The Early Edition: July 26, 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 House Intelligence Committee dropped its subpoena of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort to appear before it to testify about a meeting he attended last year with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, a source familiar with the situation told Josh Dawsey, Madeline Conway and Kyle Cheney at POLITICO.

Manafort was briefly subpoenaed yesterday to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning, Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

Manafort discussed a June 2016 meeting between Trump’s inner circle and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya with Senate Intelligence Committee investigators yesterday, according to his spokesperson, in a meeting in which he “answered their questions fully” and passed investigators notes he had taken during the 2016 meeting, Eileen Sullivan and Adam Goldman report at the New York Times.

“We’ll see what happens.” President Trump continued to attack Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigations yesterday, giving an ominous response when asked if he would fire Sessions and repeating an earlier assertion that he would have “picked somebody else” for the job if he’d known that “he was going to recuse himself.” Devlin Barrett, Philip Rucker and Sari Horwitz report at the Washington Post.

“I am very disappointed in Jeff Sessions,” Trump reiterated in an interview with the Wall Street Journal yesterday, without confirming whether he would fire the attorney general. Michael C. Bender reports.

“We’ll come to a resolution soon” on whether to fire Sessions, new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci said yesterday, adding that “if there’s this level of tension” between President Trump and Sessions “that’s public,” it’s “probably right” to assume that Trump wants Sessions gone, the BBC reports.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner was interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee for around three hours yesterday, Morgan Chalfant reports a the Hill.

Kushner’s answers were “forthcoming and complete” and he “satisfied all my questions,” the leader of the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Trump-Russia collusion Rep. Mike Conway (R-Texas) said yesterday after Kushner’s interview, Kyle Cheney reporting at POLITICO.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz is expected to make his first public statements about the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General’s little-noticed investigation looking into several key issues in the Russia saga stretching back to before President Trump’s inauguration when he appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

President Trump is harming himself, alienating allies and crossing “dangerous” legal and political lines by continuing to demean Attorney General Jeff Sessions, writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

President Trump has placed the White House in a “virtual state of war” with the Justice Department amid a high-stakes investigation into possible Trump-Russia collusion over his denigration of Sessions, write Peter Baker, Jeremy W. Peters and Rebecca R. Ruiz at the New York Times.

The argument for retaining Sessions rests on the perception that firing him would give President Trump a free hand to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, but this is wrong and short-sighted: Trump probably has other avenues to get rid of Mueller, he could pardon those under investigation and undercut Mueller’s investigation in that way, and viewing Sessions himself solely through the lens of the Russia investigation “is an insult to the countless Americans who will suffer under Sessions’ extremist reign as attorney general.” Trevor Timm writes at the Guardian.

RUSSIA

A wide-ranging package of sanctions against Russia was approved by the House yesterday in a 419-3 vote that brings President Trump a step closer to a choice he has tried to avoid: whether to sign legislation that undermines his efforts to cool tensions with Moscow, or veto it amid the ongoing investigations into his alleged collusion with Russia during his presidential campaign, writes Matt Felegenheimer at the New York Times.

Trump is waiting for the final legislative package to arrive on his desk which he will “study” to “make sure we get the best deal for the American people possible,” White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on his behalf yesterday, Mike DeBonis and Karoun Demirjian reports at the Washington Post.

Taking away President Trump’s ability to remove sanctions against Russia could backfire, some European leaders are warning, Michael Birnbaum reporting at the Washington Post.

The new sanctions package harmed the chances of improved U.S.-Russia ties, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said today, the AP reports.

A “painful” response to the U.S. sanctions package was called for by the head of the foreign relations committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament Konstantin Kosachyov today, Reuters reports.

It is unclear when the Senate will now vote on the measure, with Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker suggesting Monday that he may want to make some small changes to the bill, report Deidre Walsh and Jeremy Herb at CNN.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

A nuclear strike on “the heart of the U.S.” if it tries to remove leader Kim Jong-un was threatened by North Korea yesterday via its state-run Korean Central News Agency, CNN’s Zachary Cohen and Barbara Starr report.

North Korea will be able to produce a missile capable of reaching the continental U.S. in one year, American intelligence agencies have said, shortening their previous estimate of roughly four years, David E. Sanger reports at the New York Times.

The chairman of the Armed Services Committee Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) is “increasingly alarmed” by North Korea’s weapons programs, he said yesterday following a classified briefing on the pace of Kim Jong-un’s regime’s missile development, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

New sanctions against Chinese entities for violating U.N. sanctions against North Korea will soon be issued by the U.S., the acting assistant secretary of the State Department’s Asian Bureau Susan Thornton said yesterday, Ian Talley reporting at the Wall Street Journal.

Progress on a new U.N. resolution imposing additional sanctions on North Korea in response to its recent test of an intercontinental ballistic missile is being made, the U.S. and China said yesterday, Edith M. Lederer reporting at the AP.

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Hui Choi met with his Philippine counterpart in Manila today ahead of an A.S.E.A.N. security meeting there on Aug. 7, where he is expected to face pressure to halt Pyongyang’s missile tests, Reuters reports.

ISRAEL & PALESTINE

Palestinian worshipers protested outside al-Aqsa mosque yesterday even after Israel removed metal detectors and tensions remain in East Jerusalem as the Islamic Waqf – the administrators of the site – stated that the boycott would continue until Israel restored the status quo before July 14 when the crisis began, which was triggered by the killing of two Israeli policeman by Arab Israelis who had emerged from the mosque. Isabel Kershner reports at the New York Times.

“We will not enter the mosque until these things are implemented,” the head of the Supreme Islamic Committee Ikrema Sabri said yesterday, stating that mass prayer protests would continue outside al-Aqsa mosque until all security measures introduced by Israeli authorities were removed, making the comments following Israel’s decision to remove metal detectors around the site and install surveillance measures instead. Aron Heller and Mohammed Daraghmeh report at the AP.

The violence and rising tensions in Jerusalem “risk turning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a religious one and dragging both sides into the vortex of violence with the rest of the region,” the U.N. envoy on Middle East peace Nickolay Mladenov told the U.N. Security Council yesterday, urging all sides to return to “an environment that is conducive to negotiations.” The UN News Centre reports.

Israel has engaged in “aggressive behavior and provocative violation” of the historic agreements at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the Palestinian envoy to the U.N. Riyad Mansour said yesterday, calling on U.N. Security Council members to help protect Palestinian access to the contested holy site. Al Jazeera reports.

A Palestinian man entered a Jewish settlement and stabbed three Israelis to death Friday, posting on social media hours before that he would die a martyr and that his knife would answer “the call of al-Aqsa,” the ensuing attack taking place amid heightened tensions and violence in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and in Jordan’s capital of Amman. William Booth explains the situation at Washington Post.

Hamas should not have been removed from the E.U. terror list, the European Court of Justice ruled yesterday, stating that a lower court’s decision to de-list the militant Islamic group was wrong, Mike Corder reports at the AP.

What problems are posed by installing surveillance cameras at al-Aqsa? Zena Tahhan provides an analysis at Al Jazeera.

SYRIA

U.S.-led coalition airstrikes killed at least 18 civilians in the Syrian city of Raqqa and wounded 50 yesterday, according to activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, Al Jazeera reporting.

“I am not somebody that will stand by and let him [Assad] get away with what he tried to do,” President Trump said yesterday at a White House press conference with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, also commenting on Lebanese Shi’ite militia group Hezbollah and labelling them “a menace to the Lebanese state, the Lebanese people and the entire region,” Al Jazeera reports.

The U.S. has an important role to play in stabilizing Raqqa after the Islamic State has been militarily defeated, a senior Kurdish official, Ilham Ahmed, said yesterday, calling on the U.S. to provide financial and political support to build democratic structures in Syria. Sarah El Deeb reports at the AP.

Lebanon has been trying to attract Chinese investment to help its efforts to act as a hub for post-war Syria, but barriers remain to Chinese investment, including the continuing war, the lack of a political settlement in Syria, and the complex internal politics of Lebanon. Erika Solomon and Nazih Osseiran report at the Financial Times.

Trump and Russia are “colluding” on Syria, the U.S. military relying on Moscow to avoid being dragged into Syria’s civil war and Trump’s muddled strategy meaning that Russia’s vision for Syria’s future would likely to come to fruition, emboldening the Syrian president, Hezbollah and Iran. Ishaan Tharoor writes at the Washington Post.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 25 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on July 24. Separately, partner forces conducted two strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

GULF-ARAB DISPUTE 

Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain added nine individuals and nine organizations allegedly linked to Qatar to their terror lists, making the move amid the Gulf crisis where four Arab nations diplomatically isolated Qatar for its alleged support and financing of terrorism, Margherita Stancati reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“It comes as a disappointing surprise that the blockading countries are still pursuing this story as part of their smear campaign against Qatar,” Qatar’s communications director Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed Al Thani said today in response to the four Arab nations’ decision, Al Jazeera reports in rolling coverage.

“We cannot compromise with any form of terrorism, we cannot compromise or enter into any form of negotiations,” Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told a news conference yesterday, following discussions with the E.U. Foreign Affairs Chief Federica Mogherini. Al Jazeera reports.

AFGHANISTAN

Taliban fighters killed 30 Afghan soldiers in an attack on an army base in Kandahar province today, the attack coming after days of intensified fighting across the country and a series of attacks on civilians in the capital of Kabul, Reuters reports.

