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.
The U.S. wants to “have a dialogue” with North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said yesterday, adding that the U.S. does not blame China for the situation in North Korea in apparent contradiction of President Trump’s earlier comments, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.
“We do not seek regime change” in North Korea, Tillerson said ahead of a trip to Asia for a regional meeting on security issues, telling reporters that the U.S. was working with China to put peaceful pressure on Pyongyang to pave the way for talks, the precondition for entering which is that North Korea abandons its nuclear weapons. Meanwhile White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday that the president was “keeping all options on the table” as regards North Korea, Paul Sonne reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Military options are “inevitable” if North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons, Sen. Lindsey Graham said yesterday, insisting that President Trump had told him this to his face, but adding that a diplomatic approach was still his own preferred option, Daniella Diaz reports at CNN.
Sen. Graham’s comments yesterday were primarily a message for China that it must believe – as he does – that President Trump is serious about “a war” in North Korea resulting in the deaths of “thousands” of North Koreans if Kim Jong-un’s regime does not halt its weapons program. Gordon G. Chang considers the advisability of this approach – assuming it is the president’s plan – at The Daily Beast.
The U.S. was set to test an intercontinental ballistic missile early this morning from California to “validate and verify the effectiveness, readiness, and accuracy of the weapon system,” U.S. Air Force global Strike Command said in a statement, Courtney Kube reporting at NBC News.
President Trump was right to insist that China help resolve the North Korea problem, and he must sustain this early insight and resist actions that may look tough but would leave everyone involved worse off, writes David Ignatius at the Washington Post.
American and South Korea’s war games are the best sanction against North Korea and always have been, the cost to North Korea of mobilizing to near-constant Washington-Seoul maneuvers a killing burden, writes Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. at the Wall Street Journal.
“We must now take missile defense into space.” While the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system is the only thing that protects the United States from nuclear attack, while the T.H.A.A.D. missile defense system protects South Korea, North Korea’s recent tests necessitate additional measures – space-based missile defense. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) writes at the Washington Post.
“The president weighed in just as any father would based on the limited information that he had,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday, seemingly confirming that Trump helped his son, Donald Trump Jr., to draft the statement about his meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, which claimed that the attendees discussed an adoption program. Abby Phillip reports at the Washington Post.
“The statement that Don Jr. issued is true,” Sanders said yesterday, despite the recently-disclosed email chain between Donald Jr. and an acquaintance, Rob Goldstone, revealed that the president’s oldest son accepted the meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya on the basis that she would pass him information to help his father’s presidential campaign. Kevin Liptak reports at CNN.
Former Justice Department official Greg Andres joined special counsel Robert Mueller’s team investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign today, Karen Freifeld reports at Reuters.
Trump’s involvement in drafting Donald Jr.’s statement will create legal problems and, if the President dictated the statement, it may prove an intent to obstruct justice, Renato Mariotti writes at the Hill.
RUSSIA CUTS U.S. DIPLOMATIC PRESENCE
There is a “certain contradiction” in the statements from the White House on new sanctions against Russia, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said today, Reuters reporting.
The job of the U.S. Mission in Russia has been made harder as a result of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order for the U.S. to cut diplomatic staff in Moscow, affecting visa applicants and potentially affecting intelligence operations, NBC News explains.
Trump should maintain communication channels with Russia and recruit experts to mend the broken U.S.-Russia relationship – which is at an all-time low following the Russia, Iran and North Korea sanctions package, Russia cutting U.S. diplomatic presence and years of mistrust fostered by the Obama administration. Mike Lyons writes at the Hill.
The relationship between the U.S. and Russia is bad and could get worse. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson relayed the warning he said he gave to President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to reporters yesterday, adding that the administration is not happy with Congress’ vote to sanction Russia but the President is likely to sign the bill. Nolan D. McCaskill reports at POLITICO.
Two N.A.T.O. jets intercepted three Russian military aircraft near Estonian airspace yesterday, according to acting N.A.T.O. spokesperson Dylan White, the incident occurring less than a day after Vice President Mike Pence visited Estonia and reassured allies of the U.S. commitment to N.A.T.O., Ryan Browne reports at CNN.
The Trump administration needs a consistent approach to Russia and the comments by Vice President Pence during his trip to Eastern Europe about the threat posed by Russia and the importance of N.A.T.O. stand in stark contrast to Trump’s views, the New York Times editorial board writes.
