The Early Edition: December 20, 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.

THE SAUDI-LED COALITION IN YEMEN

Saudi Arabia finally admitted it uses UK-manufactured cluster bombs against Houthi rebels in Yemen, a spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen conceding their apparent “limited use” ahead of the release of a statement by British defense secretary Michael Fallon admitting that the UK had supplied the cluster munitions to the Saudis. Rowena Mason and Ewen MacAskill report at the Guardian.

The Saudi-led coalition will stop using British-made cluster munitions in Yemen, the Saudi government said. [Al Jazeera]

What has been lost in the news coverage is the Saudi-led coalition’s “consistent pattern of denial” that it uses cluster munitions, Just Security’s Co-Editor-in-Chief Ryan Goodman explaining the significance of this pattern of denial for future policy options for the US and the UK.

DONALD TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICY

Donald Trump’s Tweets present a unique challenge for the State Department, writes Shamila N. Chaudhary at POLITICO: the President is the one who sets the diplomatic agenda, whose words “literally shape American foreign policy,” and whom State Department bureaucrats rely on to “articulate clear, thoughtful and consistent views, based on facts and a knowledge of history.”

At the heart of dimplomats’ criticism of Presdient-elect Trump’s choice of ambassador to Israel is the “erroneous notion that only professionally trained diplomats can do the job,” suggests Vivian Bercovici at the Wall Street Journal.

RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE in the US ELECTION

Congress should establish a bipartisan, select committee to investigate allegations that Russia interfered with the US presidential election, writes the Washington Post editorial board.

A bill to create a Senate committee responsible for cybersecurity issues will be introduced by Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Cyra Master reports at the Hill.

If passed, the bill could make Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham’s push to create a special committee to investigate Russia’s alleged hacking a reality, writes Burgess Everett at POLITICO.

SYRIA

Assad’s forces broadcast messages into the remaining rebel enclave in Aleppo advising they will enter the area today and urging the rebels to speed up their exiting of the city, Reuters reports.

The evacuation of civilians from eastern Aleppo continued today, hundreds of residents leaving the city in buses escorted by the Syrian Red Crescent and the international Red Cross, Philip Issa reports at the AP.

The UN prepared to dispatch monitors to supervise the evacuation of civilians from eastern Aleppo yesterday, Farnaz Fassihi and Noam Raydan report at the Wall Street Journal.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out eight airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Dec. 18. Separately, partner forces conducted four strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

ANDREY KARLOV ASSASSINATION

An off-duty police officer shot and killed Russia’s ambassador to Ankara Andrey Karlov during an art opening in the city last night, Emre Peker and Maragaret Coker report at the Wall Street Journal.

“Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!” The shooting, in front of a room full of spectators and captured on video, was among the most brazen retaliatory attacks yet on Russia since it became involved in the Syrian conflict, drawing international condemnation for its bombardment of civilians there, David Filipov, Kareem Fahim and Liz Sly write at the Washington Post.

The shooting was a “provocation” aimed at derailing the peace process in Syria, Russian President Putin said yesterday, promising to retaliate against the “bandits” responsible during a special meeting in the Kremlin. Andrew Osborn reports at Reuters.

The meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran will be held today despite the attack, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed. [AP]

Turkey and Russia will not allow the incident to disrupt their efforts to repair their relationship, they said, Suzan Fraser and Nataliya Vasilyeva reporting at the AP.

Turkey and Russia are actually likely to draw closer together following the incident, finding common ground in their shared desire to assign blame to those they consider to be their strategic adversaries, Julian Borger writes at the Guardian, citing analysts.

Turkish President Erdoğan faces and “awkward geopolitical predicament” following the shooting, writes Ishaan Tharoor at the Washington Post. With Turkey’s relations with the West at a low, he will be compelled to make concessions to Russia after the slaying of its ambassador in Ankara.

Six people have been detained by Turkish police over the killing, Ubit Bektas and Orhan Coskun report at Reuters.

A gunman reportedly holding a rifle was arrested outside the US Embassy in Ankara early this morning, reports SABAH.

