The Early Edition: January 24, 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

President Trump is open to cooperating with Russia in combating the Islamic State if Russia shares US interests in doing so, the White House said yesterday, Ben Kesling, James Marson and Gordon Lubold reporting at the Wall Street Journal.

The US will defend its interests in the South China Sea against China, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said yesterday during his first official briefing, Dan Merica reports at CNN.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson warned the US to “speak and act cautiously” to “avoid harming the peace and stability of the South China Sea” today in response to Spicer’s comments and a growing sense that the Trump administration intends to challenge Beijing in the region, the Guardian’s Tom Phillips reports.

There is no link between the situations in Ukraine and the Middle East regarding US sanctions on Russia, Ukraine’s president said today in response to questions on President Trump’s proposal to lift sanctions if Russia helps the US to fight Islamist militants in the Middle East, Reuters reports.

President Trump discussed efforts against terrorism and extremism with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Al Sisi Monday, the second phone call between the two leaders – the first a month ago when Trump sought to intervene in a UN Security Council move to pass a resolution condemning Israeli settlements, Carol E. Lee and Dahlia Kholaif report at the Wall Street Journal.

The CIA is “wooing and winning” President Trump as it would a foreign leader it wanted to become useful to itself and the United States, according to former and current intelligence officials, writes Kimberly Dozier at The Daily Beast.

Falsehood cannot be the basis of US foreign policy, Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times explaining why the “spectacle of obvious lies” being peddled by the White House over the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration and other matters should frighten the rest of the world, too.

Allies like Japan and Australia should be alarmed by indications that Trump intends a newly assertive foreign policy in Asia – contrary to his “America First” inauguration and campaign refrain – Hunter Marston writes at Foreign Policy.

Many Afghans are looking to the Trump presidency as a chance for a fresh start after eight years if disillusionment over America’s role in their country, write Pamela Constable and Sayed Salahuddin at the Washington Post.

THE TRUMP NOMINEES

Rep. Mike Pompeo was approved to lead the CIA and Rex Tillerson cleared a mayor Senate hurdle on his way to becoming the secretary of state yesterday, Matt Felgenheimer at the New York Times observing that President Trump’s team of choice, despite some faltering performances on Capitol Hill and often intense Democratic opposition, has so far faced few meaningful obstacles.

A full vote on Tillerson will now be held in the Senate after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee narrowly approved him – votes split along party lines with 11 Republicans voting in favor and all 10 Democrats voting against, the BBC reports.

Former Rep. Heather Wilson is Trump’s nominee for Air Force secretary, leaving the Navy secretary as the only service secretary nomination yet to be named, the Hill’s Rebecca Kheel reports.

Defense Secretary James Mattis and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg agreed on “the fundamental and enduring value of NATO for the security of both Europe and North America” in a phone call, Stoltenberg’s office reported today. [AP’s Lorne Cook]

Mattis also reassured UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon that Washington has an “unshakeable commitment” to NATO during a phone call on Mattis’ first full day in office, AFP reports, citing Pentagon spokesperson Navy Capt. Jeff Davis.

Mattis “hit the ground running” on his first day in office Saturday, Davis said, also announcing retired Navy Adm. Kevin Sweeney as Mattis’ chief of staff and Navy Rear Adm. Graig Faller as his senior military assistant, the Hill’s Kristina Wong reports.

The FBI found no incriminating evidence in its review of communications between President Trump’s national security adviser retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador to the US, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller report at the Washington Post.

A quick primer on the steps needed to become a member of the president’s Cabinet and the stage at which each nominee is at in the process is provided by Domenico Montanaro at NPR.

SYRIA

The second day of peace talks aimed at ending the Syrian war is underway today, UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura saying that both sides are “not far” from a final declaration while rebel spokesperson Yahya al-Aridi said that “no agreements” would be signed, the BBC reports.

Russia, Turkey and Iran were working on a statement to reaffirm the Syrian ceasefire that could agree to a mechanism to monitor its compliance and pave the way for a UN peace settlement today, Suleiman Al-Khalidi and John Irish report at Reuters.

The first day of the peace talks yesterday quickly descended into quarreling, Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad report at the New York Times.

The goals of the parties involved – and of those not invited to the talks – are broken down by Alexey Eremenko at NBC News.

Jabhat Fateh al-Sham launched an attack on rebel groups in northwestern Syria that are attending the peace talks in Khazakhstan, according to rebel officials, Reuters reports.

A claim by the Russian defense ministry that the US and Russia conducted joint airstrikes in Syria was flatly denied by the Pentagon, the Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman reports.

The Russian defense ministry statement does not even imply that US-led coalition warplanes accompanied the Russian bombers on their airstrike on Jan. 23, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti confusing matters with a report that at least implied that degree of cooperation, followed up by an AP tweet confirming that the cooperation took place, explain David Axe and Michael Weiss at The Daily Beast.

Turkey will not hand over the Syrian town of al-Baba to the Assad regime once the Islamic State has been driven out, contrary to claims, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister said today. [Reuters]

IRAQ

Iraqi forces are preparing an offensive on western Mosul, campaign leader Lieutenant Gen. Abdul Ameer Rasheed Yarallah said today. [Reuters]

An investigation into violations of human rights and other abuses allegedly committed by Iraqi government troops and paramilitary forces in Mosul was ordered by the Iraqi prime minister yesterday, Sinan Salaheddin reports at the AP.

An estimated 750,000 residents of Mosul are still living under the control of the Islamic State, the UN and several aid organizations said today, Sinan Salaheddin reports at the AP.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 34 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Jan. 18. Separately, partner forces conducted eight strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

YEMEN

Forces loyal to the internationally-recognized government of Yemen took control of a strategic Red Sea port Monday following an assault on Shi’ite rebels, Ahmed Al-Haj reports at the AP.

The British government is under pressure from global charity Save the Children to increase diplomatic efforts with its “major ally” Saudi Arabia to defend children in Yemen, Karen McVeigh reports at the Guardian.

EUROPE

Getting the 4,000 US soldiers and 90 US tanks deployed to Europe in January to where they need to go has met with unexpected hurdles, Robert Wall reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The EU will increase funds to its East Stratcom taskforce by around €800,000 to counter Russian attempts to influence votes through misinformation and propaganda as national elections take place in Germany, France and the Netherlands in the coming months, Daniel Boffey and Jennifer Rankin report at the Guardian.

Russia is seeking a leading role in shaping the UN’s global counterterrorism strategy, according to senior UN diplomats, Colum Lynch reports at Foreign Policy.

Austrian police urged residents in the city of Vienna to be vigilant for suspicious objects and activities as they searched for associates of a suspected Islamist radical they said may have been planning a bomb attack, George Jahn reports at the AP.

UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon was accused of withholding from parliament reports that a malfunctioning missile with the potential to carry a nuclear warhead was forced to self-destruct in mid-air off the coast of Florida last year after he refused to even confirm that the incident had taken place under questioning from members of parliament, the Guardian’s Rowena Mason and Ewen MacAskill reports.

Why is the Trident missile test last June rocking British politics? Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura and Patrick J. Lyons explain at the New York Times.

PALESTINE

The Obama administration sent $221 million to the Palestinian Authority for humanitarian relief in areas such as Gaza and the West Bank on Friday, just before Barack Obama left office, the Hill’s Max Greenwood reports.

GAMBIA

Preventative diplomacy avoided a “humanitarian disaster” in Gambia, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said yesterday, the AP reporting.

New president Adama Barrow intends to return to Gambia “within a week,” he told CNN’s Elizabeth Roberts and Farai Sevenzo. 

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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