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.
SARIN GAS ATTACK in SYRIA
A US-led coalition airstrike in the eastern Deir al-Zor province last night hit Islamic State poison gas supplies releasing a substance that killed “hundreds including many civilians,” the Syrian army claimed today, Reuters reporting.
Russia blocked a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Assad regime’s chemical attack last week, while China abstained from voting yesterday, Farnaz Fassihi reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The US, UK and France reacted angrily to Russia’s decision to block the resolution, the eighth time it has protected Bashar al-Assad at the Security Council. [BBC]
“It is now time for Congress to pass sanctions against Putin’s regime,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told his colleagues yesterday after the UN resolution failed, Jordain Carney reporting at the Hill.
China’s decision to abstain from the vote was praised by President Trump as a welcome development for the US as it tries to increase pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Ben Kamisar reports at the Hill.
The Syrian war needs to be addressed through a political settlement, China’s foreign minister said today. [AP]
Russian President Putin is partly to blame for the crisis in Syria and must now help to bring peace to the country, President Trump said in an interview aired yesterday, Julie Hirschfeld Davis reports at the New York Times.
“I’d like to think that they didn’t.” Trump said it was “unlikely” that Russia had prior knowledge of the sarin gas attack, but at the same time “certainly they could’ve,” at a joint press conference with UN Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg yesterday, Jordan Fabian reports at the Hill.
The US and Russia must find a way to work together to stabilize the political process in Syria, the UN Special Envoy for Syria told the UN Security Council yesterday. [UN News Centre]
Russia pushed for a UN investigation into the chemical attack today, the AP reports.
A team of experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is in Turkey to collect samples and interview survivors as part of their investigation into the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria last week, Reuters reports.
The US-led coalition in Syria is pulling back on its airstrikes near the city of Raqqa amid “tensions” following the US strike on an airfield last week, spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve Col. John Dorrian told reporters yesterday. The Hill’s Ellen Mitchell reports.
TILLERSON in MOSCOW
US-Russia relations are “at a low point,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said after meeting with President Putin in Moscow yesterday following a “lengthy, detailed and often blunt exchange of views” with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that Felicia Schwartz at the Wall Street Journal considers reinforced how deeply at odds the US and Russian governments stand at this time.
Putin used the meeting with Tillerson to tell him his views on why the US-Russia relationship had reached such a low point, spokesperson Dmitri Peskov telling reporters that the tone of the meeting had been “fairly constructive” and resulted in general agreement to keep the open the lines of communication between Moscow and Washington. [Reuters]
The “world’s two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship,” Tillerson told reporters at the end of a day during which he had been publicly warned by Lavrov against further US strikes on Syria, had his respect for history questioned and had even been reproached for his failure to fill up State Department jobs quickly enough by the Russian foreign minister, Nahal Toosi writes at POLITICO.
Tillerson and Putin’s differing views of the facts about the chemical attack and Assad’s culpability made it very hard for them to achieve anything other than cosmetic accords on the issues that each have charged the other with lying about, writes David E. Sanger at the New York Times.
US STRIKES SYRIA: MEDIA REACTION and OPINION
President Trump has abruptly shifted his stance on a number of foreign policy issues from the US’ relationship with Russia and China to the value of the NATO alliance, observe Kathrin Hille, Demetri Sevastopulo and Sam Fleming at the Financial Times.
Whatever Trump’s motives for striking Syria, he made the right move in warning Syria and others against the use of weapons of mass destruction, but a missile strike alone will not be enough against the mafia-like Assad regime, Roula Khalaf writes at the Financial Times.
While President Putin’s approach to international engagement has been consistent, President Trump’s has been anything but, meaning that while both leaders could end up losers, there is a greater possibility that Trump will fail to prevail over ex-KGB agent Putin, a fact that has shaken the confidence of America’s allies in turn, writes the New York Times editorial board.
The arms-control agreement Damascus signed did not protect the civilians who were murdered. The Washington Post editorial board writes that arms control agreements are effective when they are verifiable, with intrusive inspections, but they can be subverted.
The Syrian chemical weapons problem is so hard to solve not only because it is driven by Assad’s own awful strategy and because of the limits of American power, but also the deeper issue of the fundamental nature of the Syrian war and of chemical weaponry, explains Max Fisher at the New York Times.
