The Early Edition: September 7, 2016

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

IRAQ and SYRIA

A detailed democratic transition plan for Syria was unveiled today by the High Negotiations Committee, an alliance of moderate opposition groups, reports Patrick Wintour at the Guardian. The unveiling took place at a meeting in London, at which UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson and his US, EU, Gulf States and Turkey counterparts were present.  Johnson, writing in the Times today, urged Russia to stop supporting the Assad regime – a change of tone from March this year, when he praised the Kremlin for aiding Assad after Syrian government troops retook the Syrian world heritage site of Palmyra.

Assad must leave power after six months of negotiations on a transitional government, opposition negotiator Riyad Hijab said as he presented the road map for peace in Syria today. [Reuters]

Syrian government forces have been accused of dropping barrel bombs containing chlorine on a suburb of Aleppo, reports the BBC. Assad’s government denies the accusation, made by activists, reports Al Jazeera. At least one person has died and dozens have been suffocated.

Clashes with Islamic State fighters near the northern Syrian town of al-Rai have left three Turkish soldiers dead and four wounded, according to Turkey’s armed forces. [AP’s Zeynep Bilginsoy]

Ankara would not object to President Obama’s idea of a joint Turkey-US action to capture the Syrian city of Raqqa from the Islamic State, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan has said. [Reuters]  Erdoğan made the suggestion that high-ranking military officials from both parties could come together to discuss the issue, he told the Hürriyet Daily News’ Vahap Munyar.

What comes next after the Islamic State is defeated in Iraq and Syria? More war, writes Liz Sly at the Washington Post. This is partly because the US strategy for defeating the terrorists relies on regional allies and armed groups who are often bitterly at odds.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out seven airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on September 5. Separately, partner forces conducted seven strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command

IRAN

A further $1.3 billion-worth of Swiss Francs was sent to Iran by the Obama administration in the 19 days after its January payment of $400 million in cash, report Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee at the Wall Street Journal. All payments were in settlement of a decades-old dispute over a failed 1979 arms deal.

The revelation that the administration chose to send an advance payment – in US dollars – to Iran, coinciding with the release by Iran of four American prisoners, has prompted renewed accusations from Congressional Republicans that the $400 million was a “ransom” payment, the Washington Post’s Karoun Demirjian reports.

Seven Iranian fast-attack boats undertook an unsafe encounter with the USS Firebolt over the weekend, one Iranian craft coming to a stop in front of the American ship, according to a US defense official. [CNN’s Barbara Starr and Olivia Beavers]

TURKEY

The US was not complicit in the July 15 failed coup, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Munam Kurtulmus said yesterday, adding that he still expected the US judicial process to result in the extradition of cleric Fethullah Gulen. Rick Gladstone reports at the New York Times.

Another 73 personnel have been expelled from Turkey’s armed forces as the post-coup purge of so-called Gulenists continues. [AP]

SAUDI ARABIA and YEMEN

The US military announced counterterrorism strikes in Yemen yesterday, conducting three strikes against al-Qaeda between Aug. 24 and Sept. 4 it said killed 13 militants. [BBC]

The UK’s Committee of Arms Export Controls has produced a draft report calling for billions of dollars in UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia to be halted due to risks that Saudi Arabia will use such transfers to commit violations of the law of armed conflict in Yemen, writes Just Security’s Co-Editor-in-Chief, Ryan Goodman. The UK government said it has received assurances from Saudi Arabia that the weapons would not be used to violate international humanitarian and human rights laws, but the Committee said this was not sufficient. [BBC]

A group of mainly Conservative Members of Parliament are likely to press for amendments to water down any criticism of Saudi Arabia in the report, suggests Patrick Wintour at the Guardian. Conservative Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson sought to preempt the Committee in a statement earlier this week in which he asserted that the UK would continue to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia and that the “key test” of serious risk of breach of international humanitarian law had not been met.

CHINA

Surveillance pictures apparently depicting Chinese coast guard ships and barges at the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea have been released by the Philippine government today. [AP’s Jim Gomez]  The Philippines is “gravely concerned” that the Chinese boats were preparing to build structures at the shoal, it said today. [Reuters]

Increasingly assertive action by China’s coast guard ships risk destabilizing the South China Sea, according to new research tracking maritime law enforcement incidents in the region by Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies. [Reuters’ Greg Torode]

Syria-based Uighur militants were behind the suicide bombing of the Chinese agency in Kyrgyzstan’s Bishkek last Tuesday, according to Kyrgyzstan state security. [Financial Times.]

China seeks to undermine the US and emphasize its own growing stature with “small insults, minor aggressions” behind the “big set pieces of diplomacy,” suggests Andrew Browne at the Wall Street Journal.

NORTH KOREA

President Obama has vowed to work with the UN to tighten sanctions against North Korea following its latest missile launches, reports Josh Lederman at the AP.

The UN Security Council strongly condemned the missile launches and threatened “further significant measures” if North Korea launches any more missiles, yesterday, in an agreed statement following a closed-door emergency meeting called by the US, Japan and South Korea. [AP’s Edith M. Lederer]

GUANTANAMO BAY

The USS Cole attack trial resumed at Guantánamo Bay Tuesday after an 18-month pause while the higher courts sorted through a series of prosecution and defense challenges, reports Carol Rosenberg at the Miami Herald. Saudi Arabian defendant Abd al Rahim al Nashiri is expect back in court today for a three-day hearing.

Hunger striking ex-Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab was briefly hospitalized yesterday and then released. He said he will keep up the strike to the death if he has to. [AP]

HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL INVESTIGATION

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz asked a federal prosecutor to investigate whether Hillary Clinton or her aids were behind the deletion of a cache of emails from her personal email server a few weeks after the New York Times revealed publicly that she had been using it throughout her time as Secretary of State. [The Hill’s Katie Bo Williams]

Several technology companies tied to Clinton’s private email server have been pressed to comply with subpoenas issued as part of a House Science Committee investigation by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) after revelations in the FBI’s report on its investigation, released Friday, “reinforce the importance of the materials” subpoenaed, reports the Hill’s Katie Bo Williams.

The most disturbing aspect of Clinton’s continuing email drama is that no one in government stopped her using her personal email, William McGurn writes at the Wall Street Journal.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Increased sanctions on Russia are not consistent with ongoing talks on possible cooperation between Russia and the US in other areas, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said today. [Reuters]

The US conducted two strikes in on al-Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia early this week, killing four fighters, a military spokesperson said today. [Reuters’ Phil Stewart]

Poland is to seek US approval to buy eight Patriot missile defense systems from weapons maker Raytheon in a $5 billion deal central to Warsaw’s large-scale military modernization program, accelerated in response to increasing Russian assertiveness, reports the Guardian.

Australia wants to expand its counter-terrorism arrangements with Indonesia, Malaysia and other neighboring countries, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said. He is set to discuss security with other leaders at the ASEAN summit in Laos. [BBC]

A car containing gas cylinders was found near the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris on Saturday and its owner – who is on an intelligence watchlist of people suspected of radicalization – taken into custody, according to police officials. [Reuters]

Two people have been detained by police in Brazil for allegedly pledging allegiance to the Islamic State, reports the AP.

UK Islamist activist Anjem Choudary was sentenced to five and a half years in jail yesterday for encouraging support of the Islamic State, reports the New York Times’ Stephen Castle. 

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About the Author(s)

Zoë Chapman

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security, Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE