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.
President Trump personally dictated the statement issued by Donald Trump Jr. to the New York Times after it revealed that he had met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 presidential campaign in which he said that they had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” and emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time,” claims which were later shown to be misleading, Ashley Parker, Carol D. Leonnig, Philip Rucker and Tom Hamburger reporting at the Washington Post that the president’s decision to dictate and release the statement was a last-minute change of game plan after White House advisers had originally decided to be transparent about the meeting.
President Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekolow unequivocally denied at least twice that the president played any role in the drafting of the statement, observes Aaron Blake at the Washington Post.
Special counsel Robert Mueller was urged to resign by House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who claims that Mueller – a “longtime ally” of former F.B.I. director James Comey – is violating a law governing his position that prohibits him from serving if he has “conflicts of interest” including “a personal relationship with any person substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation or prosecution,” Lydia Wheeler reports at the Hill.
Republican National Committee staff were requested to preserve all documents related to last year’s presidential election in a memo from the R.N.C. counsel’s office last week, which stressed that the R.N.C. had not been contacted in relation to any of the ongoing investigations into possible Trump-Russia collusion, Rebecca Savransky reports at the Hill.
The Trump team is too disorganized to collude with Russia, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner told congressional interns during a private talk at the Capitol Visitor Center yesterday, Jenna McLaughlin reports at Foreign Policy.
Newly-appointed White House chief of staff John Kelly called former F.B.I. director James Comey to express his anger over how President Trump handled his firing, according to two sources familiar with the investigation, who said that Kelly told Comey he was even considering resigning from his then-post as Secretary of Homeland Security over the matter, Shimon Prokupecz and Pamela Brown report at CNN.
RUSSIA CUTS U.S. DIPLOMATIC PRESENCE
Russia’s pronouncement that 755 U.S. diplomats and staff would have to be removed “will not deter the commitment of the United States to our security” and “that of our allies,” Vice President Mike Pence said from Estonia yesterday after President Putin’s decision was announced in response to increased U.S. sanctions against Russia, Michael D. Shear reports at the New York Times.
The U.S. began to comply with Moscow’s order to cut its diplomatic staff today, removing furniture and equipment from a diplomatic property in Moscow, Reuters’ Jack Stubbs and Gennady Novikov report.
Russian authorities were accused of barring access by U.S. diplomatic staff to a property outside Moscow after originally agreeing to grant access until midday today by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Reuters reports.
Russian staff at the U.S. embassy are likely to be the main victims of Putin’s demand that the Americans reduce their presence in Russia to a total of 455 people, which was not only for U.S. diplomats but for all staff employed at the U.S. missions and could theoretically mean that the U.S. could simply release the majority of their local staff without sending any diplomats home. Shaun Walker considers the possible ramifications of Moscow’s order at the Guardian.
U.S.-Russia relations are back in a “deep freeze” 25 years after the Cold War ended, so what happened? The Washington Post editorial board explains how bad choices taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin, made deliberately, are the main reason for the tension that now exists.
North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile (I.C.B.M.) launch on Friday demonstrates that it may be able to reach most of the U.S., according to two U.S. officials, Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart report at Reuters.
Video footage of North Korea’s I.C.B.M. launch on Friday appears to show the mock warhead shattering to pieces on re-entry to earth, according to analysts, suggesting that North Korea has not yet mastered I.C.B.M. design and that it would take some months before it could fix any flaws. William J. Broad and David E. Sanger report at the New York Times.
China criticized the U.S. over its plans to impose unilateral sanctions against North Korea yesterday, the Chinese ambassador to the U.N. Liu Jieyi stating that the U.S.’ actions “run counter to the obligations in the Security Council resolutions,” his comments appearing to respond to statements by U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley that China was not doing enough to counter the North Korean threat. Farnaz Fassihi reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. and North Korea “hold the primary responsibility to keep things moving,” Jieyi said yesterday, adding that “China’s efforts will not yield practical results because it depends on the two principal parties,” Al Jazeera reports.
The U.S. military found evidence that North Korean submarines conducted an “ejection test” on Sunday – a test which examines a missile’s “cold launch system” – coupled with increased submarine activity, Zachary Cohen and Ryan Browne report at CNN.
President Trump was rebuked for his “emotional venting” on the North Korean threat by China’s official news agency Xinhua last night, adding that the approach to the North Korean crisis should involve “stamping out the fire, not adding kindling or, even worse, pouring oil on the flames,” Chris Buckley and Austin Ramzy report at the New York Times.
The U.S. needs China for its influence on North Korea more than it needs a trade war with China, and the Trump administration must be willing to explain this to its supporters, Hugh Hewitt writes at the Washington Post.
Why doesn’t South Korea have nuclear weapons? Adam Taylor explains at the Washington Post.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are close to seizing control of the southern neighborhoods of Raqqa from the Islamic State, according to a Kurdish official, Reuters reports.
U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces battling in Raqqa are holding Swedish Islamic State fighters, according to Swedish radio, the AP reporting.
Syrian children have been traumatized by fighting and brutality in areas ruled by the Islamic State and are in danger of being recruited by militants, Somini Segupta and Hwaida Saad report at the New York Times.
U.A.E. attempts to get the Taliban to open an embassy there are revealed in leaked emails from the accounts of top Emirati officials, the revelations coming a week after the U.A.E. ambassador to the U.S. Yousef al-Otaiba pointed out that the Taliban has an embassy in Qatar, showing Qatar to be “at odds with a very core belief of what we want the region to be.” David D. Kirkpatrick reports at the New York Times.
The leaked emails from the U.A.E. ambassador’s account have revealed the extent of the U.A.E. influence over U.S. think tanks and the links between U.A.E. officials and officials from the Obama administration, Al Jazeera reports.
Qatar has filed an official complaint with the World Trade Organization (W.T.O.) over the trade boycott imposed by Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain, making the move over a month after the four Arab nations diplomatically isolated Qatar over its alleged support and financing of terrorism and its relations with Iran. The BBC reports.
Qatar’s complaint to the W.T.O. cites “coercive attempts at economic isolation,” the complaint does not, however, include Egypt – Qatar’s W.T.O. representative Ali Alwaleed al-Thani declining to explain their exclusion, Reuters reports.
Qatar Airways is expected to have access to three contingency air routes following talks with the International Civil Aviation Organization (I.C.A.O.) yesterday, the national carrier having been denied access to the airspace of the four Arab nations who isolated Qatar on June 5. Allison Lampert reports at Reuters.
“The Chinese people love peace … but we have the confidence to defeat all invasions,” Chinese President Xi Jinping told members of the military in a speech today, with analysts noting that his calls for allegiance from the army form part of Xi’s attempts to shore up his position in the Communist Party. Tom Phillips reports at the Guardian.
China will never allow the loss of “any piece” of its land to outsiders, President Xi also said, amid China’s numerous territorial disputes with its neighbors, adding that the Chinese people “absolutely do not engage in invasion and expansion,” Christopher Bodeen reports at the AP.
The “specter of aggression” from Russia makes N.A.T.O. more important now than at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Vice President Pence said yesterday following a meeting with the leaders of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Eoghan MacGuire reporting at NBC News.
Russia’s preparations to send 100,000 troops to the eastern edge of N.A.T.O. territory at the end of the summer is part of a wider drive by President Putin to shore up Russia’s military prowess, and could be used as a pretext to increase its military presence in Belarus, which borders critical N.A.T.O. allies Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt write at the New York Times.
Two Afghans were killed in the suicide bombing and ensuing gun battle at the Iraqi embassy in Kabul yesterday, the Islamic State group claiming responsibility for the attack, Jawad Sukhanyar reports at the New York Times.
The attack on the Iraqi embassy comes amid a surge in violence across Afghanistan and two weeks after the embassy celebrated the defeat of the Islamic State in the Iraqi city of Mosul, BBC News reports.
A total of 2,531 Afghan security forces were killed from January 1 to May 8 and 4,238 wounded, according to a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan (S.I.G.A.R.), U.S. commanders warning that the high level of casualties are partly due to the Afghan forces’ heavy reliance on vulnerable static checkpoints. Reuters reports.
The S.I.G.A.R. report revealed that the U.S. failed to account for hundreds of millions of dollars spent in Afghanistan, citing the lack of U.S. monitoring and rampant corruption as factors that have undermined U.S. efforts, Al Jazeera reports.
Turkey’s decision to purchase a Russian surface-to-air missile system is concerning the Pentagon, spokesperson Jeff Davis said yesterday, explaining that as a N.A.T.O. ally Turkey should be encouraged to buy equipment that is interoperable with that of other N.A.T.O. members. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
Almost 500 people including generals and military pilots went on trial in Turkey today accused of leading last year’s failed coup attempt and carrying out attacks from Turkey’s Akinci air base, Burhan Ozbilici reports at the AP.
Civilians are still being pulled alive from Mosul’s Old City weeks after the Iraqi government declared a total victory over Islamic State militants, and there are rumors of extrajudicial killings by the Iraqi security forces. Ivor Pickett reports from the ground at the New York Times.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 16 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on July 30. Separately, partner forces conducted seven strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
Plans to supply Ukraine with antitank missiles and other weaponry to deter aggressive actions by Russia have been devised by the Pentagon and the State Department, which are now seeking White House approval, according to U.S. officials, Julian E. Barnes, Laurence Norman and Felicia Schwartz reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
The White House is still deliberating over its long-awaited Afghanistan strategy, a Defense Department spokesperson said yesterday, declining to answer questions on whether Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was considering withdrawing troops, Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
Sanctions against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro were imposed by the U.S. yesterday, which accused him of abusing human rights and organizing an illegitimate vote to advance an authoritarian regime, Ian Talley, Juan Forero and Anatoly Kurmanaev report at the Wall Street Journal.
Trump may be a better partner in the Middle East than Barack Obama, Global Politico’s interview with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri revealing that he appreciates Trump’s “clarity” and realism as opposed to Obama’s idealism and naiveté. Susan B. Glasser writes at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
The Pentagon stopped the video feed of pretrial proceedings at the war court in Guantanamo in the case of the U.S.S. Cole bombing that killed 17 U.S. sailors, saving $60,000, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.
Changes to the “unmasking” procedures that allow the executive branch to reveal the names of lawmakers or congressional staffers in intelligence intercepts oversees introduced by Obama intelligence chief James Clapper in 2013 make it easier for names to be unmasked and have resulted in an increase in the frequency with which the process is carried out, in turn raising concerns in congressional circles, writes John Solomon at the Hill.
Reports that Saudi Arabia is using Canadian armored vehicles against its own civilians are being investigated by the Canadian government, Ashifa Kassam reports at the Guardian.
U.A.E. national airline United Arab Emirates is working with Australian police in investigating an attempted terrorist plot involving an airplane attack, the airline said today, Adam Schreck reporting at the AP.
British Home Secretary Amber Rudd will ask social media giants and internet service providers to do more to counter or remove content that incites militants when she visits Silicon Valley today, Mark Hosenball reports at Reuters.
Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel and the Kurds are all in danger of over-reach in the Middle East as each force attempts to expand its influence in the region, David Gardner writes at the Financial Times.