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
The U.S. diplomatic presence in Russia would be cut by 755 diplomats and staff, over half of the number presently there, following the passage of new sanctions legislation by Congress, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with Russian state television yesterday, after Russia’s Foreign Ministry ordered a reduction by Sept. 1 Friday, Thomas Grove reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
It will be up to the U.S. to choose which of its diplomatic staff would be cut, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said today, Reuters reporting.
Washington needs to show “political will” for U.S.-Russia relations to be repaired, Peskov saying that it will take time for the U.S. to rid itself of its “political schizophrenia” when it came to Russia, the AP reports.
“I decided that it is time for us to show that we will not leave anything unanswered” now that it is clear that the U.S.-Russia relationship is “not going to change in the near future,” Putin said on Russian television yesterday, Brent Griffiths reporting at POLITICO.
Russia’s decision to cut U.S. diplomatic staff is “a regrettable and uncalled for act,” the State Department said yesterday, the AP reporting.
The president “made it clear that very soon he will sign sanctions from the Congress” to reinforce his message that “Russia’s destabilizing activities and support for rogue regimes and its activities in Ukraine are unacceptable,” Vice President Mike Pence said yesterday, adding that the administration also expects the Russian government to change its behavior. Julia Manchester reports at the Hill.
The European Commission should consider counter-measures against new U.S. sanctions against Russia that are “against international law,” Germany’s economy minister Brigitte Zypries said today, Reuters reporting.
President Putin’s bet that President Trump would treat his nation as the superpower it once was, or at least a major force to be reckoned with, has backfired spectacularly, the sanctions passed by Congress last week signaling that Trump’s hands are tied in dealing with Moscow, most likely for years to come, writes David E. Sanger at the New York Times.
President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to take further joint action against North Korea following its latest intercontinental ballistic missile launch late Friday in a phone call today, the AP reports.
Trump promised to take “all necessary measures” to protect U.S. allies from North Korea during his call with Abe, Abe said afterward, Tom Phillips reporting at the Guardian.
“I’ll get back to you.” South Korean President Moon Jae-in will likely talk with Trump about North Korea after he’s back from some previously-scheduled R&R, which ends this weekend, Moon’s office said today, Foster Klug reports at the AP.
“I am very disappointed in China,” President Trump said via Twitter yesterday, adding that he would “no longer allow” China’s inaction on North Korea “to continue,” China offering no immediate challenge to his comments, Tom Phillips reports at the Guardian.
The problem did not arise in China and all sides need to work for a solution to the North Korea problem, China said today, Ben Blanchard and Elias Glenn reporting at Reuters.
The Trump administration believes that China should be doing more to address North Korea’s aggression, Vice President Mike Pence said from Estonia yesterday, calling on Beijing to use its “unique ability to influence” Pyongyang along with other regional nations to “encourage North Korea to join the family of nations, to embrace a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and abandon its provocative actions and its ballistic missile program,” Mallory Shelbourne reporting at the Hill.
The U.S. and China should separate issues over trade from those over North Korea’s missile test, China’s vice minister of commerce said at a trade briefing today, adding that China remains committed to ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons. Peter Nicholas and Felicia Schwartz report at the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. will not call for a U.N. Security Council meeting over North Korea’s latest missile test because it would result in “nothing of consequence,” the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said yesterday, the BBC reports.
China must decide if it’s willing to back stronger U.N. sanctions against North Korea in response to its latest missile test, Haley said in a statement yesterday, adding that any Security Council resolution that “does not significantly increase pressure on North Korea is of no value.” Elaine Lies and Takaya Yamaguchi report at Reuters.
“Done talking about NKorea,” Haley tweeted afterward, adding that China is aware it must act and Japan and South Korea should increase pressure in order to deal with what was “not only a U.S. problem,” Mallory Shelbourne reports at the Hill.
The U.S. military successfully carried out a test of a T.H.A.A.D. missile-defense system over the Pacific Ocean yesterday, also flying two Air Force B-1 bombers over South Korea in a show of force in response to the North’s latest missile test, Kim Tong-Hyung reports at the AP.
The U.S. and South Korea fired missiles into the waters off the South Korean coast Friday in another show of force, Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
North Korea is developing a short-range missile system that Kim Jong-un is almost certain to export to numerous willing customers among the many types of missiles it is perfecting, but the good news is there is still time to stop the system’s proliferation if we act quickly, write Henry Sokolski and Zachary Keck at the Wall Street Journal.
C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo is right to contemplate regime change in Pyongyang, as he suggested at the Aspen Security Forum 11 days ago, the Wall Street Journal editorial board arguing that while some U.S. allies have nuclear weapons, it’s the nature of the regime that matters as much as the weapons themselves, and in North Korea that means “the dynastic cult that attributes supernatural powers to its young, reckless leader Kim Jong-un.”
