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
Senators leading the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election vowed to pursue an aggressive inquiry yesterday including by interviewing key players connected to President Trump and pressing intelligence agencies to provide all relevant information, Matt Flegenheimer and Emmarie Huetteman at the New York Times skeptical of a “display of congeniality” that seemed intended mainly as a contrast to recent “explosive” and “bewildering” comments by chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Devin Nunes R-Calif.).
Rep. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) will preside over the first open hearings on Russian “active measures” against its adversaries today, Tim Mak at The Daily Beast observing that the “conversion” of the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who endorsed Trump, voted for him and served on his national security advisory council during the campaign, means the Senate’s Russia probe – unlike its House equivalent – looks like the “real deal.”
Burr refused to identify any of the 20 individuals to be interviewed today except for the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, Al Jazeera reports.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) pushed the two top members of the Senate Intelligence Committee Sens. Burr and Mark Warner (D-Va) to investigate any financial ties between the President and Russia in a letter sent yesterday, Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.
Rep. Devin Nunes and ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.) will meet today to discuss their ongoing gridlock over the panel’s probe into possible Russian interference, Cristiano Lima reports at POLITICO.
The White House doesn’t want to see former acting attorney general Sally Yates testify before Congress, despite what Press Secretary Sean Spicer says, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Adam Schiff told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer yesterday.
US officials “verified” that Russian diplomat Mikhail Kalugin in Washington was a spy, a key claim in the dossier about Kremlin involvement in the presidential election compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, writes Paul Wood at the BBC.
Who is “Source D”? Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger at the Washington Post examine the Belarusian businessman whose allegations concerning Trump and his relationship with Russia were central to the as-yet unverified Steele dossier.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
The State Department supports selling F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain without requiring that it first improve its human rights record, notifying Congress of this decision yesterday. Carol Morello reports at the Washington Post.
The decision to lift all human rights conditions on the sale is intended to end a rift between the US and an important Middle East ally, David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt report at the New York Times, citing administration and congressional officials.
President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet for the first time on Apr. 6-7 at Trump’s Florida resort, the AP reports.
US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley called the UN Human Rights Council “so corrupt” yesterday without offering any evidence in remarks made at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Semini Sengupta reports at the New York Times.
The UN is partnering with a “corrupt” government in Congo, Haley said yesterday, calling for a large cut in the world’s largest peacekeeping mission there. Justin Lynch reports at the AP.
National greatness does not come from “the barrel of a gun.” The New York Times editorial board explains the value of diplomacy and foreign aid as President Trump tries to slash the State Department and its foreign aid programs by around 30 percent in the proposed budget for the next fiscal year.
The UN mission in Mali’s controversial embrace of counterterrorism might be what saves it from Trump’s “budget ax,” suggest Colum Lynch and Ty McCormick at Foreign Policy.
There is a risk that US policy toward Afghanistan will be defined in purely military terms if the Trump administration’s plan to increase the military budget while slashing the diplomatic one goes ahead, writes Richard G. Olson at the New York Times.
The Trump administration’s increasingly skeptical view of reaching a grand bargain with Moscow is belying expectations that Trump’s election would lead to a rapid US rapprochement with Russia, officials seeing serious impediments in the form of Russia’s continued provocative weapons deployments, overtures to Iran, cyberintrusions and Ukraine – and the burgeoning investigation into possible interference in last year’s election. Carol E. Lee, Paul Sonne and Thomas Grove write at the Wall Street Journal.
The US should not go down the route of a Syria-Ukraine trade-off with Russia in order to put Iran “back in its cage,” is Mark Helprin’s suggestion at the Wall Street Journal.
America’s war footprint has grown across the Middle East since President Trump took office, indicating that the US military is deepening its involvement in a number of complex wars all of which lack endgames, observe Ben Hubbard and Michael R. Gordon at the New York Times.
President Trump’s campaign to “delegitimize” facts and the intelligence community that provides them is endangering national security, according to former intelligence chief Gen. Michael Hayden. Robbie Gramer writes at Foreign Policy.
Trump is “ignorant of his own ignorance,” impacting on his ability to deal with the foreign policy “problems from hell” that face him. Thomas B. Edsall seeks the opinions of a range of foreign policy analysts at the New York Times.
The MUSLIM BAN
There was no immediate response from the Justice Department, but an appeal to the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected, Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.
TRUMP’S MEXICAN BORDER WALL
Trump could go along with a government funding bill that does not include money to build his proposed US-Mexico border wall, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer indicated yesterday. Jordan Fabian reports at the Hill.
Democrats vowed to block any legislation that includes any funding for the wall at all earlier this week, Burgess Everett and Rachael Bade report at POLITICO.
“Pageants, reality TV competitions and xenophobia.” Ahead of next Wednesday’s deadline for companies to submit concept papers detailing their proposals on building President Trump’s border wall, Julia Carrie Wong at the Guardian provides a look at some of the players involved, and those who’ve been blacklisted.
The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
David Freidman was sworn in as US ambassador to Israel yesterday, becoming President Trump’s first ambassador, the AP reports.
The President’s daughter Ivanka Trump will assume the official, though unpaid, role of assistant to her father, report Maggie Haberman and Rachel Abrams at the New York Times.
TILLERSON IN TURKEY
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson discussed ways to coordinate the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria when he met with Turkish officials in Ankara today, Suzan Fraser reports at the AP.
Everything you need to know about the rocky US-Turkey relationship ahead of Tillerson’s meeting with Turkey’s President Erdoğan today is provided by Ishaan Tharoor at the Washington Post.
Tillerson’s meeting with Erdoğan may be the Secretary of State’s toughest meeting yet, write Gardiner Harris and Patrick Kingsley at the New York Times.
