The Early Edition: December 14, 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.

US CUTS ARMS SALES TO SAUDI ARABIA

The US will limit arms sales to Saudi Arabia amid concerns over civilian casualties linked to air strikes in Yemen, US officials told Reuters’ Phil Stewart and Warren Strobel. Although the decision could further strain ties between Washington and Riyadh in the run up to the Trump presidency, it was not the total cut-off of support that Saudi Arabia’s biggest critics had hoped for, and the US will continue to refuel Saudi-led coalition aircraft involved in the Yemen campaign, and is not cutting off all arms sales to the Kingdom.

Just Security’s coverage of this issue is available here.

RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE in the US ELECTION

The suggestion that Russia interfered with the US election campaign is “absolute nonsense,” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson said yesterday, adding that he hoped that Moscow will be able to “reset” its relationship with the new administration. David Filipov reports at the Washington Post.

A Senate Foreign Relations Committee will investigate Russian hacking of the US elections, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said yesterday. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

The probe will launch early next year, the panel holding a classified briefing and an open hearing in January, joining with the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees in probing the issue, a spokesperson confirmed, Burgess Everett reporting at POLITICO.

“So cold war 2.0 is on.” Tim Weiner draws parallels between Russia’s alleged hacking of the US elections aimed at electing Donald Trump and the lead-up to the Cold War at the Financial Times.

Russia’s hacking of the election threatened the integrity of the American political system, and President-elect Donald Trump should not have criticized the CIA – these are the two simple judgments from the Russian hacking scandal, concludes David Ignatius at the Washington Post.

Trump’s strained relationship with US intelligence agencies could impact his ability to govern the country, Benjy Sarlin at NBC News writing that, though he wouldn’t be the first president to have a frosty relationship with his own agencies, Trump’s unusually harsh public criticism of the intelligence community and his lack of transparency on how he intends to ascertain facts if he shuns its counsel sets him apart.

DONALD TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICY

Russia sees Trump’s appointment of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state as an opportunity to reboot US-Russia ties and put an end to sanctions imposed in response its annexation of Crimea, summarizes Nathan Hodge at the Wall Street Journal.

US allies reacted anxiously to the news of Tillerson’s appointment, though European diplomats in Washington cautioned against the presumption that he will bring his outlook as chief of the world’s largest publicly traded oil company to the job of secretary of state, Shaun Walker and Julian Borger report at the Guardian.

Beijing’s fears that the Trump administration’s courtship of the Kremlin is part of a plan to isolate China were fueled by the nomination of Tillerson, the Guardian’s Tom Phillips reports.

Worries over the nomination expressed by Republican Senators suggest Tillerson could face trouble getting confirmed in the Senate, where he can only afford to lose two GOP votes if all Democrats oppose him, Byron Tau anticipating a “confirmation battle” ahead at the Wall Street Journal.

How does Rex Tillerson view sanctions against and dealing with Russia from the point of view of US national interests and values? This is the question that must be answered via a “thorough airing” of Tillerson’s long business history in Russia, writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

Why is a global energy CEO a totally unacceptable choice for secretary of state? Michael Tomasky provides four reasons at The Daily Beast.

Senior European diplomats worry Trump could pressure Iran in other ways that will unravel the nuclear deal, even if he won’t rip up the deal itself, Laurence Norman at the Wall Street Journal reporting that the EU has been sending top diplomats to Washington over the past few weeks in an effort to strengthen their weak ties with Trump and his team.

Peace and stability in Taiwan will be “seriously” damaged and relations between Beijing and Washington will be undermined by any change in US policy favoring recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign state, a Chinese government spokesperson said today. Christopher Bodeen reports at the AP.

Taiwan should increase its defense spending to keep up with the threat posed by China, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Abraham Denmark said yesterday, adding that the US’s “One China” policy remained intact. [Reuters’ David Brunnstrom]

The Department of Nuclear Weapons. The US Department of Energy doesn’t actually have anything to do with energy policy, but spends most of its time on money and nuclear weapons – and former Texas governor Rick Perry is Trump’s pick to run it, a sign that Trump does not value expertise in a world of complicated threats, writes Jeffrey Lewis at The Daily Beast.

SYRIA

An evacuation deal for rebels and civilians to leave their Aleppo enclave stalled today as shelling resumed amid reports of disagreement between the Syrian government and its backers Russia and Turkey, Louisa Loveluck reports at the Washington Post.

Iran is said to have imposed new conditions on the ceasefire deal, demanding a simultaneous evacuation of wounded from the villages of Foua and Kefraya that are besieged by rebel forces, according to UN and rebel sources. [Reuters’ Laila Bassam, Tom Perry and Lisa Barrington]

Russia and rebels traded blame for the collapse of the ceasefire, rebels saying that Iranian-backed Shia militias supporting Assad began firing in an effort to disrupt the deal, Erika Solomon reports at the Financial Times.

The cease-fire deal had involved a first group of civilians leaving rebel-held areas of Aleppo this morning, Turkish officials and rebels explained yesterday, Raja Abdulrahim and Dion Nissenbaum reporting at the Wall Street Journal.

