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-built THAAD missile defense system installed in southeastern South Korea is fully operational and capable of defending against North Korean missiles, an anonymous US official confirmed yesterday, Missy Ryan reporting at the Washington Post.
This was confirmed by a South Korean official today, Kim Tong-Hyung reports at the AP.
North Korea will accelerate its nuclear weapons program to “maximum pace” including testing a nuclear device “at any time,” it has warned the US. Justin McCurry reports at the Guardian.
North Korea is “throwing” missiles up to show the Trump administration that it is a “serious” international player, most of the tests failing, US officials told NBC News’ Robert Windrem and William M. Arkin.
Training drills by two US bombers with the South Korean and Japanese air forces yesterday have pushed the Korean Peninsula to the brink of nuclear war, North Korea warned today, Ju-min Park and Ben Blanchard reporting at Reuters.
A US Navy supply ship was escorted by a Japanese warship on its way to join a US aircraft carrier and three other warships in a strike force intended to send a deterrent message to North Korea that entered the Sea of Japan over the weekend, Motoko Rich reports at the New York Times.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo visited South Korean capital Seoul yesterday to meet with US diplomats and military officials, Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.
A recent threat directed at Australia from North Korea highlights how Australia’s important military alliance with the US faces the challenge of the risk that President Trump will draw Australia into a conflict or other unexpected and destabilizing crises that could antagonize its trading partners or force it to pick sides between America and China, Damien Cave writes at the New York Times.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
President Trump and Russian President Putin will speak by phone today and will likely discuss the Syrian conflict, according to a senior administration official, Reuters reporting.
Donald Trump would be “honored” to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “under the right circumstances,” he said in an interview yesterday with Bloomberg News, Margaret Talev and Jennifer Jacobs reporting.
The – very deliberate – use of the word “honored” serves to legitimize possibly the world’s worst tyrant, boosts an anti-American candidate in South Korea’s vital presidential election next week and promotes the idea that the international community should engage with North Korea’s leader at this time, writes Gordon G. Chang at The Daily Beast.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte might be too busy to visit the White House because he is “tied up” with a busy schedule including visits to Russia and Israel, he said yesterday in response to an invitation from President Trump in a phone call over the weekend, Felipe Villamor reporting at the New York Times.
Trump extended the invitation to attend the White House to the leaders of Thailand and Singapore in an effort to build cooperation in isolating North Korea, both leaders saying they had accepted the invitation, Jakes Maxwell Watts reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Trump’s decision to invite Duterte to the White House is the latest indication that the president will depart from the values on which America built its reputation and helped to build an entire international system including the United Nations, observes the New York Times editorial board.
Trump and Duterte are “brothers from another mother.” While Trump has attempted nothing so horrifying as Duterte’s war on drugs involving the murder of thousands of alleged drugs dealers, some killed by Duterte personally, the striking similarities between the two leaders’ language leaves Dana Milbank wondering if they are using the same authoritarian handbook at the Washington Post.
Trump’s “affection” for totalitarian strongmen has expanded beyond Russian President Vladimir Putin since he took office, the president’s cultivation of authoritarian leaders in an effort to reset relations following the Obama administration an undeniable shift in US foreign policy, writes Philip Rucker at the Washington Post.
Trump’s trashing of US ally South Korea while reaching out to Duterte must be particularly disturbing to other US allies and may well destroy the administration’s effort to mobilize pressure on North Korea – and should prompt those who faulted his predecessor for disrespecting allies while courting rogue regimes to ask themselves if Trump is outdoing Obama in that respect, writes the Washington Post editorial board.
“Might makes right.” A shared narcissism may be what draws Trump to the likes of Duterte, Kim Jong-un, Putin, and Turkish President Erdoğan, suggests Michael Daly at The Daily Beast.
Trump’s invitation to Duterte signaled his confidence in his ability to make deals with virtually anyone and his penchant for flouting the norms of diplomacy no matter his ultimate aim, writes Mark Landler at the New York Times.
The fact that Turkish President Erdoğan has signaled that he is prepared to confront the US on its Syria policy two weeks after President Trump called him to congratulate him on his referendum success should be taken as a cautionary example of the limits of Trump’s “dictator diplomacy,” writes Roy Gutman at The Daily Beast.
US and Iranian emissaries discussed the issue of Americans with dual citizenship held in Iranian prisons for the first time in a meeting in Vienna on compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran said yesterday. Rick Gladstone reports at the New York Times.
Officials and experts from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain are in Washington for the next two weeks to take part in public lectures addressing areas of concerns for Gulf Arab countries under the Trump administration, the AP reports.
Trump should avoid the mistake his predecessors made on Middle East peace of pretending that Hamas-controled Gaza doesn’t exist when he meets with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas this week, writes Grant Rumley at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
The mystery of Trump’s strategy on Israeli-Palestinian peace will be on full display at his meeting with Abbas this week, writes Josh Rogin at the Washington Post.
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
Palestinian militant group Hamas accepted at least a provisional Palestinian state and watered down anti-Israeli language – though stopped short of formally recognizing Israel – in a new document of principles released yesterday, a few days before main rival Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is due to meet President Trump, Ian Fisher reports at the New York Times.
Hamas’ new charter accepts the idea of a Palestinian state in territories occupied by Israel in the six-day war of 1967 and insists that Hamas is not seeking to intervene in other countries, a statement that will likely please other states such as Egypt, Patrick Wintour explains at the Guardian.
A timeline of relations between Hamas and Israel is provided by Rory Jones at the Wall Street Journal.
Infighting in a rebel-held district in the suburbs of Damascus have left at least 95 rebels and civilians dead, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Diana Al Rifai reporting at Al Jazeera.
The Assad regime has used deadly nerve gas in four attacks since December, including the attack in Khan Sheikhoun last month that killed almost 100 people, according to Human Rights Watch, which said that the attacks were part of a “clear pattern” that could amount to crimes against humanity. Al Jazeera reports.
The Syrian government likely used a Soviet-made weapons containing the nerve agent sarin in the Apr. 4 attack, according to Human Rights Watch’s report. Colum Lynch reports at Foreign Policy.
The UN’s special envoy for Syria will attend the latest Syrian ceasefire talks in Kazakhstan tomorrow and Thursday as an observer, the AP reports.
The US’ cruise missile attack on a Syrian airbase on Apr. 6 was “after-dinner entertainment” for guests at the President’s Mar-a-Lago club, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said yesterday, Lauren Gambino reporting at the Guardian.
A provision requiring the Trump administration to produce a proposal to fight the Islamic State and three separate reminders that the president must obey the War Powers Act and seek Congressional approval before striking overseas or sending US troops into battle were included in the $1 trillion spending deal reached over the weekend, Seung Min Kim and Austin Wright explaining how Congress used the bill to rein in Trump’s powers at POLITICO.
Witness and survivor accounts of a US airstrike on a house in Mosul in March that led to the deaths of the more than 100 people taking refuge inside cast doubt on America’s suggestion that those deaths were the fault of the Islamic State, which it said forced the civilians inside the building, booby-trapped it and then lured the strike, Maggie Michael reports at the AP.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 20 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Apr. 30. Separately, partner forces conducted eight strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
A Taliban attack in Afghanistan’s northern Faryab province killed five police officers, an Afghan official told the AP.
The Trump administration should take a hard look at its program and priorities in Afghanistan, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction urged in its quarterly report to Congress Sunday describing the “shockingly high” number of casualties being experienced by Afghan security forces confronting the Taliban and other insurgents with drastically reduced support from the US and other NATO partners. Pamela Constable reports at the Washington Post.
Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar made his first public appearance in Afghanistan in almost two decades on Saturday, calling on the Taliban to “join the peace caravan and stop this pointless holy war” and urging political parties to reconcile and seek solutions “without bloodshed.” Pamela Constable reports at the Washington Post.
Fire was exchanged by Pakistani soldiers and Taliban fighters Pakistan said sneaked across the border from Afghanistan into the restive South Waziristan tribal region, Asif Shahzad reports at the AP.
Pakistani troops killed two Indian soldiers and mutilated their bodies in an “unsoldierly act” in the disputed Kashmir region yesterday, India said, the BBC reporting.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is not taking up a Russia sanctions bill and has instead agreed to move ahead on a measure aimed at countering Russian influence in Eastern Europe without using sanctions, Austin Wright reports at POLITICO.
The UK government can no longer assume that the US would “set the tone” for the West’s relationship with the Middle East, the UK’s International Relations Committee said in a report, the BBC reporting.
A new travel alert covering the whole of Europe was issued by the State Department because of the threat of terrorist attacks there, the fourth travel alert for Europe in the last year, reports Carol Morello at the Washington Post.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Russia for talks with Russian President Putin today, the two leaders likely to discuss Syria and Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the BBC reports.
A man suspected of “involvement with a terror organization” in Somalia was arrested by Dutch police, Dutch prosecutors said today. [AP]
FBI Director James Comey was pushed to explain what Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) described as “inconsistencies” in the agency’s description of its relationship with the author of a controversial research dossier on President Trump former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.
TRUMP’S WIRETAP CLAIMS
Trump’s accusation that his predecessor Obama wiretapped Trump Tower have been “proven very strongly,” Trump said in an interview with CBS News published yesterday.
The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
National security aide Sebastian Gorka may leave the White House, an administration official told NBC News’ Kristen Welker, Alexander Smith and Dafna Linzer.
Opposition against President Trump’s nominee for Army Secretary Mark Green rolled in yesterday, including from House Democratic Whip Steny Hoeyer (Md.), Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
Green’s “naked bigotry” disqualifies him from the role of Army Secretary, a prominent Muslim advocacy group said in a statement, Ellen Mitchell reporting at the Hill.
Top staff member for the House Armed Services Committee Bob Simmons is leaving for Boeing, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.
US-MEXICO BORDER WALL
President Trump’s wall along the US-Mexico border was sidelined by Congress in its first major bipartisan deal since Trump’s inauguration, a measure designed to keep to government funded until the end of September. Sam Fleming and Barney Jopson report at the Financial Times.
NATO is thinking about appointing a senior official to oversee counterterrorism efforts in an effort to meet President Trump’s demand that the organization focus more on terror threats, Julian E. Barnes reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The testimony of US officials directly involved in the capture and detention in 2014 of a suspect in the deadly attack on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi Libya in 2012 is expected to be heard by a federal judge, Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.
Impunity for sexual violence for UN personnel fuels a culture of violence that undermines the potential for sustainable peace, as well as being a blemish on the reputation of the UN, write Nimmi Gowrinathan and Kate Cronin-Furman at Al Jazeera.