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’s eldest son Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer supportive of Russian President Putin after she offered to give him information that “individuals connected to Russia” were helping Trump rival Hillary Clinton, Trump Jr., White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort attending the meeting in June 2016 in the hope of gaining information that would be helpful to now-President Trump’s campaign, Jo Becker, Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman report at the New York Times.
Donald Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort were duped into the meeting by the Russians as part of a Democratic plot to sink the Trump campaign with the help of Kremlin operatives, spokesperson for President Trump’s outside counsel Mark Corallo said in a statement released in the hours after the story of the meeting was published, after the Trump team initially downplaying the meeting as a courtesy on behalf of orphaned children, writes Scott Bixby at The Daily Beast.
Trump Jr.’s meeting with the Russian lawyer “borders on treason,” Richard Painter, an ethics lawyer under former president George W. Bush, said yesterday, Brandon Carter reporting at the Hill.
Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya is heading Moscow’s efforts to destroy the Magnitsky Act, a package of U.S. sanctions targeting corrupt Russian officials. Nico Hines looks at the record of the lawyer who met with Trump Jr. last June at The Daily Beast.
Is Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with the Russian lawyer the first hard evidence of Trump-Russia collusion? Scott Bixby and Justin Miller examine the facts at The Daily Beast.
President Trump “strongly pressed” Russian President Vladimir Putin on the issue of Russian interference in the U.S. election twice in their face-to-face meeting last week and it was “time to move forward,” Trump insisted yesterday, while lawmakers from both parties accused him of appeasing Putin by failing to insist that he was responsible for the interference or threaten any consequences, Julie Hirschfeld Davis reports at the New York Times.
President Trump agreed with him that Russia had not interfered in last year’s U.S. presidential election, President Putin told reporters Saturday, adding that they should ask Trump about it directly, David Filipov reports at the Washington Post.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s account of the Trump-Putin meeting in which he said Trump pressed Putin “on more than one occasion” on Russian meddling in the U.S. election, which Putin “denied” before Trump decided to move on in the face of Putin’s refusal to admit blame does not tally with that of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, which was that Trump had listened to Putin’s assurances that Moscow was not responsible for interfering in the U.S. election and “accepted these statements,” David Filipov, Damian Paletta and Abby Phillip report at the Washington Post.
Trump told Putin to “cut it out” during their meeting, bringing up the issue of Russian interference “right away” because he wanted to “look [Putin] in the eye” so that he would know that Trump knew “[he] did it,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley explained yesterday, Nolan D. McCaskill reports at POLITICO.
Over half of the memos former F.B.I. director James Comey made of his conversations with President Trump about the Russia investigation contain classified information, according to officials familiar with the documents, raising the question of whether Comey broke his own agency’s rules and ignored the same security protocol he publicly denounced Hillary Clinton for during the 2016 presidential election, John Solomon reports at the Hill.
“That is so illegal!” President Trump tweeted this morning after it emerged that Comey’s memos contained classified information.
President Trump backtracked on a plan to work with Russia to create an “impenetrable” cybersecurity unit to combat election hacking hours after promoting the idea via Twitter yesterday, also via Twitter, and after the idea was ridiculed by various Democrats and some Republicans, the BBC reports.
U.S.-Russia cooperation on cybersecurity was also called for by the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley yesterday, Julia Manchester reports at the Hill.
President Trump and Secretary of State John Kerry’s use of “Obama-like” rhetoric of cooperation and shared U.S.-Russia goals suggests that Putin may have successfully sized up Trump during their first meeting, yet both Trump and Kerry need to understand that Putin is not America’s friend, writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
In the face of a sustained and possibly accelerated attack on the U.S. by Russia, President Trump not only wavers on the source of the attack, but refuses to condemn the culprit and instead actually has a habit of praising him, writes Charles M. Blow at the New York Times, urging investigators to ignore team Trump’s calls for everyone to “get over this annoying Russia thing and move on.”
A new round of indirect talks between the Syrian government and opposition leaders aimed at reaching a peace agreement was opened by the U.N. envoy for Syria today, Jamey Keaten reports at the AP.
A ceasefire in a limited area of southwest Syria began yesterday following an agreement between the U.S., Russia and Jordan that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced Friday, the agreement – which was negotiated on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg on Thursday – centering on a key boundary line demarcating areas of control for the various warring parties. Gardiner Harris reports at the New York Times.
“Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia,” Trump tweeted yesterday, stating that the ceasefire “will save lives” and calling for further cooperation with Russia in Syria, Philip Issa reports at the AP.
The ceasefire agreement constituted an important step toward the “common goals” of “defeating ISIS, helping to end the conflict in Syria, reducing suffering, and enabling people to return to their homes,” National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said in a statement Saturday, setting out that “de-escalation” zones are a priority for the Trump administration. Kyle Balluck reports at the Hill.
“The agreement can be fruitful if it is expanded to all of Syria,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson Bahram Qasemi said today, according to the Tasnim news agency, adding that Iran “is seeking Syria’s sovereignty and security so a ceasefire cannot be limited to a certain location,” Bozorgmehr Sharafedin reports at Reuters.
There have been no airstrikes or clashes in the southwest since the ceasefire began yesterday, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, rebel groups in the area also stating that there has been no significant fighting. Reuters reports.
Anxiety remains in southwest Syria due to a lack of mechanisms to enforce the ceasefire, the AP reports.
Israel and Jordan expressed the fear that the ceasefire would enable Iranian-backed pro-Syrian government forces to establish a lasting presence along their borders, the AP reports in rolling coverage.
The southwest Syria ceasefire may offer a model for future cooperation between the U.S. and Russia throughout the country, marking a departure from previous approaches by acquiescing to Russia’s broader plan to end the violence in Syria through de-escalation zones – however many details of the agreement are yet to be developed and questions remain over Russia’s ability to rein in the Assad government and Iran. Liz Sly writes at the Washington Post.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has succeeded in killing hopes of democracy in Syria, has played on the notion that revolution is enabled by foreign interference, and has created a perception that dictatorship is a bulwark against colonialism and Islamist extremism. Kamel Daoud writes at the New York Times.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev yesterday, underlining U.S. support for Ukraine two days after President Trump met with Russian President Putin, Tillerson saying that the U.S. was committed to restoring Ukraine’s “territorial sovereignty and integrity” in a joint press conference following the meeting, Thomas Grove reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Russia must make the first move to reduce tensions in eastern Ukraine and European sanctions will remain in place until it changes its course in the region, Tillerson said, Matthew Lee reporting at the AP.
The U.S. will continue to have “dialogue” with Russia on how to gain assurances that there will be no more interference in U.S. elections, Tillerson also said at the press conference yesterday, the Hill’s Olivia Beavers reports.
THE KOREAN PENINSULA
North Korea accused the U.S. of “reckless military provocations” after a recent practice bombing by two U.S. B-1B bombers on the Korean peninsula, reports USA Today.
The U.S. bombing mission took place as G20 leaders were meeting in Hamburg last week and was conducted with South Korean jets, the U.S. air force commander in the Pacific Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy saying that “if called upon, we are trained, equipped and ready to unleash the full lethal capability of our allied air forces,” Demetri Sevastopulo reports at the Financial Times.
The U.S. decision to fly the B-1B bombers over the South China Sea was a “flexing of military muscles” seen as a threat to Beijing, China’s foreign ministry said, Christopher Bodeen reporting at the AP.
The Russia-China alignment in response to North Korea’s testing of an intercontinental ballistic missile last week may interfere with U.S. efforts to curb the Pyongyang regime, Asia policy experts and former diplomats fear, Katie Bo Williams writes at the Hill.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi congratulated Iraqi forces on their victory over the Islamic State after arriving in Mosul yesterday, while air strikes and exchanges of gun fire could still be heard as the militants made their last stand against Iraqi forces, Kalin reports at Reuters.
“Victory is settled and remaining Daesh [fighters] are trapped in the last spans,” al-Abadi said yesterday, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State and stopping short of declaring full victory against the militants in Mosul, Asa Fitch and Ali A. Nabhan report at the Wall Street Journal.
Iraqi forces advanced on the small area of Mosul’s Old City today which remains in the Islamic State’s hands, Susannah George reports at the AP.
Fighting continues in Mosul over an area believed to be 200 yards long and 50 yards wide, Louisa Loveluck, Liz Sly and Mustafa Salim report at the Washington Post.
The planned Kurdish referendum on independence in Iraq should not go ahead, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said today, Reuters reporting.
“A comprehensive post-Mosul strategy is the only way to ensure that the defeat of ISIL will be enduring,” the chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement yesterday, joined by other Republican lawmakers who warned that more work needs to be done, Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.
Who controls what in Mosul? Yarno Ritzen provides a map at Al Jazeera.
The capture of Mosul does not spell the end of the problems blighting the city and the country: the Islamic State still maintains territory in other cities and towns in Iraq, there are signs that Islamic State militants will revert to their insurgent roots as they lose territory, the humanitarian crisis will need to be addressed, and sectarian divides persist, Tim Arango and Michael R. Gordon observe at the New York Times.
The impending defeat of the Islamic State’s caliphate poses serious questions for the Trump administration: what role will the U.S. take in Iraq once the Islamic State is defeated, who has responsibility for reconstruction, how can the U.S. enable the Iraqi government to implement federalism and bridge Sunni-Shi’ite divides, and what U.S. military presence should remain? Antony J. Blinken sets out the challenges at the New York Times.
The Islamic State’s crumbling caliphate should not be underestimated for the ideology persists and they have the ability to inspire global terrorist attacks, Ben Hubbard and Eric Schmitt write at the New York Times.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will shuttle between Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia from today until Thursday in an effort to resolve a crisis that has enveloped the region since early June, Tillerson’s first shuttle diplomacy mission since taking office, Matthew Lee reports at the AP.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is scheduled to arrive in Kuwait today to begin discussions aimed at resolving the crisis in which Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain have diplomatically isolated Qatar because of its alleged support for terrorism, issuing a list of 13 demands on June 22 before diplomatic ties could be restored which was rejected by Qatar last week, Al Jazeera reports.
Regret over the four Arab nation’s blockade of Qatar was expressed by the International Criminal Court’s (I.C.C.) chief prosecutor yesterday, who praised Doha for its mature handling of the crisis, according to Qatar’s state news agency. Al Jazeera reports.
Qatar has set up a commission to seek compensation from the Saudi-led bloc for the economic damage caused as a consequence of the land and air embargo of the country, the Qatari attorney general announced yesterday, Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.
President Trump is considering “next steps” on the Israel-Palestine peace talks, a White House officials said yesterday, the Hill’s Olivia Beavers reporting.
Clarification on what seems to be an emerging power-sharing agreement between Gaza’s Hamas leaders and exiled rival to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Mohammed Dahlan was sought by Abbas in a meeting with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.
Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian man who attached a soldier at a West Bank traffic junction this morning, Israel’s military said, the AP reporting.
A resolution to the Afghan war requires a political settlement and a shift in the political dynamics can be achieved by combining three approaches: holding credible elections, revisiting power-sharing mechanisms, and enabling the Taliban to participate in peace negotiations and be part of political reforms. Alex Thier and Scott Worden write at the Hill.
Pakistan’s support for the Haqqani terror network undermines efforts to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Trump administration must reconsider its approach to Pakistan if it wants to make headway in Afghanistan, Rahmatullah Nabil and Melissa Skorka write at the Wall Street Journal.
U.K. ARMS SALES TO SAUDI ARABIA
U.K. campaigners Campaign Against the Arms Trade (C.A.A.T.) lost a high-profile case calling for the cessation of U.K. arms sales to Saudi Arabia over concerns that Saudi Arabia is repeatedly breaching international humanitarian law in its campaign in Yemen today, the High Court of England and Wales delivering its open judgment this morning, C.A.A.T. spokesperson Andrew Smith promising to pursue an appeal of a judgment he said would “be seen as a green light for government to continue arming and supporting brutal dictatorships and human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia that have shown blatant disregard for international humanitarian law.” Alice Ross reports at the Guardian.
Trump’s behavior in and around the G20 summit last week was unsettling for his European allies and confirmed the fears of those who believe that his conduct is currently the biggest threat to American national security, writes Lawrence H. Summers at the Washington Post.
European leaders feel they can be less restrained in highlighting their differences with the U.S. in response to President Trump’s erratic and incendiary behavior, the change in attitude on display at the G20 summit and reflected in European domestic politics, writes Steven Erlanger at the New York Times.
The massive contradiction at the heart of Donald Trump’s foreign policy is that, on the one hand, he wants America to remain the “essential” nation, the ultimate embodiment of Western ideals, while on the other he works to deliberately alienate many of the U.S.’ traditional allies whose support the U.S. relies on, writes Robert J. Samuelson at the Washington Post.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein visited Guantánamo Bay detention center Friday for an update on current operations, the first concrete sign that the Trump administration means to follow through on its campaign promise to fill up the prison with “bad dudes,” writes Rebecca Kheel at the Hill.
President Trump’s pick to head the F.B.I. Christopher Wray will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday morning, the Hill’s Morgan Chalfant reports.
Kuwait Airways and Royal Jordanian were exempted from President Trump’s ban on laptops in the cabins of U.S.-bound flights over the weekend, both countries saying they had worked with U.S. officials to tighten security checks from flights from Kuwait and Jordan, the BBC reports.
The process of pulling its military hardware from Turkey’s Incirlik airbase was begun by Germany yesterday, a further pressure on the already tense relationship between the two nations following a disagreement over whether German politicians could visit troops stationed at the air base, Matthias Gebauer reports at Der Spiegel.
Ukraine will not seek N.A.T.O. membership for now and will instead focus on building a “genuine program of reforms” to meet N.A.T.O. requirements for future membership, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said today following a meeting with N.A.T.O. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, the AP reports.