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.
Intelligence showing senior Russian officials discussing how to exert influence over President Trump using his advisers was collected by U.S. spies months before the presidential election, Matthew Rosenberg, Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo report at the New York Times.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed to include two meetings with the Russian ambassador on a security clearance form submitted last year, his aids insisting that the meetings were removed from the form by a Sessions staffer after the F.B.I. told her they did not need to be included, Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.
Recently fired former F.B.I. director James Comey should provide his memos detailing his interactions with President Trump to the Senate Judiciary Committee and then testify about them, the top Democrat on the committee Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) said yesterday, the Hill’s Max Greenwood reporting.
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort handed over 305 pages of documents related to the Trump-Russia investigation to the House and Senate intelligence committees last week in response to letters sent to various Trump campaign associates with potential ties to Moscow over the past few weeks, Tom Hamburger reports at the Washington Post.
Deutsche Bank A.G. has been asked to provide details about its internal review of Russian trades and clients as well as loans made to President Trump, including whether any loans to the president “were backed by guarantees from the Russian government, or were in any way connected to Russia” by Democratic lawmakers, Jenny Strasburg reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Chief of Staff Reince Priebus asked former F.B.I. director and his then-top deputy Andrew McCabe to rebut news reports of the Trump-Russia investigation the day after President Trump reportedly asked Comey to dial back on the bureau’s investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, three White House officials telling The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff, Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng that Peibus is worried about what could happen to him if Comey reveals more of his secret memos detailing conversations with Trump and senior administration officials.
TRUMP DISCLOSES CLASSIFIED ISRAELI INTELLIGENCE
Israel’s defense minister appears to have confirmed that the intelligence leaked by President Trump during a meeting with Russian officials last month was Israel’s, saying yesterday that Israel had made a “specific correction” to its intelligence-sharing protocols with the U.S. after the incident but providing no further details, the AP reports.
Legislation intended to keep Congress informed when top-secret information is shared with a nation considered hostile to the U.S. was introduced in the House by Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) yesterday following the president’s disclosures to Russian officials this month, the Hill’s Cristina Marcos reports.
TRUMP IN EUROPE
President Trump is in Brussels today for the fourth leg of his first overseas trip, meeting with the president of the European Council Donald Tusk and the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, with further meetings with other European leaders to follow, the New York Times reports, providing live updates on Trump’s trip.
Trump is anticipated to publicly endorse N.A.T.O.’s mutual defense commitment at a ceremony at the alliance’s headquarters today, ending months of silence on whether the U.S. would automatically come to the aid of an ally under attack per Article 5 of the N.A.T.O. pact, Michael D. Shear and Mark Landler report at the New York Times.
N.A.T.O. will join the anti-Islamic State coalition group but will not wage direct war against the militants, chief Jens Stoltenberg confirmed today, an announcement timed for President Trump’s first appearance at a summit of N.A.T.O. leaders, Lorne Cook reports at the AP.
The fact that Trump recently praise N.A.T.O.’s necessity in an about-turn on his previous position in relation to the alliance may reassure leaders ahead of their meeting with the president today, as may Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statement yesterday that “of course” America supports Article 5, though Trump still wants other members to meet their spending obligations, writes Jonathan Lemire at the AP.
Top officials in Brussels will consider Trump’s trip a success if there are no blow-ups during the visit, while many count the mere fact that the president is in the city he once called “obsolete” at all as a victory, report Michael Birnbaum and Anthony Faiola at the Washington Post.
The N.A.T.O. meeting in Brussels will be brief and in large part ceremonial, with Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg seeking a proper full-scale summit in 2018. Jonathan Marcus examines what the future holds for the alliance with Trump as U.S. president at the BBC.
Trump is opting for caution over his usual chaos on his first trip abroad as president, swapping his freewheeling speaking style for carefully scripted remarks, dropping the early-morning Twitter rants, and maintaining a safe distance from the traveling press corps – but the final European leg may be the most challenging yet, writes Julie Pace at the AP.
N.A.T.O.’s role in the fight against terrorism is an “important chapter” in the “unique bond between Europe and North America” that “has delivered unprecedented peace for almost seven decades.” N.A.T.O. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg describes the alliance’s vital role in the war on terror at the Wall Street Journal.
DONALD TRUMP FOREIGN POLICY
While Trump’s Sunni Muslim audience in Saudi Arabia obviously welcomed combative promises to stop Iran consolidating a Shia crescent in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, in reality placing all his bets on Iranian isolation may be a mistake, explains David Gardner at the Financial Times.
The real drama of President Trump’s speech in Saudi Arabia this week was the “titanic” shift in U.S. foreign policy it signified: unlike his predecessors, Trump issued a clear challenge to Muslim nations to take the lead in solving the crisis of terrorism, placing responsibility for doing so squarely on the nations of the Middle East, suggests former vice chair of the Trump transition team Newt Gingrich writing at the Washington Post.
The U.S. and its allies “should have learnt long ago that they cannot “fix” the Middle East,” but the West should at least direct itself to the “avoidance of harm,” and taking sides in a sectarian power struggle will only defer the eventual defeat of terrorism, writes Philip Stephens at the Financial Times.
China protested a U.S. Navy patrol that sent a guided missile destroyer within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island in the South China Sea claimed by Beijing yesterday, the first American challenge to Chinese claims to the region under President Trump. Christopher Bodeen reports at the AP.
A congressional debate on the Afghanistan war is being demanded by a bipartisan group of lawmakers as President Trump mulls over whether to send additional American troops into the conflict, the Hill’s Rebecca Kheel reports.
UK TERROR ATTACK
U.K. police investigating the Manchester suicide bomb attack have stopped sharing information with the U.S. after photographs appearing to show debris from the attack were leaked to the media, the BBC reports.
The ban is limited to information related to the Manchester investigation, the decision to stop sharing information with U.S. intelligence taken by Greater Manchester police as opposed to the U.K. government, in response to leaks believed to be unprecedented in their scope, frequency and potential damage, Vikram Dodd, Ewen MacAskill, Rowena Mason and Jessica Elgot report at the Guardian.
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May will raise the issue of the leaks at her meeting with Donald trump at the N.A.T.O. summit in Brussels today, report Sam Jones and Demetri Sevastopulo at the Financial Times.
The Manchester bomb used the same explosive as those used in the Paris and Brussels attacks, according to the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, who added that the bomb suggested a “level of sophistication” that suggested it was made by someone who had received foreign training. Ben Doherty reports at the Guardian.
The Libyan connections of bomber Salman Abedi are the focus of the investigation into the Manchester attack, the Greater Manchester police chief constable warning that “this is a network that we are investigating.” Ian Cobain and Ewen MacAskill report at the Guardian.
Abedi’s brother and father were reportedly arrested in Libya’s Tripoli yesterday, where they live having returned there from the U.K. to which Abedi’s parents escaped from the Gaddafi regime in the early 1990s, reports Nazia Parveen at the Guardian.
Five civilians were killed in the U.S. Navy SEAL raid in Yemen on al-Qaeda militants Tuesday, according to UK-based human rights organization Reprieve. Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.
A convoy of U.N. personnel was attacked in Yemen Monday, the U.N. Special Envoy to Yemen urging the local authorities to investigate the incident and prevent any such incidents in the future, according to a note issued by the Office of the Spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary-General. [UN News Centre]
President Trump could have used his trip to Saudi Arabia this week to push for a political solution to the conflict in Yemen, instead he uncritically embraced the Saudis’ foreign and domestic policies and sold them $110 billion in arms, his actions raising fears that he may give the Saudis a green light to escalate the fighting in Yemen and find ways to increase American support for Riyadh, writes the New York Times editorial board.
U.S.-backed Syrian militias promised Islamic State fighters in Raqqa today that they would come to no harm if they turned themselves in by the end of this month ahead of an expected assault on the city, Reuters reports.
The U.S. and Russian militaries are still using a shared hotline to avoid conflicts involving their air operations over Syria despite fears that last month’s U.S. attack on a Syrian airfield would prompt Russia to cut off the communications, Michael R. Gordon writes at the New York Times.
America and Iran are increasingly at odds as their local partners compete for control of key terrain regained from the Islamic State along the Syria-Iraq border, meaning that Washington could soon find itself fighting a second front in Syria, write Dan De Luce and Paul McLeary at Foreign Policy.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out five airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on May 17. Separately, partner forces conducted seven strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
The KOREAN PENINSULA
North Korea accused South Korea of “reckless military provocation” today in firing at what it said was a flock of birds earlier this week, dismissing the South’s claim that it fired at an object flying across its border from the North. The AP reports.
If the U.S. and its allies don’t take steps to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear program now, the world will soon wake up to a North Korea that is far more dangerous and disruptive than the one we have now, warns the Wall Street Journal editorial board, examining recent apparent advances in the Kim Jong-un regime’s missile testing.
The TRUMP BUDGET
N.A.T.O. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the $4.8 billion for the European Reassurance initiative fund to protect against Russian aggression following the 2014 annexation of Crimea – up from $3.4 billion this year – included in President Trump’s fiscal blueprint released yesterday, he said ahead of today’s N.A.T.O. summit in Brussels which President Trump will attend, David M. Herszenhorn reports at POLITICO.
The Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts would “simply make it impossible” for the U.N. to maintain its essential global operations, it said yesterday, Rick Gladstone reporting at the New York Times.
A secret document described as Russian intelligence that was key in then-F.B.I. director James Comey’s approach to the Hillary Clinton email probe has long been considered unreliable and possibly fake, Karoun Demirjian and Devlin Barrett report at the Washington Post.
A third underground ballistic missile production factory has been built by Iran which will continue to develop its missile program, according to Iranian media, citing a senior commander of the Revolutionary Guard. Parisa Hafezi reports at Reuters.