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The Early Edition: September 6, 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

“It is impossible to resolve the problem of the Korean peninsula only by sanctions and pressure,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said today after meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the Russian city of Vladivostok, also denouncing the Pyongyang regime for its nuclear program as a “crude violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions” that “undermines the non-proliferation regime and creates a threat to the security of northeastern Asia.” Denis Pinchuk and Christine Kim report at Reuters.

President Moon asked Putin to help with the crisis on the Korean peninsula and urged Russia to “at least cut off oil supplies to North Korea this time,” according to Moon’s spokesperson Yoon Young-chan, Putin expressing reluctance as such a move may “cause damage to people in hospitals or other ordinary citizens.” Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports at the Washington Post.

The U.S. request for a U.N. Security Council vote on Sept. 11 for sanctions against North Korea is “a little premature,” Russia’s ambassador to the U.N. Vassily Nebenzia said yesterday, casting doubt on the possibility of further sanctions. Stephanie Nebehay and Christine Kim report at Reuters.

The U.S. military will begin adding more launchers to the T.H.A.A.D. antimissile defense system in South Korea tomorrow, prompting protests from China who have urged the U.S. and South Korea to halt the deployment. The AP reports.

North Korea must understand that it has “no bright future” if it continues on its current path, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said today, adding that he wishes to discuss the crisis with President Putin and President Moon separately during meetings this week in Vladivostok. Reuters reports.

North Korea’s nuclear test on Sunday caused many landslides and wide disturbances at the Punggye-ri test site, analysts have found, based on information and new satellite images. William J. Broad reports at the New York Times.

“A conflict would be catastrophic,” Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull said in phone call to Trump yesterday, according to Buzzfeed. Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.

U.S. lawmakers should hold back on new sanctions against North Korea due to “heightened” tensions, the chairperson of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said yesterday, Reuters reports.

The American Civil Liberties Union argued that only Congress can authorize a military strike on North Korea, the A.C.L.U. said in a letter to the president yesterday, stating that authorization constitutes a “fundamental principle of separation of powers,” Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

The risks of taking stronger action against North Korea at this moment are too great for Chinese President Xi Jinping, the collapse of the Pyongyang regime would lead to an influx of refugees to China and bring U.S. and South Korean troops to its border, and bending to pressure from the U.S. would undermine China’s standing and give encouragement to political dissidents. Andrew Browne writes at the Wall Street Journal.

Growing resentment within China against North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reflect concerns that Pyongyang has inhibited China’s path to dominance in the region and the world, Jane Perlez writes at the New York Times.

China has been put in a difficult position following Trump’s implicit threat that China has to choose between cutting off fuel to North Korea or military action against the Pyongyang regime. Jane Perlez explains at the New York Times.

President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have cultivated a warm relationship and Trump has spoken numerous times to Abe about the North Korea threat, reflecting a closeness that has not been replicated between Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Motoko Rich observes at the New York Times.

Nuclear weapons offer the key to Kim Jong-un’s survival: providing a deterrence to the U.S. and countries in the region, helping it achieve its goal of expelling the U.S. from the region, and demonstrating to the North Korean people and the elite that the regime has been able to make technological developments in spite of sanctions. Anna Fifield writes at the Washington Post.

Three experts offer possible options for the U.S. to counter the North Korean threat without engaging militarily. Eric Talmadge summarizes their positions at the AP.

Trump’s promise to lift some restrictions on weapons it can sell to South Korea does not amount to a game changer and is a continuation of the Obama administration’s policy, David Axe writes at The Daily Beast.

The threat of nuclear confrontation is of genuine concern, the gravity of which cannot be obscured by the ample distractions offered by the Trump administration, Kathleen Parker writes at the Washington Post.

Wars often result from “bellicose rhetoric and bad information” and history shows us how miscalculation can lead to disaster, David Ignatius writes at the Washington Post.

SYRIA

The Syrian Army’s advance on Deir al-Zour broke the Islamic State’s three-year blockade of the city yesterday, according to Syrian state media, bringing the Syrian army and its allies closer in proximity to U.S.-backed forces in the neighboring province of Raqqa. Maria Abi-Habib and Nour Alakraa report at the Wall Street Journal.

It could take weeks, if not months, for the Syrian army to recapture all of Deir al-Zour, and the advance has caused concern among critics of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who fear that the gains could give an opportunity for Assad’s allies – the Iranian backed militias and the Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah militia group – to expand their power in the region, the AP reports.