Satellite imagery suggests that North Korea is “primed and ready” for what would be its sixth nuclear test, the US-based monitoring group 38 North said today, Justine McCurry reporting at the Guardian.
President Trump has offered China better trade terms in exchange for help with dealing with the threat posed by North Korea, he told Gerard Baker, Carol E. Lee and Michael C. Bender at the Wall Street Journal yesterday, also explaining that he now realizes “it’s not so easy” for China to wield power over North Korea as he once assumed after President Xi explained the Chinese-North Korea relationship to him.
Beijing will work toward a peaceful solution to rising tensions with North Korea, Xi reportedly told Trump during their phone call yesterday, Mark Hensch reporting at the Hill.
Military force is not the answer to dealing with North Korea, China reiterated today, Michael Martina and Sue-Lin Wong reporting at Reuters.
North Korea may be capable of firing a missile loaded with sarin gas toward Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned today, Mari Yamaguchi reporting at the AP.
TRUMP and NATO
“The bulwark of international peace and security.” The President expressed strong support for NATO yesterday after meeting with Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the White House, a sharp turn from his earlier suggestion that the organization was “obsolete,” Jenna Johnson reports at the Washington Post.
Trump’s about-face is to do with those closest to him and the way the NATO chief has focused on shared priorities with the new President, as well as the breakdown of the US-Russia relationship, Ryan Browne explaining the four factors that have driven Trump’s change of heart – for now – at CNN.
MEXICAN BORDER WALL
Environmental group the Center for Biological Diversity is suing the Trump administration for its plan to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, saying the Department of Homeland Security is obligated to draft a new environmental review to look at the impacts of the wall, the Hill’s Timothy Cama reports.
The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort is registering as a foreign agent in relation to his past work on behalf of political figures in Ukraine, becoming the second former senior Trump adviser – after Gen. Michael Flynn – to retroactively acknowledge the need to disclose foreign work, reports Tom Hamburger at the Washington Post.
US officials convinced a FISA court judge during the presidential campaign that there is probable cause that Carter Page was “knowingly” working as an agent of a foreign government while advising Donald Trump – if reports are true, that’s the first concrete evidence that Page was linked to Russian evidence while working on the Trump campaign, Elias Groll writes at Foreign Policy.
More US troops may be needed for the fight to retake the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria Raqqa, the US general commanding the coalition fight against the terrorists told CNN, Nick Paton Walsh reporting.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out four airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Apr. 11. Separately, partner forces conducted eight strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
Iran and Russia have taken the opportunity presented by uncertainty over future US policy in Afghanistan to increase ties with the Taliban and weaken the Western-backed government, according to US and Afghan officials, Erin Cunningham reporting at the Washington Post.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack near government offices in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul yesterday that killed at least five people, Al Jazeera reports.
DORTMUND BUS BLAST
German prosecutors have no evidence that the only suspect detained in connection with a bomb attack on the Borussia Dortmund soccer team bus yesterday was actually linked to the crime, they said today, Al Jazeera reporting.
The Iraqi suspect is a suspected Islamic State member, prosecutors said. [AP]
Letters discovered after the explosions also suggest that there was an Islamist extremist motive behind the attack, investigators said yesterday, Stephanie Kirchner reporting at the Washington Post.
UN MISSION in HAITI
The UN will wrap up its peacekeeping mission in Haiti by mid-October after over 20 years in recognition of the “major milestone” the country has reached in stabilization after recent elections, Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.
Nine Haitian children were sexually exploited by a ring of at least 134 Sri Lankan UN peacekeepers between 2004 and 2007, according to a UN report obtained by Paisley Dodds at the AP.
Congress must not leave the current system allowing Customs and Border Protection agents to freely search every last email on travelers cellphones in place, writes the Washington Post editorial board.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte canceled his planned visit to an island in the South China Sea after China cautioned against the trip, Reuters reports.
Turkish police detained 412 suspected Kurdish militants in a security sweep across 21 provinces last night, the AP reports.
Russia failed to protect victims of a 2004 school siege in the city of Beslan in which over 300 people were killed, the European Court of Human Rights ruled today, Vladimir Isachenkov reporting at the AP.
New talks to address the 40-year-old Western Sahara conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front independent movement were called for by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Reda Zaireg reports at the AP.