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The Early Edition: September 5, 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 NUCLEAR WEAPONS TEST

“The U.S. will receive more ‘gift packages’ from my country as long as it relies on reckless provocations,” North Korea’s ambassador to the U.N. Han Tae Song said today, restating that Pyongyang “successfully carried out a hydrogen bomb test” for an intercontinental ballistic missile (I.C.B.M.) on Sunday, Stephanie Nebehay reporting at Reuters.

North Korea is “begging for war,” the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said yesterday at an emergency meeting of the Security Council, pushing for new sanctions against the Pyongyang regime in light of its nuclear weapons test, including a call to cut off all oil and fuel supplies to the country – a measure that China would be reluctant to take. David E. Sanger and Choe Sang-Hun report at the New York Times.

“Insulting.” Haley said in response to a China-Russia proposal for North Korea to freeze its military and nuclear program in return for a freeze on U.S. military exercises in the Korean Peninsula to encourage direct talks. Farniz Fassihi, Jonathan Cheng and Kate Davidson report at the Wall Street Journal.

“China will never allow chaos and war on the peninsula,” the Chinese ambassador to the U.N. Liu Jieyi said yesterday at the emergency Security Council meeting, adding that the parties concerned must “restart the dialogue and talks,” Rebecca Savransky reports at the Hill.

North Korea was observed moving a rocket thought to be an I.C.B.M. toward its west coast, South Korea’s Asia Business Daily newspaper said today, citing an unidentified source – the South Korean defense ministry was not able to confirm the report. Christine Kim reports at Reuters.

The leaders of the B.R.I.C.S. countries (Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa) condemned North Korea’s latest nuclear test in a joint statement yesterday at a summit in China, expressing concern over rising tensions and urging a resolution through “peaceful means and direct dialogue,” Eva Dou reporting at the Wall Street Journal.

“Ramping up military hysteria in such conditions is senseless,” Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters today at the B.R.I.C.S. summit, warning that such an approach could lead to a “global, planetary collapse” and the only solution is “peaceful dialogue,” Justin McCurry and Tom Phillips report at the Guardian.

North Korea “would rather eat grass” than abandon its nuclear program “as long as they do not feel safe,” Putin also said, suggesting that Kim Jong-un recognized the lessons from the U.S. invasion of Iraq after Saddam Hussein had “abandoned weapons of mass destruction.” F. Brinley Bruton and Alan Kaytukov report at NBC News.

“The redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons is an alternative worth a full review,” South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo said yesterday, adding that he had spoken with Defense Secretary James Mattis last week about the U.S. sending strategic assets to South Korea more regularly. Anna Fifield reports at the Washington Post.

South Korea has agreed with the U.S. to scrap a warhead weight limit on the South’s missiles, South Korea’s presidential office said today, Christine Kim reporting at Reuters.

Trump agreed “in principle” to scrap the warhead weight, the White House said yesterday, also saying in a statement that Trump gave “conceptual approval” for Seoul to buy billions of dollars of weaponry from the U.S., Reuters reports.

The South Korean navy carried out live-fire drills today, a day after the South’s military simulated an attack on the North’s Pyunggye-ri nuclear test site, from which the North carried out its test on Sunday. The BBC reports.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Moon agreed that the international community should “quickly decide on further and stricter sanctions” against North Korea, in a phone call yesterday, the German government spokesperson said in a statement. Emma Anderson reports at POLITICO.

The latest nuclear test has driven a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea, Trump taking aim at President Moon  for his support of dialogue with the North, and President Moon retorting that the crisis can only be resolved peacefully – the dispute also occurring amid Trump’s threat to withdraw from a trade agreement with Seoul. Choe Sang-Hun explains at the New York Times.

An analysis of the Trump administration’s incoherent approach to the crisis, the position of China and Russia, the concerns of South Korea and Japan, and North Korea’s objectives is provided by Ishaan Tharoor at the Washington Post.

Is the North Korea crisis heading for war? Jonathan Marcus offers an analysis at the BBC.

A miscalculation could lead to war, the Kim regime risking provoking the U.S., the Trump administration’s confused approach risking encouraging Pyongyang to believe that its actions are splitting the U.S.-South Korea alliance, and China’s complicated position risking upsetting both sides. Gideon Rachman writes at the Financial Times.

How can North Korean leader Kim Jong-un be removed? The Wall Street Journal editorial board set out how the Pyongyang regime can be pressured and argues that there are options that have not yet been utilized.

The collapse of the Pyongyang regime poses a threat to China: North Korea provides a buffer between China and South Korea, an ally of the U.S. with strong U.S. military presence, and further economic measures against North Korea have the potential to harm Chinese companies, Joe McDonald explains at the AP.

The Trump administration’s warnings that countries trading with North Korea would face economic consequences was seen as targeting China, but such a move could severely disrupt the U.S. economy. Kate Davidson explains at the Wall Street Journal.

North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are the product of the failure of multilateral counter-proliferation efforts and the refusal of nuclear-armed states to recognize the 1970 nuclear non-proliferation treaty (N.P.T.), Simon Tisdall writes at the Guardian.

SYRIA

The Syrian army and its allies have broken the Islamic State siege of the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, according to Syrian state media, a military media unit run by the Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah militia group stating that the advancing forces reached an army garrison at the edge of the city. Reuters reports.

The Russian air force supported the Syrian army and its allies in their advance on Deir al-Zour, Russia’s defense ministry said in a statement yesterday, helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to make rapid progress against the Islamic State. Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam report at Reuters.

Two Russian soldiers were killed in Deir al-Zour, the Russian Defense Ministry was quoted as saying yesterday by the Interfax news agency, Reuters reports.

A convoy of Islamic State militants and civilians is still stranded in the Syrian Desert, the U.S.-led coalition said yesterday, the coalition having used airstrikes to block the convoy’s route to Deir al-Zour which was transporting Islamic State militants and their families from the Syria-Lebanon border as part of a controversial Hezbollah-brokered deal. The AP reports.

The U.S.-led coalition has been able to “capitalize” on the stranded convoy of militants in the Syrian desert, the U.S.-led coalition spokesperson Col. Ryan Dillon said yesterday, allowing the coalition to target Islamic State fighters and resources seeking to reach the buses. Margherita Stancati reports at the Wall Street Journal.

RUSSIA

“We reserve the right to take a decision on the number of U.S. diplomats in Moscow. But we won’t do that for now,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said today, taking issue with Washington’s “boorish” treatment of Russian diplomatic facilities and ordering his foreign ministry to take the U.S. to court over alleged violations of Russia’s property rights. Denis Pinchuk reports at Reuters.

Russia will ask the U.N. Security Council to send peacekeepers to eastern Ukraine along the line separating rebel-controlled territory and the area under government control, Putin said today, telling reporters that the peacekeepers could help ensure the safety of international observers monitoring the cease-fire. The AP reports.

Russia-Belarus “Zapad” military exercises set to start in Sept. 14 raise many questions, including the possibility that Russia would permanently base heavy weaponry in Belarus from which it could pursuit expansionist policies and threaten Ukraine. Anna Nemitsov explains the concerns at The Daily Beast.

The Pentagon will continue to rely on Russian-manufactured RD-180 rocket engines – at a time of increased tensions between the U.S. and Russia – due to the challenges in finding a reliable and cost-effective domestic replacement. Andy Pasztor reports at the Wall Street Journal.

IRAQ

The reconstruction of the Iraqi city of Mosul, recently liberated from the Islamic State, presents huge challenges, but there are signs that businesses can establish themselves with the help of the government and the international community. Asa Fitch and Maria Abi-Habib write at the Wall Street Journal.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 28 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on September 4. Separately, partner forces conducted nine strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

“Congressional government” offers much better protection from President Trump than the unrealistic prospect of impeachment, with Congress taking control of important national policy areas through bi-partisan efforts, Robert Kagan writes at the Washington Post.

The President must work with Congress to enact policies and Congress must engage with the president to enable him to lead effectively and transition into his new role. Mark McLarty and George Mitchell call for “principled compromise” at the Washington Post.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Close associates of the Trump campaign are expected to give closed-door interviews to congressional committees investigating links between the Trump campaign and Russia in the coming weeks, and are considering holding public hearings. Austin Wright and Ali Watkins report at POLITICO.

The federal government must stop using software developed by the Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab, which has extensive ties to Russian intelligence and indirect links to the Kremlin. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) writes at the New York Times.

The U.S.’ expanded use of airstrikes in Afghanistan has led to increased civilian deaths, although the campaign has been effective against insurgents, it risks undermining public faith and exposing tensions between Kabul and Washington. Sune Engel Rasmussen explains at the Guardian.

A meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi today was “constructive,” India’s Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar told reporters, stating that the two countries agreed to work to improve mutual trust following the recent conclusion of a 10-week border dispute. Louise Watt reports at the AP.

World leaders have put pressure on Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi to halt the violence against Rohingya Muslims, the U.N. estimating that 123,600 people have escaped to Bangladesh since Aug. 25. Simon Lewis and Krishna N. Das report at Reuters.

Pakistan today denounced a statement by the B.R.I.C.S. nations (Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa) saying that militant groups in Pakistan pose a regional security concern, denying that the country offers a safe haven for militant groups. Reuters reports.

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About the Author

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK