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.
U.S.-RUSSIA DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS
The State Department ordered Russia to close its consulate in San Francisco and two other diplomatic properties in New York and Washington yesterday, in retaliation to Russia’s order in July that the U.S. cut its diplomatic staff in Russia after Congress imposed sanctions on Moscow for alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election. Mark Landler and Gardiner Harris report at the New York Times.
The U.S. hopes that “we can avoid further retaliatory actions by both sides,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement yesterday, emphasizing the desire to achieve better relations between the U.S. and Russia and “increased cooperation on areas of mutual concern,” the BBC reports.
The Trump administration is not expelling any of the Russian diplomats and the diplomats in San Francisco can be re-assigned to other posts in the U.S., a senior Trump administration official told reporters yesterday. Reuters reports.
Russia would react to the U.S. decision once it has finished analyzing it, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said today, the AP reports.
Problems in the Korean peninsula “should only be settled through a direct dialogue of all the parties concerned without any preconditions,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in article released yesterday discussing the North Korea crisis, stating that “provocations” and “pressure” are a “dead-end road.” James Griffiths reports at CNN.
“It didn’t contradict anything the president said. We’re not talking to the North Koreans right now,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters yesterday, responding to questions about his comments on Wednesday that the U.S. is “never out of diplomatic solutions,” which apparently contradicted the president’s contention that “talking is not the answer.” Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
Japan is holding close to the Trump administration despite the mixed messages emerging from Washington about the North Korea threat, hoping that Trump recognizes the importance of the U.S.-Japan security alliance, Linda Sieg explains at Reuters.
Kim Jong-un’s actions are predictable: the North Korean leader has clearly set out his intentions and executed his threats by launching missiles, meaning that Kim’s warning that more missiles are to come should be taken seriously. Anna Fifield writes at the Washington Post.
North Korea is set to be a nuclear state in the near future and the U.S. must make clear that it would respond decisively to any threat, Anthony H. Cordesman writes at CNN.
Iraqi forces have “fully liberated” the northern city of Tal Afar from Islamic State militants as part of the operation against militants that began 11 days ago, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced yesterday, adding that all of Nineveh province is “in the hands of our brave troops.” Sinan Salaheddin reports at the AP.
Fighting continues in Tal Afar despite Abadi’s declaration, including in the nearby village of al-‘Ayadiya, and the Iraqi forces’ next operation in the city of Hawija is likely to be more difficult than the Tal Afar offensive. Tim Arango reports at the New York Times.
“Dangerous work remains to completely remove explosive devices, identify I.S.I.S. fighters in hiding and eliminate any remaining I.S.I.S. holdouts,” U.S. Central Command said in a statement yesterday, using an acronym for the Islamic State group, also congratulating Iraqi forces for their “stunning victory.”
“While I would like to say that we would see this elsewhere in Iraq and Syria, we are not really planning for that,” the top U.S. commander in the region Lt. Gen Stephen Townsend said yesterday, warning that the quick victory in Tal Afar may not be replicated in other operations to capture territory from the Islamic State group. Raya Jalabi and Ahmed Rasheed report at Reuters.
The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) certified Iran’s compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (J.C.P.O.A.), in a report published yesterday, which is unlikely to deter Trump’s efforts to put pressure on Iran and to find the country in violation of the nuclear deal. Felicia Schwartz, Laurence Norman and Farnaz Fassihi report at the Wall Street Journal.
“If inspections of Iranian military sites are ‘merely a dream,’ as Iran says, then Iranian compliance with the J.C.P.O.A. is also a dream,” the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said in a statement yesterday, pushing for the I.A.E.A. to demand access to a series of Iranian military sites to inspect for activity that may be in violation of the deal, but refraining from commenting on the I.A.E.A. report findings. David E. Sanger and Rick Gladstone report at the New York Times.
If the Trump administration want to “bring down the deal, they will,” an I.A.E.A. official told Reuters yesterday, adding that the I.A.E.A. do not want to “give them an excuse to.” Francois Murphy reports at Reuters.
Special counsel Robert Mueller received submissions from Trump’s lawyers arguing that the president did not obstruct justice when firing former F.B.I. Director James Comey, also making the arguments during meetings with Mueller and setting out reasons why Comey would be an unreliable witness. Peter Nicholas, Erica Orden and Paul Sonne report at the Wall Street Journal.
Trump associate Michael Cohen is expected to testify privately before the House Intelligence Committee in relation to the Trump-Russia investigation, according to sources. Josh Dawsey and Ali Watkins report at POLITICO.
Mueller has enlisted the help of the I.R.S. to investigate Trump-Russia connections, according to sources, potentially opening the probe to accusations of becoming politicized. Betsy Woodruff reveals at The Daily Beast.
The steady trickle of revelations connecting Trump associates with Russian officials spells bad news for the president, Eugene Robinson summarizes the possible instances of collusion at the Washington Post.
The convoys transporting Islamic State militants from the Lebanon-Syria border to the eastern Syrian province of Deir al-Zour remains stuck in the Syrian desert following U.S.-led coalition airstrikes that disrupted the relocation, Rod Nordland reports at the New York Times.
“I don’t think he’s dead,” the top U.S. commander in the region Lt. Gen Stephen Townsend said yesterday, responding to a question from a reporter about the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, adding that the U.S.-led coalition believe he may be in the mid-Euphrates valley region. Martin Farrer reports at the Guardian.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “cannot be part of the solution,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said today, taking a hard line after President Emmanuel Macron appeared to soften France’s position on the Assad regime. John Irish reports at Reuters.
The Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah militia group’s successes in Syria against Islamic State militants raises questions about its role in the region, the potential military gains giving Hezbollah the opportunity to make political gains in the Middle East and entrench its position in Lebanon. Yaroslav Trofimov writes at the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S.-led coalition is in denial over the scale of civilian deaths in the Syrian city of Raqqa, Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria, with Lt. Gen. Townsend repeatedly playing down credible reports and the coalition’s official investigations have been slow to come to conclusions. Samuel Oakford explains at Foreign Policy.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 21 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on August 30. Separately, partner forces conducted 10 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis signed deployment orders to send more troops to Afghanistan, he told reporters yesterday, declining to state how many troops would be sent. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
“Peace with Pakistan is our national agenda,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in his Eid al-Adha message yesterday, attempting to reach out to Islamabad at a time of increased tensions and accusations by Afghanistan that Pakistan harbors Taliban insurgents. The AP reports.
The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
The President’s attacks on the press and bullying rhetoric serves a purpose: to “intimidate reporters into certain kinds of coverage,” to “limit the accessibility of truthful information,” and to obscure stories damaging to the presidency, and the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein’s was right to express concerns about the Trump administration and press freedom. David Kaye, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, writes at Just Security.
The Trump administration does not speak with one voice and the constant discord taints nearly every foreign policy issue, rendering his foreign policy approach ineffective. Antony J. Blinken writes at the New York Times.
Trump and the White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly may be on a collision course, the president growing frustrated with the way Kelly handles him, individuals close to the president have said. Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker describe the President’s unhappiness at the Washington Post.
“This is a complete scandal,” Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdogan said today, condemning the U.S. for indicting members of Erdogan’s security detail for attacks on peaceful protestors in May. Reuters reports.
Kuwaiti emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah is scheduled to meet Thursday with Trump in Washington to discuss a resolution to the Gulf crisis, which began June 5 when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the U.A.E. isolated Qatar over alleged support for terrorism and close ties with Iran. The AP reports.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson approved a request for a transfer of $40m to an anti-propaganda center, a State Department official confirmed yesterday, Nahal Toosi reports at POLITICO.
The resolution of the China-India border standoff this week demonstrated India’s “principled resistance” in the face of “China’s creeping aggression,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.
An Islamic State suicide bomber killed two policemen at a checkpoint near the Libyan city of Sirte yesterday, Rami Musa reports at the AP.
Deaths and injuries from cluster munitions more than doubled in 2016 compared to the previous year, according to a report by the Cluster Munition Coalition published yesterday, revealing the extent of casualties caused by the internationally outlawed weapons. Rick Gladstone reports at the New York Times.