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
The Trump administration is looking at ways to sever Russia’s military and diplomatic alliance with Iran in an effort to end the Syrian conflict and bolster the fight against the Islamic State, senior administration, European and Arab officials involved in the policy discussions said. Jay Solomon reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The Kremlin disagrees with President Trump’s assessment of Iran as “the number one terrorist state” and wants to increase already good ties with Tehran, spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said today. [Reuters]
“What, you think our country’s so innocent?” Trump’s defense of Russian President Putin in a interview with Fox partially released Saturday was quickly condemned by Republican senators and several other conservatives, Mike Zapler reports at POLITICO.
Trump was defending his plan to work with Russia in fighting the Islamic State, a plan that is both pointless and dangerous for the US, argues Molly K. McKew at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
The Kremlin demanded an apology today from Fox News for calling President Putin a “killer” in its interview with President Trump, Reuters reports.
A probe of President Trump’s finances and personal ties to ascertain whether the Russian government is blackmailing him was called for by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Isaac Arnsdorf reports at POLITICO.
President Trump expressed his “strong support for NATO” and discussed a “peaceful resolution” of the fighting in eastern Ukraine in a call with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg yesterday, Fox News’ Chris Snyder reports via Twitter.
Trump agreed to attend a meeting of NATO leaders in Europe in May during the call with Stoltenberg, the Hill’s Cyra Master reports.
President Trump and Italy’s Premier Paulo Gentiloni “reaffirmed the fundamental importance of the role of NATO” and of US-Europe collaboration against terrorism in a phone call last Saturday, according to Gentiloni’s office. [AP]
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the US not to reduce its funding for the UN, a move he said would lead to other nations filling the void left by America’s disengagement, Farnaz Fassihi reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) disagrees with President Trump’s view of Putin and thinks the Muslim ban has gone too far, he said in an interview yesterday, the Hill’s Alexander Bolton reporting.
President Trump has spent his first two weeks in office “needlessly insulting allies and continuing to peddle the dumbfounding narrative that the United States has long been exploited by allies and foes alike,” writes the New York Times editorial board.
MATTIS in ASIA
A military response to China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea was ruled out by Defense Secretary James Mattis, who promised to maintain freedom of navigation operations in the region, on his first trip to Asia in office, the AP’s Hrvoje Hranjski reports.
China welcomed Mattis’ suggestion that diplomacy should be the priority in the South China Sea today, Reuters reports.
Mattis was a hit in Japan and South Korea, his experience in uniform viewed as an asset, Robert Burns reports at the AP.
The MUSLIM BAN
Prominent Democrats including John Kerry and Madeleine Albright called on courts to extend a ruling blocking Trump’s travel ban today on the basis that the executive order would “endanger US troops” and disrupt antiterrorism efforts, Gerry Mullany reports at the New York Times.
The temporary halt of the ban will remain in place until at least some time today, the Department of Justice saying it will not elevate the dispute to the Supreme Court before that. Matt Zapotosky, Robert Barnes and Brian Murphy report at the Washington Post.
Tech giants including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, Twitter and Uber filed a legal brief opposing the travel ban last night, according to those familiar with the matter, Elizabeth Dwoskin reporting at the Washington Post.
Trump’s confrontation with the courts over his travel ban threatens to last for years as an administration set on disrupting the status quo presses the boundaries of executive power, writes Peter Baker at the New York Times.
The travel ban was the creature of policy, political and ideological personalities close to the president “fulfilling a campaign promise to deal with a threat they had overhyped” and is ill-conceived, badly implemented and ill-explained, former director of the NSA Michael V. Hayden writes at the Washington Post.
OTHER EXECUTIVE ACTIONS and CABINET CONFIRMATIONS
Putting Stephen Bannon on the National Security Council is an unsettling plan that should be remedied as soon as possible, writes Michael G. Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who served on President George W. Bush’s council from 2007 – 2009, at the New York Times.
Iran began extensive military exercises Saturday in response to warnings from the Trump administration including increased sanctions, a senior Iranian military commander threatening to “rain” missiles down on the country’s enemies, Erin Cunningham reports at the Washington Post.
The missile test was not meant to send a message to Trump or test him, Iran said today. [Reuters]
Iran’s stockpile of uranium will have increased by 60 per cent compared to the amount it had before the 2015 nuclear deal after a shipment expected this week, according to Iran’s nuclear chief. [AP]
Trump is pushing back against an Iran that is more powerful than at any point since the formation of the Islamic republic nearly 40 years ago, Liz Sly and Loveday Morris write at the Washington Post.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will press UK Prime Minister Theresa May to join his call for a tougher stance on Iran when they meet in Downing Street, he said, Peter Beaumont and Anushka Asthana at the Guardian suggesting that it is now clear that he sees the arrival of the Trump administration as a chance to begin unraveling the nuclear deal with Iran.
Al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch urged its followers to retaliate against the US for the raid by American commandos that left senior al-Qaeda figures dead over the weekend, Asa Fitch and Saleh Al-Batati report at the Wall Street Journal.
President Trump is “the White House’s new fool,” the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) reportedly said, Ahmed Al-Haj reporting at the AP.
The growing strength of AQAP is demonstrated by the US commando raid, the group having collected enough intelligence to anticipate the raid, and having the fire power to counterattack, writes Sudarsan Raghavan at the Washington Post.
A technical meeting in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana between experts from Russia, Turkey, Iran and the UN has started to discuss the details of implementing the Syria ceasefire agreement, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry said today. [Reuters]
Syrian government troops cut off the last main supply route between the Islamic State-held city of al-Bab and the militants’ strongholds further east toward Iraq today, Reuters reports.
The UN Security Council lifted sanctions on Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar after Russia stopped blocking the move, paving the way for a US-backed peace deal with a group under Hekmatyar’s command, Habib Khan Totakhil reports at the Wall Street Journal.
An Afghan diplomat was shot dead by a private guard at the Afghan consulate in Pakistan’s city of Karachi today in what was described as a personal dispute, Reuters reports, citing Pakistani officials.
Last year saw the highest recorded number of civilian casualties by the UN in Afghanistan, the body said, with almost 11,500 non-combatants killed or wounded, Al Jazeera reports.
Behind the scenes, the US is preparing to wage an information war against Russia even while President Trump publicly pursues President Putin’s affections, writes Tim Mak at The Daily Beast.
The US and Japan successfully shot down a medium-range ballistic missile with a new interceptor launched from a guided-missile destroyer, passing a crucial test for missile defense, reports CNN’s Brad Lendon.
Israel’s military says it retaliated to a rocket fired from Gaza that exploded in Israel this morning, the AP reports.
A Chinese navy task force has completed visits to four Persian Gulf states as the nation’s maritime force increases its presence in the strategically vital region, the AP reports.
Turkey detained 748 Islamic State suspects in operations in 29 provinces over the weekend, Turkey’s interior ministry said, Reuters reporting.