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 KOREAN PENINSULA
China’s President Xi Jinping urged President Trump to exercise restraint in a call today as the USS Carl Vinson carrier group headed for North Korea, a deployment North Korea said was “an extremely dangerous act by those who plan a nuclear war to invade the North.” Ben Blanchard and Ju-min Park report at Reuters.
North Korea is “ready to sink” the USS Carl Vinson “with a single strike,” North Korean state media warned today, the BBC reporting.
The Pentagon called on North Korea to “refrain from provocative, destabilizing actions and rhetoric” yesterday and to fulfil its international obligations and return to serious discussions, calling the Pyongyang regime’s nuclear weapons program a “clear, grave threat to US national security.” Eli Watkins and Jamie Crawford report at CNN.
South Korea and its allies are preparing for the possibility that North Korea will launch an intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time or conduct another nuclear test tomorrow as it marks the founding anniversary of its military, Kim Tong-Hyung reports at the AP.
American citizen Professor Tony Kim has been arrested in Pyongyang, the third US citizen known to have been detained by North Korea in recent months and an episode likely to serve as another flashpoint with the US at a time of heightened tensions with North Korea, suggests Jonathan Cheng at the Wall Street Journal.
President Trump will have to face a nuclear-armed North Korea with missiles capable of reaching the US during his first term, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said yesterday, Mallory Shelbourne reporting at the Hill.
China’s worry that US-North Korea tensions could escalate into outright military conflict are reflected by President Xi’s reported words of caution to President Trump by phone today, Beijing-time, writes Chris Buckley at the New York Times.
The best move for the US now would be to open direct talks with Pyongyang that begin by negotiating a halt on nuclear tests and missiles in return for at least considering North Korea’s demand for suspension of joint military exercises with South Korea, suggests John Delury at the Washington Post, pointing out that there is no way to launch a pre-emptive strike on North Korea without being hit back harder, or without avoiding the deaths of the ten million people who live in Seoul.
“Secondary sanctions” on those who do business with the regime. In dealing with North Korea, the Trump administration should take a look at former president Obama’s approach to sanctioning in order to get Iran to come to the nuclear negotiating table, suggests David S. Cohen writing at the Washington Post.
President Trump’s team has repeatedly slammed Iran despite acknowledging that it has complied with the nuclear deal Trump has repeatedly railed against, observes Rebecca Kheel at the Hill.
The Trump administration’s propensity for demonizing Iran and misrepresenting the threat it poses risks an unnecessary and perilous confrontation, writes the New York Times editorial board.
Former president Obama was not telling the whole story when he presented the “one-time gesture” of releasing Iranian prisoners “who were not charged with terrorism or any violent offenses” last year as a modest trade-off for the sake of the Iran nuclear deal and Tehran’s promise to release five American prisoners, according to an investigation by POLITICO’s Josh Meyer.
A diplomatic breakthrough with the potential to bring the two main warring sides in Libya together in a new political agreement was brokered in a meeting in Rome overseen by Italy’s foreign minister Angelino Alfano and the Italian ambassador to Libya, Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
President Trump will host 14 members of the UN Security Council for lunch at the White House today, Somini Sengupta reports at the New York Times.
Vice President Mike Pence will cut his Asia trip short by a day, returning to the US tomorrow, it was announced yesterday, a Pence aide reportedly citing the number of issues “on deck in Washington this week” as the reason for the change. David Cohen reports at POLITICO.
Pence thanked US service members based in American Samoa for their work in “challenging times” for the military in the Asia-Pacific en route to Hawaii, Ken Thomas reports at the AP.
Vice President Mike Pence has emerged as one of Trump’s main emissaries on the world stage mending relations and reassuring allies disconcerted by President Trump’s unpredictable behavior after his ten-day trip covering four Pacific Rim nations, writes Ken Thomas at the AP.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has been quietly placing building blocks for resettling ties with Middle East allies that had become strained during Obama’s tenure during his trip to the region encompassing Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel over the past three weeks, writes Gordon Lubold at the Wall Street Journal.
The Trump administration’s failure to embrace the need for a broader strategy on Asia’s escalating security and economic challenges means it is missing the opportunity presented by closer relations with Japan, writes Josh Rogin at the Washington Post.
The Trump administration is being forced to manage the numerous unresolved international crises it inherited with one hand tied behind its back because its State Department is understaffed. Former member of the US House of Representatives Mike Rogers writing at the Washington Post explains that while the State Department does need reforming and streamlining, starving it of leadership is not the way to achieve this goal.
Will President Trump follow suit on special ops? The US has been infatuated with special operations since Franklin Roosevelt created the first unit in 1942, but the history of special ops should teach the President that they are primarily tactical tools, not strategic options, and nor can they always beat the odds. Mark Moyar writes at the New York Times.
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russian election interference has no full-time dedicated staff and those who are working on the probe do not have backgrounds in investigative experience, nor have any interviews been conducted with key players so far, Tim Mak reports at The Daily Beast.
Russia used some of Trump’s own advisers including Carter Page to try to infiltrate the Trump campaign, according to US officials, Pamela Brown, Shimon Prokupecz, Jim Sciutto and Marshall Cohen reporting at CNN.
Ongoing federal investigations into alleged Russian interference in the presidential elections could help to stop similar meddling in the elections of US allies, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) suggested Saturday, Jari Tanner reports at the AP.
Five questions for Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) as he takes over from Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) as leader of the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia are posed by Morgan Chalfant at the Hill.
A US-operated base in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Khost came under suspected Taliban attack this morning, officials said, providing few immediate details. [Reuters]
Defense Secretary James Mattis arrived unannounced in Afghanistan today to assess the US’ longest-running war as President Trump considers the option of sending more troops there, Robert Burns reports at the AP.
At least 140 Afghan troops were killed in the deadliest single Taliban attack since 2001 on a base near the city of Mazar-e Sharif Friday, Sayed Salahuddin and Pamela Constable report at the Washington Post.
The Afghan minister of defense and the army chief of staff both resigned today in the wake of the Taliban attack, Mujib Mashal reports at the New York Times.
The attack was the Taliban’s latest effort in its campaign to destabilize and demoralize the Afghan armed forces already buckling under the weight of corruption, desertion and a lack of trust between soldiers and officers, Mujib Mashal writes at the New York Times.
Torture and mistreatment of prisoners by Afghan security forces is as widespread as ever despite new laws and promises from Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, according to a new UN report released today, Josh Smith reports at Reuters.
There are indications that President Tump wants to increase aid to Saudi Arabia in Yemen with specific military steps by the US in the battle against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, a move that could receive blowback from Capitol Hill where both parties have expressed doubts about US support of Saudi Arabia in Yemen, Ellen Mitchell reporting on recent developments at the Hill.
Saudi’s King Salman appointed one of his sons Prince Khaled bin Salman as the new envoy to Washington as part of an effort to cement improving ties with the Trump administration, Nikhil Lohade and Dahlia Kholaif write at the Wall Street Journal.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi arrived in Saudi Arabia yesterday to boost “strategic relations” between the two regional powers and to discuss issues such as the threat to national security and stability posed by terrorism, Al Jazeera reports.
Israeli forces struck Syrian government groups in Quneitra two days after a similar attack in the same region yesterday, killing three fighters from the pro-government National Defense Forces, Al Jazeera reports.
Assad regime forces retook the town of Halfaya near Hama city and advanced deeper into rebel-held parts of Damascus over the weekend, Al Jazeera reports.
The CEO of LafargeHolcim will resign amid “strong tensions” facing the cement company after it admitted last month that it had made deals with armed groups in Syria allegedly including the Islamic State, he announced today, the AP reporting.
A convoy of off-duty Iraqi soldiers was ambushed by militants near the Iraqi town of Rutba last night, officials said, leaving at least ten dead. The AP reports.
The MEXICAN BORDER WALL
President Trump said he wants any spending deal to include some funding for his wall along the US border with Mexico less than a week before the federal government could run out of money, according to White House officials, risking a partial shutdown over the issues. Kristina Peterson reports at the Wall Street Journal,
Mexico will eventually pay for his border wall, President Trump said yesterday, Mallory Shelbourne reporting at the Hill.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
The Trump administration has u-turned on its attitude to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, formerly the helpful discloser of material damaging to Hillary Clinton, now a “priority” arrest for the Justice Department, but what case can be made against him? Michael Weiss writes at The Daily Beast.
“Can a freed Guantánamo war criminal appeal his conviction from the global battlefield?” This question is being asked by a Pentagon appeals panel considering whether to upend the war crimes conviction of former Sudanese captive Ibrahim al Qosi, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.
US and Philippine troops will hold humanitarian exercises next month instead of their annual war games in response to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s distain for the nations’ longstanding defense alliance, Reuters reports.
Somali pirates are returning to waters of East Africa after five years of calm, prompting the Pentagon to warn commercial ships to shore up their defences against forced boardings, though Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is not calling for a response from the US Navy as yet, Helen Cooper reports at the New York Times.
Western security will be hit whoever wins the French general election, explains Griff Witte at the Washington Post.
UK government plans to opt out of international human rights agreements in future wars would be dangerous and would block British soldiers from obtaining justice, according to evidence submitted to a parliamentary inquiry by the body that represents solicitors in England and Wales the Law Society and human rights organization Liberty, Owen Bowcott reports at the Guardian.