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.
“I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else on the campaign who did so.” White House senior adviser Jared Kushner spoke to reporters outside the White House following his closed-door interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday, with his private meeting with the House Intelligence Committee due to take place today. Rebecca Ballhaus reports at the Wall Street Journal.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes is expected to attend today’s interview with Kushner, despite stepping aside from the House’s Russia probe in April after the House Ethics Committee launched an enquiry into his handling of classified information, according a G.O.P. source who spoke to Kyle Cheney at POLITICO.
The Kremlin did not order a meeting between Kushner and the chairman of Russian bank Vneshekonombank head Sergei Gorkov, then a Russian ambassador, included in Kushner’s statement to Congress yesterday, a spokesperson for Russian President Putin said today. The AP reports.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions “has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes,” President Trump tweeted this morning, ramping up his criticism of Sessions, also attacking the acting head of the F.B.I. Andrew McCabe in relation to his attitude toward former campaign rival Clinton in another tweet, Kyle Balluck reports at the Hill.
Why aren’t “beleaguered A.G.” Jeff Sessions, the Committees and investigators “looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?” President Trump inquired via Twitter as his son-in-law prepared to speak to the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday, this and other complaints by the president about Sessions raising suspicions that he is considering appointing a new attorney general who will be empowered to end special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation, writes Katie Bo Williams at the Hill.
President Trump and his advisers are mulling the possibility of replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, according to people familiar with the talks, some of whom view replacing Sessions as part of a wider strategy to fire special counsel Robert Mueller and put an end to his investigation into possible Trump-Russia collusion, reveal Sari Horwitz, Matt Zapotosky and Robert Costa at the Washington Post.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump Jr. and now Jared Kushner have all confirmed on-record that they met with Russian officials during the presidential campaign, contradicting the repeated denials of President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders, former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, write Zachary Cohen and Marshall Cohen at CNN.
Jared Kushner’s decision to release a written statement and appear voluntarily before Congress is a “clear strategy to try to navigate a political storm,” but it is not without risk: lying to Congress is a federal crime, even though he was not under oath, and his “frequently unequivocal” public statement leaves him with little room for maneuver if fresh evidence comes to light contradicting what he said, writes Matt Apuzzo and Maggie Haberman at the New York Times.
Kushner set his administration colleagues the example of “comprehensive disclosure” in his speech yesterday, which expressly rebutted some of the more “incendiary” recent media reports, including the recently-disclosed meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, at which Kushner was present and which he said was a waste of time – a statement that can now be proved with a copy of the email he sent to his assistant ten minutes in which asked “can u pls call me on my cell? Need excuse to get out of meeting,” suggests the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
Kushner’s defense is that he isn’t corrupt, he’s just in over his head – he didn’t really know what he was doing and he was too busy. Coming from the man in charge of handling everything from Middle East peace to opioids, this is less than reassuring, write Dana Milbank at the Washington Post.
The “widespread” suspicion that President Trump himself or someone close to him leaked the top-secret signals intelligence revealing that Attorney General Jeff Sessions not only lied about meeting Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential campaign but lied about what they discussed – matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration – reported by the Washington Post last week is perfectly plausible, suggests Max Boot at Foreign Policy.
An inside look at the day Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation and set the stage for the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to take over is revealed by Sessions’ schedule, obtained by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and passed to The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff.
The House is expected to vote overwhelmingly for a bill placing further sanctions on Russia as well as Iran and North Korea today, but the measure’s fate in the Senate is still uncertain after Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said that the deal’s announcement “seemed somewhat premature,” Amanda Becker and Patricia Zengerle report at Reuters.
If Congress passes the sanctions bill it will be a major rebuke to President Trump, placing his policy toward Russia in receivership by preventing him from lifting sanctions without congressional approval, the Washington Post editorial board calling this a drastic but necessary response to the “inexplicable affinity” the president has toward the Kremlin and to the ongoing questions over its role in his presidential campaign.
Washington is considering sending weapons to assist those fighting Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine, the new U.S. special representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker told the BBC.
A possible delivery of U.S. weapons to Ukraine would hinder peace efforts and increase regional tensions, the Kremlin warned today, Reuters reports.
ISRAEL & PALESTINE
Israeli authorities started removing metal detectors at entrances to al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem today following a weekend of violence over the controversial security measures – put in place after two Arab Israeli gunmen emerged from the mosque and launched an attack on Israel policeman on July 14 – which many Palestinians felt was an attempt by Israel to gain control over access to the mosque, William Booth reports at the Washington Post.
The removal of the detectors came after a day of intense discussions between the leaders of Israel and Jordan, with U.S. mediation, the deal between Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah II appearing to have been made last night after the return of embassy staffers to Israel, Isabel Kershner reports at the New York Times.
