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
The further use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would draw a response from the US, Defense Secretary James Mattis warned yesterday at his first press conference as Pentagon chief, his first public comments since the US retaliatory attack on a Syrian airfield last Friday. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
Russia tried to cover up last week’s suspected chemical attack in Syria’s Idlib province, which the US has concluded involved banned sarin gas, senior White House officials said in a briefing yesterday, Dion Nissenbaum, Carol E. Lee and Felicia Schwartz reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
A declassified report detailing US intelligence on the chemical weapons attack and asserting that Syria and Russia have attempted to confuse the international community through disinformation and “false narratives” was released by the White House yesterday and published by the New York Times.
There was no consensus among the officials on whether Russia was involved in the attack or had foreknowledge of it, NPR’s Camila Domonoske writes, citing colleague Scott Horsley, who adds that the officials suggested that Assad’s decision to attack his people with chemical weapons may have been motivated by rebel gains in the surrounding area.
Russia is backing an “evil person” in “animal” Assad, President Trump said in an interview with Fox News set to air today, Nikita Vladimirov reports at the Hill.
Russia is nervous and isolated following the chemical attack, US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley said in an interview yesterday, adding that she thinks that Russia “knew” about the attack beforehand. CNN’s Theodore Schleifer reports.
“Take greater military action” in Syria “to achieve our objectives” there, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) urged the President yesterday, Jordain Carney reporting at the Hill.
Provide Congress with a Syria strategy, House Democrats are demanding of President Trump, threatening that they will not support future military actions unless he gets Congress’ approval beforehand. Mike Lillis reports at the Hill.
A revised UN draft resolution condemning the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria and demanding that all parties allow prompt access to investigators was circulated by the US, the UK and France yesterday, the AP reporting on this and other live updates on this story.
“I apologize.” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said he was sorry for comments that Adolf Hitler compared favorably with Syrian dictator Assad because Hitler – according to Spicer – never used chemical weapons yesterday, Carol E. Lee and Michael C. Bender reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
Spicer never intended for his Hitler comments to distract from President Trump’s efforts “to destabilize the region,” the press secretary said, Nikita Vladimirov at the Hill pointing out that this was not the first time Spicer has used the word “destabilize” to describe Trump’s Middle East policy.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) wants his colleagues to vote on legislation that requires the administration to obtain approval for “military humanitarian operations” following the US strike on a Syrian airbase last week, the Hill’s Jordain Carney reports.
TILLERSON in MOSCOW
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the US of carrying out an unlawful attack against Syrian President Assad at the opening of his meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Moscow today, Josh Lederman reports at the AP.
Tillerson and Lavrov said they aim to clear up sharp differences in their opening meeting today, which the AP describes as “tense.”
Russia-US relations had reached their lowest point since the Cold War, Russian Foreign Ministry officials said as Tillerson arrived in Moscow yesterday with a demand that Russia drops the Syrian government as an ally, Carol Morello and David Filipov write at the Washington Post.
Trust has eroded between the US and Russia under President Trump, Russian President Putin said today, Yeganeh Torbati and Vladimir Soldatkin reporting at Reuters.
Russia’s opponents planned false-flag chemical weapons attacks to justify further US missile strikes, Putin claimed yesterday, Emma Graham-Harrison, Julian Borger and Spencer Ackerman report at the Guardian.
Tillerson has his hands full with Sergey Lavrov, Michael Crowley examining the record of the veteran Russian diplomat at POLITICO.
If Tillerson’s mission to convince Russia to drop Assad fails, President Trump could be forced to make another demonstration of force in Syria, warns Josh Lederman at the AP.
US STRIKES SYRIA: MEDIA REACTION and OPINION
Any attempt to remove Assad carries with it huge hurdles and risks consequences that would likely resonate beyond the Syrian borders, explains Zeina Karam at the AP.
Assad meant the chemical attack to strike fear into rebels and send the message that the war was over, Annia Ciezadlo explaining how history tells us that Assad had much to gain from the attack at the Washington Post.
The limitations of American power are revealed by the crises in Syria and Nigeria, both the sort of conflict that the US has tried but often failed to resolves since the Cold War, writes Max Fisher at the New York Times.
Why is Trump’s goal to defeat the Islamic State in Syria right now? Thomas L. Friedman asks if it is really in Americans’ interests to be focusing solely on this goal at this moment at the New York Times.
Three possible rationales for how punishing Assad for gassing his people fits into Trump’s “America First” doctrine which would move toward a more coherent foreign policy are suggested by Anne-Marie Slaughter at the Financial Times.
An “unpredictable” foreign policy? More like incoherent. Kevin Sullivan and Karen Tumulty study allies’ views of President Trump’s behavior in relation to Syria and North Korea at the Washington Post.
Trump made good decisions about Syria, Russia and China last week, moving his administration toward a more traditional US foreign policy, David Ignatius writes at the Washington Post.
The Trump administration is getting smarter on Russia and the threat it poses to core US interests, but there is more learning to do, writes the Washington Post editorial board.
Is Russia testing Trump? Russia’s involvement in Syria is just one example of its increasingly active and disruptive role on the world stage since President Trump’s inauguration, point out Michael J. Morell and Evelyn Farkas at the New York Times.
The credibility of the popular media theory that President Trump is the political prisoner of his Russian counterpart was dealt another blow yesterday when White House officials accused Russia of attempting to conceal Assad’s chemical attack, observes the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION’S RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSSIA
A secret court order to monitor the communications of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page was obtained by the FBI last summer as part of an investigation into possible links between the campaign and Russia, law enforcement and other US officials said. Ellen Nakashima, Devlin Barrett and Adam Entous report at the Washington Post.
There is no evidence so far to support House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes’ (R-Calif.) claim that the Obama administration collected information on Trump transition associates, lawmakers reviewing the same intelligence documents on which Nunes’ based his allegations said, Jim Sciutto, Manu Raju and Eric Bradner reporting at CNN.
Don’t call Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign an “act of war,” former CIA director Michael Hayden insisted yesterday, saying that doing so underlines the government’s lack of definition of what constitutes aggression in cyberspace. Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.
A policy approach to North Korea involving increased economic and political pressure while military options remain under consideration in the longer term was signed off by President Trump yesterday, according to a senior US official. Carol E. Lee reports at the Wall Street Journal.
China wants a peaceful solution to North Korea, Chinese President Xi Jinping told President Trump in a phone call this morning, Beijing time, Te-Ping Chen reports at the Wall Street Journal.
“A trade deal with the US will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!” The phone call between the two leaders came hours after trump tweeted that China needed to deal with North Korea, Jane Perlez reports at the New York Times.
Japan will send several warships to join the USS Carl Vinson headed for the Korean Peninsula in a show of force intended to disincline North Korea toward further nuclear and missile tests, Justin McCurry and Benjamin Haas report at the Guardian.
China is not doing enough to deter North Korea’s dangerous and reckless conduct, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said today, the AP reporting.
Is conflict between the US and North Korea imminent? Anna Fifield at the Washington Post explains why the prospects of an actual clash of arms, despite the “high-tension brinkmanship,” are slim.
Trump’s response to North Korea is another example of “gunboat diplomacy,” but this deployment is likely to look very different to the one in Syria, Philip Ewing writes at NPR.
Trump’s latest tweet about China betrays his weakness, writes Gordon G. Chang at The Daily Beast, explaining what the President should have said to his Chinese counterpart.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg’s meeting with President Trump at the White House this week will be a “high-stakes dress rehearsal” for the President’s visit to the alliance’s headquarters next month, anticipates David M. Herszenhorn at POLITICO.
Why should US taxpayers care about Ukraine, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked G7 diplomats during a meeting yesterday, Nick Wadhams and John Follain report at Bloomberg.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions expects Congress to fund President Trump’s wall along the Mexican border, he said yesterday, Olivia Beavers reporting at the Hill.
Partitioning Libya into three Ottoman-era provinces is not the answer to that country’s ongoing conflict, Geoff D. Porter writes in a memo for Libya envoy hopeful Dr. Sebastian Gorka at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
It the Trump administration sold Taiwan submarines and other military equipment it would force China to reconsider its strategy of intimidation, help to stabilize the region and reduce the risk of the US having to come to Taiwan’s aid in a conflict, argues the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
Attorney John Sullivan is President Trump’s nomination to serve as the State Department’s No. 2 official – and as deputy secretary of State for Management and Resources – the White House announced yesterday, Jesse Byrnes reporting at the Hill.
The MUSLIM BAN
Hawaii is requesting that the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals considering the legality of President Trump’s revised travel ban has the matter heard by an en banc court usually consisting of 11 judges rather than the usual three-judge panel, according to a filing yesterday, Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.
A letter telling President Trump that he needs Congressional approval if he wants to expand US involvement in the Yemen war was sent by a group of 55 mainly Democratic House lawmakers yesterday, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.
Forces loyal to Yemen’s internationally-recognized president launched an ongoing attack on Shi’ite rebels around the port city of Mocha yesterday, with some 38 fighters from both sides killed so far.Ahmed Al-Haj reports at the AP.
An exchange of 30 prisoners and nine bodies took place between the Syrian government and rebels today, part of a wider agreement to evacuate four besieged areas in different parts of Syria, Philip Issa reports at the AP.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 19 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Apr. 10. Separately, partner forces conducted 12 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
Russia was “all but singled out” in a declaration voicing concerns about cyber interference in the democratic process issued by G7 ministers following their meeting in Italy yesterday, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.
Foreign countries such as Russia and China may be behind the collapse of a voter registration website in the run-up to the UK’s Brexit referendum that raised concerns that tens of thousands of votes could have been lost, according to a report by the House of Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee. Rajeev Syal reports at the Guardian.
The number of people who have been told to hand over their cellphones and passwords by Customs and Border Protection agents has increased nearly threefold in recent years, affecting American citizens as well as foreign visitors, writes Brian Naylor at NPR.
Wikileaks’ motive is identical to that claimed by the New York Times and the Washington Post: to publish newsworthy content, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange explains at the Washington Post.
German police are investigating a possible Islamic extremist link to the bombing of a soccer team’s bus in Dortmund yesterday, the BBC reports.
Turkish officials have identified an explosion at a police station in the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir as a “terror attack,” the AP reports.
Boko Haram is increasingly using children as suicide bombers, according to a new report by UNICEF, Kristina Larson reporting at the AP.