Overnight Defense: Pompeo rejects North Korean call for him to leave negotiations | Trump talk with rebel Libyan general raises eyebrows | New setback to Taliban talks

Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Rebecca Kheel, 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: Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Pentagon confirms North Korea weapons test | Air Force Academy no longer allowing transgender students to enroll | Trump officials clash over arms control report What must the leaders of Russia, China, North Korea be thinking? The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Inside the Mueller report MORE is letting North Korea know he’s not going anywhere.

Pompeo’s responded Friday to North Korea’s call for him to step down from leading negotiation by brushing it aside.

“Nothing’s changed,” Pompeo said at a news conference alongside acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanThe Hill’s Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? US intel suggests North Korea didn’t conduct successful weapon test: report 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 MORE and their Japanese counterparts. “We’re continuing to work, to negotiate. Still in charge of the team. President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassroots America shows the people support Donald Trump Trump speaks to rebel Libyan general attacking Tripoli Dem lawmaker: Mueller report shows ‘substantial body of evidence’ on obstruction MORE‘s obviously in charge of the overall effort, but it’ll be my team.”

Background: On the same day that North Korea announced a weapons test, the regime called for Pompeo to be replaced as the lead U.S. negotiator.

In a statement published by the Korean Central News Agency, Foreign Ministry official Kwon Jong Gun said Pompeo has been “letting loose reckless remarks and sophism of all kinds against us every day.”

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“Therefore, even in the case of possible resumption of the dialogue with the U.S., I wish our dialogue counterpart would be not Pompeo but other person who is more careful and mature in communicating with us,” the statement said.

About that test: CNN, citing an unnamed official, reported Thursday night that the weapons test North Korea announced this week was not of a fully functional weapon system, but of components for an anti-tank weapon.

Asked about the report at the Pentagon later Friday, Shanahan told reporters he didn’t “have the details.”

“I just haven’t been chasing it,” he said. “There’s been a few other priorities, so that’d give you kind of a sense of where it ranks.”

 

TRUMP, LIBYAN GENERAL SPEAK: President Trump spoke this week with a Libyan general whose forces are fighting the U.S.-backed unity government there, the White House said Friday, raising some eyebrows in the process.

In the call, which took place Monday, Trump hailed Gen. Khalifa Haftar for fighting terrorist groups and stressed a commitment to bringing peace to Libya.

“President Donald J. Trump spoke on April 15, 2019, with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar to discuss ongoing counterterrorism efforts and the need to achieve peace and stability in Libya,” the White House said in a statement Friday. “The President recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources, and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system.”

The criticism: The White House statement makes no mention of the fact that Haftar is waging an offensive on the U.S.-backed government in Tripoli.

Indeed, the statement raised some eyebrows as possibly signaling a shift in the U.S. stance by saying the two have a “shared vision” for Libya’s future.

In contrast, Pompeo said in a statement earlier this month that “we have made clear that we oppose the military offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s forces and urge the immediate halt to these military operations against the Libyan capital. Forces should return to status quo ante positions.”

At the Pentagon: Shanahan said Friday that “a military solution is not what Libya needs.”

“What I do support is Field Marshal Haftar’s support in terms of his role in counterterrorism but where we need Field Marshal Haftar’s support is in building democratic stability there in the region,” Shanahan continued.

Asked if Trump contacted him before calling Haftar, Shanahan said that “the department and the executive branch are well-aligned on Libya.”

 

AFGHANISTAN TALKS FALTER: Skeptics of the Trump administration’s negotiations with the Taliban have been saying the real difficulty will be in getting the insurgents and the Afghan government to talk.

Those skeptics appear to have a new data point to cite — intra-Afghan talks scheduled this weekend in Qatar collapsed before they began amid a dispute over the guest list.

On Thursday evening, the Trump administration’s special envoy for Afghan peace talks said he was “disappointed” in the development.

“I’m disappointed Qatar’s intra-Afghan initiative has been delayed. We’re in touch with all parties and encouraged that everyone remains committed to dialogue and the #AfghanPeaceProcess,” special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted.

“Dialogue is and always will be key to a political roadmap and lasting peace. There is no alternative. I urge all sides to seize the moment and put things back on track by agreeing to a participant list that speaks for all Afghans. I stand ready to help if our help is needed,” he added.

Reasons for optimism?: One of the meeting’s organizers stressed the postponement was not over issues of substance.

“The postponement is in no way a reflection of disagreement over substantive issues to do with the conference agenda and there is no questioning of the seriousness of the commitment shown by all sides to achieving peace,” Sultan Barakat, director of the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies, wrote in a letter included in Khalilzad’s tweet. “This does not reflect a lack of will to deliver peace, but clearly the moment is not yet right.”

 

ON TAP FOR MONDAY

The Brookings Institution will host an expert panel on “U.S.-China diplomacy: 40 years of what’s worked and what hasn’t” at 10 a.m. https://brook.gs/2ZcRAt4

The Atlantic Council will host an expert panel on “The Future of Afghanistan: Ongoing Negotiations and the Role of Regional Allies” at 11 a.m. https://bit.ly/2ZmtPib

 

ICYMI

— The Hill: Trump to visit Japan in May to meet with Abe, new emperor

— The Hill: Outgoing French ambassador compares Trump to Louis XIV: ‘Unpredictable, uninformed’

— Military Times: Iraqi translator risked his life on raids with US troops. Now he’s fighting for citizenship

— Associated Press: Turkey arrests 2 people suspected of spying for UAE

— Military.com: Who wants to be the new Air Force secretary? Perhaps not many 

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