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.
Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Qatar today, accusing the tiny state of backing terrorism and interfering in their affairs, Nicolas Parasie, Asa Fitch and Margherita Stancati at the Wall Street Journal describing it as a dramatic move that exposes rifts among U.S. allies in the region over policy toward Iran.
There is “no legitimate justification” for severing diplomatic ties, Qatar said today following the announcement by Saudi Arabia earlier that it was making the move in order to protect national security, accusing Qatar of “harboring a multitude of terrorist and sectarian groups that aim to create instability in the region,” Al Jazeera reports.
Iran blamed President Trump for setting the stage for the diplomatic breakdown during his recent trip to Saudi Arabia, Noah Browning reports at Reuters.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson does not expect the growing diplomatic rift to have any effect on the fight against the Islamic State, he said from Australia today, Robert Burns reports at the AP.
“We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences,” Tillerson also said, offering the U.S.’ help in doing so and adding that it was important that the Gulf Cooperation Council remains unified, in the hope of preserving the Trump administration’s attempts to create broad coalitions against Iran and terrorist groups in the region, write Gardiner Harris and Michael R. Gordon at the New York Times.
Qatari troops have been pulled out of the fighting in Yemen, according to Saudi Arabia, the AP reports.
Saudi Arabian Airlines suspended flights to Qatar this morning along with other airlines including Emirates, the AP reports.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt’s foreign ministers met in Cairo yesterday to discuss cooperation in the fight against terrorism and resolving differences between their two countries on the Syrian and Yemen wars and other matters, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry telling reporters afterward that they intended to strengthen bilateral ties, increase joint terrorism efforts and work with President Trump, the AP reports.
U.S. OFFICIALS in the ASIA PACIFIC
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on China to cease its militarization of islands in the South China Sea, to pressure North Korea and generally to “recognize that with a role as a growing economic and trading power come security responsibilities as well” from talks in Australia today, Gordon Lubold and Rob Taylor report at the Wall Street Journal.
Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis are the third delegation of high-profile U.S. leaders to visit the Asia Pacific region in the last six weeks, all with China’s role in the region their top priority, after Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who described China as a “bully” last week in Sydney, reports Ben Doherty at the Guardian.
Tillerson and Mattis sought to reassure allies that the U.S. remains committed to the region amid growing mistrust of the Trump administration particularly after its withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris climate accord, both men in Australia’s Sydney for an annual conference along with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford and the head of Pacific Command Adm. Harry Harris, Idrees Ali and Colin Packham report at Reuters.
The head of the U.S. Army Pacific Gen. Robert B. Brown met his Thai counterpart in Bangkok today in a rare top-level meeting between the two country’s allies, Reuters reports.
Russian President Vladimir Putin again denied that his government had interfered in last year’s presidential election in an interview with NBC’s Megyn Kelly last week which was broadcast last night, David A. Fahrenthold reporting at the Washington Post.
Putin also denied having any knowledge of meetings between members of his government and Trump’s transition team last year, Julia Manchester reports at the Hill.
Putin barely spoke to former national security adviser Michael Flynn at a dinner in Moscow in 2015, a widely circulated photograph of which depicting Flynn sitting next to Putin has fed speculation about links between the Trump administration and Moscow, the BBC reports.
“This is just another load of nonsense.” Putin denied he had any compromising material on President Trump during the interview yesterday, Reuters reports.
Its chief’s meeting with Trump adviser Jared Kushner during the presidential transition is not the only connection to President Trump’s campaign for Russian Wall Street-based bank V.E.B., a banker having pleaded guilty last year to spying for the Russians out of its office in New York as part of an unsuccessful scheme to recruit Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, and V.E.B. having purchased shares in a Ukrainian steel smelter when it was sold by a business partner of Trump’s, interactions that have raised concerns that the bank has been spreading Russian influence along with its financial footprint, write Ben Protess, Andrew E. Kramer and Mike McIntire at the New York Times.
Fired former F.B.I. director James Comey is due to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee this Thursday, Katie Bo Williams and Morgan Chalfant identifying five questions the committee is likely to want to ask him at the Hill.
Trump’s opponents will be disappointed if they think that Comey’s testimony will fast track the Trump-Russia investigations, writes Courtney Weaver at the Financial Times, drawing parallels with – and marking the distinctions between – Comey and Richard Nixon’s White House counsel John Dean who testified before the Senate Watergate committee in 1973.
TERROR ATTACK in LONDON
U.K. police investigating a terror attack in London Saturday night involving a vehicle and knife attacks know the identities of the three attackers – all of whom were shot dead by police on Saturday night – and will release them “as soon as operationally possible,” the BBC reports.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack which killed at least seven people, Jason Douglas, Stu Woo and Jenny Gross report at the Wall Street Journal.
“Enough is enough.” U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May promised to step up her country’s fight against extremism following what was the third attack in three months, while the head of London’s police force Cressida Dick said that it was time to “change and improve” the counterterrorist effort in the face of “low tech” attacks on easily accessible targets, George Parker, Robert Wright, Barney Thompson and Helen Warrell report at the Financial Times.
May supports the “shoot to kill” policy employed by London policy in responding to the attacks Saturday night, she said today, the AP reporting.
Tighter international internet regulation was called for by May in the wake of the attack, who said yesterday that they internet is a “safe space” for budding terrorists, the Hill’s Ali Breland recalling that May has long championed increased internet regulation and expanded government surveillance powers, in particular through the U.K.’s controversial Investigatory Powers Act of last year.
President Trump renewed his resolve to “protect the United States and its allies from a vile enemy that has waged war on innocent life” yesterday, adding that he would do “what is necessary” to stop the terrorist threat from reaching the shores of America. Julia Manchester reports at the Hill.
President Trump used the London attack as an opportunity to revisit the debate over his revised travel ban, renewing his call for the U.S. courts to approve the executive order via Twitter Saturday. Rebecca Savransky reports at the Hill.
The combination of “soft” targets and D.I.Y. techniques employed in the sorts of attacks that are becoming the “modus operandi” of the Islamic State are exposing holes in the U.K.’s security, information gathered by investigators so far suggesting that the attackers were not part of a military-style cell as sophisticated as the one behind the 2015 Paris and Brussels attacks, write Tom Burgis, Helen Warrell and Erika Solomon at the Financial Times.
The anti-terror strategy Theresa May set out yesterday rests on countering ideology rather than terrorism, a move that would end up with her country losing the fight against terrorism in a “legal minefield of dogma and piety” and meaning that non-violent people who hold anti-British extremist thoughts could be blacklisted or even criminalized, writes the Guardian.
President Trump managed to renew a year-old trans-Atlantic feud and widen the rift with America’s traditional European partners still further via a number of Tweets yesterday in which he used the attack in London to defend his travel ban and misrepresent a statement by London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, Khan’s office saying that he was too busy to respond to the “ill-informed” tweet in an exchange that reflects the tensions between Trump and the U.S.’ European allies, writes Peter Baker at the New York Times.
Emails leaked from the inbox of the U.A.E. ambassador to Washington Yousef al-Otaiba reveal a strong relationship between the U.A.E. and thinktanks closely allied to Israel, as well as Emirati efforts to tarnish the images of Qatar and Kuwait, Emirati involvement in the failed coup attempt in Turkey last year, and the U.A.E.’s fight against Islamist organizations particularly Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and if they prove to be genuine could threaten Emirati diplomacy and strain regional relations, Al Jazeera reports.
In a U.S. government increasingly preoccupied with secrecy and guilty of widespread over-classification, leaks are “necessary and, largely, a very good thing,” despite the legitimate national security concerns in some cases, argues Margaret Sullivan at the Washington Post.
The Afghan government is ready to host the Kabul Process and will hold the first meeting of the process, in which peace and security issues will be discussed among Afghans and officials from around the world, tomorrow, a spokesperson for the Afghanistan Foreign Ministry said today. The AP reports.
More than a dozen people were arrested in Kabul yesterday in connection with a triple suicide bombing at a funeral, which was being held on Saturday for the son of the deputy speaker of the Afghan Senate who was shot by the police at a protest against the government’s failure to protect civilians against the bombing in Kabul last week, Jessica Donati and Ehsanullah Amiri report at the Wall Street Journal.
At least 15 people were killed by the blasts, the death toll is expected to rise, adding to concerns that escalating violence and internal struggles could paralyze and further weaken Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government, Sayed Salahuddin and Annie Gowen report at the Washington Post.
“N.A.T.O. can help Afghan forces with training, they can provide more equipment but we will recruit Afghans,” Brig. Gen. Mohammad Nasim Sangin said, commenting ahead of U.S. deliberations on plans to deploy more troops to Afghanistan, James Mackenzie and Mirwais Harooni report at Reuters.
“The United Nations stands ready to help,” the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Representative to Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto said at the weekend, urging all parties to take measures to help put an end to the cycle of violence. The U.N. News Centre reports.
Syrian government forces launched a barrage of airstrikes on the city of Daraa and exchanged artillery fire with rebels, killing at least 31 fighters, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported yesterday, Philip Issa noting that the strikes highlight the frailty of the Russia, Turkey and Iran brokered “de-escalation” zones at the AP.
The continued use of chemical weapons in Syria poses a threat to Israeli security and may spark another regional war similar to the Six Day War of 1967, Asher Orkaby at the Wall Street Journal suggesting that, to avert this possibility, the international community must take action and follow up on Trump’s show of force in response to a chemical attack in Syria in April.
Iraqi paramilitary forces captured the key town of Baaj on the supply route between the Islamic State’s Syrian stronghold Raqqa and Mosul yesterday, Ben Kesling reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The Islamic State’s control over urban centres in Iraq has been reduced to western Mosul and the town of Bukamal following the capture of Baaj, with Bukamal expected to be the new focus of U.S. and Iranian efforts, Martin Chulov writes at the Guardian.
Civilians are trapped in a circle of neighbourhoods in the western part of Mosul despite Iraqi forces making significant advances in the city. Ivor Prickett offers an insight into the battle on Mosul’s streets at the New York Times.
The U.S. is anticipated to indicate that it will withdraw from the U.N. Human Rights Council unless reforms are introduced including what it sees as an “anti-Israel bias” tomorrow, Stephanie Nebehay reports at Reuters, citing diplomats and activists.
A senior South Korean defense official was suspended today for intentionally failing to report the arrival of additional launchers for the U.S.-built T.H.A.A.D. anti-missile defense system deployed in the country to new President Moon Jae-in, Hyung-Jin Kim reports at the AP.
F.A.R.C. rebels in Colombia have threatened to delay their demobilization, scheduled for June 20, because the government has repeatedly breached the terms of last year’s peace deal, the BBC reports.
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May was urged not to suppress a report of an inquiry into foreign funding and support of jihadi groups in the U.K. by opposition leaders today after the U.K. Home Office suggested the investigation – which is thought to focus on Saudi Arabia – may not be published, Jessica Elgot reports at the Guardian.
Turkey will strip the citizenship of 130 people suspected of having militant links including U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen whom it hold responsible for a failed coup last year, unless they return to Turkey within three months, Reuters reports.
President Trump’s counter-terrorism strategy could be impeded by his failure to fill dozens of vacancies across the U.S. government, including senior positions in the State Department and, crucially, a permanent F.B.I. director, Andrew Restuccia writes at POLITICO.