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.
“Safe zones” in Syria were called for by Russian President Putin after talks with President Trump and then Turkish President Erdoğan yesterday, Putin saying that the creation of the zones would lead to “further peace making and strengthen the cease-fire regime.” Thomas Grove reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Russia circulated a draft proposal to create “de-escalation zones” in Syria to Syrian rebel groups and diplomats at the cease-fire talks in Kazakh capital Astana yesterday, Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad at the New York Times who saw the proposal calling it one of the most detailed suggestions to emerge from the negotiations in recent months.
Erdoğan hopes that that “50 percent” of the Syria crisis could be solved by the creation of de-escalation zones in Syria, he said after meeting with President Putin in Russia’s Sochi, the Hürriyet Daily News reports.
Damascus is “fully backing” Russia’s de-escalation zone plan, Syria’s Foreign Ministry said last night, the AP reporting.
US troops in northern Syria could be targeted by Turkish missiles if they continue to work alongside Kurdish fighters along the border with Turkey, a top aide to President Erdoğan hinted yesterday, Paul McLeary reporting at Foreign Policy.
The Syrian armed opposition will return to cease-fire talks in Kazakh capital Astana today after suspending its participation yesterday due to Assad regime bombing of areas under its control, Reuters reports.
The UK government may hold a vote to expand military action in Syria by joining the US in an airstrike campaign in the event that the Assad regime launches further chemical attacks if the Conservative party headed by current Prime Minister Theresa May win the upcoming general election, Ewen MacAskill reports at the Guardian.
The Putin-Erdoğan talks could point to closer cooperation between Russia and Turkey on Syria, but their descriptions of the zones don’t quite tally – and President Trump has yet to describe what the US has in mind, write Andrew Roth and Karen DeYoung at the Washington Post.
Trump’s apparent lack of planning on Syria might provide Putin with an opening for his de-escalation zone strategy, allowing the Russian President to make a similar play on Syria as Chinese President Xi Jinping is making with Trump on North Korea, suggests David Ignatius at the Washington Post.
Just because Trump, Putin and Erdoğan may all be on the same page about the de-escalation zones, that doesn’t mean the path ahead will be smooth, Ishaan Tharoor at the Washington Post pointing out that the divisions in Syria are entrenched and profound, while the US and Turkey are currently clashing over strategy against the Islamic State.
The KOREAN PENINSULA
The Trump administration is only 20-25 percent into a strategy to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program that includes imposing further sanctions on government officials and individuals, trying to convince other countries to apply existing U.N. sanctions and “leaning hard” on China to pressure North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told State Department employees yesterday, Carol Morello and Anne Gearan reporting at the Washington Post.
China wants to be a good neighbor to North Korea, it said today after North Korean state media published a rare criticism of China yesterday, Reuters reports.
A petition to back the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act that would prevent President Trump from being able to launch nuclear weapons was presented to Congress yesterday after attracting more than a half-million signatures, Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
There is skepticism among foreign policy experts that President Trump’s approach of flattering Chinese President Xi Jinping and his reliance on his Chinese counterpart to put pressure on North Korea over its nuclear program will produce the results he intends, Jane Perlez explaining why Trump’s barely reciprocated “bromance” with Xi is doomed at the New York Times.
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
“We will get this done.” President Trump is confident that he can help Israel and Palestine to negotiate a peace agreement, he said yesterday following a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House. John Wagner and Ashley Parker report at the Washington Post.
“We believe that we can be true partners to [America] to bring about a historic peace under your stewardship.” Abbas echoed Trump’s positive tone yesterday, despite Trump’s earlier decision to renounce support for a Palestinian state and his promise to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, AFP reports.
While Trump spoke broadly about his desire for a peace deal, Abbas focused on the specific complaints and demands of Palestinians, including the situation of Palestinian refugees and those imprisoned in Israeli jails, and Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in the West Bank, Jeremy Diamond reports at CNN.
Abbas made it clear that he is not content with a one- or two-state solution as Trump said he was after his meeting with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu in February, and as per his hints at dropping the two-state solution during his presidential campaign, write Emily Tamkin and Robbie Gramer at Foreign Policy.
President Trump’s conduct on the Israeli-Palestinian issue since he took office indicates that he isn’t changing the rules and is trying to advance the peace process in the same way as his predecessors, his peace initiative – though details are still thin on the ground – looking like a round of direct bilateral peace talks mediated by the US, Barak Ravid writes at HAARETZ.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
America will pursue national security and economic interests before addressing human rights concerns in its relationships with other countries. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signaled a shift in US foreign policy during his speech to State Department employees yesterday, Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.
President Trump will have a chance to reconcile with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull today when they both attend a dinner commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea in which the US and Australia fought against Japan during WWII, suggests Noah Remnick at the New York Times.
The US is pressing Mexico to do more to stem the flow of migrants into the US, according to US and Mexican officials, a plan that is being shaped by Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly who is due to deliver a speech outlining his goals for Central America in Washington today. Gabriel Stargardter reports at Reuters.
Trump’s approach on Asia is the antithesis of foreign-policy realism, which holds that the key to US security is maintaining dominance in the Western Hemisphere and preventing any peer competitor – that is, China – from dominating the power centers of Europe or Asia, a task that requires consistency, prudent judgment, smart diplomacy and credible military power. Stephen M. Walt explains why Trump’s Asia policy is the worst of all possible worlds at Foreign Policy.
The Trump administration has given the U.N. much more standing than anyone could have guessed when Trump came into office promising to upend the US’ relationship with the international body, though it’s not altogether clear that this was a conscious decision on the administration’s part, observes Sheba Crocker at Foreign Policy.
The US-backed Iraqi offensive to retake Mosul from the Islamic State gained fresh momentum today as an armored division attempted to advance into the western part of the city from the northern side of the city, Ahmed Aboulenein and Ahmed Rasheed report at Reuters.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out seven airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on May 2. Separately, partner forces conducted four strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
Russia is building up a huge military and industrial presence in the Arctic, the commandant of the US Coast Guard warned yesterday, Robbie Gramer reporting at Foreign Policy.
The Pentagon will send the US Army’s Dagger Brigade to Europe in September to support Operation Atlantic Resolve, the US military’s response to Russian interference in Ukraine, signaling President Trump’s embracing of his predecessor’s commitment to N.A.T.O., yet unless Trump delivers on his promise to restore America’s military preparedness, the troops will have a hard time carrying out their mission, write Thomas Donnelly and James Cunningham at the Wall Street Journal.
Former national security adviser Susan Rice should reconsider her decision not to testify before the panel about allegations that she improperly requested the identities of members of Donald Trump’s transition team as part of a wider Congressional probe into Russian attempts to interfere in the presidential election, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said yesterday, Max Greenwood reporting at the Hill.
Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee made an unprecedented visit to the C.I.A. to view raw intelligence as part of their probe into possible Russian interference in the presidential election Tuesday, Jenna McLaughlin reports at Foreign Policy.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
The Russians are still interfering in the US political process, F.B.I. Director James Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, yet the committee was more interested in relitigating Comey’s decision to tell Congress that his agency had reopened its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state days before the presidential election, write Betsy Woodruff and Tim Mak at The Daily Beast.
WikiLeaks website is “intelligence porn” and not a legitimate news source, Comey insisted yesterday when pressed by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Joe Uchill reporting at the Hill.
Data breach in the last six months was experienced by almost half of all federal I.T. managers surveyed as part of new research by cybersecurity company BeyondTrust, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.
Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte by phone Wednesday following President Trump’s call over the weekend, an apparent effort by China to woo a longtime US ally and strengthen its position in the South China Sea, suggests Javier C. Hernández at the New York Times.
The US’ use of torture is discussed by former C.I.A. officer John Kiriakau with Al Jazeera’s Ali Younes.
Afghan warlord and leader of the country’s second largest military group Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin Hekmatyar returned to Afghan capital Kabul eight months after signing a peace deal with the government, the BBC reports.
The UN Security Council traveled to Colombia yesterday to show its support for the peace agreement between the government and FARC rebels, Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.
Longterm allies Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and the U.A.E.’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan discussed the war in Yemen, Libya’s political turmoil and the Syrian conflict when they met in Abu Dhabi yesterday on the first day of el-Sissi’s two-day visit to the U.A.E., Aya Batrawy reports at the AP.