The contours of a far more ambitious strategy behind North Korea’s missile tests are emerging with Friday’s launch, aimed at forcing the world to accept it as a full member of the international community and eventual reconciliation with the U.S. and South Korea on its terms, suggests Max Fisher at the New York Times.
“We will continue with full power our missile program,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bahram Ghasemi said Saturday, adding that the program constitutes “domestic policy” and denouncing the new U.S. sanctions against Iran as an “effort to weaken the nuclear deal,” Al Jazeera reports.
A U.S. and an Iranian navy vessel reported a confrontation Saturday in waters off the Persian Gulf – coming after a similar incident on Tuesday – the U.S. Navy reporting that the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) ship approached U.S. ships at high speed, Asa Fitch and Dion Nissenbaum report at the Wall Street Journal.
The I.R.G.C. and the U.S. Navy accused each other of behaving provocatively, the U.S. Navy stating that it “attempted to establish communications, with no response from the Iranian vessels,” Al Jazeera reports.
ISRAEL & PALESTINE
An Israeli military court upheld a manslaughter conviction against Israeli soldier Elor Azaria yesterday, who fatally shot a Palestinian assailant as he lay wounded on the ground in Hebron in Israeli-occupied West Bank in March 2016, the court president stating that the “unnecessary or disproportional use of a weapon is forbidden and immoral,” Isabel Kershner reports at the New York Times.
Thousands of Palestinian worshipers attended prayers at al-Aqsa mosque yesterday, returning to the compound after two weeks of protests and violent clashes prompted by the installation of security measures by Israeli authorities following the killing of two Israeli policemen by three Palestinians outside the mosque on July 14. Al Jazeera reports.
Hamas in Gaza must reject any deals proposed by exiled Palestinian politician Mohammad Dahlan, Ramzy Baroud writes at Al Jazeera, noting the connections between Dahlan and the George W. Bush administration, and Dahlan’s exploitative and self-obsessed politics.
A ceasefire between Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah and Nusra Front Sunni militants includes the exchange of militants for Hezbollah prisoners and a deal for 9,000 militants and their relatives to leave the Syria-Lebanon border area of Arsal for rebel territory in Syria. Reuters reports.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has solidified gains in Syria, ratifying a 49-year lease on Hmeymin airbase near the Syrian town of Latakia on Wednesday and giving Russia a key base from which to launch attacks and defend the Assad regime, demonstrating that Russia has a clear objective in Syria and a diplomatic solution is unlikely. The Wall Street editorial board writes.
“These demands are not negotiable. We cannot shrink [the list] down,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said yesterday, following a meeting in Bahrain’s capital of Manama between senior officials of Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain on the Gulf crisis, the four countries continuing to diplomatically isolate Qatar for its alleged support and financing of terrorism. Al Jazeera reports.
“Dialogue doesn’t mean there are concessions,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said yesterday in Manama, saying that the four Arab countries are ready to talk to Qatar but emphasizing that there are conditions attached and that Qatar must show “real intention” to stop supporting terrorism and interfering in neighboring countries. Sarah El Sirgany and Jay Croft report at CNN.
“[There] is only a stubborn policy from the blockading countries and refusal to admit that these are illegal actions,” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said today in response to statements made by officials of the four Arab countries made in Manama yesterday. Al Jazeera reports in rolling coverage.
“Qatar’s demands to internationalize the holy sites is aggressive and a declaration of war against the kingdom,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir was quoted as saying yesterday, condemning Qatar’s alleged demand that the Muslim holy pilgrimage site in Mecca be internationalized. DW reports.
Qatar rejected Saudi Arabia’s claims that air corridors would be available for use in emergency situations, labeling the reports from Saudi state news agency S.P.A. as “false information,” Al Jazeera reports.
If Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak was not trying to spy or recruit in his contacts with Americans during the 2016 presidential election and would not have been doing his job properly if he hadn’t spoken with Americans, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview on ABC News’ “This Week” broadcast yesterday.
Russia celebrated its annual Navy Day in multiple time zones yesterday, holding parades and demonstrations across its territory as well as at its bases abroad including in Syria and in annexed Crimea, CNN’s Euan McKirdy reports.
Russia’s naval parades yesterday in St Petersburg and off the coast of Syria demonstrate its capacity and ambition in expanding its military presence in Syria and supporting President Bashar al-Assad, Ivan Nechepurenko explains at the New York Times.
“We will continue to take strong and swift actions against the architects of authoritarianism in Venezuela,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said last night after over eight million people apparently voted to give President Nicolás Maduro’s administration overwhelming powers to redraft the country’s constitution, an outcome that the Trump administration said it would not recognize, Juan Forero, Ryan Dube and Anatoly Kurmanaev report at the Wall Street Journal.
Harsher U.S. sanctions against Venezuela are of dubious legitimacy and legality and will only worsen the nation’s crisis, argues Mark Weisbrot writing at the Hill.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a car bomb which targeted the Iraqi embassy in Kabul today, the ensuing gun battle ongoing, Al Jazeera reports.
The Trump administration is considering scaling-down the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, according to administration officials, with President Trump and his top advisers reticent about increasing troop numbers and military leaders concerned that withdrawing troops would allow the Taliban to expand its control. Dion Nissenbaum reports on the lack of consensus at the Wall Street Journal.
AUSTRALIA TERROR PLOT
An elaborate “Islamic-inspired” terror plot to down an airplane was thwarted by Australian authorities with the arrests of four men in raids in suburbs outside Sydney, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced Saturday, Kristine Phillips reporting at the Washington Post.
The Department of Homeland Security is closely monitoring the foiled Australian terror plot, it said in a statement yesterday, Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.
The U.S. goal in Pakistan of encouraging civilian supremacy over the military has suffered a setback with the ouster of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for lying to the nation about his family’s wealth and financial dealings, no other Pakistani politician having the ability to take back power over national security and foreign policy from the unelected generals, whose deeply ingrained hostility toward India, suspicion of the U.S., fealty toward China and support for terrorist proxies in India and Afghanistan are unlikely to end without civilian oversight, writes Sadanand Dhume at the Wall Street Journal.
Instability in Pakistan is dangerous for the U.S. and for the world, Bruce Riedel pointing out that it has the fastest-growing nuclear weapons program in the world, along with intermediate-range ballistic missiles, American supplied F16 jets, and is currently developing tactical nuclear weapons at The Daily Beast.
The ouster of Sharif suggests that Pakistan’s Supreme Court managed to extract some accountability in “a sea of corruption and arbitrariness” and serves as a “glimmer of hope” for accountability and the rule of law in Pakistan, concludes the Washington Post editorial board.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
A trove of over 70,000 emails related to the recent campaign of French President Emmanuel Macron was released by WikiLeaks today, with no immediate bombshell disclosures among the leaked material, which nevertheless is certain to be met with increased scrutiny on online security among political campaigns and others, writes James McAuley at the Washington Post.
The House passed a bill reauthorizing intelligence agency programs Friday which provides funding for intelligence agencies and requires them to publish an unclassified report on foreign threats to elections for federal offices. Cristina Marcos reports at the Hill.
Cyberwars are likely to get worse – as evidenced by recent attacks orchestrated by U.A.E. against Qatar – and the international community has insufficiently engaged with means to stop and to regulate cyberconflict. Adam Segal writes at the New York Times.
The State Department has proposed scaling-back its diplomatic presence at the U.N. gathering of world leaders in September, signaling the Trump administration’s retreat from diplomacy, Colum Lynch writes at Foreign Policy.
Lebanon’s Hezbollah took journalists on a regional tour Saturday to demonstrate that Hezbollah, not the U.S., is doing most of the fighting against terrorism in the region after President Trump’s comment last week that “Lebanon is on the front lines in the fight against I.S.I.S., al-Qaeda and Hezbollah” while standing beside Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri without apparently realizing that Hariri struck an alliance with Hezbollah last year to secure his appointment as prime minister, Liz Sly and Suzan Haidamous report at the Washington Post.
Fighters loyal to Gen. Khalifa Haftar stormed the headquarters of the constitution drafting assembly in the Libyan city of Bayda, holding members at gunpoint and demanding that they back down from a recently-approved draft constitution which apparently bans Haftar from running as president, the U.N. Support Mission in Libya expressing concern over reports of the attack, which did not make it clear whether it had come to an end yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.
A key bridge leading to the main position of Islamic State-linked militants in the southern Philippine city of Marawi was captured by Philippine troops, an official said today, the AP reporting.
Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed an attack on a U.A.E. military ship carrying military equipment to Yemen’s Mocha port, the ship the third belonging to the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen attacked off Yemen’s western coast since the beginning of this year, Al Jazeera reports.
An al-Shabaab attack on the African Union Mission in Somalia left at least 23 peacekeeping troops and a Somali soldier dead yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.
The 26-year-old suspected of killing one and injuring six others in a stabbing attack at a supermarket in Germany’s Hamburg Friday was known to German authorities as a suspected Islamist, they said, Anton Troianovski reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
An attempt to bring a private prosecution against former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair for the crime of aggression for invading Iraq in 2003 by former Iraqi gen. Abdul Wahed Shannah Al Rabbat was blocked by the U.K.’s High Court, which ruled that as no such crime exists in England and Wales there was no prospect of the case succeeding. The BBC reports.