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.
President Trump does not have tapes of his conversations with former F.B.I. director James Comey, Trump announced yesterday via Twitter, forty-one days after he first suggested that he had secretly taped his exchanges with Comey, Courtney Weaver examining the claims at the Financial Times.
White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders declined to respond to a question about why the president had hinted at the existence of “tapes” over a period of almost six weeks, Rebecca Ballhaus reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The White House must officially notify lawmakers about whether recordings of Trump’s conversations with Comey exist, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.) said yesterday, Max Greenwood reporting at the Hill.
“There has been no obstruction, there has been no collusion.” President Trump denied interfering with the F.B.I.’s investigation of his potential Russia ties yesterday, Amanda Becker and Jeff Mason report at Reuters.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s close relationship with James Comey is “bothersome,” Trump also said yesterday in an interview with Fox News due to air today. John Bowden reports at the Hill.
President Trump repeatedly asked Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to publicly announce that there was no evidence of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia during the 2016 election, Coats told House investigators yesterday, a departure from his previous refusal to comment on the issue before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Ken Dilanian reports at NBC News.
James Comey should publicly confirm whether the F.B.I. investigated Attorney General Jeff Sessions and whether the agency “checked out” Session’s meeting with top Russian officials and whether he had a further undisclosed meeting at the Mayflower Hotel, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) insisted yesterday, Jordain Carney reporting at the Hill.
Former Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta will be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee in private next week as part of its investigation into Russian interference in last year’s election, Manu Raju and Tom LoBianco report at CNN.
The fact that Washington must now spring into action to support or reject Trump’s dubious and unsupported assertions – which often have the opposite effect to what the president presumably intended and add to doubts about his credibility – is highlighted by the nonexistent tapes incident, writes Abby Phillip at the Washington Post.
The Trump administration’s legal justification for the U.S. military’s recent shooting down of a Syrian jet and another confrontation between U.S. forces and those loyal to the Assad regime was formally requested by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, an aide to chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) confirmed yesterday, Rebecca Kheel reporting at the Hill.
The Assad regime will not allow its “enemies” to benefit from the de-escalation zones in western Syria, Syria’s deputy foreign minister said yesterday, ahead of international talks on the Russia-Iran-Turkey-agreed zones scheduled for early July in Kazakhstan, Reuters reports.
Russia is close to 100 percent certain its forces killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Russian media quoted the head of the defense committee in Russia’s upper parliamentary house as saying today, Christian Lowe reporting at Reuters.
Russian warships shot missiles at Islamic State targets in Syria from eastern parts of the Mediterranean today, Russia’s Defense Ministy said, Alla Eshchenko reporting at CNN.
America is “stumbling” into another decade of war in the Middle East, U.S. forces under President Trump aggressively initiating attacks in Iraq and Syria, resulting in a dramatic rise in civilian deaths, and another escalation this week as the U.S. shot down a Syrian warplane, yet it is still unclear how this belligerence toward the Assad regime will achieve the only stated mission of America’s involvement in Syria: to defeat the Islamic State. Fareed Zakaria writes at the Washington Post.
The end of the beginning. The U.S. shot down a Syrian fighter jet near Raqqa last week to protect its allies, and the Russian threats to now target U.S. planes are the Russians protecting their own friends,as the “great Muslim civil war” nears its end and the parties maneuver to shape what happens next, writes Charles Krauthammer at the Washington Post.
The “liberation” of the Iraqi city of Mosul will be announced in a few days, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said yesterday, Al Jazeera reporting.
Surveillance footage dispels the Islamic State’s claim that a U.S. airstrike destroyed the al-Nuri Grand Mosque in Mosul, the New York Times reports.
The city of Mosul would expel the families of Islamic State members according to an ordinance passed this week despite warnings from Iraq’s prime minister that the policy would further fragment the country as it emerges from years of war with the insurgents. Ben Kesling and Ghassan Adnan report at the Wall Street Journal.
Players in the battle to oust the Islamic State from Iraq are starting to compete for an edge now that the fight has reached a tipping point in their favor, with getting to define what emerges from the collapse of the insurgents’ caliphate a bigger prize than winning the war itself, Martin Chulov writes at the Guardian.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 14 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on June 21. Separately, partner forces conducted six strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
The KOREAN PENINSULA
A new rocket engine was tested by North Korea as part of its efforts to build a missile capable of reaching American mainland, U.S. officials said, the BBC reporting.
North Korea denied torturing or cruelly treating American student Otto Warmbier who was buried in the U.S. yesterday after being recently returned there from detention in North Korea, dying shortly afterwards having suffered a severe neurological injury from an unknown cause, Kim Tong-Hyung reports at the AP.
Warmbier’s suddent death “is a mystery to us,” a North Korean spokesperson said today, adding that the 22-year-old was a “victim of the policy of strategic patience” of the former U.S. administration. Jack Kim reports at Reuters.
A U.S.-Japanese SM-3 Block IIA missile test in Hawaii missed its target Wednesday evening, but both militaries stopped short of labeling the testing of the missile – built for the Aegis Missile Defense System which along with the T.H.A.A.D. system deployed in South Korea forms key elements of the U.S.’ strategy to contain the threat from North Korea – a failure, CNN’s Joshua Berlinger and Brad Lendon report.
South Korea test-fired a new midrange missile being developed to cope with the growing threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs yesterday, President Moon Jae-in saying afterward that it was important for South Korea to maintain a military capability that could “dominate” the North for the sake of regional peace. Kim Tong-Hyung reports at the AP.
Engagement with North Korea will only be possible when South Korea has the ability to overwhelm the Pyongyang regime militarily, President Moon said yesterday, Reuters reporting.
Several measures designed to counter the threat posed by North Korea and Russia in its annual defense authorization bill are being proposed by the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) saying yesterday that provisions included more money for joint training and a variety of policy and funding commitments devoted to the Asia Pacific Region. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
Trying to talk to Kim Jong-un is a waste of time, suggest Bruce Klingner and Sue Mi Terry writing at the Washington Post, both former C.I.A. employees working on Korean issues, who were part of a group of delegates from the U.S., China, Japan and South Korea who met with representatives of North Korea in Sweden last month to look at potential grounds for resuming the six-party talks that collapsed back in 2009, from which they left “more pessimistic than when we arrived.”
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states allied against Qatar issued a list of 13 demands in return for lifting the trade and diplomatic embargo of Qatar, which has been given ten days to comply, including that it curbs diplomatic ties and cuts off military cooperation with Iran, severs ties to all “terrorist organizations” such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic State, and immediately terminates the Turkish military presence within its borders, Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.
The list of demands are humiliating for Qatar and leaves no room for maneuver, instead presenting only two options: total submission by Qatar and its return to the Gulf Arab fold, or expulsion from the Gulf Cooperation Council and possibly becoming a dependent ally of Iran, is Frank Gardner’s assessment at the BBC.
Qatar has never supported any “terrorist group” and has always “abided by international laws,” its foreign minister insisted yesterday before Saudi’s demands were issued, Al Jazeera reports.
An “April Glaspie moment.” Although rarely on good terms, relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar have never escalated so destructively as now, weeks after President Trump left Saudi Arabia where he had engaged in a “love-fest” with the kingdom’s leadership that risked emboldening the Saudis to pursue campaigns that run counter to U.S. interests, writes Roula Khalaf at the Financial Times, drawing parallels with the current situation and former U.S. ambassador to Iraq April Gillespie’s telling former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein that America took no position on internal Arab affairs, emboldening Hussein to invade Kuwait.
The U.S.’ “occupation” of Afghanistan is “the main obstacle in the way of peace,” Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada said today, warning the U.S. against sending any additional troops to the country. Reuters reports.
Can the U.S. succeed in Afghanistan? While President Trump’s decision to transfer authority to add American troops to the 8,400 currently deployed in Afghanistan is encouraging, what is needed is a sustained commitment to the country by the U.S. if it is to succeed there, write former commander of the coalition in Iraq retired Army general David Petraeus and Michael O’Hanlon at the Wall Street Journal.
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is trying to start a fresh war between Tel Aviv and Hamas by cutting payment for electricity in Gaza, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.
An Israeli plan to authorize the construction of an additional 7,000 homes in Jewish areas of east Jerusalem could complicate efforts by White House adviser Jared Kushner to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the AP reports.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
National Football League team owner Woody Johnson will be nominated as U.S. ambassador to Britain by President Trump, the White House confirmed, with Senate confirmation required before he can take up the post. Reuters reports.
We are no longer witnessing the sort of equivocation and apologies for Moscow’s policies in Ukraine and Syria that Trump displayed as a candidate, Anna Nemtsova at The Daily Beast observes following Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s visit to the White House this week – a “great honor” for Trump – on the same day as which Washington imposed additional sanctions on Russian individuals and companies.
The Republican-led Congress is now starting to assert itself on national security issues in a largely constructive manner, writes the New York Times editorial board, citing last week’s unanimous vote affirming Article 5 of the N.A.T.O. treaty, reassuring European allies nervous about America’s commitment to the body, and the Senate’s overwhelming support for strengthening sanctions against Russia as recent examples.
Lawyers for alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed are requesting that The U.S. Court of Military Commissions Review prevents Duke law professor C.M.C.R. Judge Scott Silliman from hearing an appeal brought by the Pentagon’s chief prosecutor on the basis that he is biased due his comment that he assumed Mohammed would be executed by lethal injection when testifying at Congress years ago in a filing in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.
The Ghanaian government’s decision to allow two former Guantánamo Bay detainees to settle in the country was unconstitutional, the country’s Supreme Court ruled yesterday, Nana Boakye-Yiadom reporting at the New York Times.
Amnesty International called on the U.N. to lead an investigation into allegations that the U.A.E. armed, trained and financed Yemeni security forces responsible for detaining and torturing hundreds of people in clandestine prisons across southern Yemen in a statement released yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.
The U.S. Supreme Court has almost certainly reached a decision on what to do with President Trump’s revised travel ban, the justices having met yesterday morning most likely to take a vote on whether to allow the administration to immediately enforce the ban and hear its appeal of lower court rulings blocking it, with a decision expected no later than late next week, Mark Sherman reports at the AP.
A bill adding new sanctions against Russia is expected to be passed by the Senate for a second time “soon” after it ran into an unexpected roadblock in the House, the Hill’s Jordain Carney reports.
A former U.S. military and State Department employee was arrested on spying charges on allegations that he gave classified defense information to a Chinese government agent yesterday, Kate O’Keeffe reports at the Wall Street Journal.
European Union leaders agreed to jointly develop or purchase military equipment at a summit in Brussels yesterday, the AP reports.
Australia will send to surveillance airplanes to assist the Philippines in tackling Islamist insurgents, it agreed today, Manuel Mogato and Tom Westbrook reporting at Reuters.
Britain wants to find a way out of the standoff that has led to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange remaining in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for the past five years, Ecuador’s foreign minister said yesterday, Reuters reporting.
Why is it such a challenge for policymakers to strike the right balance when explaining the nature of the terrorist threat facing the United States? While politics explains much of the answer, the structural challenge within the government bureaucracy that renders threat assessments something short of polished must be acknowledged, Ned Price – former C.I.A. intelligence officer and Special Assistant to former president Obama on the National Security Council staff – writes at Just Security.