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 death toll resulting from a suspected chemical attack in Idlib province rose to 72 this morning, Sarah El Deeb reports at the AP.
Warplanes conducted a further five air strikes this morning on the rebel-held area of Idlib province where so many were killed in a suspected chemical attack yesterday, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. [Reuters]
President Trump and other western leaders placed the blame for the attack on the Syrian government, calling on its supporters Russia and Iran to take steps to prevent a recurrence of what many are seeing as a war crime, Anne Barnard and Michael R. Gordon report at the New York Times.
“Those who defend and support him, including Russia and Iran, should have no illusions about Assad or his intentions.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statement was clear that “Bashar al-Assad” was directly responsible for the attack.
Russia disagreed, suggesting today that it would publicly stand by Syrian President Assad despite the outrage resulting from what Washington believes was a sarin gas attack, Maria Kiselyova and Tom Perry at Reuters anticipating that this will set up Russia and the US for a head-on diplomatic collision.
Russia said earlier that it blamed a Syrian airstrike on a “terrorist” ammunition depot for the deaths of the 72 after suffering from chemical poisoning, a statement from its defense ministry stating that the strike hit “workshops, which produced chemical warfare munitions.” Euan McKirdy reports at CNN.
Syria “is responsible to ensure its full compliance” with the prohibition of chemical weapons, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said last night, the AP providing this and other live updates on this story.
A UN Security Council resolution to condemn the chemical weapons attack was proposed by the US, Britain and France yesterday and is likely to be put to a vote today, reports Michelle Nichols at Reuters.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’s Fact Finding Mission is in the process of gathering and analyzing information about the attack from all available sources, it confirmed in a press release yesterday.
The UK government ruled out a military response to the attack this morning, Jessica Elgot and Jennifer Rankin report at the Guardian.
Now we will find out if it is OK to use chemical weapons in Trump’s world. The chemical attack will test the president’s toleration for blatant crimes against humanity, and so far, writes the Washington Post editorial board, the signs are not good.
Trump did not take this opportunity to call for the departure of dictator Bashar al-Assad, another demonstration of his emerging realpolitik foreign policy, Peter Baker observes at the New York Times.
The attack was met by the Trump administration first by silence, then by criticism of former president Barack Obama, writes Julian Borger, also critical of President Trump’s reaction at the Guardian.
Yesterday’s attack was President Trump’s first foreign policy lesson that if there were a good, easy solution it would have been thought of already, and anything less than that is more than his own party is ready to pay for or the country ready to put up with, Thomas L. Friedman writes at the New York Times.
A new level of atrocity. Yesterday’s attack marked a new level of violence for Assad, but why now? According to the New York Times editorial board, the timing is due to his enablers, especially Russia and Iran, and then there is the Trump administration’s statements that ousting Assad is not a priority.
The attack demonstrates the folly of relying on arms-control promises from individuals like Assad or Putin, suggests the Wall Street Journal editorial board, recalling the 2013 agreement between former president Obama and his Russian counterpart on arms-control after Mr. Obama shied away from a military strike to enforce his “red line” against the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons.
TRUMP’S WIRETAP CLAIMS
She “absolutely” never requested the uncovering of names of Trump officials concealed in intelligence intercepts “for political purposes,” former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice insisted yesterday, Karen DeYoung and Karoun Demirjian reporting at the Washington Post.
The House Intelligence Committee wants Susan Rice to testify as part of its probe into alleged interference by Russia in the 2016 presidential election, Paul Sonne, Byron Tau, Shane Harris and Carol E. Lee report at the Wall Street Journal.
Rice’s denial that she did not seek the name of a Trump transition official in intelligence reports for “any political purposes” is confirmation that she was receiving summaries of surveilled foreign officials that included references to, or conversations with, Donald Trump’s team, according to the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
The most important aspect of the “Russia-hacking-wire-tapping-spying-Susan-Rice story” is that the Trump transition team was in contact with Russian operatives and others, points out Kathleen Parker at the Washington Post, resisting the deflecting tactics of the current administration.
The TRUMP CABINET’S RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSSIA
The FBI and prosecutors accused three Russians of working in the US as spies and trying to recruit a businessman who went on to advise President Trump during his election campaign, documents from a criminal complaint filed in 2015 in federal court in Manhattan disclose. The New York Times reports.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) “wouldn’t be surprised” if “some people end up in jail” after the investigations into Russian interference in the US election are complete, the told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer yesterday.
Any information he passed to Russian spies several years ago was “immaterial,” former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page told ABC News’ Brian Ross, Matthew Mosk, Cho Park and Alex Hosenball yesterday.
The House Intelligence Committee will ask Page to testify “at the appropriate time,” ranking Democrat on the panel Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.) said yesterday, Cristiano Lima reporting at POLITICO.
“Admit Nothing. Deny Everything. Make Counter Accusations.” This appears to be President Trump’s rulebook for responding to the FBI investigation of whether any members of his campaign team cooperated with the Russians, and may even be becoming America’s national slogan, suggests David Ignatius at the Washington Post.
North Korea launched a medium-range ballistic missile of the east coast of the Korean Peninsula this morning, Jonathan Cheng reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The US “has spoken enough about North Korea,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said following the latest missile launch, Justin McCurry and Julian Borger examining the enigmatic statement at the Guardian.
Tillerson’s response may be a turning point in tactics on North Korea, Asian analysts are suggesting, some saying that in his three-sentence statement the secretary of state was making it clear that “no matter what North Korea does, the United States won’t commit to direct negotiations unless Pyongyang shows real willingness for disarmament.” Kim Tong-Hyung reports at the AP.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
“Demolish and destroy.” In his short time in office, President Trump has made it clear that this his policy toward Islamic terrorism, but in charting a new course to combat terrorism in the Middle East the President has escalated US military actions while avoiding festering conflicts and stepping back from non-military instruments of American power, an approach that will result in more war but few longterm gains against terrorism. Colin H. Kahl writes at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
The President will press his Chinese counterpart on taking a tougher stance on North Korea’s ballistic nuclear program when the two leaders meet this week, the White House said yesterday, Jordan Fabian reporting at the Hill.
Behind the scenes, both China and the US have maneuvered to set the stage for Presidents Trump and Xi’s meeting later this week, a summit that offers a test of that strategy and an opportunity for the two leaders to reset relations between their two nations and reduce the risk of clashes over issues such as North Korea and the South China Sea, Jeremy Page, Felicia Schwartz and Carol E. Lee write at the Wall Street Journal.
President Trump has given China a “strategic gift” by abandoning the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership which was designed to offset Chinese power in the region and has been obliged to grovel to China after his Taiwan comments, Roger Cohen examining why “China is winning” ahead of the Trump-Xi meeting this week at the New York Times.
Will Trump forget Taiwan when he meets his Chinese counterpart? Asks Emily Rauhala at the Washington Post.
Does the proposition that China’s integration into the global economic, diplomatic and security architecture serves both the US and China’s interest remain valid? William Galston argues that it is time for a new China debate for the US at the Wall Street Journal.
Mixing “big foreign policy questions” with the “spontaneity of the president’s glitzy seaside retreat” Mar-a-Lago will be a test for President Trump, writes Darren Samuelsohn at POLITICO.
An attack by the Islamic State in the city of Tikrit has left more than 30 dead, the BBC reports.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 14 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Apr. 3. Separately, partner forces conducted 13 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
ST PETERSBURG ATTACK
An attack on St. Petersburg’s subway this week shows that the threat of terror is not subsiding, Russian President Putin said today after meeting with the heads of the security services from the Commonwealth of Independent States. The AP provides live updates on this story.
President Putin’s cynical use of the threat of terrorism to his own advantage, while in Syria he has gone out of his way to avoid hitting the Islamic State while propping up the regime of dictator Assad, is disparaged by the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
Legislation to require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before searching the digital devices of American citizens reentering the US was introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers yesterday, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.
Congress’ decision last week to nullify the FCC’s broadband privacy rules did not remove existing privacy protections, it simply cleared the path for the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to reinstate a rational and effective system of consumer privacy, explain Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC, and Maureen Ohlhausen, acting chairman of the FTC, writing ta the Washington Post.
A British Royal Navy decision to order a Spanish warship out of Gibraltar’s disputed territorial waters was defended by Britain’s Foreign Office yesterday, which called the incident an unlawful maritime incursion as the row between the UK and Spain over Gibraltar’s post-Brexit future continues. Ewen MacAskill and Sam Jones report at the Guardian.
The cause of a “huge” explosion close to the security ministry headquarters in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu today is still unclear, Reuters reports.
An explosion targeting a Pakistani government census team in Lahore killed at least five people today, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan group claiming responsibility for the attack. Asad Hashim report at Al Jazeera.