The Early Edition: April 27, 2017

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

The US will tighten sanctions on North Korea and focus on diplomatic moves aimed at putting pressure on Pyongyang to halt its nuclear and missile programs, the President’s strategy announced after a briefing involving the entire Senate at the White House yesterday. The BBC reports.

President Trump attended only the first five minutes of the meeting before handing it over to his national security team according to an anonymous official, the AP reports.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis leading the meeting did not disclose whether the US is considering military options against North Korea, nor was there any discussion about whether to designate North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism, report Burgess Everett and Matthew Nussbaum at POLITICO.

Few details about the Trump administration’s North Korea strategy were on offer behind all the tough talk at the White House meeting yesterday, according to some members of Congress, David Nakamura and Ed O’Keefe reporting at the Washington Post.

“There are no good military options” on North Korea, which must be solved “through political or economic measures,” a senior administration official told The Daily Beast’s Kimberly Dozier and Tim Mak yesterday, who report that White House officials made it clear that open military confrontation or toppling Kim Jong-un’s regime were the least desirable of options.

Washington and Seoul agreed to take “swift punitive measures” in the event of further provocation from North Korea in a phone call between national security adviser H.R. McMaster and his South Korean counterpart, according to a statement from the South Korean president’s office, Spencer Ackerman and Ben Jacobs reporting at the Guardian.

China welcomed the US’ softer tone on North Korea today but reiterated its opposition to the THAAD missile defense system being deployed in South Korea, Michael Martina and Ju-min Park report at Reuters.

“We’ve seen nothing from China” in terms of helping to ease tensions between the US and North Korea. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports yesterday.

The THAAD system will be activated “within days,” commander of the US Pacific Command Adm. Harry Harris, in charge of a potential conflict with North Korea, told members of Congress yesterday hours after the Senate’s White House briefing, the BBC reports.

Adm. Harris does not have confidence that North Korea would refrain from “something precipitous” if it is successful in miniaturizing a nuclear weapon to mount on a ballistic missile, he testified yesterday, Spencer Ackerman and Ben Jacobs reporting at the Guardian.

The US needs to beef up its missile defense systems amid rising concerns about North Korea’s nuclear weapons abilities, Harris told lawmakers, Max Greenwood reporting at the Hill.

Adm. Harris also took full responsibility for the chain of events that left the impression that the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier was rushing toward North Korea earlier this month during the hearing, the New York Times’ Eric Schmitt reports.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to host a special meeting of the UN Security Council Friday where he will urge international officials to increase efforts to enforce economic sanction on North Korea, the State Department saying that Tillerson is also considering asking other countries to shut down North Korea’s embassies and other diplomatic facilities, Ben Kesling, Felicia Schwartz, Byron Tau and Carol E. Lee report at the Wall Street Journal.

North Korea will “never stop” its nuclear tests as long as the US continues with its “acts of aggression,” a North Korean government official told CNN in a rare interview yesterday, Will Ripley, Tim Schwarz and Ben Westcott reporting.

State-sponsored Chinese hackers attempted to infiltrate an organization with connections to the THAAD missile system in South Korea, according to an American cybersecurity firm, Joshua Berlinger and Juliet Perry reporting at CNN.

War is not about to break in North Korea, despite the threats and military muscle-flexing, which are more about discouraging North Korea from conducting further nuclear or ballistic missile tests, Mark Landler explains at the New York Times.

While war with North Korea is in noone’s interests, that doesn’t mean there won’t be one while there is a chance that either side will miscalculate the likely response of the other or find themselves backed into a corner where the only “rational” response is to fight, explains Senior Research Associate at the MIT’s Security Studies Program Jim Walsh writing at Al Jazeera.

How THAAD works and why it has become such a debated issue in South Korea is explained by Kim Tong-Hyung at the AP.

SYRIA

Turkey gave the US less than an hour’s notice before conducting strikes on partner forces in Syria and Iraq, and notification is not coordination, which is what “you would expect from a partner and an ally in the fight against ISIS,” US military spokesperson Col. John Dorrian said yesterday, stepping up the criticism of Turkey for its bombings of what it said were PKK targets this week. Missy Ryan reports at the Washington Post.

Israel hit an arms supply hub operated by Hezbollah near Damascus airport today, according to Syrian rebel and regional intelligence sources, Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Angus McDowall reporting at Reuters.

Israel’s intelligence minister strongly suggested that Israel was responsible for the strike in Damascus today, saying that “the incident in Syria completely conforms to Israel’s policy” which is “to act so as to prevent the smuggling of advanced weapons from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon by Iran,” an unusual statement since Israel normally stops short of claiming responsibility for raids against Hezbollah in Syria, reports Peter Beaumont at the Guardian.

It would be very hard for the UK to refuse the US if it requested support for further military strikes in Syria, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said today, adding that members of parliament would not necessarily have a vote on any proposed joint action. The BBC reports.

British politicians looking into the details of a UK drone strike that killed British national Reyaad Khan in 2015 were “profoundly” disappointed by the government’s lack of transparency during the investigation, the Intelligence and Security Committee said, Al Jazeera reporting.

The Islamic State is facing an “exodus” of foreign fighters fleeing from Syria and Iraq into Turkey, Martin Chulov, Jamie Grierson and Jon Swaine report at the Guardian.

American Kary Paul Kleman and his family who were living in Islamic State territory in Syria were detained in Turkey after surrendering to border guards, a senior Turkish official told CNN’s Michael Weiss, Georg Heil and Paul Cruickshank.

Two senior UN humanitarian officials called for an end to the “completely unacceptable” attacks on hospitals in northern Syria in a joint statement yesterday, the UN News Centre reports.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 14 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Apr. 25. Separately, partner forces conducted nine strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

IRAN

Iran shouldn’t take President Trump’s comments about upending the nuclear deal seriously, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reportedly told reporters on the sidelines of a cabinet session yesterday, Adam Taylor suggesting that Zarif “may have a point” at the Washington Post.

The US should be made to fear Iran so that it will back down on sanctions and threats, hard-line candidate in Iran’s upcoming presidential election Ebrahim Raisi said yesterday, the AP reporting.

Sunni militants killed ten Iranian border guards in a cross-border attack with Pakistan, Reuters reports.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

Another direct phone call between Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and President Trump could take place, Tsai told Reuters’ Jean Yoon and J.R. Wu today.

The US’ sale of fifty F-35 stealth fighter jets to Israel – three of which arrived there this weekend – is being criticized by those who fear that the “near-invisible” planes will allow Israel to launch air strikes and spying operations against its neighbors, undetected, writes Jonathan Cook at Al Jazeera.

President Trump’s lack of a coherent view on Afghanistan, where 8,400 US troops remain, much less a strategy, is one of the “most curious” aspects of his foreign policy, observes the Washington Post editorial board, providing some suggestions for how the President can make progress on the US’ longest conflict.

President Trump’s foreign policy is starting to take shape – and it’s more similar to that of his predecessor Barack Obama than he may care to admit, writes Roula Khalaf at the Financial Times.

Trump’s biggest foreign policy mistake (of many) so far is his clueless approach to Asia, suggests Stephen M. Walt at Foreign Policy.

Dictators worldwide are emboldened by the US’ retreat from its self-appointed role as defender of human rights in favor of showing cynical contempt for human rights as a goal, writes Jorge G. Castañeda at the New York Times.

TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

The House Intelligence Committee’s probe into Russian interference in the presidential election is “back on track” after a month of bitter infighting, Rep. Jim Hines (D-Conn.) said yesterday after a meeting of committee members closely involved in the investigation. Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

Lawmakers on the Intelligence Committee should expect to be in Washington more than usual as the Trump-Russia investigation gets a reboot, new top investigator Rep. Mike Conway told them yesterday, Austin Wright and Martin Matishak reporting at POLITICO.

The fact that President Trump has managed to distract everyone from the issue of whether Russia colluded with his campaign to get him elected – Trump’s “greatest single achievement” – is almost never mentioned, points out E.J. Dionne Jr. at the Washington Post.

A half-million dollar donation to Donald Trump’s Inaugural Committee from oil company Citgo may have come from the Kremlin, at least indirectly, according to recently released Federal Election Commission filings. Dr. Vanessa Neumann writes at The Daily Beast.

SOUTH CHINA SEA

China’s enthusiasm for finalizing a code of conduct in the contested South China Sea is coming across as insincere to A.S.E.A.N. nations aware of China’s continued building on and arming of its artificial islands in the region. Manuel Mogato and Martin Petty report at Reuters.

There is no point in talking about China’s contentious activities in the South China Sea at this week A.S.E.A.N. summit and no one dares to put pressure on Beijing anyway, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said today, Manolo Serapio Jr. and Martin Petty reporting at Reuters.

TURKEY

Over 9,000 personnel were temporarily suspended from Turkey’s police force yesterday while they are investigated for links to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, the AP reports.

Foreigners working with Syrian refugees with a US-based organization were deported by Turkey this week, Karen DeYoung and Kareem Fahim identifying the incident as part of an ongoing crackdown on international humanitarian groups in Turkey at the Washington Post.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Prioritize bolstering the Department of Homeland Security’s cyber workforce and improving cyber information-sharing with the private sector in the new Congress, says the head of the Congressional subcommittee with oversight over the Department Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas). Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

Tightening “Buy American” provisions could harm the Pentagon’s ability to purchase the best technology, former Pentagon officials said at a House hearing yesterday, Morgan Chalfant reporting at the Hill.

The US Air Force launched its first big “bug bounty” challenge yesterday rewarding third-party researchers for identifying and reporting weaknesses in its cybersecurity, Joe Uchill reports at the Hill.

The MUSLIM BAN

President Trump is considering breaking up the 9th Circuit Court after it rejected his revised travel ban and another executive order, he said in an interview with the Washington Examiner’s Sarah Westwood.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

An investigation into whether an inundation of aluminium imports from countries such as Russia and China are threatening national security is being launched, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross confirmed yesterday, Vicki Needham reporting at the Hill.

A French court refused to extradite the former Kosovo prime minister to face war crimes charges in Serbia, the AP reports.

A suspected Islamist shot two police officers on the French island of Reunion during an arrest today, Angela Charlton reports at the AP. 

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About the Author(s)

Zoë Chapman

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security, Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE