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
National security adviser Michael Flynn – inappropriately and potentially illegally – privately discussed US sanctions against Russia with the Russian ambassador to the US in the month before President Trump took office – contrary to public assertions by Trump officials, Greg Miller, Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima report at the Washington Post, citing current and former US officials.
Flynn relayed the unambiguous and highly inappropriate message to the Russian ambassador that US-Russia relations would change under President Trump from the adversarial attitude of the Obama administration, officials said, Matthew Rosenberg and Matt Apuzzo reporting at the New York Times.
The US will honor the “One China” policy, President Trump told his Chinese counterpart in the leaders’ first phone call yesterday, walking back on his earlier expressions of doubt over the longstanding understanding, Mark Landler and Michael Forsythe report at the New York Times.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim agreed on closer cooperation against terrorism and organized crime when they met in Turkey today, the AP reports.
Trump denounced a 2010 treaty capping US and Russian deployment of nuclear warheads during his first call with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in January, Jonathan Landay and David Rohde report at Reuters.
Trump intends to use his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe today to reassure the US’s Asia-Pacific allies that he values America’s alliances in the region despite raising doubts with his earlier comments, write Carol E. Lee and Alastair Gale at the Wall Street Journal.
Prime Minister Abe will most likely want to underscore Defense Secretary James Mattis’ description of Japan as “a model of cost sharing and burden sharing” on defense during his recent visit to Japan and his reassurance that the US would stand by the mutual defense treaty and retain its troops on Okinawa and elsewhere when he meets Trump today, suggests Motoko Rich at the New York Times.
Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet in Washington Monday for the first time, Trudeau’s office said. Paul Vieira reports at the Wall Street Journal.
A strategy on the Israel-Palestine conflict involving enlisting Arab nations like Saudi Arabia and Egypt to break years of deadlock is being developed by the Trump administration, write Peter Baker and Mark Landler at the New York Times.
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has become the main point of contact for foreign leaders, ministers and ambassadors, helping to lay the groundwork for deals, despite having no traditional foreign policy experience, his “back-channel” communications with Mexico revealing him as “almost a shadow secretary of state, operating outside the boundaries of the State Department or National Security Council,” write Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker and Joshua Partlow at the Washington Post.
“We must never pursue cooperation with Russia at the expense of our fundamental interests.” Eight Republican Senators urged President Trump to take a harder line on Russia in a letter yesterday, the Hill’s Joe Uchill reports.
Thinking Russia has much to offer the US is a miscalculation on Trump’s part not just of Russian power and interests but also the value of what America might have to give up in return, writes The Economist.
US primacy and Russian imperialism are not the same thing. Sohrab Ahmari explains what Trump doesn’t get about NATO and President Putin at the Wall Street Journal.
The United States is the UK’s “gravest national security threat since the Second World War,” President Trump seeking to bring about a Russian-American axis that would weaken NATO, destroy the EU and dominate a Europe reduced to “politically dysfunctional national fragments” – the very spectacle discussed by EU leaders in Malta last week – warns Joseph O’Neill at the Guardian.
The MUSLIM BAN
“SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!” the President tweeted following the ruling.
“The Government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the Order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States.” This and four other “key quotes” from the judgment are identified and explained by Melanie Zanona writing at the Hill.
The government argued that the courts should not even hear this case based on the doctrines of standing and political questions – the court’s ruling on these issues “boring, but crucial” parts of the judgment that give the Trump administration two additional reasons to be worried, explains William Fernholz at the Hill.
The Trump administration will continue to defend the executive order in more than a dozen additional lawsuits currently moving through the court system, a federal court in Virginia due to hold a hearing on a request for a preliminary injunction on aspects of the ban today, Mica Rosenberg reports at Reuters.
Mr Trump’s “see you in court” promise raises the interesting question of “which court?” There are three options – the Supreme Court, an en banc hearing at the Ninth Circuit, or simply waiting for the hearing in the Seattle district court that originally issued the restraining order. The Economist explains why none of those options are promising for the Trump administration.
The unanimous ruling of the ninth circuit court suggests the Trump administration will be hard pressed to make an argument that would convince the Supreme Court, Julia Carrie Wong and Alan Yuhas suggest at the Guardian.
The Trump administration will not be deterred by the ruling, top White House aide Kellyanne Conway said yesterday, insisting that the Government will “prevail on the merits” of the ban once they get their “day in Court.” The Hill’s Mark Hensch reports.
There were three key mistakes that contributed to Trump’s defeat yesterday, suggests Josh Gerstein at POLITICO.
The federal court’s opinion tells us a lot about the “hubris and sheer incompetence” of the Trump administration, observes Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post.
Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s comment that he was disheartened by attacks on the courts was not aimed at the President’s recent comments, White House officials insisted yesterday, echoing Trump’s earlier Tweeted assertions. Julie Hirschfeld Davis reports at the New York Times.
OTHER EXECUTIVE ACTIONS and APPOINTMENTS
The Trump administration and the Department of Homeland Security have quietly moved forward with parts of two earlier orders overshadowed by the Muslim ban and the Mexican border wall order on border security and public safety in the interior of the US which resurrect some of the most controversial immigration enforcement programs of recent years, Ryan Devereaux writes at The Intercept.
America must put a stop to illegal immigration, new US attorney general Jeff Sessions proclaimed as he was sworn in at the White House. Sessions is widely seen as an inspiration for President Trump’s anti-immigration policies, the BBC reports.
Intensified Saudi-led airstrikes on the Yemeni port of Hodeidah are potentially trapping civilians and interfering with humanitarian access, the UN said today. [Reuters]
Getting more involved in Yemen’s counterterrorism war against al-Qaeda’s Yemeni franchise AQAP without a strategy for resolving the civil war between Yemen’s government and the Houthi minority would be a mistake for the US, writes Jon Finer at Foreign Policy.
Washington’s increased attention on the Yemen war is delighting Saudi Arabia and its gulf allies who are hopeful that President Trump will choose it as his first opportunity to roll back Iran, writes Yaroslav Trofimov at the Wall Street Journal.
Russia intervened in fighting between Assad regime forces and Turkey-backed Syrian rebels in northern Syria, the first confrontation between the two side who are both fighting the Islamic State in the area. Laila Bassam and Humeyra Pamuk report at Reuters.
A Russian airstrike killed three Turkish soldiers in northern Syria yesterday, both Russia and Turkey describing the incident as an accident, Anne Barnard reports at the New York Times.
The Russian airstrikes were launched based on coordinates provided by the Turkish military, the Kremlin said today. [Reuters]
Russia and Turkey have agreed to improve coordination in fighting the Islamic State in Syria after the incident, the AP reports.
Some Syrian refugees are “definitely” terrorists, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claimed in an interview with Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff.
The worry that rather than being a defeat for the Islamic State pushing the group out of Mosul will instigate a breakout to other regions motivates the Trump administration as it plans its strategy against the terrorists, David Ignatius writes at the Washington Post.
An Islamic State sleeper cell remains active in the liberated city of Fallujah, which the Shiite-dominated national government has failed to secure and rebuild in the eight months since the terrorists were ousted, fueling fears that Sunnis in the city may re-embrace them, writes David Zucchino at the New York Times.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 17 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Feb. 7. Separately, partner forces conducted 11 or 12 strikes against targets in Iraq – Central Command suggests both.
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
A Palestinian boy opened fire and stabbed shoppers at a market in central Israel yesterday, wounding at least six, Ian Deitch reports at the AP.
Palestinian municipalities in the occupied West Bank petitioned the Supreme Court to strike down the new law retroactively legalizing Israeli settlements Wednesday, Jonathan Cook reports at Al Jazeera.
A few thousand more US troops are needed in Afghanistan to break the “stalemate” facing the US and its NATO allies there, commander of the US-led international military force in Afghanistan Gen. John W. Nicholson told Congress yesterday. Michael R. Gordon reports at the New York Times.
Gen. Nicholson’s suggestions were welcomed by the Afghan Defense Ministry today, Reuters reports.
The Pentagon says a 2015 letter from alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammad is classified – a day after it was published by the Miami Herald, Carol Rosenberg reports.
The White House is investigating “very concerning” leaks about President Trump’s calls with his foreign counterparts, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said. The Hill’s Jordan Fabian reports.
Chinese and US aircraft had an “unsafe” encounter over the South China Sea this week, the US Pacific Command said. [AP]
A constitutional reform bill that would greatly increase his executive powers was approved by Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan and a referendum on the matter is likely on April 16, Turkish officials said today, Tulay Karadeniz reporting at Reuters.
Four people were arrested on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack in Montpellier, France, police and justice sources said today. [Reuters]
The Islamic State is purchasing authentic British passports from a Neapolitan factory on the dark web capable of fooling even the tightest security systems, Barbie Latza Nadeau reports at The Daily Beast.