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
President Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan discussed “the close, longstanding relationship” between Turkey and the US and their “shared commitment to combating terrorism” in a phone call yesterday, Carol E. Lee reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Trump and Erdoğan agreed to act jointly against the Islamic State in the Syrian cities of al-Bab and Raqqa, Turkish presidency sources told Reuters today.
Trump might find it hard to be as flexible as a relationship of mutual admiration might warrant when it comes to Turkey’s most urgent demands – a rejection of Pentagon proposals to arm Kurdish fighters in Syria and the extradition of cleric Fethullah Gulen accused of orchestrating Turkey’s July 2015 failed coup, write Kareem Fahim and Karen DeYoung at the Washington Post.
An order to designate the Muslim Brotherhood – the “oldest and possibly the most influential Islamist group in the Middle East” – as a foreign terrorist organization is being debated by President Trump’s advisers, the proposal to do so paired with a plan to also designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards as such, Peter Baker writes at the New York Times, citing officials briefed on the deliberations.
There is “no moral equivalence” between President Putin’s Russia and the US, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) insisted from the Senate floor yesterday, the Hill’s Jordain Carney reporting.
The Department of Defense is looking to rent space in Trump Tower in New York, a move which Drew Harwell at the Washington Post suggests could directly funnel government money into President Trump’s business interests.
“Is it worth the political risk to invite him for a visit?” This is the question President Trump is forcing his foreign counterparts to grapple with, writes Nahal Toosi at POLITICO.
Trump may still be able to address the UK parliament during his state visit – in a second room in the House of Lords which remains an option after House of Commons speaker John Bercow vowed to block any Trump speech, the Guardian’s Anushka Asthana and Peter Walker report.
UK Conservative party Trump apologists fail to see that the “special relationship” between the UK and the US is based on values that the US President maligns, writes Rafael Behr at the Guardian.
The MUSLIM BAN
A three-judge panel from the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit aggressively questioned both the Justice Department lawyer – on the limits of the President’s power an the evidence he relied on in justifying the travel ban – and Washington State’s solicitor general – over what evidence he had to show religious discrimination and whether the lower court’s stay on the ban was too wide, Matt Zapotosky and Robert Barnes report at the Washington Post.
The court’s ruling is likely later in the week, spokesperson David Madden said yesterday, President Trump threatening to take the case to the Supreme Court if necessary. The Guardian’s Sabrina Siddiqui reports.
The judges hearing the Justice Department’s arguments were skeptical enough that attorney August Flentje repeatedly raised the fallback option that the court rein in the lower court’s order without lifting it altogether, Josh Gerstein writes at POLITICO.
Watch the recording of the hearing here.
“This is all on me.” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said he should have prepared lawmakers before the President signed the executive order putting the travel ban in place, which he nevertheless called a “pause” and said was lawful and constitutional, NPR’s Brian Naylor reports.
Yemen reportedly withdrew permission for the US to carry out Special Operations ground missions against suspected terrorists in the country in response to the civilian casualties resulting from last month’s commando raid, the New York Times’ David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt report.
Yemen’s foreign minister denied his government requested a suspension of American ground operations but said it has asked for a “reassessment” of last month’s raid, the AP reports.
Last month’s raid in Yemen was a “failure” Sen. John McCain told reporters yesterday after a classified briefing on the operation, Emma Loop reports at BuzzFeed.
Turkey-backed rebels took control of strategically-important hills around the Islamic State- controlled town of al-Bab, Turkey’s military said today. [Reuters]
The Assad regime is using mass detentions and other “security-state” tactics to stopper dissent in areas it is regaining control of from rebels, the Wall Street Journal’s Raja Abdulrahim reports.
Amnesty International’s report of mass hangings of up to 13,000 people in a prison near Damascus was rejected by the Syrian justice ministry today, Sarah El Deeb reports at the AP.
Participants in the first meeting to discuss the establishment of a ceasefire implementation regime in Syria held in Astana yesterday shared best monitoring and verification practices and also discussed confidence-building measures to facilitate humanitarian access, the spokesperson for the Office of the UN Special Envoy for Syria told reporters yesterday.
Safe zones in Syria – which proponents argue are the best way to stop the refugee crisis and keep most Syrians close to home – are “a solution to the symptom and not the larger problem,” argues Samer Abboud at Al Jazeera.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 17 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Feb. 6. Separately, partner forces conducted seven strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
Two Israeli rights groups asked the country’s Supreme Court to overturn a new law retroactively legalizing settlements today, Alon Bernstein reports at the AP.
Israel’s “Regularization bill” contravenes international law and will have “far-reaching legal consequences,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said yesterday. [UN News Centre]
RUSSIA and UKRAINE
A senior separatist leader in eastern Ukraine was killed in an explosion in his office, his associates said today, Nataliya Vasilyeva reporting at the AP.
An increasing number of US Senators from both parties are pushing to strengthen sanctions against Russia and demand that Congress has the final say if President Trump decides instead to weaken them, saying yesterday that they intent to introduce the Russia Review Act, CNN’s Manu Raju reports.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo will visit Turkey tomorrow to discuss security issues including the movement led by US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, Turkish officials confirmed. Suzan Fraser reports at the AP.
Almost 4,500 more state employees were sacked by Turkey’s government apparently as part of the ongoing post-coup purge of suspected Fethullah Gulen followers, the AP reports.
President Erdoğan is trapped between Russian President Putin and President Trump, explains David Gardner at the Financial Times.
Four guards were killed when Islamist gunmen stormed a hotel in Somalia’s Puntland region today, Reuters reports, the Islamic State claiming responsibility for the attack.
US Army operations in and around Kenya’s Boni National Reserve on the border of Somalia are some of the “most mysterious” of the secret wars waged by the US worldwide, writes Margot Kiser at The Daily Beast.
A draft order dealing with Guantánamo Bay detention facility is one of dozens of draft executive orders stalled at the White House after President Trump slowed his use of unilateral power after the first week of his presidency, leaving think-tanks and lawmakers guessing about what the administration will do next, Josh Dawsey writes at POLITICO.
The world’s nations were urged to share information about airline passengers as part of a stronger response to the growth of “transnational terrorism” by the UN political chief yesterday, Edith M. Lederer reporting at the AP.
Colombia’s second-largest rebel group the National Liberation Army joined the government for peace talks in Ecuador yesterday, Nicholas Casey reports at the New York Times.
A suspected Islamic State attack in northern Afghanistan left at least six Afghan employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross dead today, Reuters reports.
Properties in Germany and Britain are being searched as part of an investigation of two people accused of supporting the Fatah al-Sham Front in Syria, previously affiliated to al-Qaeda under the name the Nusra Front, the AP reports.
A teenage couple in Australia were charged with planning to carry out a terrorist attack in Sydney, the BBC reports.