News Briefs – November 11, 2019

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North says U.S.-S. Korea drills ‘throw wet blanket’ on talks

North Korea says planned U.S.-South Korean military drills would amount to “throwing a wet blanket over the spark” of nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington.
Since the start of the nuclear talks last year, the U.S. and South Korea have cancelled or scaled back their regular military drills to create space for diplomacy. But North Korea still sees the drills’ intent as an invasion rehearsal.
North Korean official Kwon Jong Gun on Nov. 7 accused the U.S. of trying to resume joint aerial drills with South Korea next month.
Kwon says Pyongyang “will never remain an onlooker” to “the reckless military moves.”
Kwon refers to the annual Vigilant Ace drills, which Washington and Seoul suspended last year.
Seoul says the allies will conduct adjusted forms of drills but didn’t elaborate. AP
 

Court will hear Bowe Bergdahl’s appeal over Trump’s comments

A military court has agreed to hear an appeal by a U.S. Army soldier who left his post in Afghanistan and was held prisoner by the Taliban for five years.
The Fayetteville Observer (North Carolina) reported Nov. 7 that the court will examine whether statements by President Donald Trump and the late U.S. Sen. John McCain unfairly influenced Bowe Bergdahl’s trial.
Bergdahl’s lawyers argue that McCain threatened to conduct a hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee if Bergdahl went unpunished. The lawyers also cite multiple instances of Trump making disparaging comments about Bergdahl.
People in the military’s chain of command are forbidden from saying anything that could interfere with a military court case.
Bergdahl pleaded guilty in 2017 to desertion. He was spared prison time but was dishonorably discharged as a private. AP
 

Reports: Iran downs ‘unknown’ drone over Persian Gulf port

Iran’s air defense force has shot down an “unknown” drone in the country’s southwest, the official IRNA news agency reported on Nov. 8.
The agency said that Iranian air defense forces hit the drone in the early morning at the port city of Mahshahr, which is in the oil-rich Khuzestan province and lies on the Persian Gulf.
The report did not say whether the drone was a military or commercially available device.
The provincial governor, Gholamreza Shariati, told IRNA that the drone belonged to a “foreign” country and that parts of it had been recovered in a nearby lagoon.
Shariati said the drone had violated Iran’s airspace.
The U.S. military’s Central Command later wrote on Twitter that America had no drone in the area of the reported shootdown.
“All U.S. equipment has been accounted for,” it said.
Later on Nov. 8, the semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted Gen. Alireza Sabahifard, chief of the army’s air defense, as saying the drone was destroyed before reaching “sensitive” centers of the country. He confirmed that the drone was foreign but did not elaborate.
The agency also ran a short video purporting to show a missile launched in the early morning that it said hit the drone.
In June, Iran shot down a U.S. surveillance drone in the Strait of Hormuz. Tehran said the drone “violated” its territorial airspace, while the U.S. called the missile fire “an unprovoked attack” in international airspace over the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf.
Regional tensions remain high over Tehran’s collapsing nuclear deal with world powers, which the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from over a year ago. AP
 

Germany’s Merkel: Two percent% of GDP on defense by 2031 ‘realistic’

Germany’s defense minister is calling for the country to spend 2% of gross domestic product on defense by 2031, a target Chancellor Angela Merkel called “realistic but ambitious.”
NATO members in 2014 agreed to “aim to move toward” increasing defense spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2024. The U.S. has criticized Berlin’s defense spending, which is rising but now stands at 1.36 percent of GDP.
Germany aims to reach 1.5 percent by 2024. Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who leads Merkel’s party, says it should reach 2 percent by 2031.
Merkel said after meeting Nov. 7 with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that, in view of what Germany has done in recent years, “it is a realistic but ambitious proposal to reach this (2 percent) in 2031.”
The 2 percent defense spending aim is disputed by the junior partners in Merkel’s coalition government. AP
 

Russian foreign minister lambasts U.S. over arms control

Russia’s foreign minister says the world is becoming increasingly unstable because the U.S. doesn’t want to abide by arms control regimes.
Speaking at a conference on disarmament in Moscow on Nov. 8, Sergey Lavrov accused the U.S. of seeing arms control treaties as a constraint to its efforts to boost its military.
Russia and the U.S. both withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty this year. The U.S. said it pulled out because of Russian violations, a claim the Kremlin has denied.
Lavrov reaffirmed Russia’s pledge not to deploy the missiles banned by the treaty until the U.S. does so and criticized NATO allies for refusing to make a similar pledge.
Lavrov said that the U.S. appears reluctant to extend the New START treaty that expires in 2021. AP
 

Boeing: Pin problem caused parachute issue in capsule test

Boeing says a problem with a pin caused its Starliner capsule to land with two instead of three parachutes last week.
The crew capsule underwent a safety test flight Nov. 4, soaring nearly a mile into the New Mexico sky. Only two main parachutes deployed.
Boeing’s vice president for commercial crew, John Mulholland, said Thursday that the rigging was not connected properly because the pin wasn’t secured in place.
Mulholland says the company is double-checking the parachute rigging on the capsule due to rocket into orbit next month. Only a dummy and some cargo will be on that test flight to the International Space Station.
NASA is counting on Boeing and SpaceX to start taking astronauts to the space station from Cape Canaveral, Fla., sometime next year. AP