The Early Edition: August 10, 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.

NORTH KOREA

A “load of nonsense,” North Korea’s military said in response to Trump’s warning in a message relayed by state news agency K.C.N.A. accusing Trump of being “bereft of reason” and adding that it plans to attack the U.S. territory of Guam. The AP reports.

North Korea is preparing plans to launch four intermediate-range ballistic missiles into waters near the U.S. territory of Guam, North Korea’s official state news agency K.C.N.A. stated yesterday, Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.

President Trump’s “fire and fury” comments on Tuesday were ad-libbed and aides were unaware that Trump would level such bellicose rhetoric at North Korea, according to sources with direct experience of the episode, Glenn Thrush and Peter Baker reveal at the New York Times.

President Trump’s words “were his own” and the “tone and strength of the message were discussed beforehand,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday, despite the fact that allies of the U.S., Trump aides and members of Congress expressed concern about the stark difference in rhetoric between the President and other Trump administration officials. Philip Rucker and Karen DeYoung set out the various reactions at the Washington Post.

The White House, State Department and Defense Department were “all speaking with one voice,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said yesterday, hitting back at accusations of mixed messages from the Trump administration. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

South Korea’s military is prepared to act immediately against a provocation by North Korea, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesperson Roh Jae-cheon told reporters today, Reuters reporting.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson emphasized the need for diplomacy to deal with the North Korea threat yesterday and stated that “Americans should sleep well at night,” striking a much more conciliatory tone than President Trump’s threat of “fire and fury” and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ warning that Pyongyang risked “the end of its regime and the destruction of its people” if it did not “stand down,” exposing the divisions within the Trump administration. Peter Baker and Gardiner Harris observe at the New York Times.

“What the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un would understand,” Tillerson told reporters yesterday, interpreting Trump’s remarks as sending a strong signal that the U.S. has the “unquestionable ability to defend itself, will defend itself and its allies,” Carol Morello reporting at the Washington Post.

 “Sabre-rattling won’t help,” the German Foreign Ministry tweeted yesterday, the call for moderation supported by comments by other U.S. allies, including E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Rick Noack reports at the Washington Post.

Japan’s Defense Minister reiterated that it would be entitled to intercept a North Korean missile headed for Guam yesterday, however expert have stated that Japan does not have the capability to shoot down a missile, Reuters reports.

China pointed the finger at the U.S. for escalating tensions with North Korea, hitting back at the U.S. narrative that China bears a huge responsibility for the crisis, Simon Denyer explains at the Washington Post.

Concerns remain over the U.S.’ ability to defend itself against incoming warheads, with critics arguing that the testing to-date has not been under realistic conditions, Mike Stone reports at Reuters.

Modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is underway, the $1 trillion project, which began under the Obama administration, has taken on new prominence amid growing tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. Paul Sonne reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Kuwait will continue to grant visas to North Korean laborers and has “no plans to expel [them],” according to a statement by Kuwait’s Information Ministry sent to the AP, demonstrating the challenge the U.S. faces in convincing its allies in the Gulf to cut back on their use of the laborers, whose wages allegedly provide a significant source of revenue for the Pyongyang regime. Jon Gambrell reports at the AP.

What is the U.S. military presence near North Korea? Oliver Holmes explains at the Guardian.

NORTH KOREA: MEDIA RESPONSE

“The Trump Administration has the right idea, even if the President’s words lack the usual diplomatic politesse,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes, arguing that Trump’s comments send a signal to China to take stronger action against North Korea.

President Trump’s comments were “dangerous” and it is unlikely that his advisers would have condoned such aggressive rhetoric, which makes it harder for both sides to de-escalate tension, the New York Times editorial board writes.

Trump’s “fire and fury” comments have dampened hopes that the Trump administration has matured since the appointment of White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly and a sense that his team could mitigate his behaviour. Rick Wilson writes at The Daily Beast.

Sanctions against North Korea have not worked before and would not work now, as compliance with the sanctions remains an issue and, even if China and Russia decide to cooperate fully, it is unlikely that the Pyongyang regime would yield, the question therefore, is how to bring down the Kim regime. Claudia Rosett writes at the Hill.

How can President Trump contain North Korea without “fire and fury?” Former Obama-era deputy assistant secretary of defence for Russia/Ukraine Eurasia and former staff member of the Senate Armed Service Committee Evelyn N. Farkas advocates a “multipronged strategy” for containing the North Korean threat at the New York Times.

There are limited channels through which the U.S. and North Korea can try to exchange proposals to ease tensions over North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs, adding to the danger that misstatements from either side could spiral into full-scale conflict. Jonathan Landay writes at Reuters.

Why doesn’t North Korea want to engage with South Korea? Kim Tong-Hyung explains at the AP.

China is unlikely to appreciate Trump’s incendiary remarks, having conceded to the U.N. sanctions against North Korea on Saturday, Tom Phillips writes at the Guardian.

