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
The Trump administration is considering withdrawing the US from the UN Human Rights Council, accused of being biased against Israel, Nahal Toosi and Eliana Johnson reported over the weekend at POLITICO.
China’s State Councillor Yang Jiechi is likely to tell the Trump administration that it’s time to talk with North Korea when he arrives in the US to meet with US officials today, Katie Hunt anticipates at CNN.
The first senior Chinese official to visit the US, Jiechi is scheduled to “exchange views on bilateral ties and issues of mutual concern” in meetings with US officials today and tomorrow, the AP reports.
The US needs to stop getting pushed around by China, former US ambassador to China Max Baucus said last week in an interview with Simon Denyer at the Washington Post, accusing President Trump of blundering around without even a basic understanding of the country.
The US wants to resume a major military exercise with Egypt canceled by President Obama in 2013 following the killings of hundreds of civilian protesters, the head of the US Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel told Egyptian media yesterday, Michael R. Gordon and Declan Walsh reporting at the New York Times.
President Trump will make the case for spending more on defense and homeland security, controlling immigration and other aspects of his agenda in his first address to a joint session of Congress tomorrow night, Ron Elving reports at NPR.
Sharp increases in Defense Department spending will be part of the budget for the coming fiscal year according to senior administration officials, Glenn Thrush, Kate Kelly and Maggie Haberman reporting at the New York Times.
Trump’s choice for Navy secretary Philip Bilden withdrew his name from consideration in a decision “driven by privacy concerns and significant challenges he faced in separating himself from his business interests,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced yesterday, Missy Ryan reporting at the Washington Post.
US security officials have yet to be authorized to vet refugees held on Pacific islands for potential resettlement in the US after Trump reluctantly agreed to uphold an Obama administration deal with Australia, an Australian official said today. Rod McGuirk reports at the AP.
French President François Hollande reproached President Trump for his remarks that Europe’s open borders had led to the terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere, Alissa J. Rubin reports at the New York Times.
The issue of whether to put more resources toward America’s longest war, Afghanistan, pits President Trump’s commitment to end nation-building against his promise to combat terrorism in a conflict where US strategy is lacking, Josh Rogin writes at the Washington Post.
Mattis is balancing the need to control President Trump’s more extreme impulses with the need to retain White House favor and avoid distancing himself too much in his first major pitch to Trump: options for accelerating the fight against the Islamic State, Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt write at the New York Times.
Trump’s “emotionally charged rollout” of immigration enforcement policies – envisioning thousands of new agents, enlisting local police as immigration officers, making almost anyone in the US without papers a priority for deportation, bypassing immigration courts, and building a big wall – is part of a long history of “deportation scare tactics” at the US-Mexico border, writes Cora Currier at The Intercept.
US allies in Europe are resigning themselves to the fact that the Trump administration will remain unpredictable and often incoherent, if not hostile, in its foreign policy, and are starting to come up with contingency plans for a world in which “strong American leadership” is no longer assured, write Dan De Luce and John Hudson at Foreign Policy.
“We don’t know this guy.” A man described by Fox News as a Swedish defense and national security adviser who was brought in to verify President Trump’s claim that immigrants are wreaking havoc in Sweden has no ties to Sweden’s security establishment, has a criminal record in the US, and may not even be called Nils Bildt as claimed by Fox News, Swedish officials and court records reveal. Liam Stack and Christina Anderson report at the New York Times.
The TRUMP CABINET’S RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSSIA
“The FBI has already said this story is BS.” Trump spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders made a clumsy attempt to control public perceptions of the scandal over alleged contacts between aides to President Trump and Russian officials during the 2016 presidential election by claiming falsely that the FBI had dismissed reports of such links, Tom McCarthy reports at the Guardian.
The increasing pressure facing lawmakers over possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election when they return from a recess this week is illustrated by the call by Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) over the weekend for a special counsel to investigate the matter, Siobhan Hughes and Alejandro Lazo write at the Wall Street Journal.
The MUSLIM BAN
Trump’s proposed travel ban will not help to fight terrorism in “any significant way,” former CIA director John Brennan said yesterday, Madeline Conway reporting at POLITICO.
SPECIAL OPERATIONS RAID in YEMEN
“Don’t hide behind my son’s death.” The government “owes my son an investigation,” the father of the US Navy SEAL killed in a Special Operations raid in Yemen last month told the Miami Herald’s Julie K. Brown.
President Trump will support an investigation requested by the father of William “Ryan” Owens into the circumstances surrounding his death, senior White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday, John Wagner and Thomas Gibbons-Neff reporting at the Washington Post.
Turkey-backed rebels clashed with Assad regime forces near the northern Syrian city of al-Bab yesterday where each side is waging a separate campaign against the Islamic State, Tom Perry and Humeyra Pamuk report at Reuters.
The Assad regime has conducted several air raid attacks on rebel-held areas around cities including Homs and Damascus, Al Jazeera reports.
The government was responding to attacks by gunmen and suicide bombers of the Jihadist group Tahrir al-Sham which left at least 32 people dead in Homs on Saturday, NPR reports.
Talks on consolidating the ceasefire in Syria in Kazakhstan earlier this year helped jumpstart the UN-led peace talks in Geneva, Russian President Putin said today. [Reuters]
Russian frigate the Admiral Grigorovich was deployed to the Mediterranean to join Russia’s naval forces near the Syrian coast, a Russian source told Reuters.
Iraqi forces took a crucial bridge in Mosul today which could link up their units on either side of the Tigris River, Stephen Kalin and Isabel Coles report at Reuters.
The US military is playing a crucial role in the offensive on Iraq’s Mosul, explains Michael R. Gordon at the New York Times.
President Trump has significantly worsened the chances that Mosul and other Sunni-populated areas of Iraq can be stabilized once the Islamic State has been removed, writes the Washington Post editorial board.
The US’ intention to have a more active naval presence in the South China Sea was signaled by the deployment of the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group there on Feb. 18, a US administration official told the AP’s Hrvoje Hranjski.
China and the US are about to become neighbors in Djibouti, with China constructing its first overseas military base there just a few miles from the US’ Camp Lemonnier, Andrew Jacobs and Jane Perlez write at the New York Times.
Beijing denied its troops were in Afghanistan but said it was undertaking “joint counter-terrorism operations” in Kabul in response to reported sightings of Chinese military vehicles patrolling inside Afghanistan last week, Charles Clover reports at the Financial Times.
A senior Taliban commander was killed in Afghanistan’s Kunduz province yesterday, according to the Afghan president and the Taliban itself. [AP]
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
Israeli aircraft carried out a series of strikes in Gaza today after a rocket fired from Palestinian territory hit southern Israel. [Reuters]
A Palestinian staffer at the UN agency for Palestinian refugees was suspended over allegations from Israel that he was elected to a leadership position within the Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip yesterday, the AP reports.
The US condemned the holding at gunpoint of civilian monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, the BBC reports.
German police are trying to establish the motives behind an attack in Heidelberg on Saturday in which a man drove a car into a group of pedestrians, killing one before getting out of the car armed with a knife, the BBC reports.
“Permanent neutrality” is an alternative to NATO expansion that won’t antagonize Russia and will offer countries like Ukraine and Georgia the protection they need, suggests Michael O’Hanlon at the Wall Street Journal.
Talks between North Korean diplomats and former US officials schooled for this week have been called off over allegations that North Korea planned the murder of the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Anna Fifield reports at the Washington Post.
Suspects in the murder of Kim Jong-nam include several of North Korea’s foreign and security ministry officials, according to South Korean lawmakers. Ju-min Park reports at Reuters.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
White House press secretary Sean Spicer is ramping up security measures in an effort to prevent leaks, Annie Karni and Alex Isenstadt report at POLITICO.
In Washington, “the weaponized leak always gets through.” John Batchelor at The Daily Beast explains how leaks about now-resigned national security advisor Michael Flynn show that the Washington rules of engagement have not changed under the Trump administration after all.
There are “great concerns” that a new Ecuadorian president could force WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange out of the country’s London embassy, a lawyer acting for Assange told NBC News’ Mark Hanrahan.
“Something like the Pentagon Papers should be coming out several times a year.” There aren’t enough whistleblowers, according to Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. Margaret Sullivan writes at the Washington Post.
Charges against Bowe Bergdahl for desertion and misbehavior before the enemy will not be dropped despite Donald Trump’s “disturbing and disappointing” comments about him, a military judge ruled last week. The Hill’s Nikita Vadimirov reports.
Turkey’s President Erdoğan will travel to Russia on March 9-10 to meet with President Putin in an effort to further improve ties between the two countries, Reuters reports.
A man was shot and killed by police after he exploded a bomb in a park in the Indonesian city of Jakarta today, Anita Rachman reports at the Wall Street Journal.