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The Early Edition: February 15, 2017

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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.

MICHAEL FLYNN RESIGNS

Members of President Trump’s campaign and other associates had repeated contact with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year leading up to the election, phone records and intercepted calls reveal, according to current and former US officials. Michael S. Schmidt, Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo report at the New York Times.

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort denies knowingly contacting Russian intelligence officials, Demetri Sevastopulo, Courtney Weaver and David J. Lynch report at the Financial Times.

Flynn denied talking about sanctions on Russia when he spoke to its US ambassador last year in an interview with Richard Pollock at the Daily Caller News Foundation.

The FBI questioned Flynn in January shortly after the White House denied he had talked about sanctions with a Russian official, Devlin Barrett and Carol E. Lee report at the Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter.

Leading Republicans have joined calls for an investigation into Flynn’s links with Russia, the BBC reports.

House Intelligence Committee Chaiman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) will not open an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn but the committee will investigate who leaked the story that led to his resignation and why he was being recorded in the first place, the Hill’s Jonathan Easley reports.

It is “highly likely” the Senate intelligence committee will investigate Flynn’s talks with the Russian ambassador, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said yesterday, CNN’s Manu Raju, Tom LoBianco and Eugene Scott reporting.

Vice President Mike Pence was kept in the dark for two weeks by the White House about the warning it received about Flynn from the Justice Department, Pence’s press secretary said yesterday. NBC News’ Vaughn Hillyard and Hallie Jackson report.

More information about Flynn’s contact with the Russians will be revealed in the coming days, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told a closed party meeting, according to multiple sources. Jake Sherman reports at POLITICO.

Flynn’s departure has quickly become a major crisis for the Trump administration, now on the defensive and engaged it its first significant breach in relations with an increasingly agitated Republican Congress, write Karen DeYoung, Abby Phillip and Jenna Johnson at the Washington Post.

The White House had been reviewing the Flynn situation for weeks, culminating in Trump asking for Flynn’s resignation, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said yesterday, contradicting what senior administration officials told reporters Monday night. The Daily Beast reports.

The White House has already interviewed former CENTCOM deputy director Robert Haward about the job of national security adviser, a senior administration official told NPR’s Jessica Taylor and Tamara Keith.

Flynn’s resignation will have “no impact” on Defense Secretary James Mattis’ trip to NATO this week, he told reporters today. The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel reports.

Euphoria among Russian officials following the election of President Trump, already fading, has been delivered a further blow by Flynn’s resignation, writes Neil MacFarquhar at the New York Times.

What did Trump know about contact with Russia and when did he know it? Robert Mackey at looks at Trump’s tweets for clues at The Intercept.

The key question is “who told Flynn to call Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States?” Daniel Benjamin at POLITICO is convinced that Flynn, a bit player in a much larger story regarding President Trump’s relationship with Russia, didn’t do it of his own accord.

Flynn’s resignation provides Trump with an opportunity to put right the “dysfunctional policymaking apparatus” that is the National Security Council, suggests the Washington Post editorial board.

The only reason the public know about Flynn’s conversations with the Russians is that someone inside the US government committed a serious – and wholly justified – felony, publicly revealing the contents of signals intelligence, writes Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

The Trump administration will not insist on a two-state solution for peace between Israel and Palestine, a senior White House official told reporters, Nikita Vladimirov reporting at the Hill.

A higher priority than the Palestine question for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he meets Trump today is Iran, Netanyahu welcoming the tough line Trump has taken toward Tehran but likely to push him to go further, writes Michael Crowley at POLITICO.

The “turmoil” in the White House created by Michael Flynn’s resignation could complicate what many thought would be a triumphant reception for the Israeli Prime Minister today, suggests Mark Lander at the New York Times.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah to discuss the Israeli-Palestine conflict and other regional issues yesterday, according to Jack Khoury at HAARETZ.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has embarked on a “reassurance tour with a twist” in Europe, explains Lolita C. Baldor at the AP.

The meeting between Mattis and European allies at NATO headquarters in Brussels today is seen as an opportunity for Mattis to reaffirm America’s commitment to European security following the election of Donald Trump, Reuters reports.

European home affairs and migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos will be the first EU official to meet the Trump administration in Washington, where he will make the case for the EU, writes Valentina Pop at the Wall Street Journal.

There are many good reasons for the US to reconcile with Moscow on numerous issues, the real question being whether the Trump administration can control its own desire for global hegemony enough to make it possible. Anatol Lieven responds to the American foreign policy establishment’s criticism of President Trump’s desire to improve relations with Russia at the New York Times.

SYRIA

Talks due to begin today in the Kazakh capital Astana have been delayed by one day, Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry said, without providing an explanation. [Al Jazeera]

Rebels want face-to-face negotiations with the Syrian government about a political transition at the peace talks that are due to take place in Geneva next week, Tom Perry reports at Reuters.

The US military used depleted uranium weapons on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq, officials confirmed, despite promising not to do so, the first confirmed use of this armament since the 2003 Iraq invasion. Samuel Oakford reports at Foreign Policy.

 “Over 60,000” Islamic State fighters have been killed by the US and its allies in Syria and Iraq, according to the US Special Operations head, a figure far higher than estimates provided by the US and its allies themselves. CNN’s Ryan Browne reports.

Lebanese militant group Hezbollah look set to become one of the biggest winners of the Syrian war, write Erika Solomon and John Reed at the Financial Times.

IRAQ

Several senior Islamic State figures and dozens of militants attending a meeting were killed in a wave of airstrikes in Anbar province in Iraq, the Iraqi military said, NBC News’ Mark Hanrahan reporting.

Parts of the east bank of the Tigris river in Mosul remain under siege three weeks after the Iraqi army declared that part of the city liberated from the Islamic State, reports David Zucchino at the New York Times.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 18 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Feb. 13. Separately, partner forces conducted eight strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

RUSSIA

Russia secretary deployed a missile that US officials say violated a 1987 treaty banning American and Russian immediate-range missiles based on land, Michael R. Gordon reports at the New York Times.

The Kremlin denied reports it violated the treaty today, Reuters reports.

Russia will not hand back Ukraine or discuss the matter with foreign partners, Russia said today after the White House said President Trump expected Ukraine to be returned, Andrew Osborn reports at Reuters.

Several Russian aircraft buzzed a US destroyer patrolling the Black Sea last week, the Pentagon said yesterday. Thomas Gibbons-Neff reports at the Washington Post.

The five Nordic countries are seeking deeper economic and defense cooperation in the face of the perceived threat from Russia and doubts over US and UK security commitments, Sweden’s foreign minister told the Financial Times’ Richard Milne.

NORTH KOREA

A suspect in the apparent poisoning of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother at Kuala Lumpur airport has been arrested in Malaysia, the BBC reports.

China capitalized on a re-evaluation by the Trump administration on how to handle North Korea by urging the US to enter into talks with it to end its nuclear weapons program and end the longstanding stalemate, Jane Perlez, Choe Sang-Hun and Motoko Rich write at the New York Times.

GUANTANAMO BAY

Keep Guantánamo Bay, suspend the periodic review board and increase the prison population, a group of Republican Senators has written President Trump. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

New clues on how the FBI cracked the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters are revealed in highly-redacted contract solicitation documents released by the agency, the Hill’s Megan R. Wilson reports.

A digital convention akin to the Fourth Geneva convention was called for by Microsoft President Brad Smith to protect civilian use of the internet and prevent nation-state hacking, the Hill’s Ali Breland reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Legislation that would strip Americans who knowingly join terrorist groups of their citizenship was reintroduced by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Ariz.) yesterday, the Hill’s Jordain Carney reports.

A deployment of 500 US troops with tanks and hardware arrived in Romania yesterday to bolster defences against the perceived threat from Russia, the AP reports.

The man accused of purchasing the weapons used in the San Bernardino terrorist attack has agreed to plead guilty to federal charges, Doreen McCallister reports at NPR.

A Taliban attack on a village in the northern Faryab province of Afghanistan left five police officers dead this morning, the AP reports.

Leaflets containing Islamic State propaganda threatening attacks have been distributed by an unknown source in the remote Kurram tribal area of Pakistan, Mushtaq Yusufzai reports at NBC News.

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About the Author

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security, Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE