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 fired three short-range ballistic missiles from a site on its east coast early Saturday, landing in the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, according to U.S. Pacific Command, with the launches believed to be a response to U.S.-South Korea annual military drills which began last week and will continue until Aug. 31. Anna Fifield reports at the Washington Post.
“We’re going to continue our peaceful pressure campaign,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in an interview with Fox News yesterday in response to the latest launches, stating that it was viewed as a “provocative act” but that the U.S. would continue to work with allies to seek a diplomatic resolution to the North Korean threat. Julia Manchester reports at the Hill.
The Pyongyang regime is playing a game of “nuclear blackmail” which suits its long-term goals, the preservation of its regime and the forcible reunification of the Korean Peninsula, and the U.S. must understand and exploit North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s thinking to neutralize the threat by stepping up its defensive ballistic-missile capabilities, expanding economic sanctions against North Korea and improving relations with China. Robert Scales and Steve Israel write at the Wall Street Journal.
Trump’s aggressive approach to trade with China undermines attempts to rein in North Korea, overlooking China’s concerns that the fall of the Pyongyang regime would produce an influx of North Korean refugees and bring U.S. troops closer to its border, Jeffrey Frankel writes at the Guardian.
The progress of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has shocked experts, revealing technological developments previously thought to be beyond the ability of the Pyongyang regime. Nicholas L. Miller and Vipin Narang explain why experts have underestimated North Korea at POLITICO Magazine.
Iraqi forces reclaimed the city of Tal Afar from Islamic State fighters yesterday, according to a statement by the Iraqi military, seizing one of the last remaining Islamic State strongholds in the country as part of an operation that was launched a week ago. Ali A. Nabhan and Maria Abi-Habib report at the Wall Street Journal.
Fighting continues in a small area near Tal Afar, Iraqi military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool said yesterday, adding that Iraqi forces were waiting to retake the area before declaring total victory. Thaier Al-Sudani and Kawa Omar report at Reuters.
The recapture of Tal Afar has prompted some senior Iraqi commanders to urge Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to launch simultaneous battles for the last two Islamic State strongholds of Hawija and Qaim, keen to build on the momentum of the relatively quick victory. Tamer El-Ghobashy and Mustafa Salim report at the Washington Post.
At least eight people were killed by a car bomb in a Shi’ite district of Baghdad today, with no one immediately claiming responsibility for the attack, Reuters reports.
A timeline of victories against the Islamic State in Iraq is provided by Karen Leigh at the Wall Street Journal.
The Syrian army and Lebanese Shi’ite militia group Hezbollah made preparations today to escort Islamic State fighters from the Syria-Lebanon border to eastern Syria under a ceasefire deal agreed yesterday between the Islamic State, the Lebanese Army, who are fighting militants from the Lebanese side of the border, and the Syrian army and Hezbollah, who are fighting Islamic State militants from the Syrian side of the border.
The Lebanese Army may have located the remains of eight soldiers taken hostage in 2014 by Islamic State militants near the Syrian border yesterday, making the discovery after a ceasefire was declared on the Syria-Lebanon border, Sarah El Deeb reports at the AP.
Recent developments on the Lebanon-Syria border undermine the Lebanese Army’s insistence that it is not coordinating with the Syrian army and Hezbollah, the swift operation to retake territory around the Arsal region suggesting greater cooperation than the official position maintains, Rami Ruhayem explains at the BBC.
The air war in Syria is constantly at risk of escalating as U.S. pilots navigate the threats posed by Russian and Syrian jets and Iranian-made drones, and make decisions about engaging targets that have strategic implications for the war. Phil Stewart explains at Reuters.
Israeli Prime Minister accused Iran of turning Syria into a “base of military entrenchment as part of its declared goal to eradicate Israel,” at a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres today, Jeffrey Heller reports at Reuters.
The White House is putting pressure on intelligence analysts to come up with Iranian violations of the 2015 nuclear deal, Trump having said that he expects to declare Iran non-compliant when he is required by Congress to re-certify the deal mid-October, with the intelligence community apparently resistant to the Trump administration’s calls for a justification, heeding the experience of the Iraq War and the Bush administration’s call to find evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.
Will President Trump recognize a forthcoming report by the International Atomic Energy Agency that will likely show that Iran is largely complying with the 2015 nuclear accord? Gardiner Harris asks at the New York Times, explaining the possible ramifications of the U.S. de-certifying Iran’s compliance with the deal.
The expansion of Lebanese Shi’ite militia group Hezbollah’s operations in the Middle East has been driven by Iran, the group having evolved into a “virtual arm” of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and becoming part of a broader network assisting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, promoting Iran’s agenda in Iraq, building forces to fight Israel and supporting Iranian interests in Yemen. Ben Hubbard explains the scale of Iran’s ambitions, its influence on Hezbollah and its involvement in conflicts throughout the region at the New York Times.
Moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem “was brought up by both sides,” during discussions between Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner, special envoy Jason D. Greenblatt, Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, a U.S. source familiar with the discussions said yesterday. Raoul Wootliff reports at The Times of Israel.
Efforts to keep the Palestinians involved in the negotiations constituted a victory during Kushner and Greenblatt’s trip to the Middle East, although they failed to break the impasse between Israel and Palestine, Mark Landler explains at the New York Times.
The lack of progress during Kushner’s visit to the Middle East is a boon for Israeli government officials as they are unlikely to face any pressure from the U.S. to make concessions, Benny Avni writes at The Daily Beast.
A suicide bomber attacked an Afghan army convoy in Helmand province yesterday, killing thirteen people, including soldiers and civilians, according to officials, with no one immediately claiming responsibility for the attack. The BBC reports.
“I don’t think either President Bush or President Obama focused as sharply” on the role of Pakistan in Afghanistan in being a place of sanctuary for terrorist groups, the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said yesterday, adding that the U.S. has leverage over Pakistan and can apply greater pressure. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
Trump’s Afghanistan strategy delivered what the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr. sought by expanding U.S. military presence and reflecting discussions between the general and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Pamela Constable explains Gen. Nicholson’s role in Afghanistan at the Washington Post.
THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
The president “speaks for himself,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said yesterday in an interview with Fox News yesterday in answer to a question about the President’s response to violence at a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. and the criticism of his comments that “both sides” were to blame for the violence, Tillerson stating that he did not believe “anyone doubts the American people’s values.” Noah Weiland reports at the New York Times.
Trump’s Deputy National Security Adviser Sebastian Gorka left the White House at the weekend, it is unclear whether he was sacked or quit of his own accord, the BBC reports.
Two top State Department officials announced last week that they would step down from their posts, including Tracey Ann Jacobson who was responsible for overseeing U.S. policy at the U.N. and other international organizations, Colum Lynch reports at Foreign Policy.
“Even the greatest of nations may suffer a catastrophic leader, but the nation can survive the test and protect its resilience” by staying true to its values, institutions and mores. Nicholas Kristof compares President Trump to Roman Emperor Caligula at the New York Times and argues that lessons can be learned from his abominable rule.
Trump’s company sought to develop a Trump Tower in Moscow while he was running for president in late 2015 and early 2016, according to people familiar with the proposal and new records, providing evidence that Trump was pursuing commercial interests at the same time as campaigning to be president. Carol D. Leonnig, Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman reveal at the Washington Post.
“The relationship between Russia and the U.S. is important, and it’s going to be crippled by this problem in Ukraine,” the newly-appointed U.S. envoy to Russia Kurt Volker said yesterday, also confirming that the Trump administration is “seriously considering” whether to send lethal weapons to Ukraine to help deter Russian aggression. Roman Olearchyk reports at the Financial Times.
The Trump administration has pressed ahead with costly new contracts overhauling U.S. nuclear arsenal and missile defense, with critics warning that the contracts are being signed without debate about their necessity. David E. Sanger and William J. Broad report at the New York Times.
India and China have agreed to “go back to the status quo” before the monthslong standoff in Doklam plateau, a contested border site, the India’s Ministry of External Affairs said today which was confirmed by a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson. Nirmala George reports at the AP.
The Saudi-led coalition air strike that killed at least 12 civilians on Friday was due to an unspecified “technical error,” coalition spokesperson Col. Turki al-Maliki said in a statement carried by Saudi state news agency S.P.A. on Saturday, defending the strike as having a “legitimate military target” and accusing the Houthi rebel fighters of using civilians as human shields. Reuters reports.
Japan has sought to strengthen its relationship with the Trump administration amid threats from North Korea and China’s ever-growing influence, however some in Japan have expressed concern that the Trump administration is no longer committed to the denuclearization of North Korea. Josh Rogin writes at the Washington Post.
Pakistan postponed a trip by U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells as small protests broke out in Pakistan against Trump for singling out Islamabad for its apparent destabilizing role in Afghanistan in a speech last week. Kay Johnson reports at Reuters.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres praised Kuwait for promoting dialogue and understanding in relation to the Gulf crisis and all conflicts in the region, during an official visit to Kuwait yesterday, adding that the U.N. supports Kuwait’s mediation efforts between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain. The UN News Centre reports.