The Early Edition: April 3, 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-SISSI MEETING

Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi’s visit to the White House today will mark the first such visit by an Egyptian head of state since 2009. Ishaan Tharoor takes a look at the “tough guy” and his appeal to President Trump at the Washington Post.

Regional security and US military aid will be the focus of discussions, while the Trump administration, unlike the Obama administration, will avoid publicly airing concerns about Egypt’s human rights record, according to White House officials. Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Those in the administration who insist on seeing Sissi as a stalwart ally should take a harder look: Sissi may be happy to receive America’s money, but his state-controlled media pumps out anti-Western diatribes, and his increasingly harsh laws criminalize both funding and contracts between Egyptians and foreigners, not to mention the fact that his brutal repression has made Egypt a “mass-production facility for violent extremism,” while he supports the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad in Syria and has offered unqualified support for Russia’s increasing military presence in the Middle East. Robert Kagan and Michele Dune write at the Washington Post.

Trump needs to ask Sissi about the case of Aya Hijazi, a US citizen who has been imprisoned in Cairo for over 1,000 days on trumped-up charges, suggests Jackson Diehl writing at the Washington Post.

NORTH KOREA

The US is prepared to take unilateral action on North Korea if China fails to increase pressure on Kim Jong-un’s regime, President Trump warned ahead of his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping this week, in an interview with Lionel Barber, Demetri Sevastopulo and Gillian Tett at the Financial Times.

A pre-emptive strike on North Korea could prompt it to launch an attempted invasion of South Korea, former defense secretary Ash Carter warned yesterday while emphasizing that all options should be considered. Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

The TRUMP CABINET’S RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSSIA

Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) colluded with the White House in an “attempt to distract” the public from Russia-Trump collusion, the committee’s top Democrat Adam Schiff (Calif.) said yesterday, Jon Swaine reporting at the Guardian.

Nunes “killed” efforts for a bipartisan investigation of Russian interference, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said yesterday, Olivia Beavers reporting at the Hill.

Rep. Adam Schiff has a “very healthy scepticism” about whether it’s worth granting immunity to former national security adviser Michael Flynn in exchange for his testimony, he said yesterday, Theodoric Meyer reporting at POLITICO.

Trump is “not stopping me from beating up on Russia,” US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley insisted in interviews yesterday, adding that she was certain that Russia was involved in the US election. Cleve R. Wootson Jr. writes at the Washington Post.

It is “jarring” to see pro-Trump conservatives “indifferent or even hostile to” investigations of possible Russian interference in the 2016 election, where before they were attacking former president Obama for his Russian “reset,” and before that, lauding president Regan’s description of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” observes E. J. Dionne Jr. at the Washington Post.

The Obama administration was afraid of “doing the Russian’s work for them.” Obama’s top homeland security and counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco explains why the former administration didn’t do more to raise the alarm over Russian meddling in the presidential campaign to The Global POLITICO’s Susan B. Glasser.

KUSHNER and CHINA

The “Kushner channel” to China was set up shortly after the election with the help of former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner holding a series of meetings with top Chinese officials to set the tone and broad agenda for President Trump’s meeting with his Chinese counterpart this week, discussions that could be codified during the meeting with serious implications for the US, China and the Asia-Pacific region, explains Josh Rogin at the Washington Post.

Kushner’s central role in US-China relations since Trump took office reflects the peculiar nature of this first meeting between Trump and Mr. Xi and, more broadly, the “highly personal and bluntly transactional” relationship between the two nations, a risky strategy given the economic and security issues that already divide them. Mark Landler writes at the New York Times.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

The US war against Islamic militants could be set back by President Trump’s loosening of the rules covering US airstrikes in Somalia, not advanced by it, explains David Axe at The Daily Beast.

How the US reacts to Russia’s violation of a treaty banning immediate-range missiles based on land will reveal a lot about how it sees the threat from Russia and will have a profound effect on European security, writes the New York Times editorial board.

“A loan is a loan.” The Trump administration is insisting that Cambodia repay the millions of dollars worth of debt it incurred to the US during the Vietnam War, despite Cambodia’s appeals to President Trump to wipe it, Julia Wallace writes at the New York Times.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

Trump is making little headway filling Pentagon positions, with Defense Secretary James Mattis the only nominee to make it through the confirmation process so far, and 52 additional positions to fill. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley is emerging as the country’s leading voice on foreign affairs, with Defense Secretary Rex Tillerson conducting his role almost entirely out of public view, observes Eliana Johnson at POLITICO.

Haley has been out front on issues such as US support for Syrian President Assad and Russian interference in Ukraine, marking herself out as a “tough-talking bellwhether” of President Trump’s foreign policy, Anne Gearan writes at the Washington Post.

SYRIA

Russian fighter jets are suspected of bombing a hospital in the city of Maaret in the northern province of Idlib, Diana Al Rifai reports at Al Jazeera.

Hezbollah has emerged as the clear winner in Syria’s war, growing in strength through its support of the Assad regime, writes Maria Abi-Habib at the Wall Street Journal.

Testimony and documentation from Syria’s military hospitals including notorious torture site hospital 601 offer the most concrete evidence of crimes against humanity that could one day see senior government figures tried in court. Louisa Loveluck and Zakaria Zakaria speak to survivor Mohsen al-Masri at the Washington Post.

IRAQ

Jared Kushner visited Iraq with the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff over the weekend, an unnamed administration official telling the AP that Kushner wanted to see the situation in Iraq for himself and show his support for the Iraqi government.

The US’ comments about civilian casualties in Mosul are “absurd,” accused Russia’s Ministry of Defense yesterday, referring to US officials’ comments “justifying” the US-led coalition’s possible role in the deaths of over 100 civilian deaths in Mosul last month, CNN’s Matt Rehbein and Julia Jones report.

Evidence that the Islamic State is using children as human shields as they fight to retain control of the city of Mosul has been seen by the BBC from the vantage point of helicopter missions of the Iraqi military.

AFGHANISTAN

Claims that at least nine civilians were killed when Afghan and coalition forces exploded a Taliban weapons depot in Helmand Province are being investigated by Afghan officials, they said yesterday, Mujib Mashal and Taimoor Shah reporting at the New York Times.

The EU is set to offer millions of dollars in support of a peace deal between the Afghan government and militant group Hezb-e-Islami in the hope that the deal will serve as a model for accords with other militants in Afghanistan, Jessica Donati reports at the Wall Street Journal.

UK-EU SPAT OVER GIBRALTAR

 “It seems someone is losing their cool.” Spain’s foreign minister said his government was surprised by the tone of comments coming out of Britain about Gibraltar after ex-leader of the Conservative party Lord Howard said the UK would be willing to defend Gibraltar in the same way it defended the Falklands 35 years ago in reaction to draft Brexit negotiating guidelines from the EU specifying that any decisions affecting Gibraltar would be run past Spain. The BBC reports.

The UK government has since confirmed that the UK will not be sending a taskforce to defend Gibraltar, but refused to condemn Lord Howard for his comments, Andrew Sparrow reports at the Guardian.

EU Council President Donald Tusk was called a “cuckolded husband taking it out on the kids” for explicitly proposing that Spain be given a veto on the ties between Gibraltar and the EU post-Brexit by Gibraltar’s leader today, Guy Faulconbridge reports at Reuters.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The UK’s Metropolitan police are examining allegations of war crimes by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, Josh Halliday and Anushka Asthana at the Guardian suggesting that the move could trigger a diplomatic row with Britain just as Prime Minister Theresa May prepares to travel to Saudi Arabia to underline Britain’s close relationship with the Saudi royal family this week.

Britain is sending military trainers to Jordan to assist its air force in the fight against the Islamic State, Prime Minister Theresa May will announce when she visits Jordan’s capital Amman today, the start of a three-day trip to the Middle East, the BBC reports.

Russia is attempting to create a false history denying the Baltic states’ right to exist, top Lithuanian officials believe, drawing parallels with its justifications for the annexation of Crimea in March 2014. Emma Graham-Harrison and Daniel Boffey report at the Guardian.

Joint US-Israeli missile interceptor “David’s Sling” has become operational, completing Israel’s multi-layer defense system in the face of tensions with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Al Jazeera reports.

Pakistani general Raheel Sharif has been appointed to lead a Saudi-led alliance of Muslim countries with the aim of countering terrorism, prompting consternation in Pakistan among those who fear that the move could exacerbate sectarian tensions there. Salman Masood and Ben Hubbard report at the New York Times. 

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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