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
“Major, major conflict” with North Korea is possible, President Trump warned yesterday in an interview with Reuters’ Stephen J. Adler, Steve Holland and Jeff Mason.
The US does not want to overthrow North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and will consider bilateral talks if Pyongyang follows “the right agenda,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in an interview scheduled to air today on NPR, Jay Solomon and Felicia Schwartz reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
It is not fully clear what “the right agenda” means, but in the interview Tillerson does begin to set out a diplomatic approach on North Korea focusing on international pressure and leveraging China’s economic power over its neighbor, explains Anne Gearan at the Washington Post.
The US will be patient with North Korea as long as the threat it poses remains “manageable,” Tillerson said in a separate interview with Fox News yesterday.
There is a danger that the situation in the Korean Peninsula could escalate or slip out of control, China’s Foreign Minister warned yesterday, Steve Holland and David Brunnstrom reporting at Reuters.
China’s foreign ministry refused to confirm Tillerson’s claim that Beijing threatened to impose unilateral sanctions on North Korea if it conducts further missile test launches, the AP reports.
The House will vote on sanctions against North Korea targeting the belligerent nation’s shipping industry next week in a bill introduced by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said yesterday, Cristiano Lima reporting at POLITICO.
The current crisis with North Korea is the “worst [he’s] seen,” commander of US Pacific Command Adm. Harry Harris told the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday during a second day of hearings. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.
Harris “wouldn’t bet his farm” on China succeeding in reining in North Korea, he told lawmakers yesterday, the Hill’s Rebecca Kheel reporting.
Trump wants South Korea to pay for the THAAD missile defense system being deployed to shield it from attack by North Korea and to renegotiate a US-South Korea free-trade deal, he said yesterday, Jonathan Cheng reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
South Korea has no plans to pay for the THAAD system or to renegotiate the US-South Korea trade deal, it said today, Youkyung Lee reporting at the AP.
President Trump hopes that Kim Jong-un is rational but has no opinion either way. The President provided his assessment of the young North Korean leader yesterday, Aaron Blake at the Washington Post suggesting that this was an attempt to “lay the groundwork for diplomacy” echoing similar comments by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that “all indications … are that [Kim Jong-un] is not crazy.”
“Grave concern” over North Korea’s missile testing was expressed by A.S.E.A.N. nations today in a statement that urged all parties involved “to exercise self-restraint in order to de-escalate the tension,” Jim Gomez reports at the AP.
A propaganda video depicting attacks on the US with the slogan “the enemy to be destroyed is in our sights” was released by North Korea yesterday, Anna Fifield reporting at the Washington Post.
“If it flies, it will die.” It was jarring to hear top US Pacific commander Adm. Harry Harris Jr. telling lawmakers yesterday that the THAAD missile defense system that it would shoot down anything launched from North Korea, writes Foster Klug at the AP, who tests Harris’ assertion with a number of specialists.
Are sanctions on North Korea the right way to go? Asks Patty Culhane writing at Al Jazeera ahead of a meeting of the UN Security Council today chaired by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson where the issue of sanctions will be discussed.
The recent “mishap” involving the USS Carl Vinson is a small symptom of America’s weakened Navy and an example of the US’s approach of lashing out at adversaries while disarming, John Lehman making the case for why the US should rebuild its fleet to about 350 ships at the Wall Street Journal.
“Give us time.” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr defended the panel’s investigation into potential Russia-Trump campaign collusion and asked the public for patience yesterday, Tim Mak reports at The Daily Beast.
The government must respond to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election or risk “normalizing” it, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said yesterday, Morgan Chalfant reporting at the Hill.
An investigation into money received by former national security adviser Michael Flynn from Russian and Turkish groups and whether he failed to obtain proper approval to do so was launched by the Pentagon’s top watchdog yesterday, lawmakers and defense officials said, Dan Lamothe, Ed O’Keefe and Sean Sullivan reporting at the Washington Post.
The Obama administration granted Flynn’s security clearance, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reminded everyone yesterday while signaling support for the Defense Department investigation. Ben Kamisar and Jordan Fabian report at the Hill.
Flynn’s fall from meticulous tactical intelligence officer to careless national security adviser illustrates a bigger issue in the national security community: when intelligence officer move from super-secret insular units to the wider world, they often make mistakes. David Ignatius writes at the Washington Post.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
A new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and the Taliban was introduced by Ranking Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and nine other Democrats yesterday which would sunset the 2001 AUMF and 2002 AUMF with immediate effect, replacing them with a single authorization, a statement released by Schiff confirmed.
Saudi Arabia is not treating Washington Fairly and the US is losing a “tremendous amount of money” defending its ally, President Trump told Reuters’ Stephen J. Adler, Jeff Mason and Steve Holland yesterday, a return to his campaign rhetoric on Riyadh.
The State Department wants to clear public remarks by US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley first in an apparent attempt to generate greater coherence in US foreign policy, Somini Sengupta and Gardiner Harris report at the New York Times.
Trump would check with China before calling Taiwan, he said yesterday, Emily Rauhala calling the statement a striking reversal sure to anger Taiwan and please China at the Washington Post.
While Trump’s first 100 days were alarming, they were also relieving in the sense that he did not enter the dystopia critics anticipated: he didn’t tear up the Iran nuclear agreement on day one, he hasn’t embraced Russian President Vladimir Putin, he has appointed sober-minded foreign policy advisers and he responded appropriately when Syria’s Assad regime attacked its people with chemical weapons, summarizes the Washington Post editorial board.
President Trump is failing because he has little knowledge of the world and no moral compass to guide him, writes Michael Gerson at the Washington Post with reference to the president’s interaction with China – one of America’s main strategic rivals literally schooling him on foreign policy – the “mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan, revealing his weakness, and other episodes throughout his first 100 days as president.
Does Trump have a plan for Colombia? Richard G. Miles examines this question at Foreign Policy in light of the president’s recent meeting with two former Colombian leaders who have publicly criticized the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC.
Almost the entire State Department’s decision-making staff posts are being filled by mid-ranking civil servants who lack the authority or understanding to take the initiative, leaving America’s diplomatic plan idling at best, warns the Economist.
Trump’s foreign policy marks a shift away from America’s role in the world for the past decade, elevating military power, inciting confrontations with allies and relying on personal relationships with former adversaries to further his agenda, write Carol E. Lee and Ben Kesling at the Wall Street Journal.
US-backed forces tool several neighborhoods in the Syrian town of Tabqa from the Islamic State today as part of the campaign to remove the militants from their stronghold Raqqa, Reuters reports.
Russia criticized a French report blaming the Assad regime for the chemical attack in northern Syria earlier this month, calling the report’s conclusion “incomprehensible” because Syria does not possess the Sarin gas used in the attack, the AP reports.
Russia was clearly well coordinated behind the scenes with Israel’s attack in Damascus yesterday, despite publicly denouncing the strikes, Benny Avni citing this as a demonstration of how transient alliances in the Syrian war can be at The Daily Beast.
Israeli strikes inside Syria on apparent Iranian-backed Hezbollah targets have increased in recent weeks, turning Syria into a proxy theater for Israel’s war with Iran, observe Philip Issa and Zeina Karam at the AP.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 15 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Apr. 26. Separately, partner forces conducted 14 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
The Afghan Taliban announced the beginning of its spring offensive today, saying it would build its political base in Afghanistan and focus on military assaults on coalition and Afghan security forces, Kathy Gannon reports at the AP.
Four steps to achieving peace in Afghanistan are set out by former national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, Andrew Wilder and Scott Worden at the Washington Post.
Gulf Arab leaders met in Saudi Arabia to try to establish a unified voice on rival Iran as part of a discussion on regional security, a statement afterward confirming that the ministers discussed building up a military alliance of Muslim-majority countries excluding Iran, Syria and Iraq and their determination to stop “external interference” in their affairs and “efforts to undermine national security and provoke sectarian strife” – an apparent reference to Iran, report Abdullah Al-Shihri and Aya Batrawy at the AP.
Iran’s presidential election begins today and is seen by many as a referendum on whether Iranians feel they have benefited from the nuclear deal, write Carol Morello and Erin Cunningham at the Washington Post.
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
Israel wants a fresh Middle East peace initiative involving Arab states, Israel’s ambassador to the UK Mark Regev said yesterday in London, Harriet Sherwood reporting at the Guardian.
The Palestinian Authority will no longer fund the electricity that Israel supplies to the Gaza Strip, it told Israel yesterday, Isabel Kershner at the New York Times citing the move as an extraordinary attempt to reassert some control in the area after years of rule by militant group Hamas.
Montenegro is set to ratify its NATO membership today, the BBC reports.
British police shot a woman during a raid on a house in northwest London they said was part of an investigation into a terror plot, the BBC reports.
Six other suspects were arrested on terrorism-related charges, Gregory Katz and Jill Lawless report at the AP.
A controversial measure for closer security cooperation with Egypt was passed by Germany’s Parliament, rights organizations warning that the move could make Germany complicit in Egypt’s human rights abuses. [AP]
A suspected Syrian Islamic State fighter was arrested by German authorities early this morning in the western state of Baden Wuerttemberg, the AP reports.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
Rumors that President Trump will sign an executive order outlining new cybersecurity initiatives as soon as today began to circulate yesterday, Joe Uchill explaining what’s in the order and why it will matter at the Hill.
Federal prosecutors issued grand jury subpoenas in relation to the investigation into former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s email server, according to comments by an FBI official in a court filing this week, Josh Gerstein writing at POLITICO.
The CEO of an IT firm behind Clinton’s private email server was referred to the Department of Justice for prosecution by the House Science Committee, it announced yesterday, Joe Uchill reporting at the Hill.
The MUSLIM BAN
The travel ban is precluded by the “long-settled prohibition on governmental acts based on animus toward a particular religious group.” Scholars opposed to Trump’s revised travel ban are urging judges to consider the order in a different light designed to put the challenge to the ban on surer footing at the circuit courts and prepare it for a potential trip to the Supreme Court. The Economist explains.
Libya’s UN-backed government of national accord was openly criticized by the country’s oil-industry chief yesterday, threatening the country’s political cohesion as well as its petroleum-industry recovery. Benoit Faucon reports at the Wall Street Journal.
A Russian military reconnaissance ship sank in the Black Sea yesterday after colliding with a cargo ship with no casualties, Thomas Grove reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Fifteen suspected Boko Haram fighters were shot dead in a fight with Nigerian soldiers yesterday, the AP reports.