The Early Edition: January 23, 2017

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.

PRESIDENT TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICY

The Trump administration has not sent a delegation to the Syria peace talks in Kazakhstan because of “the immediate demands of the transition,” the State Department said Saturday. Karen DeYoung reports at the Washington Post.

The Trump administration is in “the very beginning stages” of discussing moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said yesterday, Ayesha Rascoe and Matt Spetalnick reporting at Reuters.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted President Trump’s invitation to visit the White House next month to attempt to forge a “common vision” that may include expanded Israeli settlement construction and a tougher policy toward Iran, Josef Federman reports at the AP.

President Trump and Netanyahu discussed ways to strengthen US-Israeli relations and “threats posed by Iran” in a phonecall Sunday, Rory Jones reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“The rules of the game have changed.” Israel announced plans to build nearly 600 new settlement homes in occupied East Jerusalem just two days after President Trump’s inauguration, Peter Beaumont reports at the Guardian.

The Trump presidency is already affecting Israeli-Palestinian politics, Ian Fisher observes at the New York Times.

Moscow expects to agree a date for the first phone call between President Putin and President Trump soon, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said today. [Reuters]

“Donald Trump is not our man.” Peskov and the Moscow establishment are taking a wait-and-see approach to the new US President on issues such as Ukraine, Syria and bilateral relations, Andrew Roth reports at the Washington Post.

British Prime Minister Theresa May will be the first foreign leader to meet President Trump for talks at the White House when she travels to Washington Friday, Griff White reports at the Washington Post.

May intends to discuss British-US cooperation on terrorism and NATO at the meeting with Trump on Friday, she said yesterday. Kate Allen reports at the Financial Times.

May will also defend free trade with Iran and support for the Iran nuclear deal when she meets President Trump Friday, Reuters reports.

Trump will start meeting his counterparts across the globe now that he is getting to work as President, CNN’s Joshua Berlinger discussing some of the encounters where it would be “fascinating to be a fly on the wall,” including those with NATO leaders, the UK and China.

A lawsuit alleging that President Trump is violating a constitutional ban on accepting payments from foreign governments will be filed by legal watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the BBC reports.

“America first!” Three reasons why Europe was alarmed by Trump’s inaugural address are discussed by Carl Bildt at the Washington Post.

Trump may find his room for maneuver in the Middle East constrained by the increased influence of Russia and Iran in the region, Liz Sly writes at the Washington Post.

The idea that Trump’s often twitter-based foreign policy declarations are all tending toward sensible bargains is comforting, but raises two problems: the deals he has been hinting at are “wildly unrealistic,” and trying to drive them could be dangerous as well as futile, writes Jackson Diehl at the Washington Post.

“Does President Trump have a foreign policy doctrine?” Asks Ishaan Tharoor at the Washington Post.

Counterterrorism cooperation with Russia is a bad idea, the kind of relationship President Trump proposes having the potential to seriously undermine the US’s counterterrorism progress and destroy its relationship with Sunni Muslims worldwide, warns Daniel Benjamin at the New York Times.

Defending imprisoned dissidents, journalists, political opponents and stigmatized minorities via international human rights architecture will be a great deal harder under President Trump, writes Natalie Nougayrède at the Guardian.

THE TRUMP CABINET

Republicans will secure the votes needed to confirm President Trump’s entire Cabinet, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted last night, Connor O’Brien reporting at POLITICO.

National security adviser Michael T. Flynn is assembling the most military-heavy National Security Council staff of the modern era, and observers are concerned, Josh Rogin reports at the Washington Post.

CIA head pick Mike Pompeo would consider bringing back waterboarding and other forms of torture under certain circumstances, he told Congress in a series of written responses to questions from the Senate intelligence committee, Ryan Browne reports at CNN.

Pompeo’s admission leaves Senate Democrats in the position of having to choose between letting Trump fill a key national-security post and support for basic human rights, writes Zaid Jilani at The Intercept.

Secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson would review Colombia’s recent peace deal to determine how much the US should continue to support it, he said in a written response to Senate Foreign Relations Committee questions, Joshua Goodman reports at the AP.

Sens. John McCaine and Lindsey Graham said they would back secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson yesterday, POLITICO’s Burgess Everett reports.

Sen. Marco Rubio is still holding out on Tillerson, Karoun Demirjian and Sean Sullivan discussing whether he will defy President Trump on his pick for secretary of state at the Washington Post.

SYRIA

Turkey-Russia brokered Syria peace talks got underway in Kazakhstan today, the first face-to-face meeting between the Assad regime and rebels fighting to overthrow it, Philip Issa reports at the AP.

No senior government figures are among the delagations and Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry said it anticipates that the talks will be over by midday tomorrow, Reuters’ Olzhas Auyezov and Suleiman Al-Khalidi report.

The rebels are “ready to go to the ends of the earth” to end the fighting in Syria, the head of the rebel delegation at the talks said, this and other live updates on the talks being provided at the AP.

While details of the format of the talks remain murky, analysts say that the meeting marks a distinct shift from what has previously been a diplomatic process led by UN and US-Russia initiatives, reports Dylan Collins at Al Jazeera.

Relations between Turkey and Russia and whether it can achieve a breakthrough to end the Syrian war will be tested at the peace talks, Raja Abdulrahim, Nathan Hodge and Margaret Coker write at the Wall Street Journal.

The loss of Aleppo, the rebels’ last major urban stronghold to challenge Assad’s rule, is another game changer which makes this round of peace talks potentially different, observes Lyse Doucet at the BBC.

YEMEN

A suspected US drone strike in Yemen’s southwestern Bayda province killed three alleged al-Qaeda operatives Saturday, security and tribal officials said. [AP]

Renewed fighting in Yemen killed around 75 people over the weekend, according to Yemeni news reports, Shuaib Almosawa and Rod Nordland reporting at the New York Times.

CHINA

China doesn’t want world leadership but could be forced to assume that role if others step back from that position, a senior Chinese diplomat said today. [Reuters]

The Trump administration must fully understand the importance of the “one China” policy and appreciate that the Taiwan issue is a sensitive one for China’s government, China said today. [Reuters]

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visits to the Philippines, Australia, Indonesia and Vietnam have driven a wedge and played up regional tension, China’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson complained, accusing Japan of trying to pull the rug out from under China’s efforts to pacify its neighbors in the South China Sea. Hrvoje Hranjski reports at the AP.

China’s warships have embarked on a tour of the Gulf Arab states for the first time in six years, Reuters reports.

EUROPE

UK Prime Minister Theresa May refused to comment on whether she was aware of the failure of an unarmed British Trident missile that was test-fired from a submarine off the coast of Florida in June last year, Steven Erlander reports at the New York Times.

UK opposition parties are demanding a full explanation as to how the missile reportedly veered off course a few weeks before the UK Parliament voted to renew the nuclear weapons system, the BBC reports.

A test with tanks to see how effective the Channel Tunnel would be for deploying troops to France was conducted by the British military last week, the Hill’s Mallory Shelbourne reports.

GAMBIA

Over $11 million is missing from Gambia’s state coffers following the departure of long-time leader Yahya Jammeh, according to an adviser to President Adama Barrow, the BBC reports.

Jammeh finally agreed to step down Saturday morning, Kevin Sieff reports at the Washington Post.

New President Adama Barrow is still in Senegal yesterday afternoon, and his return to Gambia could take several days, Dionne Searcey and Jaime Yaya Barry report at the New York Times.

GUANTANAMO BAY

The judge overseeing the the 9/11 case at Guantánamo Bay decided Sunday to go ahead with the first pretrial hearing of the year despite the absence of a defense attorney due to a medical emergency, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s communications with Russian officials were investigated by US counterintelligence agents, Carol E. Lee, Devlin Barrett and Shane Harris report at the Wall Street Journal.

Former CIA director John Brennan is “deeply saddened and angered” at President Trump following his “despicable display of self-aggrandizement” in front of CIA employees at their headquarters Saturday, while many present were troubled by the political aspect of Trump’s remarks, CNN’s Ryan Browne reports.

“Alternative facts” were offered by the President and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on issues including the President’s feud with the intelligence community over the weekend. Nicholas Fandos separates the false statements from the facts at the New York Times.

President Trump’s visit to the CIA on his first full day in office was a smart move, but his performance was not presidential, writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

Trump’s breaking of his promise to release his tax returns is “even more gratuitous than Clinton concealing her Goldman Sachs transcripts,” WikiLeaks tweeted yesterday, and has called for someone to pass it the tax returns for publication, the Guardian’s Alan Yuhas reports.

Streamlining the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is a “logical first step” in building new capability and restoring trust. Jane Harman and Peter Hoekstra agree with President Trump at the Wall Street Journal.

Why BuzzFeed chose to published the unverified Trump Dossier is explained by editor in chief Ben Smith writing at the New York Times.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Lawyers for former prisoner of war Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl called for his court-martial in April on charges of desertion and misbehavior in Afghanistan in 2009 to be dismissed on the basis that President Trump’s campaign comments against him made it impossible for him to obtain a fair trial, the Hill’s Rebecca Kheel reports.

A bomb attack on a busy market in a remote tribal town in Pakistan close to the Afghan border left at least 24 dead and 50 injured Saturnday morning, Haq Nawaz Khan reports at the Washington Post.

A total of 62 officers and soldiers have gone on trial in Istanbul for allegedly seizing control of the city’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport on the night of the failed coup last July, the AP reports. 

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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