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.
US STRIKES SYRIA
Russia must choose between the US and its allies and Iran, Hezbollah and Assad, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said as he embarked on his trip to Moscow this morning following an urgent meeting of G7 foreign ministers in Italy. Josh Lederman reports at the AP.
Tillerson will arrive in Moscow today to attempt to weaken Russian support for the Syrian dictator, using international condemnation of the Assad regime’s alleged use of sarin gas on civilians and President Trump’s retaliatory strikes as leverage, write Laura Koran, Elise Labott and Nicole Gaouette at CNN.
G7 foreign ministers seeking to reach a common position on Syria failed to reach agreement over threatening the imposition of new sanctions against Russia and Syria but agreed that there was no solution to the Syria crisis while Assad remains in power ahead of Tillerson’s Russia trip, the BBC reports.
An investigation into last week’s chemical attack is needed before new sanctions can be adopted, the G7 ministers decided, after UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had urged them to consider fresh sanctions against Russia and Syria in response to the attack. The Guardian reports.
Further sanctions would be “looked at,” Tillerson reportedly told Johnson yesterday, who argued for both the EU and the US to adopt sanctions against Russia for maximum impact. Tom McTague and Charlie Cooper report at POLITICO.
The G7 ministers sat down with their Turkish, Saudi, UAE, Jordanian and Qatari counterparts early this morning in a push to isolate Assad, Reuters’ Steve Scherer and Crispian Balmer report.
An urgent meeting to strategize on a way forward to end the Syrian war was held between Tillerson and senior foreign diplomats today on the sidelines of the G7 meeting in Italy, Josh Lederman reports at the AP.
Russian President Putin will not meet with Tillerson tomorrow, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told Maria Tsvetkova and Andre Osborn at Reuters yesterday.
“If you gas a baby, if you put a barrel bomb into innocent people, I think you will see a response from this president.” The White House sought to clarify comments by Press Secretary Sean Spicer yesterday suggesting that the US would respond militarily to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of barrel bombs against civilians, a spokesperson writing in an email that “nothing has changed in our posture.” Jordan Fabian reports at the Hill.
Spicer was referring to barrel bombs carrying industrial chemicals like chlorine, the White House said, though Julian Borger, David Smith, Heather Stewart and Spencer Ackerman at the Guardian point out that this would still represent a substantial widening of the US rules of engagement in Syria.
Syrian government warplanes dropped barrel bombs on rebel-held areas of Hama province today despite the US’ warning yesterday that their use could prompt further US strikes in Syria, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Reuters]
Defeating the Islamic State is the US’ “number one priority,” Spicer also said yesterday, adding to the mixed signals from the administration on the future of President Assad, Felicia Schwartz and Ben Kesling at the Washington Post examining administration remarks ahead of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s trip to Moscow today, a trip that has taken on far-reaching strategic and diplomatic importance in the wake of the first deliberate US strike on Syria.
There is a “window of opportunity” to try to persuade Russian to abandon its support for Assad, President Trump and UK Prime Minister Theresa May agreed in a phone call, the BBC reports.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also agreed that Assad should be held accountable for his actions, expressing support to President Trump in a call yesterday, Rebecca Savransky reports at the Hill.
The US strike on the Shayrat air base destroyed “20 percent of Syria’s operational aircraft,” Defense Secretary James Mattis said in a statement yesterday, Al Jazeera reporting.
There is no US intelligence that Russia knew about the Syrian chemical attack before it took place, a senior administration official said yesterday after an AP report claimed that the US had determined Russia’s foreknowledge. Mallory Shelbourne reports at the Hill.
US STRIKES SYRIA: INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
The Syrian government still has chemical weapons capacity, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said today, calling for measures to prevent their usage. Reuters reports.
Iran has done little in response to the US missile strike last Friday except condemn it and join Russia in calling for an international investigation, while it remains unclear at best what will change in terms of Iranian-Russian cooperation in Syria, writes Thomas Erdbrink at the New York Times.
US STRIKES SYRIA: MEDIA REACTION and OPINION
Among the mixed messages on Syria coming from the Trump administration, Trump’s voice is missing, leaving world leaders and American lawmakers unsure how the US intends to proceed, write Peter Baker and Gardiner Harris at the New York Times.
The administration will have to do better than this. Presidents have an obligation to explain military operations, and most begin making their argument well before they take action, writes the New York Times editorial board.
The Trump administration should be prepare for a confrontation with Iran if it does decide to escalate its involvement in Syria, Ranj Alaaldin writes at CNN.
The US has neither the diplomatic shrewdness nor the conditions on the ground to split Iran and Russia, a plan previously floated by senior administration officials in order to both end the Syrian war and bolster the fight against the Islamic State, and the US strikes on a Syrian airfield last week have only served to rally Assad’s patrons around him, is Ishaan Tharoors analysis at the Washington Post.
The American attack on Syria has freed both Trump and Putin of the media’s portrayal of their special and friendly relationship, allowing both leaders the opportunity to take the gloves off, observes Ivan Nechepurenko at the Washington Post.
Russian President Putin risks five years of political capital, over a million tonnes of weapons, billions of dollars and his country’s role as both dominant regional presence and rising global power if he splits with Assad, Martin Chulov suggesting that Putin may be in too deep to concede any ground to the US at the Guardian.
No one should feel good about the alternatives left to the US following its strikes in Syria, even if Trump does, writes Eugene Robinson at the Washington Post.
Striking Syria was the right decision – by the wrong person. Richard Cohen writing at the Washington Post explains how Trump fired on Syria, pivoting from his “America First” policy in a flash because he felt like it.
An Islamic State attack on a US-backed rebel base that saw US special operations forces clashing with the militants Saturday is a sign of the increasing risk US forces face as the Trump administration sends more troops into Syria, write Dion Nissenbaum and Noam Raydan at the Wall Street Journal.
The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
US ambassador the UN Nikki Haley’s emerging role as main articulator of Donald Trump’s foreign policy has been particularly prominent this week as the international community looks to America for a Syria strategy, diplomats and foreign officials saying that they also look to her for clarity on a wide range of issues including Iran, Israel and Russia, Farnaz Fassihi writes at the Wall Street Journal.
With only 22 of 553 high-level positions in the Trump administration requiring Senate confirmation filled to date, the Washington Post editorial board points out that a protracted period of empty chairs in vital areas including in foreign policy and military affairs could impede crisis management and weaken US policy in the long run.
The MUSLIM BAN
The full panel of judges in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia will hear the government’s appeal of a lower court order blocking its revised travel ban, Lydia Wheeler reports at the Hill.
North Korea’s state media warned of nuclear attack if it sees any sign of a US pre-emptive strike today as the USS Carl Vinson strike group approaches the western Pacific. Ju-min Park reports at Reuters.
A US decision to dispatch its USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and its battle group to waters of the Korean Peninsula is “outrageous,” North Korea said last night, vowing to “hold the US wholly accountable” for the “catastrophic consequences” that would result. Eric Talmadge reports at the AP.
“Be careful not to be fooled by exaggerations about the security situation on the Korean Peninsula.” South Korean officials attempted to temper concerns over the possibility of a pre-emptive US military strike on North Korea as its aircraft carrier headed toward the region and North Korea reacted with threats of retaliation, Jonathan Cheng reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The international community is united its determination to pressure North Korea to stop its ballistic missile tests, Italy’s foreign minister reassured his Japanese counterpart in a meeting on the sidelines of the G7 meeting in Italy yesterday, also informing him that Italy and the EU are monitoring tensions in the region and “the implications for global commerce, security and stability.” [AP]
The fact that the US lacks any better options for dealing with North Korea’s belligerence is concealed by its deployment of an aircraft carrier to the Korean Peninsula, which has nevertheless raised tensions across the region, writes Mark Landler and Choe Sang-Hun at the New York Times.
Speculation that the Trump administration is pursuing policies in Iraq and Syria that are resulting in a greater loss of life is being fueled by the Pentagon’s failure in recent weeks to effectively explain the cause of a reported surge in civilian casualties in its air campaign against the Islamic State, Missy Ryan writes at the Washington Post.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 18 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Apr. 9. Separately, partner forces conducted nine strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
A detailed account of Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen including instances of possible war crimes is being demanded of the Trump administration by a bipartisan group of lawmakers ahead of their decision to approve the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of precision-guided bombs, John Hudson reports at BuzzFeed.
The Islamic State’s plan to divide Egypt by killing Christians is revealed by its attack on two Christian churches Sunday, writes Declan Walsh at the New York Times.
President Trump’s confidence in Sissi to defeat Egypt’s Islamic State affiliate or to protect a vulnerable minority that has been singled out by it is misplaced, as the bombing of two Egyptian Christian churches over the weekend ought to demonstrate to him, writes the Washington Post editorial board.
The Trump administration will sell high-tech aircraft to Nigeria for use in its campaign to defeat Boko Haram, Congress expected to receive formal notification within weeks, setting in motion a deal that the previous administration had hoped to approve at the end of Obama’s presidency. [AP]
At least 57 Boko Haram fighters who were involved in an attack on a village in the eastern Diffa region of Niger were killed by security forces, Niger’s Ministry of Defense said yesterday. [AP]
Eight people have been arrested in connection with last week’s bombing of the subway in St. Petersburg, Russia, Russia’s intelligence chief said today. [AP]
The suspect in a truck attack on a department store in Stockholm last week has confessed to a “terrorist crime,” according to his lawyer, the BBC reporting.