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The Early Edition: July 19, 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.

SECRET TRUMP-PUTIN MEETING

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met for a second time on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg earlier this month, a meeting that was previously undisclosed and which took place on the same day that the two leaders met for two hours, Rebecca Ballhaus reporting at the Wall Street Journal that the White House only disclosed the subsequent meeting after it was reported by the president of political risk advisory group Eurasia Group Ian Bremmer who discussed it in the company’s newsletter and discussed it in a television interview yesterday.

President Trump left his seat at a dinner with world leaders on July 7 to engage in an hour-long conversation with Putin with the aid of a single translator, a White House official insisting yesterday that there was nothing unusual about the meeting, while Trump himself focused on news reports of the meeting he said were “Fake News” and “sick” via Twitter last night, Julie Hirschfeld Davis reports at the New York Times.

“There was no “second meeting” between President Trump and President Putin, just a brief conversation,” The White House statement said yesterday, adding that the insinuation that it has tried to hide a second meeting is “false, malicious and absurd,” Karen De Young and Philip Rucker report at the Washington Post.

The meeting was “very animated and very friendly,” with Putin’s translator translating, Bremmer revealed during his interview yesterday, David Smith at the Guardian pointing out that the absence of Trump’s own translator during the conversation may be a breach of national security protocol, an oversight the White House said was down to the fact that the translator the president took with him to the dinner spoke Japanese, not Russian.

TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnikskaya is prepared to testify to Congress to dispel what she calls the “mass hysteria” in response to reports of her meeting with Donald Trump Jr. last June, she said today, Reuters reports.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has been cleared to publicly interview Donald Trump Jr. and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort over their recently-disclosed meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya last June by special counsel Robert Mueller, the panel’s top Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) confirmed yesterday, though it comes down to whether the two men will accept the invitation, the Hill’s Katie Bo Williams reports.

The eighth person present at the Donald Trump Jr.-Natalia Veselnitskaya meeting last June was Ike Kaveladze, a senior vice president at the company founded by Azerbaijani-Russian businessperson Aras Agalarov who initiated the meeting, Pamela Brown reports at CNN.

Kaveladze started at Crocus – Aras Agalrov’s Russian-based development company – as its U.S. associate, moving to the former Soviet republic of Georgia in 1991 where Federal investigators say he immediately began laundering money for Russians. Kelly Weill and Katie Zavadski examine Kaveladze’s known history at The Daily Beast.

An interview with Kaveladze was requested by the office of special counsel Robert Mueller last weekend as part of Mueller’s probe into possible Trump-Russia collusion, Kaveladze’s presence at the meeting last year adding to concerns about Trump campaign officials’ apparent failure to vet participants’ backgrounds. Sharon LaFraniere and Adam Goldman discuss the meeting at the New York Times.

IRAN

Additional sanctions against Iran were announced by the Trump administration shortly after it certified Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal yesterday targeting Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) and its ballistic missile program as part of the administration’s objective of clamping down on Iran’s “malign activity,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin explained. Felicia Schwartz reporting at the Wall Street Journal.

“These sanctions target procurement of advanced military hardware, such as fast attack boats and unmanned aerial vehicles,” Mnuchin said yesterday, Demetri Sevastopulo reporting at the FT.

“[We] will stand up to the United States” for any new sanctions against Iran, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said today, adding that the Iranian parliament would also act, the AP reports.

Iran’s parliament responded to the U.S. sanctions by approving extra funding for its missile program and its military foreign operations wing, the Quds force, Al Jazeera reports.  

“It is not clear what the administration is trying to do,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said yesterday, hours after the U.S. Treasury Secretary announced the additional sanctions, Zarif adding that Iran has no intention of renegotiating the nuclear deal. David E. Sanger and Rick Gladstone report at the New York Times.

The Trump administration’s additional sanctions were an attempt to “poison the international atmosphere,” Zarif also said yesterday, calling the new sanctions illegal, the AP reports.

The U.S. and Iran are on a collision course, Trump’s seeming desire to see the nuclear deal unravel, and his administration’s rhetoric, antagonizing the regime in Tehran and exposing differences with European allies, Ishaan Tharoor writes at the Washington Post.

The arrest of Chinese-American student Xiyue Wang for “spying” reveals broader issues within Iran’s internal politics involving a power struggle between the branches of the state controlled by President Hassan Rouhani and those controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the U.S. must convince the Iranian regime that “hostage-taking carries an unbearable price,” Reuel Marc Gerecht writes at the New York Times.

The detention of Chinese-American student Xiyue Wang and the arrest of the Iranian President’s brother were seemingly timed to embarrass Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for criticizing the hard-line judiciary and the security forces, Eric Cunningham writes at the Washington Post.

SYRIA

The locations of 10 U.S. military bases and outposts in northern Syria were leaked by Turkey’s state Anadolu news agency, which disclosed the number of U.S. troops in several locations, Roy Gutman at The Daily Beast suggesting that the leaks demonstrate Turkey’s anger towards the U.S. policy of supporting Kurdish militia to combat Islamic State militants.

More than a dozen Syrian rebels were killed yesterday in hit-and-run attacks in Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syria near the border with Turkey, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Al Jazeera reports.

Fighting has broken out between rival Islamist groups in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province today, according to U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Reuters reporting.

Unclassified portions of Trump’s strategy to defeat the Islamic State reveal few changes from Obama’s approach with a continued emphasis on working with local allies, while the Trump strategy is also primarily concerned with militants in Syria, neglecting the broader conditions in Syria, and excluding combating other Islamic State affiliates in North Africa and the Middle East. Spencer Ackerman writes at The Daily Beast.

Bilateral ceasefire agreements in Syria between U.S. and Russia have sidelined Iran and have the potential to backfire as they do not guarantee Iran’s compliance and throw doubt on the effectiveness of the Astana peace talks. Alexey Khlebnikov writes at Al Jazeera.

GULF-ARAB DISPUTE

Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain have revised their list of 13 demands for Qatar before diplomatic ties can be restored, releasing six generalized principles that dropped requests to shut down the Doha-based Al Jazeera network and to expel individuals, instead focusing on broader calls on Qatar to refrain from regional interference and to increase efforts to tackle terrorism, Farnaz Fassihi reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“[Of] course we can compromise — but no compromise on the six principles,” Saudi Arabia’s U.N. ambassador Abdullah bin Yahya Almouallimi said yesterday, commenting that the aim of the four Arab nations “is to reach a diplomatic solution.” Rick Gladstone reports at the New York Times.

Monitoring and implementation of the six principles must be “essential components” and talk about the “tactics” and “tools” for implementation are open to discussion, Almouallimi said yesterday, the U.A.E.’s Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem Al Hashimy adding that the U.S. has a “very constructive and very important role to play” in the resolution of the crisis. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

Qatar was the target of another fake news story a week after the May hack and was part of a campaign to undermine Qatar’s reputation, U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News, Robert Windrem and William M. Arkin reporting.

Qatar has contracted a specialized legal team to consider compensation claims against four Arab nations for losses incurred due to the blockade, Al Jazeera reports.

IRAQ

Human rights violations committed by Iraqi forces were “individual acts” for which the perpetrators would be punished, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said yesterday, responding to video footage of Iraqi soldiers carrying out extrajudicial killings and abusing suspected Islamic State militants. Sinan Salaheddin reports at the AP.

Members of Iraqi forces have openly admitted to extrajudicial killings of Islamic State militants in Mosul out of a desire for vengeance, arguing that the ordinary rules of law should not apply due to the particularly brutal nature of fighting in the city, causing concerns among rights groups that such actions would only perpetuate violence and be used as a recruitment tactic by extremists. Susannah George reports at the AP.

Hundreds of suspected Islamic State militants are being detained in a prison outside the city of Mosul in cramped conditions, an Iraqi officer stating that infection is rife among the prisoners, Bram Jannsen and Salar Salim report at the AP.

Representatives of Iraqi Kurdistan’s Regional Government have lobbied the U.S. government to support their independence bid and have attempted to encourage the U.S. to be a broker in a separation with Baghdad. Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian writes at Foreign Policy.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 25 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on July 17. Separately, partner forces conducted four strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

RUSSIA

Russia’s Foreign Ministry again reserved the right to retaliate against the U.S. if it fails to return two diplomatic compounds seized from Russia by the former administration yesterday after a second round of talks failed to resolve the issue, Andrew E. Kramer reports at the New York Times.

Doubts that Russia sanctions legislation will be done before lawmakers leave Washington for August were expressed by the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Eliot Engel (N.Y) yesterday, the Hill’s Cristina Marcos reports.

Is Russia a resurgent superpower? Mansur Mirovalev examines the evidence at Al Jazeera.

