The Early Edition: February 24, 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.

The TRUMP CABINET’S RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSSIA

A request from the White House to dispute media reports that Trump campaign officials had regular contacts with Russian intelligence officials during the election campaign was rejected by the FBI, Jim Sciutto, Evan Perez, Shimon Prokupecz, Manu Raju and Pamela Brown report at CNN.

The request came from White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, who made the request after the FBI informed the White House it believed a New York Times article last week describing those contacts was inaccurate, Julie Pace reports at the AP.

The “increasingly unhinged Russia rhetoric” is nothing new. Glenn Greenwald explains how little has changed when it comes to US government propaganda and militarism, and the role the media plays in sustaining it all, at The Intercept.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

America must be “top of the pack” when it comes to nuclear arms, President Trump told Reuters’ Steve Holland yesterday, echoing his pledge in a tweet of Dec. 22 last year to “greatly strengthen” the US’ nuclear capability.

The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation fact-checked Trump’s statements on nukes yesterday including his assertion that an arms control treaty with Russia is a “bad deal,” the Hill’s Rebecca Kheel reports.

President Trump’s comments on nukes yesterday rolled back on decades of US efforts to negotiate careful, mutual reductions in nuclear arsenals around the world and signal that he could begin a new nuclear arms race, writes Alex Emmons at The Intercept.

“I’m not liking” the military dynamic in eastern Asia including the militarization of the South China Sea and North Korea’s developing ballistic missile program, the President also said yesterday. Cristiano Lima reports at POLITICO.

Peruvian President Pedro Kuczynski will use his visit to President Trump today to talk tough on the American President’s alienating anti-immigration and anti-trade rhetoric, suggest Franklin Briceno and Joshua Goodman at the AP.

Many Lebanese fear they will pay the price for President Trump’s rolling back of his Iranian sway, explains Yaroslav Trofimov at the Wall Street Journal.

“Unpresidential” behavior by Donald Trump has left some Australians worrying that their country’s longstanding and strong alliance with the US is no longer as solid, Rob McGuirk writes at the AP.

There is a “glaring contradiction” at the heart of President Trump’s foreign policy team, but this arrangement could “perhaps” work, argues Charles Krauthammer at the Washington Post.

TILLERSON and KELLY VISIT MEXICO

Mexico’s foreign minister expressed his “irritation” at President Trump to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson yesterday at a meeting in Mexico City during which both sides nevertheless set a more conciliatory tone than they have done in recent weeks, the BBC reports.

America will not use military force to deport immigrants across the border, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told Mexicans yesterday, Antonio Olivo reporting at the Washington Post.

The Trump administration’s plans to ramp up removal of undocumented immigrants is a “military operation,” President Trump told a meeting of manufacturing C.E.O.s yesterday. Matthew Nussbaum reports at POLITICO.

There was no mention of the border wall or Trump’s plans to deport non-Mexicans to Mexico when Tillerson and Kelly met with Mexico’s foreign secretary yesterday, the US officials instead focusing on allaying fears created by President Trump – leaving Mexicans with the uncomfortable decision about whom to believe, write Josh Lederman and Mark Stevenson at the AP.

The range of people who can be deported without seeing a judge is drastically widened by the Department of Homeland Security’s plans on how to implement an executive order on domestic immigration enforcement, explains Ryan Devereaux at The Intercept.

The MUSLIM BAN

The Department of Homeland Security has been instructed to assist the Justice Department in coming up with a legal defense of President Trump’s temporary travel ban, Jake Tapper and Pamela Brown report at CNN.

Some of the more misleading claims by the Trump administration to back up the first ban are already being repeated in relation to the new version, Linda Qiu fact-checking these statements at the New York Times.

A total of 746 people were “detained or processed” during the 72-hour period after a federal judge blocked parts of Trump’s travel ban, the Justice Department said yesterday, Jordan Fabian reporting at the Hill.

SYRIA

Opposition representatives almost missed the opening ceremony of the Syria peace talks in Geneva yesterday after threatening not to attend over disagreements about the format of the session, Al Jazeera reports.

The talks yesterday were “rich in symbols, short on substance,” conclude Dominique Soguel and Jamey Keaten, providing a summary of what took place at the AP.

Bilateral meetings will be held with participants in the talks to decide on a work plan, The UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan De Mistura said at the end of the peace talks yesterday. [UN News Centre]

A car bomb close to the Syrian town of al-Bab killed at least 31 civilians and 6 rebel fighters and destroyed a rebel post in Sousian today, the BBC reports.

The largest remaining rebel stronghold in northern Syria the province of Idlib is falling under the control of al-Qaeda-linked extremists as international allies withdraw their aid to moderate rebel groups, Liz Sly and Zakaria Zakaria report at the Washington Post.

Defense Secretary James Mattis is to provide President Trump with a series of recommendations for a plan to tweak and add muscle to an existing plan to accelerate the fight against the Islamic State, Gordon Lubold, Dion Nissenbaum and Julian Barnes report at the Wall Street Journal.

A “full range” of options are being considered to defeat the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq as part of President Trump’s 30-day strategy review, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford said yesterday. The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel reports.

The Russian military “tested 162 types of contemporary and modernized weapons in Syria,” according to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Lucian Kim reports at NPR.

IRAQ

Iraqi forces entered the first neighborhood of the western side of Mosul today, the AP reports.

The US has adjusted its rules of engagement in Iraq as American and other international troops are now closer to front-line fighting than they were previously, with American and European advisers embedded with forward Iraqi rapid response and special forces units in the push to take Mosul International airport yesterday, Susannah George and Balint Szlanko report at the AP.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 24 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Feb. 22. Separately, partner forces conducted 14 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

PAKISTAN

The Pakistani government allowed the army to enter Punjab province with special powers to hunt down, arrest and shoot suspected militants, an operation it said was aimed at “indiscriminately” eliminating the threat of terrorism – an adverb with a precise and politically-loaded meaning, Pamela Constable writes at the Washington Post.

Pakistan’s government and military have allowed some militant groups to go undisturbed in the country while they choose to lay the blame on neighboring countries rather than pursue a sustained counter-terrorism campaign in the face of over a dozen suicide attacks in just over a week this month, Ahmed Rashid writes at the Financial Times.

An explosion at a shopping Center in Lahore yesterday was probably a gas explosion, not a bomb, Pakistani officials said today. [Reuters]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Israel’s government is refusing to allow US investigator Human Rights Watch into the country, calling the group “systematically anti-Israel” and a tool for pro-Palestinian propaganda, William Booth reports at the Washington Post.

The 18-month sentence handed to Israeli soldier Elor Azaria for the manslaughter of an unarmed wounded Palestinian was “excessively lenient” and “unacceptable,” the UN human rights office said today. [Reuters]

NORTH KOREA

Kim Jong-nam was killed with VX nerve agent, listed as a chemical weapon under the Chemical Weapons Conventions of 1997 and 2005, to which North Korea is not a party, Malaysian police announced today. Richard C. Paddock and Choe Sang-Hun report at the New York Times.

As evidence grows that Pyongyang was responsible for Kim Jong-nam’s killing, this is becoming another reason why the US should designate North Korea a state sponsor of terror, a status it lost in 2008, argues the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

China was “dancing to the tune of the US” by tightening sanctions against North Korea, North Korea’s state-run news agency said yesterday, accusing China of “mean behavior,” the New York Times’ Choe Sang-Hun reports.

GUANTANAMO BAY

Keeping Guantánamo Bay detention facility open is not in the interests of US or European security even after reports that a former British-born inmate joined the Islamic State and carried out a suicide attack in Iraq, writes Jonathan Russel, head of policy at UK-based counter-extremism organization Quilliam, at CNN.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

A controversial provision of US law allowing the government to target people outside the US for foreign intelligence purposes will be discussed by the House Judiciary Committee next Wednesday, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

The hacking of the US election by the Kremlin was just one part of a global threat, a startling revelation in a January report by US intelligence agencies that received little attention in the US, David Ignatius writes at the Washington Post.

The Kremlin-backed “cyber warriors” of APT 28 have become bolder in their choice of target since the 2015 hack of France’s TV5Monde, initiating an operation to hack the Democratic National Committee in the spring of 2016 during the US election campaign, writes the Financial Times.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

China misunderstood the Philippine foreign minister’s comments about its militarization in the South China Sea, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said today. [Reuters]

At least eight soldiers were killed by a suicide bomber at a military camp in Yemen’s southern city of Zinjibar this morning, Al Jazeera reports.

Largest exporter of jihadists Tunisia is furiously debating what to do with returnees from among the 3,000 to 6,000 of its citizens who left to join the Islamic State now that the terrorist group is losing territory rapidly, Lori Hinnant reports at the AP. 

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About the Author(s)

Zoë Chapman

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