The offensive on Deir al-Zour bolsters the argument that Assad’s forces should liberate the remaining areas of Syria from the Islamic State, rather than U.S.-backed fighters, with analysts believing the motivation for the offensive on Deir al-Zour province was partly based on concern that the U.S. military would begin to focus on combating fighters in the province. Liz Sly reports at the Washington Post.

Syrian government forces used chemical weapons against civilians in opposition-held areas on 33 occasions, according to a report by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria released today. Stephanie Nebehay reports at Reuters.

U.S. airstrikes have been targeting Islamic State militants straying from a convoy in the Syrian desert. Paul McLeary summarizes the controversial Hezbollah-brokered transportation deal and the U.S. military’s reaction at Foreign Policy.

RUSSIA

“I am not his bride, nor his groom,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said of President Trump yesterday, stating that each leader defends their national interests, also disparaging the U.S. for its treatment of Russian diplomatic facilities on U.S. soil. Andrew Roth reports at the Washington Post.

Putin’s offer of a U.N. peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine “shows that Russia has effected a change in its policies that we should not gamble away,” Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said yesterday, welcoming Russia’s proposal for the U.N. mission to patrol the front line. Nataliya Vasilyeva reports at the AP.

“The delivery of weapons to a conflict zone doesn’t help peacekeeping efforts, but only worsens the situation,” Putin said yesterday, hitting back at Defense Secretary James Mattis for considering supplying Ukraine with defensive weapons, arguing that pro-Russian separatist “republics” in Ukraine could possibly “deploy weapons to other conflict zones.” John Bowden reports at the Hill.

TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

Donald Trump Jr. is scheduled to meet with the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow to discuss the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia, according to three Democratic members of the committee have said, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) also explaining that the committee has attempted to interview former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, but he has been “resistant.” Karoun Demirjian reports at the Washington Post.

The House Intelligence Committee has issued subpoenas to the Department of Justice and the F.B.I. in relation to the unverified dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, Rep Adam B. Schiff (D-Califf.) confirmed yesterday evening, also accusing Republicans of trying to “discredit” Steele and avoiding the substance of the allegations made in the dossier. Karoun Demirjian reports at the Washington Post.

The Steele dossier has faults, but is generally credible and offers a broad framework for understanding possible Trump campaign collusion with the Kremlin. John Sipher, a former member of the C.I.A.’s Senior Intelligence Service, provides an approximately 5,500 word analysis of the dossier at Just Security.

IRAN

“What happens next is significantly in Congress’s hands,” the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said in a speech discussing the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to a conservative thinktank yesterday, arguing that Trump would be justified in de-certifying Iran’s compliance, but noting that she recognizes that Congress and European allies do not want the U.S. to withdraw from the accord. Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump must consider the wider context when making a decision on Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal, Haley also said yesterday, stating that Iran’s hostility to the U.S. and activity in the Middle East are factors to be considered, but emphasizing that her speech did not set out the president’s position when he must decide whether to certify Iran’s compliance next month. Nicole Gaouette, Elise Labott and Laura Koran report at CNN.

IRAQ

The Iraqi city of Falluja offers some lessons for the recently liberated city of Mosul, Paul Adams sets out the challenges at the BBC.

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]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

If the Qatar crisis continues for years, “so be it,” Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters last night, maintaining a hard line following the Saudi-led bloc’s isolation of Qatar on June 5. Al Jazeera reports in rolling coverage.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ claim that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy (D.A.C.A.) violated the constitution was “wrong and disingenuous,” reflecting the Trump administration’s policy preferences rather than concern for legislative authority. Adam Cox and Cristina Rodriguez analyze Sessions’ comments on D.A.C.A. and the Constitution at Just Security.

The U.N. Security Council approved a resolution establishing a sanctions committee to target those who have obstructed Mali’s 2015 peace agreement, France’s U.N. ambassador stating that the resolution “sends a very strong dissuasive message” to those hindering peace and stability. Edith M. Lederer reporting at the AP.

The Defense Department supports a Congressional bill closing military bases, top Pentagon official Lucian Niemeyer said yesterday, stating that such a move would improve military value and effectiveness. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been inconspicuous on North Korea and other major foreign policy issues, allowing U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley to take the limelight; reinforcing perceptions that the Trump administration is in chaos and reigniting rumors of a “Rexit.” Robbie Gramer and Dan De Luce write at Foreign Policy.

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About the Author

is an assistant news editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK.