Overnight Defense: Pentagon confirms North Korea weapons test | Air Force Academy no longer allowing transgender students to enroll | Trump officials clash over arms control report

Happy Thursday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Ellen Mitchell, and here’s your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.


THE TOPLINE: Acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanOvernight Defense: US strike in Somalia kills ISIS deputy | Trump’s love of acting officials | Terrorist designation against Iranian military unit takes effect | Kim sets deadline for talks with US Trump learns to love acting officials Overnight Defense: Shanahan expects more troops to deploy to border | Transgender ban takes effect | International court rejects probe into alleged Afghanistan war crimes MORE confirmed Thursday that North Korea conducted a weapons test the day before, but said the weapon was “not a ballistic missile.”

“I’m not going to go into the detailed intelligence, but the way I’d characterize is it is not a ballistic missile,” Shanahan told reporters ahead of a meeting with Albania’s defense minister.

Pressed on whether North Korea fired something into the air or conducted a ground test, Shanahan said “you could use shoot, launch, test — they’re very synonymous terms.”


He did not directly answer a question on whether the weapon was a new capability.

“I’m not being cagey here, it’s just what’s important is it wasn’t ballistic,” he said.

Shanahan added that there has been “no change to our posture or to our operations” after the test.

What happened Wednesday: North Korean state media announced Wednesday night that leader Kim Jong Un had observed the test firing of a “new-type tactical guided weapon.”

Kim called the test “an event of very weighty significance,” according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

KCNA did not specify what type of weapon was tested, but experts noted the use of the word “tactical” appeared to imply something short-range.

As such, the test did not appear to violate North Korea’s self-imposed moratorium on missile and nuclear tests.

Denuclearization a bust? President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Dems demand Barr cancel ‘inappropriate’ press conference on Mueller report DOJ plans to release ‘lightly redacted’ version of Mueller report Thursday: WaPo Nadler accuses Barr of ‘unprecedented steps’ to ‘spin’ Mueller report MORE has said he is in no rush to reach a denuclearization deal with Kim so long as he maintains the moratorium.

Wednesday’s test was being interpreted as a sign of increasing impatience by North Korea as talks with Trump stall.

Shanahan said Thursday he did not want to “rush” to judgment on the message being sent by North Korea ahead of fully analyzing intelligence. But the fact that the weapon was not a ballistic missile is “a statement in and of itself,” he said.

A February summit between Trump and Kim ended with an impasse over sanctions relief, and there have been no signs of closing the gap between Washington and Pyongyang since.

Last week, Kim said he would be open to a third summit with Trump, but gave the United States until the end of the year to be more flexible in negotiations. 

Pompeo out of talks? Following news of a possible test launch, North Korea on Thursday demanded that the U.S. keep Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump admin announces new restrictions on travel to Cuba Russia is gaining influence in Libya: How will Washington respond? Trump reverses policy, allows lawsuits against businesses in Cuba MORE out of future nuclear negotiations, instead requesting someone “who is more careful and mature.”

Senior foreign ministry official Kwon Jong Gun was quoted saying in North Korea’s KCNA news agency that whenever Pompeo “pokes his nose in, talks between the two countries go wrong without any results even from the point close to success.”

“I am afraid that, if Pompeo engages in the talks again, the table will be lousy once again and the talks will become entangled,” Kwon added, according to Reuters.

Therefore, even in the case of possible resumption of the dialogue with the United States, I wish our dialogue counterpart would be not Pompeo but other person who is more careful and mature in communicating with us,” Kwon added.


AIR FORCE ACADEMY WILL NO LONGER ALLOW TRANSGENDER STUDENTS TO ENROLL: Transgender people selected for the U.S. Air Force Academy after April 12 will not be permitted to enroll in the academy unless they meet the Defense Department’s new criteria, a spokesperson told The Hill.

“If they were selected before that though they would fall under the earlier policy,” Air Force Academy spokesperson Tracy Bunko said in a statement on the policy.

“Because being at the Air Force Academy leads to a commission in the Air Force they must meet DOD military commissioning standards,” she added.

The new rules: Under the Pentagon’s new rules, which went into effect Friday, transgender people are only allowed to serve under their biological sex. People who have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria will not be allowed to serve unless they have not and do not plan to transition, will be serving under their biological sex and are certified stable for 36 months by a medical professional.

The Air Force Academy does not have a separate policy from the Defense Department. The Pentagon has said that the policy is not a ban on transgender individuals serving in the military.

“I would reiterate that the department will continue to treat all individuals with dignity and respect, and every service member is able to express their gender identity,” Pentagon spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell said in an email Friday. “DOD will take no action solely based on gender identity.”

Other service academies: The Capital Gazette first reported that the U.S. Naval Academy will also bar transgender people from enrolling beginning with the class of 2020. 

“Our understanding is that the policy will go into effect for those students applying to enter the Naval Academy in 2020, beginning with the Class of 2024,” a Naval Academy spokesperson told The Hill in a statement.


US OFFICIALS CLASH OVER IRAN ARMS CONTROL DOCUMENT: State Department and intelligence officials reportedly clashed over a Trump administration report on international arms control compliance, expressing concerns that the report politicized evaluations about Iran, Reuters reported Wednesday.

The clash reportedly occurred on Tuesday when the State Department briefly posted an unclassified version of its annual report on international cooperation with arms control agreements before removing it, according to the news service.

Intelligence officials reportedly were concerned about the report’s framing, saying they suspected it was painting Iran in a deliberately unflattering light rather than providing an objective assessment, Reuters reported, citing five sources familiar with the matter.

The State Department’s stance: A State Department spokesperson defended the report’s assessment of Iran, telling The Hill that it was “informed by careful assessment of all relevant information.”

“As the United States was only a participant in the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or Iran deal] for part of the reporting period, this Compliance Report examines as a matter of discretion, activities that are relevant to Iran’s JCPOA commitments without making adherence assessments,” the spokesperson said.

“The findings in the reports are informed by careful assessment of all relevant information, including information related to the existence of the archive, which raises serious questions regarding whether Iran intended to preserve the option to resume elements of a nuclear weapons program in the future, in the event a decision were made to do so.”

What the report says: The unclassified report did not include assessments of Russian compliance with agreements such as New START or the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, according to Reuters.

It also omitted detailed analysis that had appeared in previous years’ reports on several nations’ adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, including Iran, Myanmar, North Korea and Syria, according to the outlet. Instead, the document reportedly included five paragraphs under the heading “country concerns,” according to Reuters.

The document, which is reportedly 12 pages — down from 45 pages last year — did not include determinations by the International Atomic Energy Agency and U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran has complied with the 2015 deal restricting its civilian nuclear program, Reuters reported. 

Instead, it reportedly said questions remained about whether Iran plans to resume a nuclear weapons program, noting that the nation retained a nuclear archive, according to Reuters.

Background: The report comes after the U.S. recently designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, the first time the designation has been applied to a government entity. Iran responded by making the same designation for U.S. forces in the Middle East.



— The Hill: Kim Jong Un to visit Russia this month: Kremlin

— The Hill: North Korean leader Kim supervises ‘new-type tactical guided weapon’ test

— The Hill: Opinion: What must the leaders of Russia, China, North Korea be thinking?

— The Hill: Opinion: There could be a turning point in Israeli-Palestinian peace effort

— The Hill: Opinion: On China and North Korea, let Trump be Trump

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