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The Early Edition: February 23, 2017

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

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Mexico yesterday as two threats put pressure on its relationship with the US: the new immigration orders, and another order requiring US officials to evaluate all American aid to Mexico with a view to possibly using it to pay for a border wall instead, Gardiner Harris and Kirk Semple report at the New York Times.

Another reorganization of President Trump’s foreign policy team that would give him control of Homeland Security and full access to the military and intelligence agencies is being considered by new national security adviser Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, reports Peter Baker at the New York Times.

Trump’s pick to head the intelligence community former Sen. Dan Coats is scheduled to have his Senate confirmation hearing next Tuesday, the Hill’s Mallory Shelbourne reports.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has asked his aides to think of ways to raise his media profile amid concerns over the direction of the State Department and whether Tillerson has enough influence with President Trump, Nahal Toosi reports at POLITICO.

The “holy grail of the anti-Islam lobby.” Designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization would cripple US foreign policy and have implications for domestic politics, writes Lawrence Pintak at Foreign Policy.

European leaders must find their way through the “parallel realities” of US foreign policy created by President Trump’s message on one side and Mattis and Pence’s measured reassurances on the other, Roula Khalaf writes at the Financial Times.

The TRUMP CABINET’S RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSSIA

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) is being pushed to ask former national security adviser Michael Flynn to testify before the panel by House Democrats, the Hill reports.

Another plan to end the conflict in Ukraine was sent to President Trump by Ukraine’s exiled former president Viktor Yanukovych, though the plan is unlikely to be taken seriously since Yanukovych has little support in Ukraine and little credibility in the West, James Marson writes at the Wall Street Journal.

The MUSLIM BAN

The release of the revised travel ban has been pushed back to next week by the White House, an official said yesterday, giving no explanation for the delay. Jordan Fabian reports at the Hill.

The travel ban is part of President Trump’s effort to push back on Iran and its terrorist proxy Hezbollah, as well as the Islamic State and other Sunni terror groups, suggests Matthew R. J. Brodsky writing at The Daily Beast.

NEW IMMIGRATION REGULATIONS

Mexico will not accept any policy changes unilaterally imposed by the US, Mexico’s foreign minister said yesterday as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly arrived in Mexico, Felicia Schwartz and Robbie Whelan report at the Wall Street Journal.

There will not be mass deportations by the US under new executive orders on border security and immigration enforcement, Kelly said during a visit to Guatemala yesterday, at the same time strongly discouraging Guatemalans from considering coming to the US. Sonia Perez D. reports at the AP.

SYRIA

Assad regime warplanes struck rebel-held areas in Deraa and Hama provinces and rebels fired at government targets today while UN-brokered peace talks are set to resume in Geneva, Reuters reports.

The UN envoy for Syria is not expecting a breakthrough in Geneva today, he said yesterday, Jamey Keaten and Dominique Soguel reporting at the AP.

Who is attending? What will be different this time? Jamey Keaten answers these and other fundamental questions about the talks at the AP.

Factors including significant military victories, Turkey’s shift from staunch opponent to ally of his allies and a new and less concerned US president give Syrian President Assad a heavy advantage and little reason to compromise at the peace talks, writes Ishaan Tharoor at the Washington Post.

Russia wants world powers to contribute billions of dollars for reconstruction and peace efforts in Syria, European and Gulf states saying they will only do so if Russia secures a peace settlement and sets the terms for a political transition. The issue is expected to be raised at the peace talks today, Kathrin Hille, Erika Solomon and Arthur Beesley report at the Financial Times.

Turkey-backed rebel forces took control of the center of the Islamic State-held city of al-Bab, Reuters reports.

“Perhaps” more US troops will be sent to Syria in advance of the operation to retake Raqqa, the commander of US Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel said yesterday, David Martin reporting at CBS News.

The Trump administration’s developing plan to defeat the Islamic State may lead to major alterations in the Syria strategy Trump inherited from former President Obama, reports Karen DeYoung at the Washington Post, citing US officials.

An immediate “top to bottom” review of US policy in Syria was called for by member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made a secret trip to northern Syria last weekend to speak to US military officials and Kurdish fighters heading the push to oust the Islamic State from the city of Raqqa, US officials confirmed, Dion Nissenbaum reporting at the Wall Street Journal.

IRAQ

US-led coalition-backed Iraqi forces recaptured Mosul airport from the Islamic State today, a key part of the offensive to rmove the terrorists from the city, the BBC reports.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 23 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Feb. 21. Separately, partner forces conducted nine strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

CHINA

China is aware of the presence of a US aircraft carrier strike group in the South China Sea and respects freedom of navigation for all countries in the area, China’s defense ministry said today. [Reuters]

China denied reports that it increased its military presence on the border with North Korea following the murder of its leader’s half-brother in Malaysia, Reuters reports.

North Korea shipped more coal than allowed under UN sanctions to China in December, China saying the excess was due to a “time lag” between the adoption and implementation of the Nov. 30 Security Council resolution, Chun Han Wong reports at the Wall Street Journal.

PAKISTAN

An explosion at a shopping center in Lahore in Pakistan killed at least eight people today, according to officials, Mubashir Bukhari reporting at Reuters.

The threat of the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan is real, it’s growing, and Afghanistan is a part of the world where President Trump’s new national security adviser has had limp results in the past, write Sami Yousafzai and Christopher Dickey at The Daily Beast.

NORTH KOREA

Malaysia asked Interpol to put an alert out to apprehend four North Korean suspects in the murder of the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Malaysia’s police chief said today. Rozanna Latiff reports at Reuters.

Following ten days of silence on the death of Kim Jong-nam North Korean media issued a report accusing Malaysian authorities of engaging in a “conspiratorial racket launched by the South Korean authorities,” reports Bryan Harris at the Financial Times.

“A whodunit with geopolitical implications.” Richard C. Paddock and Choe Sang-Hun explain what is known so far about the killing of Kim Jong-nam at the New York Times.

GUANTANAMO BAY

Guantánamo Bay “does serve a very, very healthy purpose in our national security,” White House Spokesperson Sean Spicer said in response to a question on whether the Trump administration would send US citizens to the detention center. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

The as-yet unverified claim by the Islamic State that British-born ex-Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Zakariya al-Britani – or Jamal al-Harith – blew himself up near Mosul in Iraq on Monday prompted outrage in British tabloids and a response from former-UK prime minister Tony Blair complaining that he was being unfairly blamed for the release of al-Britani to the UK, Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura reports at the New York Times.

Al-Britani was one of at least seventeen British citizens and residents known to have been imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay, all of whom were interviewed by the British authorities on their return and paid millions of pounds in compensation. Ben Quinn and Matthew Weaver take a look at what became of the men at the Guardian.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Details of a central episode in America’s fight against al-Qaeda, the recruitment of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab by US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and Abdulmutallab’s subsequent failed attempt to blow up an airliner flying into Detroit in 2009 have been revealed by newly-released documents obtained by the New York Times’ Scott Shane.

The US will receive “a strong slap in the face” if it underestimates Iran’s military power, Gen. Mohammad Pakpour of the Revolutionary Guards said yesterday. [Reuters]

Cuban President Raul Castro is keen to maintain stronger relations with the US, passing a group of Congress members signed copies of a speech expressing his willingness to negotiate with President Trump, Sen. Patrick Leahy said yesterday. Michael Weissenstein reports at the AP.

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About the Author

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