President-elect Donald Trump expressed his condolences to Karlov’s family who he said “was assassinated by a radical Islamic terrorist” on Monday, the Hill’s Jessie Hellmann reports.

The impact of diplomatic assassinations on international relations has historically been enormous, writes Rick Noack at the Washington Post.

CHINA

China returned a US Naval drone it seized in the South China Sea today, Emily Rauhala at the Washington Post calling it a peaceful resolution to a military standoff which threatened to stoke maritime tensions between the US and China in the run-up to President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.

The seizure was “unlawful,” the US reiterated after the drone was returned, which China said took place after “friendly talks.” Ben Blanchard reports at Reuters.

Donald Trump’s description of China’s seizure of the drone as “theft” was inaccurate, China’s Foreign Ministry said yesterday. Chuin-Wei Yap reports at the Wall Street Journal.

BERLIN TERROR ATTACK

The deliberate driving of a truck into a Berlin Christmas market yesterday is believed to have been a terrorist attack, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said today. [DW]

A 23-year-old Pakistani named Naved B was identified as the suspect, the BBC reporting he was seized by police after getting out of the lorry and fleeing on foot for over a mile, and is currently being questioned by police.

The attack would be “particularly sickening” if it turned out that the suspect was an asylum-seeker, Merkel said. If confirmed as a terrorist attack, it would be the worst such incident in Germany since large numbers of refugees began entering the country in 2015. At least 12 people were killed, including a Polish citizen who was inside the truck itself and is believed to be the original driver of the vehicle. Guy Chazan reports at the Financial Times.

Denmark and Norway have increased police presence at Christmas markets in their capital cities, the AP reports, providing live updates on the story.

RUSSIA

NATO and Russia discussed a plan to improve air safety over the Baltic Sea but remain at loggerheads over Ukraine, a top NATO official told Lorne Cook at the AP yesterday.

Russia signed a five-year “cooperation agreement” with the anti-immigration Freedom Party of Austria, Anton Troianovski at the Wall Street Journal calling it one of the clearest signs the Kremlin is attempting to strengthen ties with nationalist and antiestablishment forces in the West.

AFGHANISTAN

A US airstrike on Oct. 23 that the Pentagon confirmed killed a senior al-Qaeda leader also killed his deputy Bilal al-Utabi and explosives expert Abd al-Wahid al-Junabi, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

The UN called on the Taliban to participate in peace talks with the government yesterday, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto telling the Security Council that the Taliban must reconsider the idea that its objectives can only be achieved on the battlefield. [UN News Centre]

GUANTANAMO BAY

The Obama administration intends to transfer 17 or 18 Guantánamo Bay detainees before President Obama leaves office, the New York Times’ Charlie Savage reports.

Who’s who in the USS Cole bombing trial? With the next hearing due to take place on March 6-17, 2017, the Miami Herald explains the charges, the parties and the case.

HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL INVESTIGATION

The unsealing of a search warrant issued after the FBI requested permission to search emails on the laptop of Anthony Weiner  – estranged husband of Hillary Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin – was ordered by a federal judge, Anthony Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

The decision likely means that the public will learn more details about why the FBI decided to resume the closed probe into Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state on the eve of the presidential election, suggests Matt Zapotosky at the Washington Post.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

White supremacist Glendon Scott Crawford convicted in New York on charges of planning to use a “death ray” to kill President Obama and Muslims was sentenced to 30 years in jail, Reuters reports.

Swiss police called off their search for the person responsible for a shooting at a mosque in Zurich which left three people injured after finding a body close to the site of the attack, a police spokesperson confirmed today. [Wall Street Journal’s John Letzing]

South Sudan is heading toward genocide unless immediate action is taken by the UN Security Council, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned yesterday, Edith M. Lederer reporting at the AP.

Alleged Islamic State recruit Ayoub el-Khazzani charged with a gun attack on a train in France last year that was thwarted by three Americans has begun cooperating with French investigators, a source told CNN’s Paul Cruickshank. 

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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