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’s declaration that the US would no longer insist on a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict at a news conference following his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday cast aside decades of US diplomacy in an instant, write Peter Baker and Mark Lander at the New York Times.
“I would like you to hold back on settlements a bit,” Trump told Netanyahu yesterday, the one issue the two leaders showed difference on, reports Andrew Rafferty at NBC News.
The reaction in Palestine was anger and confusion, chief negotiator for the Palestinians Saeb Erekat raising the specter of “apartheid” and calling for “concrete measures” to “save the two-state solution,” Ian Fisher reports at the New York Times.
Trump’s willingness to lend credibility to those who would deny a separate state to the Palestinians will definitely make peace harder to achieve, while his optimism about getting a “great peace deal” was not backed up by details on any peace initiative, writes the New York Times editorial board.
Trump cast his policy shift as a matter of acting as a neutral broker: “I’m looking at two states and one state. I can live with either one.” But there is no workable one-state formula under which Israel can remain “both a Jewish state and democratic,” writes the Washington Post editorial board.
It is hard to understand how the internal contradictions in the Israel-Palestine conflict could be sorted out to achieve Trump’s goal of a “deal” for Israel, writes Barak Ravid at HAARETZ.
The shift away from a two-state solution puts America at odds with the longstanding positions of its European, Arab and other allies, writes Rory Jones at the Wall Street Journal.
The press conference with Trump and Netanyahu was “nothing short of Vulcan mind meld” with the two leaders operating in seamless union, veteran Middle East observer Aaron David Miller said on CNN yesterday. Ishaan Tharoor analyses the presser at the Washington Post.
Netanyahu has no intention of abandoning the idea of a two-state solution, insists Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse.
Trump’s meeting with Netanyahu demonstrates that he is “delusional and ignorant” about Israel, writes Ilene Prusher at HAARETZ.
The mood in Beit El, a Jewish settlement deep in the occupied West Bank branded by the Obama administration as “illegitimate” is “cautiously optimistic” about the “friendly faces” it sees in the Trump administration, particularly David Friedman, long-time benefactor to the settlement and Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel, Isabel Kershner writes at the New York Times.
The TRUMP CABINET’S RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSSIA
The best path for a probe into Russia in the wake of national security adviser Michael Flynn’s resignation is being deliberated by Senate Republicans, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said yesterday, Jordain Carney reporting at the Hill.
Details on Flynn’s resignation have been requested from the Justice Department by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Hill’s Jordain Carney reports.
Flynn’s security clearance was suspended by the Defense Intelligence Agency “pending a review,” a D.I.A. spokesperson confirmed yesterday. Kimberly Dozier reports at The Daily Beast.
There is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing in the transcripts of Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador, according to a US intelligence official, though that doesn’t rule out the possibility of illegal actions. NPR’s Camila Domonoske reports.
“The biggest problem I see here is that you have an American citizen who has his phone calls recorded,” chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Devin Nunes said when he found out the FBI had listened to Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador, Alex Emmons at The Intercept observing wryly that surveillance defenders are suddenly caring about wiretap abuse.
There is a legitimate concern that Trump’s advisers may try to cover up improper contacts with Russian intelligence, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) warned yesterday following an emergency Democratic caucus meeting, the Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports.
News articles claiming that Trump’s campaign and other associates had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence officials were “not based on fact and do not indicate any specific facts, either,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said yesterday, reports Ivan Nechepurenko at the New York Times.
FBI Director James Comey is reportedly presiding over an investigation that seems to have implicated one of President Trump’s top aids, putting him back in the spotlight again after Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign blamed him for her loss, writes Katie Bo Williams at the Hill.
Trump could dispel all the “non-sense” over his administration’s Russia connections by de-classifying all government intercepts of communications between Russian nationals and anyone in his orbit, points out Jon Schwarz at The Intercept.
Trump and his aides face three sets of questions from legislators and law enforcement agencies about Russia ties: “how wide and deep were the exchanges,” “who exactly was involved,” and “where there any bargains struck, implicit or explicit, about the direction of US policy once Mr Trump reached the White House?” writes Philip Stephens at the Financial Times.
Trump’s efforts to forge closer ties with Russian President Putin could be derailed by the trail of damning revelations about contacts between Trump’s associates and Rusisan officials, suggests Michael Crowley at POLITICO.
President Trump has reignited his feud with intelligence agencies with criticisms over leaks that led to the resignation of “wonderful man” Flynn in an effort to shift attention away from the contents of Flynn’s conversations with Russia’s US ambassador, writes Jordan Fabian at the Hill.
It is time for Congress to investigate President Trump’s ties with Russia, writes the New York Times editorial board.
A genuine investigation of the “whole fetid matter” from the Russian hacking, to the reported contacts between Trump aides and the Russians, to the sophisticated campaign of leaks from the intelligence community needs to happen on Capitol Hill, agrees Rich Lowry writing at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
The balance of power between President Trump and Congress is shifting after Flynn’s resignation, with Republican senators asserting they will oversee the new administration more assertively and Democrats taking the opportunity to ask pointed questions about Trump’s Russia ties, observe Sean Sullivan and Karoun Demirjian at the Washington Post.
The whole Russia fiasco illustrates the “dysfunction and dishonesty” of Trump’s White House and “how ill prepared it is to protect the nation,” writes the New York Times editorial board.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
The possibility of a military alliance between the US and Arab allies who would share intelligence with Israel to help counter mutual enemy Iran is being discussed, according to several Middle Eastern officials. Maria Abi-Habib reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Saudi Arabia is optimistic about its relationship with America under President Trump, its foreign minister saying he is confident that cooperation between the two nations can overcome challenges in the Middle East, Matthew Lee reports at the AP.
US intelligence agencies have withheld sensitive information from President Trump over concerns that it could be leaked or compromised, according to former and current officials. Shane Harris and Carol E. Lee report at the Wall Street Journal.
Trump plans to assign New York billionaire Stephen A. Feinberg to head a broad review of US intelligence agencies, report James Risen and Matthew Rosenberg at the New York Times.
Rebel forces are engaged in their biggest offensive along Syria’s southern border in a year, threatening the Turkey-Russia brokered ceasefire, Louisa Loveluck reports at the Washington Post.
A proposal that President Trump send ground combat forces into Northern Syria is being considered by the Pentagon, Barbara Starr reports at CNN.
Countries opposed to the Assad regime including the US will meet tomorrow for the first time since Donald Trump took office in an effort to find common ground ahead of the UN-backed peace talks in Geneva next week, Reuters reports.
Syrian President Assad accused his French counterpart of sponsoring terror in Syria today, Philip Issa reports at the AP.
The Trump administration is not insisting on the Kurdish YPG militia being involved in the operation to oust the Islamic State from Raqqa, Turkey’s defense minister said today. [Reuters]
The takeover of al Bab by Turkey’s Euphrates Shield operation would effectively prevent Kurdish forces from establishing a corridor between the two territories they control in northern Syria and would provide Turkey with a strategic advantage in possible operations against the Islamic State, explains Mariya Petkova writing at Al Jazeera.
A suicide bomber killed at least nine people in northern Baghdad yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 17 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Feb. 14. Separately, partner forces conducted five strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
Nine civilians were reportedly killed in an overnight raid on a funeral reception near Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, Houthi rebels blaming the US and Saudi-backed coalition for the attack, who are yet to comment, the BBC reports.
A tribal leader allied to Yemen’s US and Saudi-backed president who had been enlisted to fight Yemen’s Shi’ite rebels was the main figure killed in last month’s US raid targeting al-Qaeda, Maggie Michael and Ahmed Al-Haj report at the AP.
It is in the interests of both the US and Russia to restore communications between their respective intelligence agencies, Russian President Putin said today. [Reuters]
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reacted angrily to comments by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis Wednesday that America needs to negotiate with Russia “from a position of strength,” the AP reports.
US top military officer Gen. Joseph Dunford will attempt to reopen a military dialogue with his Russian counterpart today amid tensions over Russia’s harassment of US warships, increased fighting in eastern Ukraine, and accusations that Moscow violated a landmark arms accord, Michael R. Gordon reports at the New York Times.
Russia will share intelligence with the Philippines and provide training for the elite forces tasked with protecting its president, Russia’s top security official said today. [Reuters]
Defense Secretary James Mattis told NATO allies that American support for the organization could depend on whether other countries meet their own spending commitments yesterday, Helene Cooper reports at the New York Times.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Germany last night for his first overseas trip in post, Felicia Schwarz reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Tillerson has his work cut out for him on this first trip, during which he will face a barrage of questions about the Trump administration’s foreign policy from Asian and European allies, observes Matthew Lee at the AP.
A united Europe is key to stopping the “chaotic” world descending into deepening conflict, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said yesterday ahead of two important global meetings this week, Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.
A third suspect in the apparent assassination of the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was arrested by Malaysian police today, Anna Fifield reports at the Washington Post.
The assassination of Kim Jong Nam – which South Korea’s spy chief asserted was directly ordered from Pyongyang – focuses new attention on North Korea’s leader, suggesting he will stop at nothing to keep power, writes Anna Fifield at the Washington Post.
Pakistani security forces killed six suspected Islamic militants today in a raid on a hideout in the central district of Khanewal, the AP reports.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
President Trump has changed his mind about leaks after only four weeks in office, observes Michael D. Shear at the New York Times.
The draconian assault on whistleblowers presented by proposed changes to the UK’s Official Secrets Act is discussed by Ian Cobain at the Guardian.
Yahoo is warning users of potentially malicious activity on the accounts of its users between 2015 and 2016 two months after it revealed that data from over a billion user accounts had been compromized in August 2013, Olivia Solon reports at the Guardian.