Islamic State militants attacked Syrian government forces in Homs province today, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Reuters reports.
At least 40 Russian soldiers and private contractors have been killed in Syria this year, according to estimates by Reuters, the Russian defense ministry and Kremlin declining to comment on the reports.
“If there are Russian citizens in Syria as volunteers and so on, they have nothing to do with the state,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters today, Reuters reporting.
The future of Raqqa following the impending defeat of the Islamic State there remains uncertain, and there are difficult questions about governance and who bears responsibility for security and reconstruction. Mariya Petkova analyzes the challenges at Al Jazeera.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 20 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on July 31. Separately, partner forces conducted nine strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
The Gulf Cooperation Council (G.C.C.) “will be jeopardized” if the “stalemate” continues, Qatar’s Defense Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah said yesterday, stating that Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain’s isolation of Qatar harms all parties to the dispute, Al Jazeera reports.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has sent two officials to the region to push for a resolution to the Gulf crisis, including retired general and former Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni, Al Jazeera reports in rolling coverage.
“The sanctions imposed by the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia and Bahrain did not contradict the agreements of the W.T.O.,” an assistant undersecretary in U.A.E.’s Economy Ministry, Juma Mohammed al-Kait was quoted as saying to state news agency W.A.M. yesterday, responding to Qatar’s complaint filed to the W.T.O. on Monday. Reuters reports.
Qatar played a key role in facilitating peace talks for Afghanistan, a senior Taliban official said yesterday, making the comments after leaks from the email account of the U.A.E. ambassador to the U.S. Yousef al-Otaiba expressed disappointment that the U.S. chose Qatar to host the unofficial Taliban embassy. Shereena Qazi reports at Al Jazeera.
Email leaks from Otaiba’s account also reveal his possible involvement in a global corruption scandal, the leaks drawing scrutiny of the ambassador, who has been an important source of advice to Jared Kushner on Middle East policy, Bradley Hope and Tom Wright report at the Wall Street Journal.
Tillerson can end the Gulf crisis by ensuring Qatar implements the U.S.-Qatar memorandum of understanding combating terrorism and the funding of terrorism, consequently delivering the “high-profile diplomatic success” needed for Tillerson to impose his authority, Dennis Ross writes at the Wall Street Journal.
At least 29 people were killed in a suicide bombing on a Shi’ite mosque in the Afghan city of Herat today and 64 injured, a Taliban spokesperson stating that the group had no role in the attack, Pamela Constable reports at the Washington Post.
The death toll is expected to rise, initial information showing there were two terrorists, one of whom was wearing a suicide vest and the other armed with a rifle, according to Herat police spokesperson Abdul Ahad Walizada, Al Jazeera reports.
A suicide bomber attacked a convoy of international troops in the Afghan city of Kandahar today, the N.A.T.O.-led coalition confirming that there have been casualties and no one has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Kathy Gannon and Mirwais Khan report at the AP.
Fears that Islamic State fighters are leaving Iraq to fight in Afghanistan have been raised following the Islamic State’s attack on the Iraqi embassy in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Monday, Hamid Shalizi explains at Reuters.
A complaint against the U.S. over new sanctions was lodged by Iran to the commission that monitors the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (J.C.P.O.A.), claiming that the sanctions possibly violate the nuclear deal, Rick Gladstone reports at the New York Times.
Unravelling the Iran deal – a task President Trump has set his advisers – would be dangerous and Trump’s recent actions “a cut-and-paste from the road to the Iraq War,” but it isn’t about Iran alone – it’s about upholding “confidence in the international order,” and scrapping the deal “will also trigger a meltdown in Europe,” according to Carl Bildt writing at the Washington Post.
Trump’s attempts to kill the Iran nuclear deal puts the world and his presidency at risk, undermining the U.S. relationship with European allies, causing a diplomatic upset within international institutions and risking further destabilization of the Middle East. Steve Anderson and Steven Simon write at the New York Times.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for efforts to avoid “open conflict” with China yesterday, stating that the relationship has reached a “pivot point” during a state department briefing, adding that the relationship would be tested by common threats, such as that posed by North Korea, and working through differences, such as the dispute over the South China Sea. Tom Phillips reports at the Guardian.
Tillerson is rejecting calls from career diplomats to spend nearly $80 million allocated by Congress for fighting terrorist propaganda and Russian disinformation, one aide suggesting that the money is not welcome because it would constitute extra funding for programs to counter Russian influence and this would anger Moscow, Nahal Toosi reports at POLITICO.
