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.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
Sen. John McCain called Australia’s ambassador to the US to reassure him of his “unwavering support for the US-Australia alliance” after President Trump’s reportedly explosive call to the Australian prime minister earlier this week, he said in a statement, The Daily Beast reports.
Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) pushed the State Department to declassify the refugee deal that reportedly angered President Trump during his call with the Australian prime minister, the Hill’s Jordain Carney reports.
What do we know so far about Donald Trump’s phone calls with foreign leaders? Adam Taylor sets out the facts at the Washington Post.
The phone calls make it clear that Trump is “less interested in tending America’s long-term relationships than he is in short-term deals,” suggest Greg Jaffe and Joshua Partlow at the Washington Post.
President Trump is embracing some key pillars of the Obama administration’s foreign policy despite vowing to break with it, observe Mark Lander, Peter Baker and David E. Sanger at the New York Times.
We’ll soon know if Trump plans to stick to the principles and processes for the use of drones for targeted killings set down by Obama, a program he has already clearly demonstrated he has no qualms utilizing having authorized strikes in Yemen in the first three days of his presidency, writes Micah Zenko at Foreign Policy.
MATTIS’ ASIA TRIP
President Trump is fully committed to defending Japan as a treaty partner, Defense Secretary James Mattis reassured Japanese leaders today, Robert Burns reporting at the AP.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is convinced that together with President Trump and Mattis they would be able to achieve an “unwavering alliance” between the US and Japan, he said today, Reuters reporting.
Mattis promised that the US would live up to its security commitments to Asian allies and would deliver an “effective and overwhelming” response to any use of nuclear weapons in Seoul Thursday, Jonathan Cheng reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The MUSLIM BAN
Trump’s travel ban was amended to allow emigration by the families of Iraqi interpreters who assisted the US in Iraq, a Pentagon-recommended change easing some of the anger in Iraq generated by the order, the New York Times’ David Zucchino reports.
The primary terrorist threat to the US is at home, something which Trump’s travel ban misses entirely, Michael Morell writes at Foreign Policy.
OTHER EXECUTIVE ACTIONS and CABINET CONFIRMATIONS
Gina Haspel is Trump’s pick for deputy director of the CIA, a position which does not require Senate confirmation, the Hill’s Katie Bo Williams reports.
Haspel served as chief of staff to Bush-era CIA counterterrorism chief Jose Rodriguez under whom al-Qaeda suspects were subjected to waterboarding and other forms of torture or inhumane treatment at CIA “black sites,” an association which prevented Haspel from serving as CIA chief under the Obama administration, Kimberly Dozier writes at The Daily Beast.
Haspel oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects and took part in an order to destroy videotapes documenting their brutal interrogations at a secret prison in Thailand, Matthew Rosenberg writes at the New York Times.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked diplomats not to let their “personal convictions” get in the way of them doing their jobs, acknowledging that tensions remain after the election in November, in his first address at the State Department yesterday, Madeline Conway reports at POLITICO.
Both Tillerson and Mattis spoke up for the right values of leadership at their appointments yesterday, though their rationality and evenhandedness stood out only because they were speaking against the backdrop of the rapid deterioration of such previously normal standards of political culture, writes the Washington Post editorial board.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) berated Tillerson for past lobbying efforts to exclude his company Exxon Mobil from a rule that would require it to disclose payments to foreign governments yesterday, the Hill’s Nikita Vladimirov reports.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) criticised House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for calling White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon a “white supremacist” yesterday, the Hill’s Max Greenwood reports.
Democrats demanded briefings on the US raid on an al-Qaeda position in Yemen that left one Navy SEAL and a number of civilians dead, the Hill’s Rebecca Kheel reports.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer provided an unusually detailed account of the raid yesterday, insisting it was a “very, very well-thought-out and executed effort.” Eric Schmitt reports at the New York Times.
The raid in Yemen continues to raise questions, write Alice Fordham and Tom Bowman at NPR.
Is Yemen in the crosshairs of rising tensions between the US and Iran? Considers F. Brinley Bruton at NBC News.
Iran is “playing with fire,” President Trump tweeted today, promising that he would not be as “kind” to Iran as President Obama was.
“Iran unmoved by threats,” Iran’s foreign minister tweeted back. [Reuters]
The Trump administration will impose fresh sanctions on Iranian entities for their alleged role in the country’s recent missile test, Jay Solomon reports at the Wall Street Journal, citing people close to the deliberations.
Germany’s foreign minister saw no signs that Washington intends to terminate the Iran nuclear deal during a recent visit to the US, he said, Reuters reporting.
White House Press Secretary accused Iran of attacking a US Naval vessel – an act of war – at yesterday’s press briefing as he tried to defend the Trump administration’s announcement that Iran is “on notice,” point out Zaid Jilani and Alex Emmons at The Intercept.
By issuing such an imprecise, dramatic, public response to Iran’s missile test, retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn has set himself and the US up for either an embarrassing retreat or a risky confrontation, writes Philip Gordon at the New York Times.
The Trump administration needs to find ways to manage tensions with Iran by exerting appropriate pressure without creating a path toward confrontation, writes the New York Times editorial board.
Is Trump trying to tweet the US into a war with Iran? Ask Ilan Goldenberg and Elizabeth Rosenberg at Foreign Policy.
Iran is treading carefully now, but some wonder how long it will last in the face of a hostile and confrontational Trump administration, writes Thomas Erdbrink at the New York Times.
Iran has been “restrained” in its response to the US’s warning that it is “officially on notice,” Iran’s minister saying its recent ballistic missile test “is in line with our plans, and we will not allow any foreigner to interfere in our defense affairs,” while another high-ranking official reportedly described Flynn’s comments as “hollow threats,” reports Al-Monitor’s Iran Pulse.
Iran is a “convenient” enemy for Trump, but confronting it carries significant dangers, writes David Ignatius at the Washington Post.
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
The White House warned Israel to stop announcing plans to build new settlements in the occupied West Bank yesterday, Alex Johnson reports at NBC News.
The settlements “may not be helpful” to achieving peace in the Middle East, the Trump administration said yesterday, signalling a potentially tougher stance on Israel, suggests Louise Radnofsky at the Wall Street Journal.
Israeli settlements are not “an impediment to peace,” however, according to the Trump administration, indicating a softening of policy from the Obama administration and even the Bush administration, Reuters’ Luke Baker points out.
The group representing Israeli settler “brushed off” the comments today, saying they looked forward to “working closely with our friends” in the Trump administration, Ian Deitch reports at the AP.
Turkish warplanes and US-led coalition jets carried out air strikes near the Islamic State-held town of al-Bab killing a total of 47 militants, the Turkish military said today. [Reuters]
Trump’s team immediately scrapped Obama’s plan for a final assault on Raqqa that was seven months in the making and involved arming Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, report Adam Entous, Greg Jaffe and Missy Ryan at the Washington Post.
Nine Syrian security and intelligence officials are the subject of a criminal complaint filed in a Spanish court accusing them of torture and other human rights violations in what is the first case specifically naming members of the Syrian government to be heard in a Western court, Marlise Simons reports at the New York Times.
UK lawyer Phil Shiner who brought abuse claims against UK troops after the Iraq war has been struck off after 12 charges of misconduct were proved against him before a panel of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, the BBC reports.
RUSSIA and UKRAINE
Shelling continued into the evening last night in eastern Ukraine, both sides reporting new casualties, the BBC reports.
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley condemned Russia’s “aggressive actions” in eastern Ukraine yesterday, the New York Times’ Somini Sengupta reports.
Russia’s foreign ministry accused Ukraine’s armed forces of violating the Geneva Convention in shelling civilian areas in eastern Ukraine and of using weapons banned under the Minsk peace agreement today, Reuters reports.
The violence flaring in Eastern Ukraine underscores the difficulty in implementing the Minsk Two ceasefire agreement, which the two sides interpret differently, write The Economist.
A small tweak to current sanctions on Russia is hopefully not the beginning of a larger unraveling, which would risk US credibility and alliances with security partners, warns Elizabeth Rosenberg at Foreign Policy.
Nobody understands the revision to sanctions on Russia, but the reaction was swift and merciless – and wrong, write Elias Groll and Robbie Gramer at Foreign Policy.
Putin is offering President Trump a deal on Ukraine with this week’s escalation of fighting in eastern Ukraine, but he may be attempting to consolidate his territorial gains in the region ahead of a “grand bargain” with Washington, suggests the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
A security operation was underway this morning after a man attempted to attack a soldier with a machete in the Carousel du Louvre, a shopping center near the entrance to the Louvre museum in Paris, prompting the soldier to open fire, Angelique Chrisafis reports at the Guardian. Live updates on this story are being provided at the BBC.
The Donald Trump problem is up for discussion at a gathering of EU leaders in Malta today, Arthur Beesley and Stefan Wagstyl report at the Financial Times.
Trump is playing a “divide and rule” game with the EU and member states must not play into his hands, European Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said today. [Reuters]
If Trump’s pick for EU ambassador turns out to be Ted Malloch the leaders of three of the European Parliament’s political groups want him snubbed, the AP reports.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ended the six-month ceasefire between the government and communist rebels and ordered troops to prepare for new fighting, the AP reports.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
An investigation into alleged Russian interference in the presidential election is being launched by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, the Hill’s Joe Uchill reports.
NATO must start to compete on the cyber-battlefield to counter Russian hacking, UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said. Ewen MacAskill reports at the Guardian.
Fallon’s allegations are “baseless” and a source of regret, the Kremlin said today, Reuters reporting.