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
North Korea conducted large-scale military live-fire drills today to mark the foundation of its military as US submarine the USS Michigan docked in South Korea in a show of force and envoys from the US, Japan and South Korea met in Tokyo to discuss the growing threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles program, Ju-min Park reports at Reuters.
The missile-armed USS Michigan will join an incoming group of warships led by aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, the BBC reports.
An unusual private briefing on North Korea involving the entire Senate will be held Wednesday, the White House announced yesterday, David Nakamura, Simon Denyer and Anna Fifield report at the Washington Post.
Lawmakers will be briefed tomorrow by several administration officials including the Secretary of State and the Defense Secretary ahead of the meeting, which will take place at the White House, perplexing lawmakers who are used to meeting in more secure settings such as the Pentagon and prompting speculation that the meeting will be used by the Trump administration as a photo op ahead of its 100-day mark, write David Nakamura and Ed O’Keefe at the Washington Post.
“The status quo in North Korea is unacceptable and the council must be prepared to impose additional and stronger sanctions on North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile programs.” President Trump underlined US resolve to stop North Korea’s progress at a lunch meeting with UN ambassadors yesterday, Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.
Pentagon officials were caught unawares by UN ambassador Nikki Haley’s announcement of an apparent red line that would prompt a preemptive US strike on North Korea on NBC News yesterday, Kimberly Dozier and Benny Avni write at The Daily Beast.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will chair a special meeting of the UN Security Council on North Korea Friday in New York, spokesperson Mark Toner explaining that the meeting will give council members an opportunity to discuss ways to “maximize the impact of existing Security Council measures” and demonstrate that they intend to respond to future provocations with “appropriate new measures.” Mark Hensch reports at the Hill.
The Trump administration’s “sudden urgency” in dealing with North Korea was prompted by an increase in the pace of North Korea’s nuclear program indicated by a growing body of expert studies and classified intelligence reports but impossible to verify without access to North Korea’s facilities, write David E. Sanger and William J. Broad at the New York Times.
The Japanese government issued “new actions to protect yourself” guidelines this week including instructions on what to do if a North Korean ballistic missile is headed toward Japan, reports Anna Fifield at the Washington Post.
Trump’s increased risk-taking on North Korea can pay off, Jon Wolfsthal at Foreign Policy explaining how this “classic game of chicken” in which the driver is willing to appear irrational in order to gain an advantage may be producing results, with reports indicating that China is leaning on Pyongyang harder than it has done in years and that Japan is preparing to deal with a post-conflict or post-collapse North Korea.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
President Trump labeled the UN an “underperformer” but with “tremendous potential” yesterday at the start of his working lunch with Security Council ambassadors, adding that if the UN did a good job his budget concerns might diminish to some extent. Louis Nelson writes at POLITICO.
President Trump didn’t know a lot about NATO when he called it “obsolete” last year, the President explained to the AP yesterday.
UN ambassador Nikki Haley has used her position as president of the UN Security Council to raise the profile of the UN in Washington, despite the Trump administration’s day-one desire to enervate the organization, observes Colum Lynch at Foreign Policy.
Vice President Mike Pence concluded his trip to Asia by thanking US service members in Hawaii and promising robust military spending under President Trump yesterday, Ken Thomas reports at the AP.
Australia’s Prime Minister is looking forward to meeting face-to-face with President Trump soon, he told reporters after meeting with Defense Secretary James Mattis today, three months after his heated phone call with Trump. Rod McGuirk reports at the AP.
President Trump has been asked to take “personal responsibility” for the lives of two Iranian-American citizens in prison in Iran for “collusion with an enemy state” – the US – by a relative who says their health is failing rapidly due to inhumane conditions. George Jahn reports at the AP.
Qatar undermines US security by sponsoring Islamic radicalism, write former deputy commander of US European Command and fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America Charles Wald and former Pentagon official and the institute’s president Michael Makovsky at the Wall Street Journal following Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ visit to this “dubious” American partner last week.
Member of the Senate Intelligence Committee Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) defended its investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election via Twitter yesterday after several reports accused it of moving too slowly and being understaffed, Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.
Financial sanctions on 271 named employees of a Syrian research center responsible for developing and producing sarin gas were imposed by the Trump administration yesterday, Karen DeYoung reports at the Washington Post.
The extent to which Russia and the west are unable to agree on basic facts or even agree a process to find the truth about the recent chemical weapons attack in Syria is revealed by an increasingly bitter dispute between the two sides over an inquiry into the attack that has also brought into question future international support for the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the body responsible for overseeing control of chemical weapons. Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.
At least 11 people were killed in a suspected US-led coalition airstrike as they attempted to flee the fighting in the northern province of Raqqa today, Al Jazeera reports, citing witnesses and the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Turkey undertook airstrikes on suspected Kurdish rebel positions in northeastern Syria and northern Iraq today in an effort to stop the militants from smuggling fighters and weapons over the border into Turkey, Suzan Fraser reports at the AP.
Al-Qaeda called on the armed Syrian opposition to wage guerrilla war against the Assad regime and its allies, Al Jazeera reports.
Members of the UN commission investigating potential war crimes in Syria have never been permitted to visit the country by its president Bashar al-Assad and is already the longest-serving enquiry at the United Nations, writes Rick Gladstone at the New York Times.
Iraqi forces in Mosul’s Old City are using siege and stealth tactics to oust the Islamic State in an attempt to minimize civilian casualties, according to an Iraqi general, Ahmed Aboulenein reporting at Reuters.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 24 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Apr. 23. Separately, partner forces conducted seven strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
An increasing number of small arms being provided by the Russian government are ending up in the hands of Taliban fighters over the past 18 months, according to US military officials, Gordon Lubold and Habib Khan Totakhil reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
Friday’s devastating Taliban attack on an Afghan army base has increased concern that Afghanistan will not be able to defend itself from the insurgents without a major commitment of US support, write Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Pamela Constable and Sayed Salahuddin at the Washington Post.
The MUSLIM BAN
Arguments over President Trump’s revised travel ban will be broadcast live from the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth District next month, C-SPAN cameras having been granted permission to capture the hearing. Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.
The MEXICAN BORDER WALL
President Trump is prepared to delay his demand for a wall along the US-Mexican border to avoid a shutdown of the federal government, telling a private meeting with conservative media outlets that he might wait until Republicans start drafting the budget blueprint for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 before seeking funding for his major campaign promise, the Guardian reports.
The federal government will shut down early Saturday morning unless negotiators can strike a bipartisan deal to keep it going, with money for a border wall a deal breaker and few able to say how Republicans will get out of this latest jam, Scott Wong and Jordan Fabian report at the Hill.
“There will never be a 2,200 mile wall built, period.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that border wall and fences were part of an overall plan but cast doubt on whether Congress would ever fund the wall that Trump envisages yesterday, the Hill’s Jordain Carney reporting.
Prosecutors in the trial of accused al-Qaeda commander Abd al Hadi al Iraqi at Guantánamo Bay want an admitted Saudi terrorist to give evidence to rebut a defense case of mistaken identity, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.
Recent intercepts of Russian bombers near Alaska are related to new testing on Soviet bombers that have been grounded for a long time, the Pentagon suspects, Ellen Mitchell reporting at the Hill.
The campaign of French presidential hopeful Emmanuel Macron has been targeted by Russia-linked hackers, according to researchers with Japanese anti-virus firm Trend Micro. Raphael Satter reports at the AP.
A case against Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for crimes against humanity in enacting his anti-drug crusade has been filed in the International Criminal Court, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian explaining at Foreign Policy.
A Taliban-claimed roadside bomb attack left nine people dead in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal region today, Riaz Khan reports at the AP.
Four men who belonged to al-Shabaab and who were said to be behind a 2016 attack that left 80 dead were executed by a military court in Somalia, a military officer said today, Reuters reporting.
Turkey’s Council of State refused to hear an appeal challenging the acceptance of unstamped ballots in the Turkish referendum to increase President Erdoğan’s powers by the main opposition party, Hürriyet Daily News reports.