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.
TRUMP VISITS SAUDI ARABIA
President Trump signaled a return to a U.S. policy built on alliances with Arab autocrats regardless of their human rights records or policies in using the headline address of his first foreign trip to state his commitment to Sunni Arab countries, calling on them to isolate Iran which he said had “fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror,” Ben Hubbard and Thomas Erdbrink write at the New York Times.
President Trump’s comments about Iran during his speech to the Arab Islamic American summit in Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh yesterdaywere criticized by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif via Twitter, also accusing Trump of using foreign policy as an excuse for selling billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to the Saudis.
Iran accused the U.S. of selling arms to “dangerous terrorists” and spreading “Iranophobia” today, according to Iranian state television, Reuters reporting.
The $100 billion defense deal President Trump signed with Saudi Arabia was slammed by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) Saturday, saying the U.S. is relying on a country with “the worst human rights record in the region” to bring peace to the region. Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.
Hamas angrily rejected President Trump’s characterization of it as a “terror group” during his speech yesterday, saying it demonstrated his “complete bias” toward Israel, Al Jazeera reports.
Trump’s speech was “tough” and hit the right tone for the audience, a senior White House official said yesterday, defending the speech. Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.
The full speech is provided at the Hill.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described the fight against extremism as a fight of good versus evil speaking in Riyadh yesterday to a group of reporters that did not include the U.S. press, echoing Trump’s speech earlier in the day, the Hill’s Mallory Shelbourne reports.
President Trump is planning a return trip to the Middle East, this time to visit Egypt, he said during a bilateral meeting with Egypt’s president in Riyadh yesterday, Annie Karni reporting at POLITICO.
Saudi Arabia blocked a Trump administration proposal at the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on a Saudi branch of the Islamic State two weeks ago, U.S. officials saying the Saudis objected to the public acknowledgement of the existence of a Saudi offshoot of the terrorist group inside the kingdom. Joby Warrick reports at the Washington Post.
The Trump administration may be put on a collision course with Europe over future policy toward Iran after the landslide re-election of President Hassan Rouhani, hailed as heralding a more moderate path for Iran by Europe while Trump tried to rally the international community behind a campaign to push back Iran’s influence in the Middle East, Jay Solomon writes at the Wall Street Journal.
The timing of Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia to reaffirm the “traditional U.S. alliance with the Sunni Arab states” was strongly symbolic, even if it was a coincidence that he arrived just as Iran re-elected Hassan Rouhani in what the Wall Street Journal editorial board refers to as a “sham presidential vote.”
Trump offered regional Sunni strongmen “a war on terror without the pretense of idealism” in his speech in Riyadh yesterday, Blake Hounshell analyzing the speech and its implications at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
Trump’s speech was a platitude-ridden concession to the Saudi agenda in the Middle East, directed to the leaders rather than the population, and a signal that he has decided to throw his lot behind the Saudis in the Saudi-Iranian rivalry that his predecessor Barack Obama tried to distance himself from, writes Ishaan Tharoor at the Washington Post.
President Trump delivered a moderate speech on Islam designed to reset his relations with the Muslim world yesterday, concludes Annie Karni at POLITICO.
President Trump was “bizarre, unseemly, unethical and un-American” during his visit to Saudi Arabia, Anne Applebaum providing a list of examples at the Washington Post.
TRUMP VISITS ISRAEL
“[He has] found new reasons for hope” for peace and stability in the Middle East following his trip to Saudi Arabia, President Trump said as he arrived in Israel today, Jeff Mason reporting at Reuters.
President Trump will address the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, regional security issues and reaffirm the U.S.’ commitment to its partnership with Israel during his visit to Israel beginning today, the second leg of his first foreign trip as president, Jeremy Diamond reports at CNN.
Live coverage of President Trump’s visit to Israel today, where he is scheduled to meet with President Rueven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is provided by Bryony Jones and James Masters at CNN.
A furious Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to order his ministers to attend Trump’s reception today after discovering that most were planning not to attend since there would not be time for them to shake hands with Trump, Barak Ravid reports at HAARETZ.
Critics have already dismissed Trump’s promise to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as lip service, saying his unwavering support for Israel render any potential peace negotiations pointless, writes Farah Najjar at Al Jazeera.
The “ultimate deal.” Trump arrives in Israel having provided very few indications of how he intends to achieve a peace deal between Israel and Palestine, write Julie Pace and Josef Federman at the AP.
The outgoing chairman of the House Oversight Committee Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) will speak with former F.B.I. director James Comey today, he said in an interview yesterday, Mallory Shelbourne reporting at the Hill.
Comey will testify in a public session at the Senate Intelligence Committee after Memorial Day – May 29 – committee leaders confirmed Friday night. Burgess Everett reports at POLITICO.
More than one person at the White House may be under investigation for possible Russia ties, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) suggested yesterday, the Hill’s Brandon Carter reporting.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster refused to comment on whether the president used his recent meeting with Russian officials at the Oval Office to confront them about meddling in the 2016 presidential election, saying that “there already was too much that’s been leaked from those meetings.” Lois Beckett reports at the Guardian.
President Trump told Russian officials that firing “nut job” James Comey had relieved the “great pressure” on him in the May 10 meeting, according to a document summarizing the meeting, the New York Times’ Matt Apuzzo, Maggie Haberman and Matthew Rosenberg report.
Trump mentioned the firing of Comey at the meeting because he was attempting to express that he felt “hamstrung” in working with them amid the pressures of intense media coverage, McMaster explained in an interview yesterday, Zachary Warmbrodt reporting at POLITICO.
The KOREAN PENINSULA
North Korea successfully tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile yesterday which could now be mass-produced, it said today, Ju-min Park and Jack Kim reporting at Reuters.
The missile test was “perfect” and “very accurate,” leader Kim Jong-un said yesterday, Jonathan Cheng reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
The U.N. Security Council intends to hold urgent consultation on the latest missile test in a closed discussion tomorrow requested by the U.S., Japan and South Korea, the AP reports.
Assad regime forces regained complete control of the central Syrian city of Homs after rebels left the last district under their control, according to the Syrian government. The BBC reports.
The Islamic State said it was responsible for a suicide attack in northwest Syria that killed at least 14 Ahrar al-Sham fighters yesterday, the AP reports.
President Trump could deal a blow to Iranian regional influence in Syria’s south and help save Syria in the process if he can seize the opportunity, explains Josh Rogin at the Washington Post in the wake of last week’s coalition airstrike near the al-Tanf base, described as a one-off event by the Trump administration but in reality part of an ongoing and rapidly accelerating confrontation in the area set off by an offensive by Iranian-backed militias.
The last stages of the battle to retake the city of Mosul are likely to be the most difficult and violent, the U.S. officer responsible for advising Iraqi forces in the region Col. Patrick Work said Saturday, declining to give a timeline for completion of the operation in the western part of the city. Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Mustafa Salim report at the Washington Post.
An as-yet unclaimed attack on a security convoy in northern Afghanistan today killed five members of the local police force, an official told the AP.
At least 20 police officers were killed in a two-pronged Taliban attack in the southern Afghan province of Zabul yesterday, officials confirmed. Mujib Mashal reports at the New York Times.
Warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has publicly insulted Afghanistan’s president and walked back on a promise to disarm several thousand loyal fighters since being invited back to the capital Kabul and forgiven for a history of wartime abuses, leaving Afghan politicians wondering if asking him to return was a huge mistake, Pamela Constable writes at the Washington Post.
Turkey’s state of emergency would continue until the country achieved “welfare and peace,” President Erdoğan declared yesterday, Patrick Kingsley at the New York Times citing it as a signal that Turkey faces indefinite rule by decree.
Two suspected Islamic State militants who were shot dead by Turkish police in Ankara yesterday were intending to attack the ruling party’s congress which re-elected President Erdoğan as its chairman, according to a senior official. The AP reports.
The Guantánamo Bay parole board rejected an offer to retire on release from the detention center’s oldest detainee Saifullah Paracha citing his “continued refusal to take responsibility for his involvement with al-Qaeda,” Carol Rosenberg report at the Miami Herald.
The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
There are mounting concerns about a short-staffed State Department being able to deal with a host of international crises, with seven of the nine senior State Department roles under Secretary Rex Tillerson still vacant, including the role of top deputy, writes Morgan Chalfant at the Hill.
Chinese state media applauded the country’s anti-espionage efforts today after the New York Times reported that up to 20 C.I.A. sources had been imprisoned in a major blow to American spying operations and a massive intelligence breach, Reuters reports.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s claim that China told him it would go to war with The Philippines if it insisted on drilling for oil in the South China Sea was downplayed by Manila’s top diplomat today, the AP reports.
N.A.T.O. is considering a new spending approach involving the use of additional funds to fill armament gaps under pressure from the Trump administration, according to a draft of the proposal seen by the Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes.
Venezuela is in possession of 5,000 Russian-made MANPADS surface-to-air weapons, the largest known stockpile in South America and cause for concern for U.S. officials given the country’s increasing turmoil, Girish Gupta reports at Reuters.
Montenegro will become the 29th member of N.A.T.O. this week, a huge step toward integration with the West that brings with it the risk that it will have to pay a heavy price for snubbing Russia, writes Ivana Sekularac at Reuters.