The “liberation of Aleppo” was hailed by the Syrian ambassador to the UN before the UN Security Council yesterday, Bashar Ja’afari rejecting allegations that his country’s forces had carried out revenge attacks and executions, the AP reports.

The UN must do all it can to stop the carnage in Aleppo, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told an emergency meeting of the Security Council yesterday, outlining the lack of unified action to do so thus far. [UN News Centre]

The situation in Aleppo remains “deeply troubling,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told Nolan D. McCaskill at POLITICO yesterday, adding that the US has taken the lead in trying to facilitate a diplomatic resolution to the civil war in Syria.

The Syrian government’s recapture of Aleppo leaves President Assad in control of almost all major urban areas in Syria and is a defining moment in the country’s civil war, Zeina Karam and Dan Perry write at the AP.

What will recent events and the re-establishing of government control of Aleppo mean for Syrians? Associate professor of international studies at the University of Arcadia Samer Abboud provides a quick summary at Al Jazeera.

The fall of Aleppo is a victory for Iran, above all, suggests David Gardner at the Financial Times, the defeat of the rebels establishing a “client territory” from Baghdad to Beirut.

IRAQ

The Islamic State was manufacturing weapons on a massive scale in and around Mosul using products largely purchased wholesale from Turkey, maintaining a “robust and reliable” supply chain between Turkey and Iraq, according to a report published today by the UK-based Conflict Armament Research group.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out eight airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Dec. 12. Separately, partner forces conducted seven strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

SOUTH CHINA SEA

The US will continue to push back against the “assertive, aggressive behavior” of Beijing in the South China Sea by conducting freedom of navigation exercises under the Trump administration, the commander of the US forces in the Pacific Adm. Harry Harris reassured US allies in the region today. [Financial Times’ Jamie Smyth]

The US is prepared to confront China if it continues its overreaching maritime claims in the South China Sea, Harris also said, Colin Packham reporting at Reuters.

TURKEY

Turkey is facing the biggest terrorist attack in its history and must retaliate in kind, President Erdoğan said today. [Reuters]

Opponents of Turkey’s President Erdoğan are increasingly finding a base in Germany, some 5,166 Turks seeking asylum there since January, further straining relations between Turkey and Europe, Andrea Thomas reports at the Wall Street Journal.

GUANTANAMO BAY

The clearing of “forever prisoner” Yassin Qasim Muhammad Ismail Qasim for release by the Guantánamo Bay parole board in a decision dated Dec. 8 brings the total number of prisoners at the detention center who could be gone by the time President Obama leaves office to 22, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

US intelligence agencies have not given the team defending USS Cole bombing suspect Abd al Rahim al Nashiri information about the July 2015 targeted assassination of Muhsin al-Fadhli in Syria, a failure they say merited dismissal of Nashiri’s death-penalty case. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

The hack and release of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails may have been caused by a typo, Eric Lipton, David E. Sanger and Scott Shane report at the New York Times.

The “integrity” of Department of Defense whilstleblower policies is being investigated by the Government Accountability Office, a memo seen by The Intercept’s Jenna McLaughlin and confirmed by a spokesperson for the GAO revealing that the investigation was quietly launched on Oct. 27.

A suspected voyeur can be forced to reveal his iPhone passcode to investigators, the Florida Court of Appeal’s Second District ruled, the BBC reports.

Google is releasing redacted versions of National Security Letters it received freeing it from nondisclosure obligations relating to an FBI request for customer data made in 2015, Jenna McLaughlin reports at The Intercept.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bomb attack on a church in Cairo on Sunday that killed 25 people, Mariam Fam reports at the AP.

Colombia’s Constitutional Court approved the government’s “fast-track” plan to implement the peace deal with FARC rebels yesterday, Nick Miroff reports at the Washington Post.

Afghan police shot and killed two people including a foreigner at a security checkpoint outside Kabul airport today, where security was stepped up in anticipation of the arrival of Afghan warlord Faryadi Zardad deported from Britain following a jail sentence for torture, Reuters reports.

France’s Middle East peace conference was postponed to January next year with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refusing to participate and US attendance in doubt, Reuters reports.

France extended its state of emergency to cover the elections, an “intense” period which “increases the risk of further terrorist acts,” following an overwhelming vote in the French parliament. Zoya Sheftalovich at POLITICO reports that this is the fifth extension of the security measures originally imposed following the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris.

Territory is the reason why Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is welcoming President Putin for an official visit, the first G-7 leader to do so since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, suggests Mari Yamaguchi at the AP. Abe is reportedly eager to make progress on a 70-year-old territorial dispute that has prevented Japan and Russia from formally ending World War II.

China is prepared to work with the international community to implement UN resolutions on North Korea but opposes any unilateral sanctions outside that framework, a Chinese diplomat told Japan today, Reuters reporting.

The UN failed to take “swift and concrete action” against countries refusing to arrest Sudan’s president and others accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur, the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court said yesterday. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP. 

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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