SAUDI ARABIA

A Saudi-led coalition airstrike on a village in southern Yemen killed at least 20 civilians yesterday, Yemeni government and Houthi officials said today, the U.N. confirming that the victims were internally displaced people. Reuters reports.

New crown prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman plotted the ouster of his predecessor Mohammed bin Nayef, emerging details suggest, and the transition – billed as seamless by his supporters – was rockier than suggested, according to former U.S. officials and associates of the House of Saud, Ben Hubbard, Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt report at the New York Times.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

President Tump’s call to Venezuela to halt plans to rewrite its constitution to consolidate the power of its government was rejected by Venezuela yesterday, which said it was reviewing its relations with the U.S. in response to the threat of sanctions, Michael Weissenstein and Fabiola Sanchez report at the AP.

Trump will visit the Pentagon to receive a briefing from his national security team tomorrow, White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed yesterday, adding that the meeting will touch on the fight against the Islamic State among other topics. Jordan Fabian reports at the Hill.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman will be nominated as the U.S. ambassador to Russia, the White House said yesterday, after months of delay in formalizing the appointment, Abby Phillip and Lisa Rein report at the Washington Post.

President Trump’s pick for deputy Defense secretary former Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan was easily confirmed by the Senate yesterday, Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

President Trump’s nominees for Defense Department deputy chief management officer, John Gibson, undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, Ellen Lord, Air Force undersecretary Matthew Donavan and assistant secretary for energy, installations, and environment Lucian Niemeyer, all appeared to receive the backing of the Senate Armed Services committee during their confirmation hearings yesterday, the Hill’s Ellen Mitchell reports.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Defending Digital Democracy (D.D.D.). A new bipartisan project to develop strategies and find “concrete solutions” to address the threat of a foreign entity hacking election infrastructure of political organizations is being spearheaded by Robby Mook and Matt Rhoades, top officials from the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney, respectively, Harvard Kennedy School announced yesterday.

Nation-state hackers likely targeted and probably compromised the U.K. energy sector, a memo from Britain’s National Cybersecurity Centre – a subsidiary of G.C.H.Q. – confirms, Alex Hern reports at the Guardian.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

North Korea has developed missiles capable of reaching the U.S, its most recent test demonstrates, though it has yet to achieve the guidance technology needed to ensure any attempted strike would be accurate, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Paul Selva said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday, Courtney Kube and Adam Edelman reporting at NBC News.

Lawmakers were warned against equipping the U.S. military with autonomous weapons systems that humans could lose control of by Gen. Selva yesterday, arguing that it was unreasonable to “put robots in charge of whether or not we take a human life,” John Bowden reports at the Hill.

Hundreds in southern Jordan protested the conviction of a local solder for the deaths of three U.S. military trainers yesterday, saying that he had been scapegoated and that the deaths had occurred during a clash between U.S. troops and the Syrian rebels they were training, the AP reports.

The new country Ukrainian separatists claimed to have founded yesterday is called “Malorossiya,” meaning “Little Russia,” and is intended to replace Ukraine, the leader of the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic Alexander Zakharchenko declaring that they were offering Ukrainian citizens “a peaceful way out of a difficult situation, without the war” as a “last offer” that appears to undermine the Minsk peace agreement between Russian-backed rebels and the Kiev government, Adam Taylor explains at the Washington Post.

Islamic State-linked militants in the Philippine city of Marawi asked the leader of the country’s largest Muslim rebel group Al Haj Murad Ebrahim to broker their possible withdrawal from the city during the recent military offensive against them but he refused to intervene, telling the AP’s Jim Gomez that it would have been hard for him to do so because President Duterte had declared that his government would not negotiate with terrorists.

Improved relations particularly in relation to security and technology between Israel and the E.U. were called for by the leaders of Israel and Hungary today, supported by the prime ministers of Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia, all of whom were present at a news conference in Budapest today, Reuters reports.

The Taliban-linked Haqqani Network is center stage in the now-16-year Afghan war and its elusive whereabouts the main basis for calls for the Trump administration to punish long-time ally Pakistan, yet by rights the Haqqanis should be barely standing after years of being a high-priority target for U.S. and Afghan forces that has left most of leader Jalaluddin Haqqani’s – himself believed dead – sons and senior commanders either dead or imprisoned. Haq Nawaz Khan and Pamela Constable write at the Washington Post.

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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