The Afghan President Ashraf Ghani discusses the difficulties of governing in Afghanistan in an interview with Jessica Donati and Habib Khan Totakhil at the Wall Street Journal yesterday.

Afghanistan’s vast mineral deposits could provide a pretext for continued U.S. presence in the country, with the Trump administration considering sending an envoy to meet with mining officials and President Ghani realizing that President Trump would be intrigued by the possibilities for profitable extraction by Western companies, Mark Landler and James Risen write at the New York Times.

What would happen if the U.S. completely disengaged from Afghanistan? Max Bearak asks a variety of experts and interested parties this question at the Washington Post bearing in mind that the U.S.’ longest war shows no sign of ending any time soon.

IRAN

The U.S. Navy fired warning shots at an Iranian vessel in the Persian Gulf yesterday, a U.S. defense official calling the actions of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) patrol boat “unsafe and unprofessional,” Dion Nissenbaum reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The I.R.G.C. accused the U.S. vessel of being “extremely unprofessional” in its actions, stating that the I.R.G.C. boat was “on routine patrol in the Persian Gulf,”  Courtney Kube, Eoghan MacGuire and Ali Arouzi report at NBC News.

New sanctions against Iran being discussed by the U.S. Congress “will be met with a definitive response,” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said today, commenting following the House of Representatives’ overwhelming vote in favor of new sanctions on Iran, Russia and North Korea yesterday. Reuters reports.

LIBYA

Two rival Libyan leaders agreed to a ceasefire yesterday in a meeting in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron, also agreeing to a 10-point plan that included commitments to working toward parliamentary and presidential elections and using the armed forces “strictly” for counterterrorism purposes, the joint declaration forming the basis for further work by the U.N. Libya Envoy. Elaine Ganley and Nadine Achoui-Lesage report at the AP.

“We commit to a ceasefire and to refrain from any use of armed force for any purpose that does not strictly constitute counterterrorism,” the Prime Minister of  the U.N.-backed unity government Fayez Serraj and Gen. Khalifa Hifter of Libya’s self-styled national army said in a joint declaration yesterday, Al Jazeera reporting.

The meeting was “very positive” with both sides sharing a vision to “prioritize a political agreement,” Prime Minister Serraj told FRANCE 24 in an interview following the meeting.

French President Emmanuel Macron praised the rival Libyan leaders for their “courage,” hailing the agreement as “historic,” the AP reports.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

The Venezuelan government’s accusation that the U.S. is working with Mexico and Colombia to oust its president Nicolás Maduro was repeated by Venezuelan Foreign Minister Samuel Moncada yesterday, reports Spanish news agency EFE.

The C.I.A. is entering a “danger zone” where the White House wants it to take aggressive action overseas without developing a clear strategy or the political support required to sustain it, David Ignatius at the Washington Post providing a road map of the dangers that lie ahead.

President Trump’s China-first approach to the North Korean issue has not borne fruit, writes Jamie Fly at Foreign Policy, arguing that the president must pursue a long-term strategic China policy that looks beyond North Korea.

GUANTANAMO BAY

Ex-Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab tried to travel to Russia in one of four attempts to leave Uruguay where he was resettled following his release, a Uruguayan official confirmed yesterday, Leonardo Haberkorn reports at the AP.

The trial of Ali Charaf Damache on charges of being a recruiter of al-Qaeda in a federal court in Philadelphia will hopefully demonstrate to President Trump that the federal court system is far better equipped to handle such prosecutions than military commissions at Guantánamo Bay will ever be, writes the New York Times editorial board.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The N.S.A. an the F.B.I. improperly searched and disseminated raw intelligence on Americans and failed to properly delete unauthorized intercepts in violation of civil liberty protections during the Obama era, according to newly declassified memos seen by the Hill’s John Solomon.

Rumors that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson planned to leave the agency were denied by spokesperson Heather Nauert yesterday, though she added that Tillerson serves “at the pleasure of the president,” Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.

A criminal investigation into the $28 million purchase of forest camouflage for the Afghan army has been launched, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (S.I.G.A.R.) John Sopko said yesterday, explaining that he opened the investigation after it was discovered that the Pentagon have spent over $93 million in taxpayer dollars on Afghan National Army uniforms in a forest camouflage pattern despite there being very few forests in Afghanistan. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

“Elements” of the Congolese army were accused of digging most of the mass graves identified by the U.N. in the Kasai region of central Democratic Republic of Congo in a report by the U.N. Joint Human Rights Office in Congo, the first time the U.N. has directly suggested that government forces dug the graves discovered after the Kamuina Nsapu group launched an insurrection last August, Al Jazeera reports.

There is support for a plan for the U.K. to take up formal observer status at the E.U.’s bi-weekly foreign policy meetings after Britain exits the bloc, Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian. 

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About the Author(s)

Zoë Chapman

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

Pouneh Ahari

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