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The Early Edition: July 17, 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.

TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

The Secret Service would have put a stop to it if there had been anything nefarious about the meeting between Donald Trump Jr., President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, his then-campaign manager Paul Manafort and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Russian lobbyist and possible former Soviet intelligence agent last year, President Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow said yesterday, a claim a Secret Service spokesperson subsequently cast doubt on by pointing out that Trump Jr. “was not under Secret Service protection in June 2016.”Greg Jaffe reports at the Washington Post.

“Donald Trump, Jr. was not a protectee of the U.S.S.S. in June, 2016. Thus we would not have screened anyone he was meeting with at the time.” Secret Service spokesperson Mason Brayman reiterated that Trump Jr. was not under Secret service protection at the time of his meeting in a statement issued yesterday following Sekulow’s assertions, Reuters’ Arshad Mohammed and Howard Schneider report.

“Nothing in that meeting” was “illegal or a violation of the law,” Sekulow said in a separate interview on “Fox News Sunday,” one of five interviews on major Sunday news shows in which he made a “full-court defense” of his client President Trump, whom he said was unaware of the meeting, writes Rebecca Savransky at the Hill.

Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Veselnitskaya “clearly brings the [Trump-Russia] investigation to a new level and makes our effort all the more important,” the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee Sen. Mark Warner said yesterday, NBC News’ Kailani Koenig reports.

“Donald Junior made a mistake,” former Trump adviser Michael Caputo said in an interview yesterday, adding that while the meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya “should have raised a red flag” for an experienced campaign operative, for a “family member, for a first-time candidate for president of the United States in a whirlwind like we were in” it was unsurprising and understandable. The Hill’s Cyra Master reports.

The ultimately-executive decision whether White House senior adviser Jared Kushner loses his security clearance over his actions including failing to disclose meetings with senior Russian officials could ultimately rest with President Trump, his father-in-law, explain Austin Wright and Josh Dawsey at POLITICO.

Was Russian developer Aras Agalarov, named in emails arranging a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer who claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton, a Kremlin conduit to President Trump? Neil MacFarquhar considers this question at the New York Times.

RUSSIA

The hope that the U.S. would find the “political wisdom” to return two Russian diplomatic compounds that were seized under the Obama administration based on Russia’s alleged involvement in the hacking of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election was expressed by the Kremlin today, Reuters reports.

Unless the Russia sanctions bill currently awaiting a vote in the House undergoes serious revision it would compromise European energy security and damage U.S.-European relations, with Russia as the ultimate beneficiary. The former German ambassador to the U.S. Wolfgang Ischinger explains why Europeans oppose the U.S. Russia sanctions bill at the Wall Street Journal.

IRAN

American Princeton University researcher Xiyue Wang was sentenced to 10 years prison on charges of spying for the U.S. by an Iranian court, an Iranian judiciary official confirmed yesterday, Rick Gladstone reporting at the New York Times.

The immediate release of American citizens detained in Iran on “fabricated” national security charges was called for by the U.S. Department of State yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.

President Trump’s “arbitrary and conflicting policies” as well as those of his “arrogant, aggressive and occupying allies” were to blame for global instability, Iran said over the weekend, after Trump called Iran a “rogue regime” during his press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron last week, Reuters reports.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

South Korea has requested talks with North Korea in an effort to ease tensions along their shared border and resume the reunification of families separated since the Korean War in the 1950s, South Korea’s vice defense minister Suh Choo-suk said today, Al Jazeera reporting.

If Pyongyang agrees to the military talks they will be held Friday in the truce village of Panmunjom in the supposedly demilitarized zone between the North and the South, with experts anticipating that Kim Jong-un will likely agree to the military talks but reject returning to the Red Cross talks aimed at reunifying families, writes Bryan Harris at the Financial Times.

Myanmar has no military ties with North Korea, a Myanmar official said today as U.S. diplomat Ambassador Joseph Yun who is responsible for North Korea arrived in Myanmar for talks during which he is likely to seek assurances that it will comply with U.S. efforts to isolate the Pyongyang regime, Simon Lewis reports at Reuters.

Yun’s trip to Myanmar is symbolic of a key Trump administration tactic, cutting of North Korean revenue no matter how “small or obscure” the source, suggests Joshua Berlinger at CNN.

SYRIA

Two shells were fired at the Russian embassy in the Syrian capital of Damascus yesterday, according to Syrian state news agency S.A.N.A., the attack coming amid a Syrian government forces offensive against rebel-held areas in Damascus, the AP reports.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed opposition to the U.S.-Russia brokered ceasefire in southern Syria during a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday, stating that the ceasefire perpetuates Iran’s presence in Syria and poses a threat to Israel’s security. Barak Ravid reports at Haaretz.

The E.U. is set to impose sanctions against 16 Syrian scientists and military officers responsible for chemical weapons attacks against civilians, adding to the broad range of E.U. sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime instituted since the conflict began, Lauren Norman reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“Baghdadi is definitely alive. … We believe 99 percent he is alive,” a top Kurdish counterterrorism official Lahur Talabany said today, warning that Islamic State leader al-Baghdadi “knows what he is doing,” Reuters reports.

The seventh round of U.N. Syria peace talks produced “no breakthrough, no breakdown,” U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said Friday, stating that representatives of Assad’s government refused to discuss political transition, Al Jazeera reports.

IRAQ

The lack of long-term plans for reconstruction in Iraq and Syria will lead the Trump administration to repeat mistakes of previous administrations, neglecting humanitarian needs perpetuates the conditions for extremism to thrive, Josh Rogin writes at the Washington Post.

Iran’s success in making Iraq a client state – entrenching its influence in Iraq’s military, politics and economy, playing on sectarian divides, and using Iraq as a springboard for expansionism in the region – represents a failure in U.S. foreign policy, Tim Arango writes at the New York Times.

The international community should not underestimate the Islamic State’s ability to exploit vacuums of power and, although militants have faced setbacks in Mosul and Raqqa, the U.S. and its allies should draw a clear political roadmap for Iraq and Syria to help neutralize the Islamic State’s ability to exploit local grievances. Hassan Hassan writes at the Guardian.

The fight against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq is far from over and tough battles are yet to be fought despite the defeat of militants in the Iraqi city of Mosul and the impending defeat of militants in the Syrian city of Raqqa. Liz Sly outlines six of those battles at the Washington Post.

The Trump administration’s relaxation of protections for civilians in Iraq and Syria, as well as the brutality of the final stages of the battles in Mosul and Raqqa, is demonstrated by research which shows that approximately 12 civilians have been killed every day in Iraq and Syria since President Trump’s inauguration, Samuel Oakford writes at The Daily Beast.

GULF-ARAB DISPUTE

The U.A.E. orchestrated the hacking of Qatari government news and social media sites on May 23, attributing false quotes to Qatar’s emir which were then cited by Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain as a reason for banning all Qatari media and diplomatically isolating Qatar, according to U.S. intelligence officials. Karen De Young and Ellen Nakashima report at the Washington Post.

The allegation that U.A.E. was involved in hacking is “false,” the U.A.E. Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef al-Otaiba said in a statement yesterday, adding that “[what] is true is Qatar’s behavior. Funding, supporting, and enabling extremists,” Al Jazeera reports.

“You cannot be both our friend and the friend of al-Qaeda,” U.A.E. Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash will warn Qatar today, Patrick Wintour at the Guardian citing it as the strongest indication yet that Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain plan to expel Qatar from the Gulf Cooperation Council (G.C.C.).

“We need a regional solution and international monitoring” to address the ongoing Gulf-Arab dispute, Gargash will also say today in prepared remarks, adding that the pressure from the four Arab nations is “working,” with the memorandum of understanding between U.S. and Qatar signed last week on financing terrorism providing evidence of this, Al Jazeera reports in rolling coverage.

Qatar’s policy of welcoming unwanted individuals has angered its Gulf neighbors and its image as a place of refuge for dissidents, extremists, members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Taliban officials and others underlies the current Gulf-Arab dispute. Declan Walsh explains at the New York Times.

AFGHANISTAN

The death of Islamic State’s leader in Afghanistan was announced by the Pentagon Friday, confirming that U.S. forces killed Abu Sayed in an airstrike on the group’s eastern headquarters in a statement, Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

At least 1,662 Afghan civilians have been killed in the first half of this year and 3,581 wounded, according to a statement released by U.N. investigators today, the head of the U.N. Assistance Mission to Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto stating that the figures represent the “human cost of this ugly war,” Josh Smith reporting at Reuters.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to award a reported C$10.5m to former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr undermines Canadian values and limits the legal options of the family of Sgt. First Class Christopher Speer who was killed by a grenade thrown by Khadr, Conservative Member of the Canadian Parliament and official opposition critic for foreign affairs Peter Kent writes at the Wall Street Journal.

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

The resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks was called for by French President Emmanuel Macron following talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Paris yesterday, adding that France was prepared to apply diplomatic levers toward renewed negotiations without being specific, Al Jazeera reports.

Controversial new security measures including check points were introduced at Jerusalem’s sacred al-Aqsa Mosque compound yesterday two days after three Palestinians with Israeli citizenship killed two police officers in an attack there before being shot dead themselves, Ruth Eglash reports at the Washington Post.

PAKISTAN

A major offensive against the Islamic State has been launched in the north-western region of Pakistan along its border with Afghanistan, Pakistan’s military said, adding that militants had gained ground inside Afghanistan and had to be prevented from spreading their influence. The BBC reports.

India targeted a Pakistani military vehicle and killed four Pakistani soldiers in unprovoked cross-border fire in the Kashmir region yesterday, according to Pakistani military officials. Al Jazeera reports.

A new approach toward Pakistan that could involve an end to U.S. assistance and increased security cooperation with India will be discussed by President Trump when he meets with his national security team this week, when they will also discuss the U.S. strategy for Afghanistan, CNN’s Barbara Starr reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A provision forcing Congress to vote on a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (A.U.M.F.) may be stripped out of the House Appropriations defense spending bill which hit a roadblock this week, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who introduced the provision, offering an amendment to revoke a 2001 A.U.M.F. in eight months, Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

A Turkish military vehicle was blown up as it passed through the Yuksekova district of Turkey’s Hakkari province which borders Iran and Iraq today, wounding 17 soldiers, in an attack the Turkish military attributed to the Kurdistan Workers Party (P.K.K.), Reuters reports.

Indonesia renamed waters in its exclusive economic zone that overlap with China’s claims in the South China Sea as the North Natuna Sea in an assertion of sovereignty announced Friday that has angered Beijing, the AP’s Christopher Bodeen reports.

The U.N. banned nuclear weapons this month, the world’s nine nuclear powers boycotting the vote, the U.S., Britain and France jointly denouncing the treaty in a statement asserting that it “clearly disregards the realities of the international security environment” that “continue to make nuclear deterrence necessary,” while North Korea has not declared where it stands, but Iran has signed up. The Wall Street Journal editorial board expresses its reservations in a brief overview.

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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