What authority does Trump have to launch a military strike on North Korea? Jeremy Herb provides an analysis at CNN.

The president’s aggressive rhetoric has elicited more concern that it should, Max Fisher provides five reasons why Americans should be less scared at the New York Times.

What are the possible future scenarios following the latest escalation in U.S.-North Korea relations? Julian Borger sets out seven potential consequences at the Guardian.

Obama warned Trump about the North Korea threat during the transition between the two administrations, seemingly leaving an impression and motivating Trump to make North Korea a top foreign policy concern. David Nakamura and Anne Gearan write at the Washington Post.

TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

The home of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was raided under a search warrant by federal agents working with special counsel Robert Mueller in relation to his Trump-Russia investigation on July 26 in order to recover documents and other material tied to foreign bank accounts and tax matters, Del Quentin Wilber and Byron Tau report at the Wall Street Journal.

The warrant and search mean that – at least in the eyes of the federal judge who issued the warrant – Mueller’s investigative team had established a likelihood that the raid would turn up criminal evidence relevant to his investigation. The Wall Street Journal’s Jacob Gershman provides questions and answers about how the search warrant process works.

There is “no question of clear evidence” linking Manafort to “some criminal wrongdoing” in the ongoing Trump-Russia investigation, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said yesterday, calling the raid on Manafort’s house a “highly significant step.” Julia Manchester reports at the Hill.

Former Trump campaign consultant Michael Caputo has had no contact with special counsel Robert Mueller in relation to his Trump-Russia probe, yet he has been questioned by the House Intelligence Committee as part of its investigation, Caputo told the Washington Examiner’s Todd Shepherd.

IRAQ

The overturning of convictions of former Blackwater private security guards by a U.S. appeals court last week for their role in the deaths of 14 unarmed Iraqis in 2007 constitutes a major setback for the victims and their families and is a reminder of the darkest days of the Iraq War, Sudarsan Raghavan writes at the Washington Post.

What is left of Mosul following the recapture of the Iraqi city from the Islamic State? Lucy Rodgers, Nassos Stylianou and Daniel Dunford reveal the extent of the damage and the scale of the humanitarian crisis at the BBC.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 2 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Aug. 8. Separately, partner forces conducted six strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

TURKEY

A suspected Islamic State militant allegedly planning to use a drone to bring down a U.S. plane at Turkey’s Incirlik air base was detained by Turkish authorities, Turkish media reported today. Reuters reports.

Detention warrants for 35 people on suspicion of involvement in last July’s failed coup attempt were issued by Turkish authorities today as the subsequent crackdown of suspected followers of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused of orchestrating the coup attempt, continues, Reuters reports.

U.S. CUBA EMBASSY INCIDENTS

Allegations made by the U.S. that Americans serving at the U.S. Embassy in Havana were subjected to unspecified “incidents” that meant they had to be returned to the U.S. for “medical reasons” are being investigated by Cuba, it said yesterday, Reuters reports.

The U.S. decision to expel two Cuban diplomats in a decision communicated to them on May 23 prompted Cuba’s investigation into the incidents that were first reported last year, reports Al Jazeera.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Billionaire real estate investor and close friend of President Trump Tom Barrack is in talks to become the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, a particularly important position given Trump’s tense relationship with the country whose U.S. border he wants to build a wall along, Josh Dawsey reports at POLITICO.

A U.S. Navy destroyer came within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China in the disputed South China Sea while carrying out a freedom of navigation operation today, U.S. officials told Reuters’ Idrees Ali.

Sanctions on eight additional Venezuelan officials were imposed by the Trump administration in response to their role in President Nicolás Maduro’s recent creation of an all-powerful Constituent Assembly, U.S. officials told Reuters.

Paris police searched the apartment block today of the suspect in yesterday’s car ramming attack on soldiers deployed to the Parisian suburb of Levallois-Perret, which is being treated as a terrorist incident, France 24 reports.

Gaza’s Hamas was warned not to interfere with Israel’s construction of a border wall designed to stop tunnels between the two sides today, Reuters’ Dan Williams reports.

A Russian surveillance plane flew through secure airspace over Washington yesterday, perfectly legal reconnaissance under the Treaty on Open Skies, but nevertheless an apparent attempt to troll President Trump by taking in his current home of Washington, D.C. and Bedminster, N.J. where he is currently vacationing at one of his golf clubs, suggest Kathryn A. Wolfe and Bryan Bender at POLITICO.

Qatar has ended visa requirements for 80 countries worldwide, a move that could provide some relief from the blockade by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the U.A.E. Bill Chappell reports at NPR.

The U.S. strategy in Afghanistan to train the Afghan army to fight terrorist groups and then to largely withdraw from the nation hasn’t actually really ever been put into action, former ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald E. Neumann explaining how the U.S. seems to be failing again and again in Afghanistan at the Washington Post. 

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