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 urged restraint on both sides in the escalating situation in the Korean Peninsula today after US bombers were deployed over the region in a joint exercise with South Korea, Reuters reports.
North Korea’s state media denounced the US flyover yesterday as CIA Director Mike Pompeo wrapped up his three-day visit to South Korea, the Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Cheng reports.
Satellite images have captured resumed activity at North Korea’s nuclear test site, according to analysts at the US-based 38 North monitoring group, Al Jazeera reporting.
All signs indicate that North Korea is moving ahead with its nuclear efforts, the head of the U.N. atomic agency told the Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference on the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) yesterday, also urging North Korea to cooperate with his agency in implementing NPT safeguards, comply with relevant UN Security Council resolutions and resolve any outstanding issues. [UN News Centre]
Anger in the South Korean village where the US has instaled its THAAD antimissile defense system is “palpable,” reports Kim Tong-Hyung at the AP.
“I do have reservations” about the installation of THAAD, decided without “democratic procedure” and which has resulted in “wide division of the nation and aggravated foreign relations.” The South Korean Democratic Party candidate Moon Jae-in set to become the next president speaks to Anna Fifield and Yoonjung Seo at the Washington Post.
Why aren’t US sanctions against North Korea stronger? Edward Fishman makes the case for why Congressional action is critical to ensuring that North Korea feels the full brunt of America’s “sanctions arsenal” at the New York Times.
What has changed between the US and North Korea under Trump’s tenure? Barbara Plett Usher examines shifts in the threat perception, the rhetoric, the military posturing and the options at the BBC.
Is North Korea turning to Russia as the US and China find foreign ground? James Pearson and Alexei Chernyshev examine the evidence at Reuters.
President Trump agreed to send a representative to the Russia-brokered cease-fire talks due to begin to today in the Kazakh capital Astana in his phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday, the first direct communication between the two leaders since the US launched a missile attack on an Assad regime airbase in retaliation for its chemical weapons attack on civilians, Peter Baker and Neil MacFarquhar report at the New York Times.
Trump and Putin agreed to try to schedule a meeting in Germany in July, the AP reports.
The two leaders also reportedly discussed establishing “safe zones” in Syria, Robbie Gramer and Emily Tamkin extracting five takeaways from the discussion based on the White House and Kremlin readouts of the call at Foreign Policy.
The Syrian armed operation has suspended its participation in peace talks being held in Astana today, a source told Reuters.
A car bomb attack on the rebel-held Syrian town of Azaz next to the Turkish border killed at least five people today as cease-fire talks resumed in Kazakhstan, the AP reports.
An Islamic State attack on a checkpoint used by refugees in Hasaka Province in northeastern Syria killed more than three dozen people yesterday, according to local Kurdish militants and monitoring groups. Anne Barnard reports at the New York Times.
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet with President Trump at the White House today to discuss options for Israeli-Palestinian peace, Al Jazeera reports.
The president is seriously considering moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Vice President Mike Pence said yesterday, Nikita Vladimirov reporting at the Hill.
A level of optimism about the prospects for peace between Israel and Palestine not heard in years is being expressed by Abbas and his advisers as they prepare to meet Trump today, writes William Booth at the Washington Post.
President Trump should avoid looking to make a big breakthrough on a final Palestine-Israel peace agreement in his meeting with Abbas today and should instead seek a series of smaller steps from all sides that preserve the endangered two-state solution and create a better environment for future negotiations. Hady Amr and Ilan Goldenberg anticipate today’s meeting between the two leaders at Foreign Policy.
The release of two Israelis with a history of mental illness believed detained by Hamas was called for by Human Rights Watch today, which called their imprisonment “cruel and indefensible.” [AP]
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
President Trump and his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull will discuss a range of security issues but North Korea in particular when they meet in New York tomorrow, Turnbull said today, Rod McGuirk reporting at the AP.
No US Navy ship has gone within 12 miles of any of the disputed islands in the South China Sea since Donald Trump became president, a “remarkable deference” toward Beijing from an administration that is increasingly leaning on China’s President Xi Jinping for help with the crisis unfolding in the Korean Peninsula. Helene Cooper writes at the New York Times.
Foreign policy shouldn’t be made on the fly. The Wall Street Journal editorial board uses Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte whom President Trump recently invited to the White House as a case study for why a president needs to prepare for realpolitik engagement.
Trump’s invitation to Duterte was “sensible” if looked at against the broader geopolitical backdrop – as part of a package of invitations to Southeast Asian leaders, well-timed amid growing concern that the US is neglecting smaller regional states in favor of Northeast Asia and Europe, writes Richard Javad Heydarian at the New York Times.
Trump’s recent praise of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his invitation to Duterte signal a pivot from tough talk toward a softer tone, an approach that could – charitably – be called unique, but which has consequences and collateral damage, as Kathleen Parker explains at the Washington Post.
Trump is right that the US needs to speak to the world’s autocrats, but the president needs to offer some clear ideas about what he will say to them in order to avoid war and seek agreements where possible, writes David Ignatius at the Washington Post.
Trump’s valueless “America First” foreign policy is an unfolding disaster that will have devastating consequences for humanity and decency, writes Roger Cohen at the New York Times.
Former acting attorney general Sally Yates will testify that she strongly warned the White House about former national security adviser Michael Flynn weeks before he was fired before the House Intelligence Committee on May 8, CNN’s Jim Sciutto, Manu Raju and Pamela Brown report.
Some information in the dossier on possible President Trump-Russia collusion prepared by ex-British spy Christopher Steele and shared with US and British officials was not verified, Steele admitted, according to court documents filed last month in London. CNN’s Marshall Cohen reports.
Former Trump campaign foreign policy aide Carter Paige never even briefed Trump, the man at the center of multiple investigations into potential Trump-Russia ties insisted in an unsolicited statement sent to The Daily Beast’s Tim Mak.
For the Islamic State’s supporters its drone strikes are legitimizing elements to its “statehood” and confirmation of the perceived threat it poses to world powers – not to mention a moral boost even as the group loses territory in Iraq and Syria, explains Rita Katz at The Daily Beast.
The middle ground in Syria is being eliminated by the policies being pursued by the lead actors in the crises in Iraq and Syria, so expect a scramble for territory and the revival of stability-offering strongmen once the Islamic State is defeated, writes David Gardner at the Financial Times.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 13 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on May 1. Separately, partner forces conducted two strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
The US needs to deploy more troops to Europe to deter an increasingly aggressive Russia, the head of US European Command Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti said yesterday, Ellen Mitchell reporting at the Hill.
Lawmakers are looking at ways to move Russia sanctions legislation forward after a holding off on new financial penalties against Moscow, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said yesterday, Jordain Carney and Joe Uchill reporting at the Hill.
“I’m going to try to add Russian sanctions” to an Iran sanctions bill “if the bill comes out of committee on the floor,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said last night, Jordain Carney reporting at the Hill.
The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
Few in the State Department are expecting Rex Tillerson to offer much solace to diplomats and civil servants aghast at his apparent agreement with President Trump’s desire to slash the department’s funding or to provide any clarity on the new administration’s foreign policy objectives in his second speech to the department this morning, writes Nahal Toosi at POLITICO.
The State Department deserves better than Rex Tillerson, who three months into the job has done almost nothing to choose nominees for almost 200 jobs that require Senate confirmation, writes the New York Times editorial board.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
The N.S.A. granted nearly 2,000 requests to reveal the identities of US persons caught up in foreign surveillance from government officials in 2016, an annual transparency report released yesterday reveals. Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.
The N.S.A. also collected over 151 million phone records last year, according to the report, despite a 2015 measure designed to curb the agency’s ability to do so. The Hill’s Max Greenwood reports.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s lawyer asked a Swedish court to rescind a detention order against his client over an allegation of rape and to allow him to travel to Ecuador to be safe from extradition to the US, Reuters reports.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a NATO convoy in Afghanistan today that left at least eight civilians dead, the BBC reports.
Iran is trying “to control the Islamic world” and dialogue with it is impossible, Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince and defense minister said in a rare interview, the AP reporting.
A “significant breakthrough” was reached in talks between the head of Libya’s UN-backed government met and renegade general Khalifa Kaftar in the U.A.E. yesterday, the U.A.E. said today. Jon Gambrell reports at the AP.