blinken said. “But we can advance our mutual understanding. And that, combined with de-escalation of Russia's military buildup on Ukraine's borders — that can turn us away from this crisis in the weeks ahead.”

BIDEN TRIES AGAIN: Pretty much everyone in the top levels of the Biden administration took a whack at walking back Biden’s Wednesday gaffe, in which the president suggested a “minor incursion” by Russia into Ukraine might draw a lesser response from a divided NATO alliance.

Vice President Kamala Harris insisted on ABC’s Good Morning America that “any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” would trigger the harsh sanctions promised by Biden. In Germany, Blinken said any movement of Russian forces across the border would do it.

And finally, Biden himself tried to clean up the mess he made with his off-the-cuff remark, insisting Russian President Vladimir Putin knows exactly what he meant. “He has no misunderstanding. If any — any — assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion,” Biden said before meeting with his infrastructure implementation task force.

But then, Biden referred to what he called “gray-zone” attacks and actions by Russian soldiers not wearing Russian uniforms. “Remember when they moved into the Donbas with ‘Little Green Men’? … Well, that includes ‘Little Green Men’ in uniforms, as well as cyberattack,” he said.

“We have to be ready to respond to these as well — and decisively — in a united way, with a range of tools at our disposal,” seeming to indicate a different response to such “gray-zone” tactics.

“Russia has a lot of tools in its playbook, some of them short of outright military action -- destabilizing action, hybrid attacks, paramilitary tactics,” said Blinken in Germany. “And in each of those scenarios, we've been working very closely together to make sure that we effectively define our coordinated response.”


DAMAGE DONE: Florida Rep. Mike Waltz , a former Green Beret, was among the many Republicans in Congress yesterday who weren’t satisfied with Biden’s attempt to explain away his “minor incursion” blunder.

“He may have used his team to try to spin and backtrack afterward, but Putin got the message, the Kremlin got the message, the Ukrainian people got the message. I have to tell you, the Chinese, the North Koreans, the Iranian Regime, the Taliban, al Qaeda, and ISIS all got the message too,” Waltz said at a Capitol Hill news conference with fellow Republican House members.

“The number one job of the commander in chief is to keep this country safe, and yesterday, Joe Biden literally * threw the Ukrainian people under the bus by essentially giving the Russians a green light, and giving Putin a green light, if they only make a ‘minor incursion,’” Waltz said. “Words matter when you are in this type of crisis, and words matter when you’re standing at the presidential podium.”

*GRAMMAR NOTE: The Merriam-Webster online dictionary now includes a definition of “literally” to also mean “figuratively,” as in “in effect” or “virtually” — used in an exaggerated way to emphasize a statement or description that is not literally true or possible. You can literally read the debate here .


Good Friday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense , written and compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre ( @jamiejmcintyre ) and edited by Victor I. Nava . Email here with tips, suggestions, calendar items, and anything else. Sign up or read current and back issues at . If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email and we’ll add you to our list. And be sure to follow us on Twitter: @dailyondefense .


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HAPPENING TODAY: President Joe Biden will meet virtually this morning with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida . The 8 a.m. session is scheduled to last one hour and is intended to “further deepen ties between our governments, economies, and our people, and advance our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific,” according to the White House.

The first talks between Biden and Kishida come as North Korea has stepped up its testing of short-range missiles and hypersonic weapons, and has hinted it may restart its nuclear program and long-range missile tests in response to what Pyongyang calls the “hostile policy and military threat by the U.S.” that has “reached a danger line that can not be overlooked.”


ONLY ‘A MATTER OF WEEKS’ FOR IRAN TALKS TO SUCCEED: The Biden administration has been warning for months that time is running out to reach an agreement with Iran to return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Talks in Vienna are in their eighth round, and at the rate Iran is processing Uranium, it will soon be too late to recapture the benefits of the original deal, according to Blinken.

“If a deal is not reached in the coming weeks, Iran's ongoing nuclear advances, which resumed after we withdrew from the agreement, will make it impossible for us to return to the JCPOA,” Blinken said in Berlin.

“The longer this goes on — which is why it can't go on much longer — the more Iran will continue to advance its nuclear program,” he said. “And shorter the so-called breakout time will become — that is the time it would take Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.”

“The negotiations in Vienna have not entered a decisive phase, but the decisive phase,” said German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock . “We are in the truest sense of the expression running out of time.”

“Iran is increasing the nuclear spiral of escalation,” Baerbock said. “Uranium enrichment up to the level of 60% that has been achieved by Iran is unparalleled for a country that has no nuclear weapons. And there's no plausible explanation for that, nor has Iran tried to provide such a plausible explanation.”

Blinken says he believes there is still time to return to mutual compliance. “We've seen, I would say, some modest progress in the last couple of weeks in the talks, but we are not where we need to be. And if we don't get there very soon, we will have to take a different course.”

HAVANA SYNDROME STILL A MYSTERY: The interim conclusion by the CIA that the mysterious illness suffered by diplomats and others is not the result of an attack by a foreign adversary has some lawmakers scratching their heads, along with people who say they suffered debilitating symptoms from what they believe were energy weapons.

“Taking into account all of the intelligence we have collected and reviewed, at this point we assess that it is unlikely that a foreign actor, including Russia, is conducting a sustained worldwide campaign harming U.S. personnel with a weapon or a mechanism,” a U.S. official told the Washington Examiner .

“While Director [William] Burns has earned the trust of the Senate Intelligence Committee that he is taking this challenge seriously, it’s important to note that today’s assessment, while rigorously conducted, reflects only the interim work of the CIA task force,” said Chairman Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia.

“The Senate Intelligence Committee will continue pressing for answers on a bipartisan basis, and we look forward to robust engagement with the intelligence community, as well as the conclusions of the outside experts panel that has been assembled to seek answers to these very urgent and difficult questions.”


CURB THE DRONE STRIKES: A group of 50 members of Congress, all Democrats, have written to President Joe Biden calling on him to overhaul U.S. counterterrorism policy to increase protection of civilians and limit using lethal force to when it is lawful and the last resort.

The letter signed by 11 senators and 39 house members says the current targeting criteria for drone strikes have led to the deaths of thousands of civilians, with little accountability. It cites both the Aug. 29th strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, which led to 10 civilian deaths, including seven children, as well as a potentially unlawful 2019 strike in Baghuz, Syria, which the military never independently investigated.

“Over successive administrations spanning nearly two decades, presidents have claimed virtually unlimited, unilateral power to use lethal force around the world and without congressional authorization, killing not only armed actors but also innocent civilians — even American citizens,” wrote the lawmakers, led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Chris Murphy , and Rep. Ro Khanna .

“Without systematic reforms centered on human rights and international law, the status quo will continue to undermine counterterrorism objectives, produce significant human and strategic costs, and erode the rule of law and the United States’s image abroad.”


The Rundown

Washington Examiner : White House spends day in cleanup mode after Biden press conference

Washington Examiner : Blinken tries to clean up after Biden in Germany

Washington Examiner : Ukrainian president tells Biden 'there are no minor incursions'

Washington Examiner : White House: No Biden-Zelensky contact after Ukraine 'minor incursion' remarks

Washington Examiner : Kremlin: Ukraine conflict more likely after Biden remarks

Washington Examiner : Florida National Guardsmen are caught in the Russia-Ukraine conflict

Washington Examiner : Treasury Department sanctions four Ukrainians for aiding Russia

Washington Examiner : GOP lawmaker wants to protect Taiwan as Ukraine fears Russian invasion

Washington Examiner : Havana Syndrome not likely a foreign operation: CIA

Washington Examiner : Russia had weapons to cause 'Havana Syndrome' in the '90s. Why is the CIA casting doubt on this now?

Washington Examiner : DOJ drops China Initiative case against MIT professor

Washington Examiner : Space jam: As Earth orbit becomes more congested and contested, critical satellites are at risk

Washington Examiner : Opinion: Biden saves Iran from itself

Reuters : U.S. Seeks Way To Speed Delivery Of New Fighter Jets To Taiwan

Washington Times : Joint Naval Drills Reflect Growing Ties Between China, Russia And Iran

Reuters : Britain Warns Putin And Xi: West Will Stand Up To ‘Dictatorship’

Military Times : No Active Duty COVID Deaths Since Vaccination Deadlines, But Reserve Deaths Continue

Navy Times : Naval Academy Offers Looser Liberty If More Students Get COVID Booster

Air Force Magazine : Air Combat Command Designates Five ‘Lead Wings’

Popular Mechanics : Can The U.S. Navy Finally Deliver A New Frigate To The Fleet?

Task & Purpose : The Marine Corps Is Officially Flying Its ‘Most Powerful’ Helicopter Ever

Air Force Magazine : National Guard Has ‘Huge Problem’ in Addressing Sexual Assault, Lawmaker Says

Air Force Magazine : Plan ‘Raises the Bar’ for Securing DOD Computer Systems

CBS News : Marine Charged In North Carolina Military Vehicle Crash That Killed 2 Marines And Injured 17 Others : Mojave: The US Military's Next Super Drone? : Why North Korea's Threat to Test ICBMs and Nuclear Weapons Is Serious : The Inside Story of Why Donald Trump's North Korea Strategy Failed : China Freaked Out: The US Military Is Sending Dozens of Stealth F-35s to Asia : Opinion: Minor Incursion Or Not: America Wants Russia to Know It Is Ready for a Ukraine Crisis : Opinion: What Will Joe Biden Do If North Korea Tests Nuclear Weapons or ICBMs?



10 a.m. — Middle East Policy Council virtual Capitol Hill Conference: “Rise of China in the Middle East,” with former Rep. Jim Moran , D-Va., senior policy adviser at Nelson Mullins; Asha Castleberry-Hernandez , senior adviser at the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs; Jon Alterman, senior vice president and director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Middle East Program; former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman , MEPC board member and former assistant Defense secretary for international security affairs; former U.S. Ambassador to Oman Richard Schmierer , MEPC chairman of the board and president; and Bassima Alghussein , MEPC executive director


11:30 a.m. EST/5:30 p.m. CET — NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg holds joining news conference at NATO headquarters with foreign ministers of Finland, Pekka Haavisto , and Sweden, Ann Linde


10 a.m. — Senate Armed Services committee closed hearing on “U.S. Policy on Afghanistan,” with secret testimony from Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin CLOSED, no webcast

10 a.m. — American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research web event: “What to look for in Biden’s National Security Strategy,” with Mackenzie Eaglen , senior fellow, AEI; Paul Lettow , former senior director for strategic planning, National Security Council; and Gabriel Scheinmann , executive director, Alexander Hamilton Society


11 a.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies book launch: Spies, Lies, and Algorithms: The History and Future of American Intelligence , with author Amy Zegart , senior fellow, the Hoover Institution and Freeman Spogli Institute of International Studies; and Jake Harrington , intelligence fellow, CSIS International Security Program


“When you talk to people, when you hear them, when you hear what they've been through, there is no doubt in my mind but that they have had real experiences, real symptoms, and real suffering. And we are going to continue to do everything we can with all the resources we can bring to bear to understand, again, what happened, why, and who might be responsible. And we are leaving no stone unturned.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on the CIA’s conclusion that mysterious “Havana Syndrome” was not likely caused by a foreign power.

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