US lawmakers reach deal on massive defense bill

The legislation includes $71.5 billion to pay for ongoing foreign wars, known as ‘Overseas Contingency Operations’ funding. (AFP)
Updated 10 December 2019

US lawmakers reach deal on massive defense bill

  • The US House of Representatives and Senate Armed Services Committees agreed on a compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act
  • The bill says Trump should implement sanctions on Turkey over the S-400 purchase, something lawmakers have been demanding

WASHINGTON: US lawmakers announced an agreement on Monday on a $738-billion bill setting policy for the Department of Defense, including new measures for competing with Russia and China, family leave for federal workers and the creation of President Donald Trump’s long-desired Space Force.
It also calls for sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of a Russian missile defense system, and a tough response to North Korea’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
The US House of Representatives and Senate Armed Services Committees agreed on a compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, after months of negotiations. It is expected to pass before Congress leaves Washington later this month for the year-end holiday break.
The legislation includes $658.4 billion for the Department of Defense and Department of Energy national security programs, $71.5 billion to pay for ongoing foreign wars, known as “Overseas Contingency Operations” funding, and $5.3 billion in emergency funding for repairs of damage from extreme weather and natural disasters.
There were concerns earlier this year that the NDAA might fail for the first time in 58 years over steep divides between the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and Republican-controlled Senate over Trump’s policies.
Because it is one of the few pieces of major legislation Congress passes every year, the NDAA becomes a vehicle for a range of policy measures as well as setting everything from military pay levels to which ships or aircraft will be modernized, purchased or discontinued.
It includes a 3.1 percent pay hike for the troops, the largest in a decade and, for the first time, 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal workers, something Democrats strongly sought.
Among other things, the proposed fiscal 2020 NDAA imposes sanctions related to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream pipelines and bars military-to-military cooperation with Russia.
Russia is building the pipelines to bolster supply to Europe while bypassing Ukraine, and members of Congress have been pushing the Trump administration to do more to stop the projects as they near completion.
The NDAA also prohibits the transfer of F-35 stealth fighter jets, which Lockheed Martin Corp. is developing, to Turkey. It expresses a Sense of Congress that Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system, which Washington says it not compatible with NATO defenses and threatens the F-35, constitutes a significant transaction under US sanctions law.
The bill says Trump should implement sanctions on Turkey over the S-400 purchase, something lawmakers have been demanding.
The NDAA also reauthorizes $300 million of funding for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, to include lethal defensive items as well as new authorities for coastal defense cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles.
Military aid to Ukraine has been at the center of the impeachment inquiry into Trump, after his administration held up security assistance for Kiev last summer even as the country dealt with challenges from Russia.
Fulfilling one of Trump’s most high-profile requests, the bill establishes the US Space Force as the sixth Armed Service of the United States, under the Air Force.
The legislation also contains a series of provisions intended to address potential threats from China, including requiring reports on China’s overseas investments and its military relations with Russia.
It bars the use of federal funds to buy rail cars and buses from China, and it says Congress “unequivocally supports” residents of Hong Kong as they defend their rights and seek to preserve their autonomy with China. It also supports improving Taiwan’s defense capabilities.
The NDAA calls for a sweeping approach to North Korea’s nuclear weapons development, as well as the threat it poses to US forces on the Korean peninsula and allies in the region.
It puts mandatory sanctions on North Korean imports and exports of coal and other minerals and textiles, as well as some petroleum products and crude oil, and it puts additional sanctions on banks that deal with North Korea.
The bill also bars the Pentagon from reducing the number of troops deployed to South Korea below 28,500 unless the Secretary of Defense certifies that it is in the US national security interest to do so.


Meghan felt ‘unprotected’ by UK royal family while pregnant: Court papers

Updated 8 min 48 sec ago

Meghan felt ‘unprotected’ by UK royal family while pregnant: Court papers

  • Meghan is suing publisher Associated Newspapers over articles its Mail on Sunday newspaper printed last year
  • Markle and his daughter have not spoken since he pulled out of appearing at her wedding to Harry in May 2018 after undergoing heart surgery

LONDON: Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, felt “unprotected” by the British royal family while she was pregnant with her son Archie, according to London High Court documents filed as part of her legal action against a tabloid newspaper.
Meghan, wife of Queen Elizabeth’s grandson Prince Harry, is suing publisher Associated Newspapers over articles its Mail on Sunday newspaper printed last year which included parts of a handwritten letter she had sent to her estranged father, Thomas Markle, in August 2018.
Markle and his daughter have not spoken since he pulled out of appearing at her wedding to Harry in May 2018 after undergoing heart surgery and following news he had staged photos with a paparazzi photographer.
The Mail justified publishing the letter by saying five unnamed friends of Meghan, who gave birth to Archie in May 2019, had put her version of events in interviews with the US magazine People.
Her legal team say it was untrue she had authorized or arranged for her friends to tell People about the letter.
“The Claimant had become the subject of a large number of false and damaging articles by the UK tabloid media, specifically by the Defendant, which caused tremendous emotional distress and damage to her mental health,” her lawyers said in a submission to the High Court.
“As her friends had never seen her in this state before, they were rightly concerned for her welfare, specifically as she was pregnant, unprotected by the Institution, and prohibited from defending herself.”
The couple are now living in Los Angeles after stepping down from royal duties at the end of March. Harry said he had fallen out with his elder brother, Prince William, and Meghan has spoken of a lack of support when pregnant and as a new mother.
They have also said media intrusion, and what they believe are some newspapers’ racist coverage toward Meghan, whose mother is African-American and father is white, were behind their decision.
The trial for Meghan’s case is not expected this year. But in May, the judge rejected part of her claim that the paper had acted dishonestly and stoked the rift with her father.
On Wednesday, Harry said he regretted racism was “still endemic” in society in comments for The Diana Award, established in memory of his late mother, Princess Diana, who was killed in a car crash in 1997 while fleeing paparazzi.