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 KOREAN PENINSULA
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered the production of more warheads and rocket engines in a visit to a missile-development factory, the date of the visit was not disclosed, but was published in North Korean state media yesterday, coming hours after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson praised Pyongyang for exercising “some level of restraint” by refraining to carry out a missile test since U.N. Security Council imposed new sanctions this month. Jonathan Cheng reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is willing to make “concerted efforts” to improve relations with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the official Xinhua News Agency quoted Xi as saying today, the comments on the relationship coming amid tensions over the U.S. T.H.A.A.D. anti-missile defense system installed in South Korea, with China accusing T.H.A.A.D. of being a threat to its security. The AP reports.
Japanese and South Korean jets were prompted to escort Russian nuclear-capable strategic bombers for parts of their route over the Pacific Ocean, the Sea of Japan, the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea, according to a statement from Russia’s Defense Ministry today, which did not explain why or when the mission took place. Reuters reports.
The Trump administration’s decision to withhold millions of dollars of aid from Egypt may have been due to its relationship with North Korea rather than its “human rights” record, as stated by the State Department, Adam Taylor explains at the Washington Post.
The Trump administration’s approach to the North Korean threat has not been “very useful at all” and it should take a different approach, including dropping its preoccupation with intercontinental ballistic missiles (I.C.B.M.) and engaging in dialogue without demanding any preconditions, Siegfried Hecker writes at POLITICO Magazine.
The revelation from a U.N. report that chemical weapons shipments from North Korea to Syria were intercepted raises the question of who financed the deal, with Iran being a plausible candidate due to its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Iran’s reported cooperation with Pyongyang on the development of nuclear weapons and missiles. Benny Avni considers the possible connections at The Daily Beast.
Trump should not use Pakistan as a “scapegoat,” Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said yesterday, making the comments ahead of a meeting between Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan and military leaders to formulate a response to the U.S.’ Afghanistan strategy, after Trump singled out Pakistan for harboring “agents of chaos” and empowering the Afghani Taliban. Drazen Jorgic reports at Reuters.
“We must value Pakistan’s important role on the Afghanistan issue, and respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and reasonable security concerns,” China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi told Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a phone call yesterday, according to Chinese state media, Reuters reporting.
Pakistan’s internal politics threatens the Trump administration’s efforts to implement its Afghanistan strategy, the recent removal of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the rise of Imran Khan – a fierce critic of the U.S. war on terror – is shaping the political terrain. Saeed Shah writes at the Wall Street Journal.
Trump must appoint special envoy to support the Afghanistan strategy, the military commitment proving to be a step in the right direction but diplomatic efforts, the support of the international community and accountability to the President are vital to ensure that the Afghan government can become self-sufficient. Saad Mohseni and Mitchell Shivers write at the Wall Street Journal.
Trump’s speech on Monday “did not amount to a strategy, let alone a new one,” failing to set out a vision for “victory,” avoiding the reality that diplomacy is the only path forward, neglecting other nations that could have a role to play in stabilizing Afghanistan, and the president lacks the moral authority to project any sincerity. Roger Cohen writes at the New York Times.
State-building in Afghanistan has failed due to the complete disintegration of institutions, the competing authority of local warlords and armed groups, interference from other nations, ethnic divisions, and bias against outside efforts to impose peace. Max Fisher and Amanda Taub write at the New York Times.
At least 30 civilians staying in a hotel near the Yemeni capital of Sanaa were killed or wounded by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes yesterday, according to a U.N. official, marking the first airstrikes in the area since June. Shuaib Almosawa and Rod Nordland report at the New York Times.
The Saudi-led coalition hit a “legitimate military high-value target,” a coalition spokesperson said today in response to the strike on the hotel outside Sanaa, adding that the “ones who perished were members of an armed renegade group,” referencing the Houthi rebels. Reuters reports.
The airstrikes came as tensions between the Houthi rebels and allies of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh have been exposed, the alliance between the two sides against the recognized Yemeni government headed by Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi showing signs of splintering, Ali Al-Mujahed and Sudarsan Raghavan report at the Washington Post.
Thousands of supporters rallied behind Saleh today, despite the tensions with the Houthi rebels, Reuters reports.
The top U.S. commander for the Middle East Gen. Joseph Votel visited the Saudi-Yemeni border yesterday, the visit coinciding with Saudi-led airstrikes hit a hotel near Sanaa, Lolita C. Baldor reports at the AP.
Yemen is a collapsed state and the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, Shuaib Almosawa, Ben Hubbard and Troy Griggs explain how the country has fallen into dysfunction and crisis at the New York Times.
The Islamic State group asked the Syrian Army and the Lebanese Shi’ite militia group Hezbollah to let it withdraw from the Syria-Lebanon border to the eastern province of Deir al-Zour today, according to a pro-Assad military alliance official, the military alliance having launched an operation on Saturday to drive out the militants at the same time as the Lebanese army launched an operation from the other side of the border. Reuters reports.
“I never doubted the Lebanese army,” Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri told reporters yesterday during a visit to troops near the border with Syria who are carrying out an operation against Islamic State militants in the frontier region, stating that victory against Islamic State militants in the area is near. Zeina Karam reports at the AP.
Russia and U.S. military officials have been regularly communicating over operations in Syria, marking a surprising level of contact despite deteriorating U.S.-Russia relations. Phil Stewart reports at Reuters.
Thousands of civilians “are trapped in a deadly labyrinth” in the Syrian city of Raqqa, Amnesty International warned today, urging the U.S.-led coalition to protect civilians, Al Jazeera reports.
The Islamic State’s campaign to make money as its self-proclaimed caliphate crumbles is revealed by Erika Solomon at the Financial Times.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 16 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on August 22. Separately, partner forces conducted eight strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
“If necessary Turkey should deem this referendum as a reason for war,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavosuglu said today, warning that the planned Kurdish independence referendum in northern Iraq for Sept. 25 should not go ahead, Reuters reports.
Iraqi forces captured two neighborhoods on the outskirts of the Islamic State-held city of Tal Afar yesterday, according to the Iraqi military, making the advances as part of an operation launched Sunday. Sinan Salaheddin reports at the AP.
The true scale of the destruction following the recapture of Mosul from Islamic State militants is now emerging, with many survivors questioning the way the battle was fought by Iraqi forces and the U.S.-led coalition. Kareem Fahim and Aaso Ameen Schwan reveal the extent of the damage and the cost to civilians at the Washington Post.
“The United States stands with Ukraine,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said today from the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, stating that the U.S. would not accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea and accusing Russia of “seeking to redraw international borders by force,” Robert Burns reports at the AP.
Russia is preparing “Zapad” military exercises to be held next month in Belarus, Kaliningrad and Russia, amid increased tensions between Russia and Europe and deteriorating U.S.-Russia relations, Ewen MacAskill reports at the Guardian.
“I don’t think that we are in a state of a new Cold War,” Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said yesterday, stating that although relations have reached a low point, the current tension “isn’t equivalent to confrontation that may spill into open conflict.” Vladimir Isachenkov reports at the AP.
Russia’s ambassador to Sudan was found dead at his Khartoum home yesterday, according to reports from Russian and Sudanese officials, Rick Gladstone reports at the New York Times.
President Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner met with senior Egyptian officials in Cairo yesterday, during a visit to discuss Israel-Palestine peace negotiations and a few hours after the Egyptian Foreign Ministry condemned the U.S. over its decision to cut or delay aid to Egypt, also warning that the U.S. measure would have potential “negative implications” on efforts to further common interests. Carol Morello reports at the Washington Post.
Kushner faces a tough task brokering a deal between Israel and Palestine during his Middle East visit this week, the White House not having received assurances that the two sides would talk to one another largely due to severe disagreements over the issue of Palestinian statehood. Rory Jones and Paul Sonne explain at the Wall Street Journal.
Kushner’s attempts to revive negotiations have been complicated by events in the region since his last visit in June, including a corruption scandal surrounding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the increasing unpopularity of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash explain at the Washington Post.
Equivocation on a two-state solution, a Trump administration in disarray, the continuation of a “facilitation strategy” that has failed to deliver success in previous administrations, and the inexperience of Kushner means that Palestinians should not “waste their time expecting concrete results from this administration,” Ibrahim Fraihat writes at Al Jazeera.
An email from a top Trump aide Rick Dearborn referencing efforts to set up a meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russian President Vladimir Putin was discovered by Congressional investigators, according to sources with direct knowledge of the matter. Manu Raju and Marshall Cohen report at CNN.
“It’s nonsense,” the former Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak told CNN yesterday, castigating the media for allegations that he worked as a spymaster during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. Matthew Chance, Emma Burrows and Zachary Cohen report at CNN.
An insight into special counsel Robert Mueller’s team working on the Trump-Russia investigation is provided by Betsy Woodruff at The Daily Beast.
THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
Trump challenged his Republican Party on Tuesday that he would shut down the government if Congress did not fund the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, following up his threat yesterday in a series of tweets, with such a measure having the potential to disrupt a legislative program that includes defense authorization and the strategy against the Islamic State. Julie Hirschfield Davis reports at the New York Times.
The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination criticized Trump for his comments on the unrest in Charlottesville, Va. yesterday, stating that the failure at the “highest political level” of the U.S. to “condemn the racist violent events and demonstrations” has caused deep concern, Farnaz Fassihi reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The dominance of generals within the Trump administration spells dangers for the future and for American democracy, despite the fact that they provide some relief that Trump is surrounded by competent professionals, Charles Lane writes at the Washington Post.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson should resign for the good of the country as he has proven to be ineffectual, has failed to manage the State Department, struggled to influence President Trump on key foreign policy issues, and is unable to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Max Boot excoriates Tillerson at Foreign Policy.
Qatar restored full diplomatic relations with Iran today, defying demands of the four Arab nations – who instigated Qatar’s diplomatic isolation – that it reduce its ties with Iran, reestablishing diplomatic presence with Iran after Qatar recalled its ambassador in 2016 following attacks on two Saudi diplomatic posts in Tehran. Jon Gambrell reports at the AP.
The head of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) Maj. Gen. Michael Beary hit back at criticisms from the U.S. and Israel about its mission yesterday, responding to critics, such as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, who last week urged the Security Council to expand Unifil’s mandate to include action against the Shi’ite Lebanese militia group Hezbollah. Sarah El Deeb reports at the AP.
Guidance on the Trump administration’s ban on transgender people serving in the military is expected to be issued in the coming days, Gordon Lubold reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing regarding U.S. warship collisions on Sept. 7, after a recent spate of incidents, including a collision between the U.S.S. John S. McCain Naval Destroyer and a merchant ship on Monday. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.
“Unfortunately leadership from the executive branch on cybersecurity has been weak,” the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain (R-Ariz.) said yesterday, criticizing the Trump administration for a lack of cybersecurity strategy, Morgan Chalfant reporting at the Hill.
Diplomatic visits between delegations from Iran and Saudi Arabia are due to take place soon, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told the I.S.N.A. agency yesterday, adding that the “visas have been issued for both sides to make this trip,” Al Jazeera reports.
U.S. aircraft arrived in the U.K. yesterday for annual joint military exercises, coinciding with Russia’s controversial “Zapad” military exercise, Zachary Cohen reports at CNN.