Turkey has “successfully” ended its seven-month Euphrates Shield military campaign in northern Syria, it announced today as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrive in Ankara, the BBC reports.
Turkey can launch new military movements under a different name if necessary, Turkey’s prime minister said. [Hürriyet Daily News]
At least 15 people were killed when a suicide truck bomber carried out an as-yet un-claimed attack on a police checkpoint in southern Baghdad last night, the AP reports.
The battle for Mosul exposes the challenge of “asymmetric warfare,” Dan Perry and Susannah George at the AP examining the reasons why it has taken the combined militaries of the US and Iraq backed by an international coalition over two years to dislodge a small force of militants from the city.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 22 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Mar. 28. Separately, partner forces conducted six strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
ARAB LEAGUE SUMMIT
A peace plan offering Israel full ties in exchange for Palestinian statehood was relaunched by Arab leaders at the one-day summit yesterday, signaling to President Trump that they are ready to engage if he tries to broker Mideast peace, report Karin Laub and Mohammed Daraghmeh at the AP.
An Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is possible and would “reverberate positively throughout the region and the world,” President Trump’s envoy at the summit Jason Greenblatt told officials there yesterday. [AP]
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
Israel is reducing its payment to the UN by $2 million following recent “anti-Israel” votes, Israel’s foreign minister announced yesterday. Ian Deitch and Edith M. Lederer report at the AP.
A summit at the UN in protest against the Palestinian-led “Boycott, Divest and Sanctions” movement was hosted by Israel, Al Jazeera reports.
A Palestinian woman was shot dead by Israeli police officers after reportedly pulling a pair of scissors on them at the entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City yesterday, AFP reports.
The Pentagon is considering whether to send additional US forces to Afghanistan, the general in charge of US military operations in the Middle East Gen. Joseph Votel told lawmakers yesterday, Ellen Mitchell reporting at the Hill.
Afghan defense officials announced “significant steps to tackle corruption” in Afghan’s military in the face of international criticism, including recent comments by the US special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction John F. Sopko, Sharif Walid reports at the Washington Post.
Military operations in Yemen are increasing while the humanitarian and economic situation deteriorates rapidly, the UN special envoy to Yemen told the UN Security Council yesterday, urging it to pressure Yemen’s government and Houthi rebels to “engage constructively” on measures aimed at ending the war and creating a transitional government. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.
Drone patrols in Yemen have increased since President Trump took office, under whose command drone strikes are being conducted at a rate of one strike every 1.8 days compared with one strike every 5.4 days under Obama. Spencer Ackerman at the Guardian speaks to one Yemeni family which is convinced that Trump is deliberately targeting them.
The UK’s Brexit secretary denied reports that Prime Minister Theresa May is using the threat that Britain will withdraw security cooperation as leverage for a trade deal with the EU, George Parker reports at the Financial Times.
Prime Minister May warned that failure to reach a UK-EU trade deal would mean that cooperation in the fight against terrorism “would be weakened” in her “notification of withdrawal” letter from the EU to the President of the European Council yesterday, Helen Warrell, Sam Jones and George Parker at the Financial Times calling it an implicit threat to the EU.
May’s “surprizing and brutal” opening bid is reckless and lacks credibility, writes Ewen MacAskill at the Guardian.
How will Brexit affect UK security? Frank Gardner explains at the BBC.
Japan’s government was urged to consider arming the country with more advanced and offensive capability by Japan’s ruling party today, which cited a “new level of threat” from North Korea. Mari Yamaguchi reports at the AP
Long-term peace in the Korean Peninsula is not possible without input from South Korea. John Delury explains how to make a deal with North Korea at the Washington Post.
The arrest in the US of a Turkish Halkbank executive on charges of participating in a scheme to violate sanctions against Iran was “completely political,” Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said today. [Reuters]
Germany is considering alternative locations to Turkey for its forces involved in fighting the Islamic State as tensions between the two nations continue to rise, Ruth Bender reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Turkey’s plan to abandon democracy and buy the West’s silence is almost complete, Elliot Ackerman writes at Foreign Policy.
SOUTH CHINA SEA
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte confronted the US ambassador about America’s failure to take military action to put a stop to China’s construction of man-made islands in the South China Sea, Duterte recounted in a speech yesterday, adding that the US ambassador was unable to reply to his question. Al Jazeera reports.
Supplementary charges to an impeachment complaint against Duterte accusing him of taking a “defeatist stance” in relation to China’s activities in the South China Sea were filed by a Philippines lawmaker today, Reuters reports.
Taiwan’s military drills on and around a disputed island in the South China Sea were condemned as a serious violation of its sovereignty and a threat to national security by Vietnam today, Reuters reports.
The US has suffered “setback after setback” in its efforts to rally other nations with claims in the South China Sea while Beijing has stepped up its militarization and construction of artificial islands, an episode that will surely loom large in “the annals of American decline,” writes Jamil Anderlini at the Financial Times.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
A 2015 state of national emergency used by former president Obama as a basis for freezing the assets of Russians tied to a hacking campaign against the presidential election was renewed by President Trump, Joe Uchill reports at the Hill.
UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd will tell tech bosses from firms including Google, Twitter and Facebook that they must do more to tackle terrorism in a private meeting today, Kevin Rawlinson reports at the Guardian.
State Department employee Candace Claiborne was charged with felony offenses after admitting to the FBI that she had passed the Chinese information in exchange for thousands of dollars in gifts, the Department of Justice confirmed yesterday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin visited an oil-rich Arctic archipelago yesterday to reaffirm Russia’s foothold on the region, Vladimir Isachenkov reports at the AP.