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.
RUSSIA, IRAN and NORTH KOREA SANCTIONS PACKAGE
Russia ordered the U.S. to cut diplomatic staff to 455 and barred the use of some properties this morning in retaliation for new U.S. sanctions against Russia, the BBC reports.
The Senate cleared the new sanctions package against Russia, North Korea and Iran yesterday on a 98-2 vote, Natalie Andrews reports at the Wall Street Journal.
It is unclear whether President Trump will sign the legislation, which binds his hands when it comes to changing sanctions policy toward Moscow, while if he vetoed the bill he would have to do so in the knowledge that lawmakers are prepared to override, White House incoming press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying yesterday that the president would “wait and see what that final legislation looks like and make a decision at that point,” but Trump’s communications chief Anthony Scaramucci suggesting that he may veto the sanctions in order to “negotiate an even tougher deal against the Russians.” Karoun Demirjian reports at the Washington Post.
“Illegal” American plans for new sanctions against Russia were denounced by Russian President Putin yesterday, also dismissing investigations into Trump-Russia collusion as political hysteria, and warning that Moscow could not “put up forever with this boorishness,” Andrew Higgins reports at the New York Times.
Finally, good news: Congress performed the civic duty that President Trump has so far avoided yesterday, imposing wide-ranging new sanctions on Russia for its hacking of the 2016 election, a “timely and appropriate” use of a controversial but nonviolent tool for making clear when another country’s behavior has crossed a line and for applying pressure on its leaders to change course, writes the New York Times editorial board.
Russian intelligence “100 percent” monitored the meeting last June involving Donald Trump Jr. and other members of Donald Trump’s inner circle and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who had connections to Russian President Putin and went into the meeting with something to offer, Bill Browder, a businessman behind a Russian sanctions law, told the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday during its hearing on Russian interference in the U.S. election, CNN’s Tom LoBianco and Manu Raju report.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions “made the right decision” in recusing himself from Trump-Russia-related investigations, he said yesterday, adding that President Trump’s repeated public criticisms of him were “kind of hurtful,” CNN’s Miranda Green and Saba Hamedy report.
Sessions intends to remain in post to fight for President Trump’s agenda “as long as he sees that as appropriate,” adding that Trump has “every right” to make a change if he wishes since Sessions serves at Trump’s “pleasure,” the attorney general told the AP’s Sadie Gurman.
A letter urging President Trump to fire senior adviser Jared Kushner over his contacts with Russian officials during the presidential campaign is being circulated by a small group of House Democrats, Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.
President Trump can be indicted, but likely not by special counsel Robert Mueller. Ronald Rotunda, a professor at Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law who was asked by then-independent counsel Kenneth Starr to assess whether a federal grand jury could indict former president Bill Clinton, writes at the Washington Post that his conclusion then that it was possible remains intact, but that the differences between the Clinton situation and the Trump situation mean that where Starr had the authority to indict Clinton, Mueller does not have the same authority in respect to Trump.
How should Congress and Justice Department officials weight their choices as Trump threatens openly and repeatedly to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, presumably to clear the way for firing special counsel Robert Mueller? David Ignatius considers the “unthinkable” at the Washington Post.
Iran successfully launched a missile into space yesterday, two days after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill approving additional sanctions against the country and statements from the Trump administration last week expressing the U.S.’ concerns over “Iran’s malign activities in the Middle East,” Thomas Erdbrink reports at the New York Times.
Trump has instructed his national security aides to find a way to de-certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal, some U.S. aides conceding that it would be difficult to convince the other parties to the nuclear deal to return to the negotiating table, and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee Bob Corker (R.-Tenn) suggesting that the administration take a more nuanced approach. David E. Sanger reports at the New York Times.
Iran poses a threat even if it complies with the nuclear deal, having exploited loopholes in the deal to develop its ballistic missile program, the launch of a missile yesterday demonstrating its “chutzpah,” Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.
ISRAEL & PALESTINE
Worshipers in Iran have staged an anti-Israel protest in Tehran today, demonstrating against the Israeli authorities’ actions at al-Aqsa mosque, the AP reports in rolling coverage.
Israeli authorities removed the remaining security apparatus at al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem yesterday, after the security apparatus – put in place following the killing of two Israeli policemen on July 14 by Arab Israelis who emerged from the mosque – sparked mass protests from Palestinians and violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians. Rory Jones reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Israeli forces fired teargas, stun grenades and sound bombs at Palestinian worshipers returning to al-Aqsa mosque last night, injuring more than 100 in their efforts to disperse the crowds, Al Jazeera reports.
Worshipers were advised to enter the mosque rather than pray outside in protest by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and clerics of the Islamic Waqf authority, Ian Lee and Oren Liebermann report at CNN.
Male worshipers under the age of 50 have been barred by Israeli authorities from entering al-Aqsa mosque in anticipation of more mass protests ahead of Friday prayers, Reuters reports.
Tensions have been raised in Jerusalem as a Palestinian protestor died last night from a wound inflicted by Israeli authorities and extra police forces have been deployed to al-Aqsa this morning, Al Jazeera reports.
Jordan’s attorney general has filed murder charges against an Israeli embassy guard for the deaths of two Jordanians at the Israeli embassy in Amman on July 23, reports saying that the attorney general wishes the guard to be tried in Israel using diplomatic channels, the AP reports.
“The Al Jazeera network continues to incite violence around the Temple Mount,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on social media Wednesday – using the Jewish name for the contested holy site which includes al-Aqsa mosque and is known to Muslims as “Noble Sanctuary” – Al Jazeera stating that they would take “all necessary legal measures” to act against action by Israeli authorities to close their Jerusalem office. Al Jazeera reports.