The White House sought to ease tensions between Israel and Jordan, the White House envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process Jason Greenblatt meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, the visit following an incident at the Israeli embassy in Amman where an Israeli security guard killed two Jordanians when one attacked the guard with a screwdriver. Rory Jones and Suha Ma’ayeh report at the Wall Street Journal.
The Jordanian authorities have sought to question the Israeli security guard who killed two Jordanians at the Israeli embassy in Amman, Al Jazeera reports.
Smart surveillance will replace the metal detectors outside al-Aqsa mosque, a statement from Israel’s Cabinet said today, Ori Lewis reports at Reuters.
Muslims have been asked to stay away from al-Aqsa mosque pending a review of the new Israeli security measures, according to a senior cleric, the AP reports.
Palestinians will continue to protest until “all obstacles” are “removed completely without conditions,” the Palestinian U.N. ambassador Riyad Mansour said yesterday, raising the possibility that Israeli surveillance measures could still cause Palestinian opposition. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.
Palestinians rejected the Israeli authorities’ installation of security cameras to replace the metal detectors at the entrances to al-Aqsa mosque, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah today condemning “all Israeli measures that deprive the Palestinian people of their right to perform acts of worship,” adding that the Palestinian Authority demands “the return to the situation where things stood before July 14.” Ori Lewis reports at Reuters.
“The dangers on the ground will escalate if we go through another cycle of Friday prayer without a resolution to this current crisis,” the U.N. Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov told reporters yesterday after a briefing to the U.N. Security Council. Al Jazeera reports.
“[What] is being done now is using the fight against terrorism as a pretext to take al-Aqsa Mosque from the hands of Muslims,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said today, accusing Israel of attempting to gain control of the holy site, the AP reports in rolling coverage.
Airstrikes near Syria’s Damascus killed at least nine people yesterday, the attack taking place three days after a de-escalation zone was agreed with Syrian opposition activists and marking the first civilian deaths since the ceasefire came into effect, Reuters reports.
The remaining rebels and opposition activists in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province are close to being supressed by the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front – which heads the ultraconservative Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (H.T.S.) militant group and rebranded itself as Fatah al-Sham Front last July – with activists fearing that their gains will provide a pretext for President Bashar al-Assad’s forces to enter the province. Bassem Mroue and Philip Issa report at the AP.
The U.S. strategy of cooperating with Russia in Syria has faced strong criticism from U.S. lawmakers, with some arguing that the U.S. should not concede to Russia and should not trust Russia and Iran to abide by ceasefire agreements, Karen De Young reports at the Washington Post.
Could the desire for peace mean that Syria’s war criminals are not held accountable? Imogen Foulkes provides an analysis at the BBC.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 13 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on July 23. Separately, partner forces conducted three strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
Qatar has been caught in a “baseless conflict” and Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain have “no right to impose such measures against a country,” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told reporters yesterday, adding that the blockade against Qatar for alleged support for terrorism violates international law and norms. Ishaan Tharoor reports at the Washington Post.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan discussed the Gulf Crisis in Qatar yesterday with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on his last leg of shuttle diplomacy, which included visits to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, Al Jazeera reports.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed calls for dialogue from Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani yesterday, also praising Kuwait for its mediation efforts. Al Jazeera reports.
Saudi Arabia carries out “terrorism that is killing people in Yemen,” Human Rights Watch’s Director Kenneth Roth said at a conference in Qatar yesterday, questioning Saudi Arabia’s accusation that Qatar supports terrorism, Al Jazeera reports.
A Saudi lobby has launched a television advertising campaign in the U.S. presenting Qatar as a threat to U.S. interests, according to contracts reviewed by Al Jazeera, Creede Newton reports at Al Jazeera.
Qatar is an important ally for the U.S. and its position as a U.S. military base in the Persian Gulf offers a strategic base from which to support operations against the Islamic State and act as a counterpoint to Iran’s threats in the region. Lt. Gen. John Castellaw and Monte Palmer write at the Hill.
A Taliban suicide bomber killed at least 31 people in Kabul yesterday, the attacker targeting a minibus carrying government workers, adding to the rising number casualties in the capital, Ehsanullah Amiri and Jessica Donati report at the Wall Street Journal.
“We remain committed to working with our Afghan partners to help them create a secure, stable and peaceful Afghanistan,” a statement from N.A.T.O. said yesterday, condemning yesterday’s Taliban suicide bombing in Kabul. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
A video obtained by CNN suggests that Russia has been arming Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, providing grounds for the concerns that Moscow has connections with the Taliban, allegations that Russia has previously labeled as “utterly false,” Nick Paton Walsh reports at CNN.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis strongly criticized Pentagon officials for purchasing $28m forest camouflage uniforms for Afghan soldiers, the uniform’s color scheme proving to be inappropriate for the majority of Afghanistan’s terrain, Helene Cooper reports at the New York Times.
Another troop surge in Afghanistan replicates Obama’s efforts in 2010-2012 and looks similar to past instances of counterinsurgency warfare. Asawin Suebsaeng and Spencer Ackerman point out the flaws in Trump’s Afghanistan strategy at The Daily Beast.
The KOREAN PENINSULA
North Korea appears to be preparing for another missile test, according to a U.S. defense official who said that transporter vehicles carrying ballistic missile launching equipment were spotted arriving in Kusong, North Korea, Friday, usually a sign that a launch could occur within six days, Ryan Browne and Barbara Star report at CNN.
China is fortifying its border with North Korea and realigning forces in surrounding regions according to new reports published on Chinese military and government websites, moves that coincide with repeated warnings from President Trump that he is considering military action against North Korea, reports Jeremy Page at the Wall Street Journal.
Recent developments suggest the Trump administration is fast losing patience with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and, by implication, his friends in Beijing, and that war with North Korea is not only imaginable but also close at hand, writes Gordon G. Chang at The Daily Beast.
The central aim of the U.S. strategy toward North Korea should be to foster conditions that enable the natural, internal process of political change to move faster, while preparing all involved for the challenges that will arise when change comes, rather than focusing on denuclearization, which will not happen as long as Kim Jong-un believes that nuclear capability is essential for his survival – his primary goal, writes former assistant secretary of state for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
A Chinese fighter jet forced a U.S. spy plane to take action to avoid a collision when it appeared suddenly in front of it as it flew over the East China Sea Sunday, an incident the Pentagon raised with the Chinese military, Demetri Sevastopulo reports at the Financial Times.
China denied its fighter jets pilots operated dangerously during the encounter with the U.S. surveillance plane today, a spokesperson stating that their performance had been “legal, necessary and professional,” Christopher Bodeen reports at the AP.
China and Russia conducted a joint naval drill in the Baltic Sea at the start of the countries’ first ever joint exercises today, China and Russia stressing that Joint Sea 2017 is just the first of regular joint maneuvers, Kathrin Hille reports at the Financial Times.
China demanded that India pull back its troops from the contested Doklam plateau and not to “push your luck” amid an ongoing border dispute that began in June when Chinese troops began building a road onto the plateau toward India’s border, with about 300 soldiers from either side currently positioned around 150 meters apart from each other. Al Jazeera reports.
Intense fighting between rebels and Muammar Gaddafi loyalists broke out at Libya’s only active oil refinery in the western city of Az Zawiyah today, part of the rebels’ attempt to cut fuel supplies to the U.N.-backed government of National Accord’s stronghold in capital Tripoli, Al Jazeera reports.
French President Emmanuel Macron will convene face-to-face talks between rival Libyan factions today in an attempt to bring peace and political stability to the country, the meeting the first between the leader of the U.N.-backed government of National Accord Fayez al-Sarraj and head of the so-called Libyan National Army Khalifa Haftar since aborted talks in the U.A.E. in May, Patrick Wintour and Chris Stephen report at the Guardian.
Turkey’s plans to purchase an S-400 missile defense system from Russia has progressed and signatures have been signed, Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdoğan said today, Reuters reporting.
An ongoing dispute between Turkey and Germany is threatening N.A.T.O. operations in the Middle East, risking curtailing surveillance flights over Turkey from an airbase in Konya, central Turkey, if German lawmakers aren’t allowed access to personnel stationed there, visits Germany argues are part of a mandate governing German military deployments abroad, Julian E. Barnes and Emre Peker write at the Wall Street Journal.
Former Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab was deported back from Morocco to Uruguay Saturday where officials were unaware that he had ever left, the next stage in the “strange tale” of the former inmate who resettled in Uruguay, staged a hunger strike to be moved to another country and prompted alarm when he went missing, reports Leonardo Haberkorn at the AP.
Two amendments that would sunset the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (A.U.M.F.) and force a debate and vote were submitted by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) yesterday as she fights back at Republican attempts to put a stop to her push for a speedy new authorization bill, the Hill’s Ellen Mitchell reports.
Footage made public yesterday shows that the killing of three American Special Forces soldiers in Jordan in November happened after a six-minute gun battle in which the Americans repeatedly signaled their surrender, contradicting statements Jordanian officials initially made about the incident, as a result of which Jordanian Sgt. Ma’arik al-Taqwayha was sentenced to life in prison for the killing of the three U.S. soldiers last week, David Philipps and Ben Hubbard report at the New York Times.
A Taliban-claimed suicide attack targeting police personnel in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore killed at least 25 people yesterday, Al Jazeera’s Asad Hashim reports.