The U.S. holds Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro “personally responsible” for the safety of two opposition leaders seized and taken to a military position yesterday following Sunday’s controversial vote for a constitutional assembly, President Trump warned in a statement yesterday in which he also called for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and condemned the actions of the “Maduro dictatorship,” the BBC reports.
The future of the Western Balkans is as part of the West and the U.S. looks forward to reaffirming its commitment to building relationships that will “strengthen the ties between the European community, the Western Balkans and the United States of America,” Vice President Mike Pence said today from Montenegro, two months after it joined N.A.T.O. Reuters’ Maja Zuvela reports.
Selling Ukraine lethal, defensive weapons would be President Trump’s chance to show he’s no “Obama echo” and force Russian President Putin to pay attention and send the message that he wants to negotiate with Russia from a position of strength, writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board ahead of an imminent recommendation from the State Department and Pentagon.
Little of the Trump administration’s strategy for achieving Middle East peace – spearheaded by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner – has been disclosed publicly, but a leaked recording of Kushner’s briefing to congressional interns reveals much about his thinking on how to achieve a breakthrough. Aaron David Miller explains why Kushner’s approach is unlikely to succeed at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
The Trump administration is exacerbating a wide range of complex global crises at a time when the global situation is possibly more dangerous now than it has been since the height of the Cold War, among the situations Trump and his team are confronting five nuclear and near-nuclear powers. David Rothkopf offers some comforting words at the Washington Post.
The use of counterterrorism operations in nonbattlefield countries has been expanded further by the Trump administration, with five times as many operations under President Trump as there were within a comparable time-period under former president Obama, doing so with little policy guidance or public attention, writes Micah Zenko at Foreign Policy.
The Trump administration should make it clear to Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri that he is responsible for dismantling missile-production facilities built in Lebanon by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in cooperation with Hezbollah that are “forcing Israel’s hand” in possible pre-emptive strikes to destroy them, which would result in a third Lebanon war “much more devastating” than the last one. Alongside this, sanctions against Iranian entities should be imposed, including the restoration of sanctions lifted under the Iran nuclear agreement – and if this financial pressure puts the nuclear agreement at risk, “so be it.” Mark Dubowitz and Rep. Mike Gallagher offer their advice at the Wall Street Journal.
The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
President Trump’s pick to lead the F.B.I. Christopher Wray was easily confirmed by the Senate in a 92-5 vote yesterday, the Hill’s Jordain Carney reports.
There are several reasons to fear the appointment of recently-retired Army Maj. Gen. Mark Inch to lead the Federal Bureau of Prisons by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the first and most obvious being that he has never managed a civilian prison before, while his military background could further erode the distinctions between military and civilian leadership – and could also be the basis of Sessions’ decision to hire him, if he believes that he shares his draconian approach to law enforcement – not to mention Inch’s ties to the religious right, which raise the concern that he may not maintain First Amendment boundaries. Sarah Jones writes at New Republic.
Saudi Arabia requested that a U.S. judge dismiss 25 lawsuits filed against it in relation to its alleged support of the 9/11 attacks, claiming sovereign immunity and that the plaintiffs cannot prove that it supported the al-Qaeda affiliated individuals who carried out the attacks, court documents filed Monday reveal. Creede Newton reports at Al Jazeera.
U.S.S. Cole bombing suspect Ahmed al Darbi gave his deposition for use at the eventual death-penalty trial of alleged orchestrater Abd al Rahim al Nashiri in private yesterday, Darbi admitting to obtaining supplies and helping al-Qaeda militants plot the bombings of ships in the Arabian Sea in exchange for returning to his native Saudi Arabia next year to serve out the remainder of his prison sentence in a 2014 plea deal, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.
Legislation that would create a legal framework for law enforcement to access Americans’ electronic communications in servers located overseas was introduced by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) yesterday, the Hill’s Ali Breland reports.
Various environmental laws are being waived by the Department of Homeland Security to make way for the building of President Trump’s wall along the border with Mexico, the D.H.S. announced yesterday, Timothy Cama reporting at the Hill.
Talks on a nonaggression pact with China aimed at preventing altercations in the disputed South China Sea “as soon as possible” will be sought by A.S.E.A.N. diplomats, an initial draft of a joint communique seen by the AP’s Jim Gomez today.