Why is the Jerusalem holy site so controversial? Lawahez Jabari, Paul Goldman and Saphora Smith explain at NBC News.
The U.S.-led coalition have killed several senior Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq recently, including “propagandists and facilitators,” according to a statement by U.S. Central Command.
The U.N. has been unable to deliver humanitarian aid to many hard-to-reach areas of Syria and, despite the reduction in violence following the creation of “de-escalation” zones, Al Jazeera reports.
Specialist civil defense teams in rebel-held Deraa have shifted their focus to clearing unexploded cluster bombs amid the relative calm in southwest Syria since a ceasefire was reached earlier this month, having been trained in Jordan to learn to de-mine areas, Sarah Dadouch reports at Reuters.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 18 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on July 24. Separately, partner forces conducted four strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
The U.N. is the “right platform to start from,” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said yesterday, reiterating that Qatar is ready and willing to engage in dialogue and that Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain “need to retreat from all their illegal actions,” Al Jazeera reports.
“Outsourcing” Qatar’s foreign policy “will never be acceptable,” Qatar’s Government spokesman Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed Al-Thani said today, stating that the Saudi-led embargo is an attempt to undermine Qatar’s sovereignty and independence, Al Jazeera reports in rolling coverage.
Qatar has been able to withstand the Saudi-led embargo due to lessons it learnt from a confrontation in 2014 where Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar in protest against Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and the Doha-based Al Jazeera network, Yaroslav Trofimov explains at the Wall Street Journal.
The crisis in the Gulf is regional and reflects the lack of a sustainable and stable order in the Middle East, bringing the risk of a “new normal” of a Cold War in the region. Former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Turkey Ahmet Davutoglu writes at Al Jazeera.
Japan has imposed sanctions against organizations and individuals linked to North Korea, the Japanese Foreign Minister said yesterday, joining the U.S. in its actions against the Pyongyang regime. Elaine Lies reports at Reuters.
“None of these choices are particularly palatable. None of them are good,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said yesterday, stating that a land war with North Korea would be “highly deadly” and a nuclear attack on Los Angeles would be “terrible,” Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
North Korea’s hacking activities are focusing on raising foreign currency rather than disrupting military and government data, Christine Kim reports at Reuters.
The Pyongyang regime relies on North Korean laborers in the Gulf to get cash and evade sanctions, according to officials and analysts, the sanctions bill passed yesterday by the U.S. Senate seeking to limit the use of overseas North Korean labor, Jon Gambrell reports at the AP.
“[Certain] outside countries are determined to stir up trouble,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said today, responding to comments made by U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson that the U.K. may send two aircraft carriers to patrol the South China Sea. James Griffiths reports at CNN.
China closed off a section of the ocean on its east coast yesterday to carry out naval exercises, marking the latest in China’s recent stepping-up of naval drills, the AP reports.
India’s national security adviser met with officials in Beijing today to discuss the border dispute between China and India centering on the presence of Chinese forces at a road over the Doklam Plateau in June and the Indian troops sent to confront them at the frontier, Christopher Bodeen reports at the AP.
The current India-China border dispute evokes memories of the 1962 border war, the Economist explaining the historical context and Bhutan’s role in the territorial standoff.
The families of U.S. diplomats have been ordered to leave Venezuela by the State Department amid rising tensions over an upcoming vote to rewrite the country’s constitution in a way that would essentially strip the legislature of its power, Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.
The individual sanctions on a further 13 Venezuelan officials including some involved in the constituent assembly announced by the Trump administration on July 26 are a promising step in the right direction, while generalized sanctions currently being considered would be a mistake. The Economist urges the administration to intensify its efforts to pressurize officials, which will not force regime change in itself but which can be combined with the offer of negotiations brokered by foreign governments and which is preferable to the alternative slide into generalized violence.
If the constituent assembly is called the U.S. should react in ways that punish Venezuela’s rulers, not its long-suffering population, or risk harming both countries, the New York Times editorial board agrees.
The top Middle East advisor on the N.S.C. was removed from his post by National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster yesterday, the reason behind the decision not immediately clear, reports Just Security’s Deputy Managing Editor Kate Brannen at Foreign Policy.
There will be “no modification to current policy” on transgender people serving in the U.S. military until Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has received President Trump’s “direction” to change the policy and figured out how to do it, America’s top military officer Gen. Joseph Dunford said yesterday, the AP reports.
Allegations that U.S. service members were present at a military base in Cameroon where U.S.-trained forces detained and tortured civilians in a report by Amnesty International is being investigated by the Pentagon, Paul McLeary reports at Foreign Policy.
Former top Obama aides are being accused of making hundreds of requests to unmask the names of Americans in intelligence during last year’s presidential election, including Trump transition officials, by the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) in a letter seen by the Hill’s John Solomon.
The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen shot down a ballistic missile fired by Houthi rebels toward the city of Mecca last night, it said, Reuters reporting.
Al-Qaeda is active in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir, the group announced for the first time yesterday, saying via a linked propaganda network that a militant from an indigenous rebel group would lead the fighters in opposing Indian rule in the region. Aijaz Hussain reports at the AP.
Over 40 people were killed in an attempt to free them from an ambush by Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria Tuesday, the BBC reports.
A man suspected of being a member of Afghanistan’s Taliban who participated in an attack in which an American soldier was killed was indicted in Germany on charges of terrorism and murder, German federal prosecutors said today, the AP reporting.
The new Libya peace deal between the leader of the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli Fayez al-Serraj and the commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army Gen. Khalifa Haftar lends legitimacy to the latter, whose forces have mostly added to the chaos, not helped to resolve it, while Serraj may lack the strength to implement the political solution demanded by the agreement reached in Paris this week, and few truly believe that Gen. Haftar is done with the battlefield, the Economist writes.