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The Early Edition: June 30, 2017

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.

REPEAL OF THE 2001 AUMF

Language that would repeal the 2001 Authorization of Use of Military Force (A.U.M.F.) after the passing of the spending act but giving lawmakers 240 days to debate and pass a new A.U.M.F. to replace it was included in a spending plan for the Defense Department approved by the House Appropriations Committee yesterday, the Hill’s Ellen Mitchell reports.

The vote was an unexpected victory for long-time war critic Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), but it is only the first step in getting Congress to update the authorization of military force that lawmakers adopted after the 9/11 attacks, explain Bryan Bender and Jennifer Scholtes at POLITICO.

“This provision should have been ruled out of order.” The House Foreign Affairs Committee is hitting out against the surprise approval of the amendment, the Hill’s Ellen Mitchell reports.

SYRIA

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) have seized the last route into Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State group in Syria, U.S. officials and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said yesterday, signaling a significant development in the advance on Raqqa. Sarah El Deeb reports at the AP.

The S.D.F. “have completely surrounded and besieged the Islamic militants inside al-Raqqa city from all sides,” the group said in a statement yesterday, Al Jazeera reporting.

Sarin nerve gas was used in the April 4 attack on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib Province, the U.N. watchdog the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (O.P.C.W.) confirmed today, with responsibility for the attack to be assessed by a joint U.N.-O.P.C.W. investigation team, the Director-General of the O.P.C.W. adding that the perpetrators “must be held accountable for their crimes,” the AP reports.

Iranian authorities have been recruiting Afghan refugees to fight in Syria for Bashar al-Assad’s regime, expanding recruitment to undocumented migrants, framing the battle as a fight between Shi’ites and Sunnis and exploiting Afghans who face a lack of opportunities, Ali M. Latifi writes at the New York Times.

Lebanese soldiers were hit with suicide bombings, explosives and hand grenades in raids on refugee settlements in Arsal near the border with Syria this morning, part of an ongoing struggle between the Lebanese army and militants who have thrived in the border area during Syria’s seven-year-long civil war, the AP reports.

“Now is the time. Any delay will mean further death,” The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien, the said called on the international community to ensure immediate and safe humanitarian access to save lives of those dependent on assistance, highlighting the urgent situation of civilians in Raqqa in a briefing to the U.N. Security Council yesterday. The U.N. News Centre reports.

IRAQ

 “We are seeing the end of the fake Daesh state,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi tweeted yesterday, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State and marking the significant victories in Mosul, with the spokesperson for the U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria Col. Ryan Dillon predicting that the fighting in Mosul will be over within the next few days. Ghassan Adnan, Ben Kesling and Dion Nissenbaum report at the Wall Street Journal.

Iraqi forces attacked the Islamic State’s last remaining redoubt in Mosul today and the advance continues to overcome all insurgent positions, Stephen Kalin reports at Reuters.

Russia’s state-controlled company Rosneft is looking to develop oilfields in disputed territories in Iraq under Kurdish control and close to the Syrian border, driving a wedge between the government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government, further complicating relations in the Middle East, and suggesting that Russia aims to take a more aggressive foreign policy stance in the region. David Sheppard and Henry Foy report at the Financial Times.

Increased insurgent activity by the Islamic State is a distinct possibility as it loses territory, a report by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point explaining that the challenge will be “governing post-liberation areas where city infrastructure has been destroyed and where security threats still remain,” Eric Schmitt reports at the New York Times.

Mosul has been left in ruin as the battle against the Islamic State reaches its final stages, underlining the difficult task of meeting the needs of civilians in Mosul and those who have been displaced, Megan Specia and Rick Gladstone observe at the New York Times.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 20 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on June 28. Separately, partner forces conducted four strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

RUSSIA

President Trump will meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, next week, their first face-to-face encounter since Trump became president, with “no specific agenda” established for the meeting, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said yesterday, Jordan Fabian reporting at the Hill.

National security experts and Russia hawks inside the Trump administration are concerned that the lack of a specific plan for the meeting for Trump, who has spoken for months about the prospect of friendship with Putin and may be too eager to please the Russian president, will create an imbalance, since Putin himself is certain to come fully prepared. Michael Crowley reports at POLITICO.

Putin believes he can easily outmaneuver Trump at the G-20 summit, using promises is cooperation on areas such as counterterrorism in return for concessions such as the removal of sanctions against Russia, according to intelligence received by European officials, Kimberley Dozier reports at The Daily Beast.

A deal on legislation increasing sanctions on Moscow easily cleared the Senate yesterday after previously hitting an unexpected roadblock that stalled it for weeks in the House, Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

Democrats are accusing House Republicans of stalling on the Russia sanctions legislation on the White House’s behalf so that President Trump wouldn’t sign it into law ahead of his meeting with President Putin next week, saying that the so-called “blue slip” issue could have been easily and quickly dealt with in the House rather than the Senate. CNN’s Deirdre Walsh and Jeremy Herb report.

TAIWAN ARMS DEAL

A total of $1.42 billion in arms deals with Taiwan was approved by the Trump administration yesterday, as China rejected a Senate bill that would allow U.S. Navy ships to make regular port calls to the self-governing island, Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The Trump administration’s decision to sell Taiwan arms is “wrong” and contradicted a “consensus” reached between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in talks in April in the U.S., China said today, Reuters reporting.

“The honeymoon is over.” Both the arms sales to Taiwan and the sanctions against its bank Dandong are likely to anger China and are being viewed by experts as signs of the Trump administration’s loss of patience with Beijing over its reluctance to concede on issues including North Korea, Tom Phillips and Oliver Holmes write at the Guardian.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

The White House will move to cut off Chinese bank Dandong from the U.S. financial system because it believes it finances companies involved in North Korea’s weapons program, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced yesterday, Ian Talley reports at the Wall Street Journal.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and President Trump dined together at the White House last night ahead of their formal meeting today, CNN’s Euan McKirdy reports.

The emergence of new missile types in North Korea’s escalating tests demonstrate its technical capabilities are quickly improving, Bryan Harris, Ian Bott, Jane Pong and Lauren Leatherby examining the threat posed at the Financial Times.

GULF-ARAB DISPUTE

“We are willing to negotiate any legitimate grievances with our neighbors, but we will not compromise our sovereignty,” Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said yesterday during his trip to Washington D.C., where he was attending meetings to discuss ways to resolve the Gulf-Arab dispute ongoing since June 5 when four Arab nations cut diplomatic ties with Qatar. Al Jazeera reports.

Turkish armed forces have been deployed to Qatar, Qatar’s ministry of defense announced today, Turkish and Qatari forces scheduled to carry out joint exercises following the approval of a 2015 deal that sees greater military cooperation between the two states, Al Jazeera reports.

A Swiss law firm is being hired to seek compensation for those affected by the four Arab nation’s decision to diplomatically isolate Qatar by Qatar’s National Human Rights Commission (N.H.R.C.), the N.H.R.C. chairman said yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.

The Qatari foreign minister’s praise for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reveals the discord within the Trump administration, as the foreign minister conspicuously omitted mentioning President Trump in his speech in Washington, D.C. yesterday, Ishaan Tharoor writes at the Washington Post.

Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman has shown reckless and impulsive judgment, as demonstrated by his actions and comments over Qatar, Yemen and Iran, and the Trump administration should understand that he is a “bumbling hothead,” Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky write at POLITICO.

IRAN

Tehran is in full compliance with the Iran nuclear deal, U.N. and E.U. diplomats said at a U.N. Security Council meeting yesterday, pushing back against U.S. criticism of Iran, Farnaz Fassihi reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Iran was accused of “destructive and destabilizing” actions by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley at the Security Council meeting yesterday, where she represented a U.S. that found itself in opposition to the four other major powers who see the deal as a major achievement, Edith M. Lederer writes at the AP.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

There is no need for the Senate Armed Services annual defense policy bill to require the Trump administration to send Congress a counter-Islamic State in Syria and Iraq strategy because Congress recently received one, and likewise an Afghanistan strategy is not required because the Pentagon is already working on one, a committee aide said yesterday, a committee spokesperson adding that the Islamic State strategy is classified and cannot be shared. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

“Pakistan’s relations with China are the cornerstone of our foreign policy,” Pakistan’s top foreign policy adviser Sartaj Aziz said yesterday at a news conference welcoming China’s foreign minister, signaling Pakistan’s pivot to China away from the U.S. amid fears that the Trump administration will put pressure on Pakistan’s government, Pamela Constable writes at the Washington Post.

“Whoever believes the problems of this word can be solved by isolationism and protectionism is making a tremendous error.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel set herself against President Trump and his “America First” agenda yesterday, speaking before Germany’s parliament ahead of the G-20 summit next week, Melissa Eddy reports at the New York Times.

President Trump has an “exceptional opportunity” to reassert American leadership and its commitment to European security by giving weapons to Ukraine for use in its defense against Russia’s ongoing aggression when he visits Poland next week, suggests Stephen Blank writing at the Wall Street Journal.

The MUSLIM BAN

The Trump administration began enforcing its temporary ban on travelers from six Muslim-majority countries yesterday issuing guidelines that are a narrow reading of a Supreme Court ruling Monday requiring the U.S. to continue to admit those who have a “bona fide” relationship with either people or institutions already in the U.S., Laura Meckler reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Lawyers for the state of Hawaii asked a federal judge to stop the administration from enforcing the ban late last night, arguing that fiances, grandparents, grandchildren, brothers- and sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins– all relationships excluded from the definition of “bone fide” relationship in the government’s guidelines for enforcing the ban – of those in the U.S. should be allowed to enter from the six countries affected, Carol Morello reports at the Washington Post.

Fiances would be considered close family members and therefore allowed to travel to the U.S., the Trump administration decided late last night, Yeganeh Torbati and Mica Roseberg report at Reuters.

When it comes to a travelers’ connection to a business or organization, the administration’s guidelines state that it must be a formally documented relationship and not one formed for the purposes of evading the executive order, the Hill’s Melanie Zanona explains.

By creating arbitrary categories of family relationships, the Trump administration’s guidelines are likely unconstitutional as violating due process, cutting off protections of family rights at the boundary of the nuclear family without explaining why it has selected certain categories of relationship for protection and excluded others, argues Bennett Gershman at The Daily Beast.

TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

House Intelligence Committee leaders are threatening a subpoena if the White House fails to clarify whether any recordings exist of President Trump’s meetings with former F.B.I. director James Comey, a letter asserting that Trump’s series of tweets the day before a previously-set June 23 deadline for the White House to respond to the panel’s request “stops short of clarifying” whether the White House has any recordings. The AP reports.

Long-time Republican opposition researcher Peter W. Smith mounted a campaign to acquire emails he believed were stolen from Hillary Clinton’s private server before the 2016 presidential election, giving those he spoke to and tried to recruit the impression that he was working with then-senior adviser to candidate Trump, Mike Flynn, while investigators probing Russian interference in the election have examined reports from intelligence agencies describing Russian hackers discussing how to obtain Clinton’s emails and then transmit them to Flynn via an intermediary. Shane Harris reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Former national security adviser Susan Rice will answer questions in a closed-door session with the House Intelligence Committee sometime next month as part of its ongoing investigation into Trump-Russia collusion, CNN’s Tom LoBianco and Manu Raju report.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) wants the Senate to vote on Christopher Wray’s nomination as next F.B.I. director before they disband for the August recess, he told reporters yesterday, Jordain Carney reporting at the Hill.

“America is not in decline – it is choosing to decline.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is overseeing the deconstruction of the State Department, yet there is no pressing reason for the cuts to personnel which are instead a personal choice made by Tillerson, fast becoming one of the worst and most destructive secretaries of state in the history of America, former State Department employee Max Bergmann writes at POLITICO MAGAZINE.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Confusion among N.A.T.O. allies about how the U.S. intends to contribute to the requirement of additional troops to counter a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan may be holding some of them back from offering their own troops, N.A.T.O. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said after a meeting in Brussels yesterday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis assuring allies that he would consult with U.S. Gen. Joseph Dunford on his return to Washington and would then submit a recommended new Afghanistan strategy to President Trump, including a refinement of U.S. troop numbers, Lorne Cook and Lolita C. Baldor report at the AP.

China has constructed new military facilities on islands in the South China Sea, U.S. thinktank the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, part of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, reported yesterday. [Reuters]

Equipment it said belonged to Russian agents which was used to launch cyberattacks against Ukraine and other countries in May and this Tuesday was seized by Ukraine’s state security service, it said in a statement today, Reuters reporting.

A more than 15,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping forces has been called on to assist Mali’s military to re-establish security across the territory through a unanimously-approved U.N. Security Council resolution adopted yesterday, the AP reports.

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About the Authors

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security, Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK