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The Early Edition: September 7, 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

South Korea expects another intercontinental ballistic missile (I.C.B.M.) launch on Saturday, South Korea’s Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said today at a meeting of defense ministers, expressing concern that there “doesn’t seem much time is left before North Korea achieves its complete nuclear armament,” and making the comments as U.S. antimissile T.H.A.A.D. launchers were installed at a base at a site in South Korea earlier today. Taehoon Lee and James Griffiths report at CNN.

A U.S. draft resolution targeting North Korea was circulated to all 15 members of the U.N. Security Council yesterday and includes measures to cut off all North Korea’s oil supplies, halt their textile trade, and freeze the assets of leader Kim Jong-un and key North Korean individuals and institutions – proposed action that would likely be met with some resistance by China and Russia. Farnaz Fassihi reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“We will respond to the barbaric plotting around sanctions and pressure by the United States with powerful countermeasures of our own,” North Korea said in a statement by its delegation to an economic forum in Vladivostok today, Reuters reports.

The U.S. draft resolution also seeks U.N. authorization to “use all necessary measures” to “interdict and inspect” North Korean cargo vessels designated as sanctions violators, Colum Lynch reports at Foreign Policy.

“China agrees that the U.N. Security Council should make a further response and take necessary measures” in light of “new developments,” China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters today, without explaining what measures should be taken but stating that any action taken by the international community should pair the goal of curbing North Korea’s nuclear and missile program with “restarting dialogue and consultation.” Christian Shepherd and Christine Kim report at Reuters.

Russian President Vladimir Putin opposes cutting off oil supplies to North Korea, according to official accounts of Putin’s meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in yesterday, arguing that sanctions would cause damage to hospitals and impact civilians, Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.

“I am sure that things will not go as far as a large-scale conflict, especially with the use of weapons of mass destruction,” Putin said in Vladivostok today, adding that the Trump administration had shown signs of wanting to defuse tensions around North Korea and making the more positive comments after warning earlier in the week that the crisis could lead to a “global catastrophe.” Oksana Kobzeva and Denis Pinchuk report at Reuters.

North Korea’s latest nuclear test demonstrates an ability to build high-yield nuclear weapons and marks a significant development, experts have said, Eric Talmadge reports at the AP.

U.N. member states are subverting sanctions against North Korea, a draft report by the U.N.’s panel of experts on North Korea has said, demonstrating that evasion has increased as the sanctions regime has expanded. Ian Talley reports at the Wall Street Journal.

All countries must fully implement sanctions against North Korea, N.A.T.O. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said today, Reuters reports.

China has increased radiation monitoring following North Korea’s nuclear test on Sunday, fearing that signs of radioactive fallout could spark a public outcry which could then turn into a political problem for Beijing. Jeremy Page explains at the Wall Street Journal.

“I think that the strategy has worked” because “we are not at war,” the commander of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet Adm. Scott Swift said yesterday, adding that the priority would be for diplomacy and pressure on North Korea, but that “all options are on the table.” Anna Fifield and Michelle Ye Hee Lee report at the Washington Post.

Trump’s incoherent approach to North Korea has produced no positive results and has created confusion, his attacks on South Korea and heightened rhetoric also preventing a sober analysis of the possibilities of dealing with Kim. The New York Times editorial board writes.

How has North Korea advanced its nuclear program? Jeremy Page and Alastair Gale explain the backgrounds of the regime’s scientists and the knowledge they have accrued abroad at the Wall Street Journal.

SYRIA

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime was responsible for the April 4 sarin gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun in the opposition-held Idlib province, according to a report by the U.N.’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria released yesterday. Raja Abdulrahim reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The U.N. report reflects allegations made by the U.S. and other Western nations made after the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun, marking the first authoritative statement on the incident and making it difficult for the Assad regime and its allies to dismiss as politicized. Nick Cumming-Bruce reports at the New York Times.

Israeli airstrikes struck Syrian military positions near the western town of Masyaf today, killing two soldiers and causing military damage, the Syrian army said, the director of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also stating that the site has often been visited by Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah militia group fighters and Iranian military officials. Bassem Mroue reports at the AP.

The military site struck by the Israeli army may be linked to chemical weapons production, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said today, stating that the strike hit a Scientific Studies and Research Center facility. Sarah Dadouch and Jeffrey Heller report at Reuters.

Will the Syrian opposition realize that “they did not win the war” and be “pragmatic?” U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura said yesterday, also asking whether the Syrian government would be “ready and prepared to genuinely negotiate and not simply announce victory” following the fall of Islamic State strongholds of Raqqa and Deir al-Zour. The BBC reports.

TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

Facebook sold ads to a Russian firm during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, according to sources familiar with the social network’s findings, with Facebook’s chief security officer Alex Stamos writing that the ads “appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum.” The revelations are likely to prompt questions about the possibility of the Russians receiving guidance from the U.S. to interfere in the election, Carol D. Leonnig, Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman report at the Washington Post.

The Senate House Intelligence Committee interviewed former national security adviser Susan Rice behind closed doors yesterday morning, with senators declining to reveal details of the meeting. Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has not asked to speak with the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya who met with Trump campaign officials at Trump Tower in June 2016, Veselnitskaya told NBC News, adding that no one from Mueller’s team has tried to contact her. Ken Dilanian, Richard Greenberg and Natasha Lebedeva report at NBC News.

A key figure involved in the salacious “Trump dossier” relied on his first amendment rights during testimony before the Senate Judiciary committee last month, according to recently released court documents, the individual avoiding revealing the sources for the dossier compiled by former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele. Elias Groll reports at Foreign Policy.

The two sides of the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have been revealed this week and, as the committee prepares to interview key Trump campaign figures and contend with allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, it is unclear whether the Grassley who is a “fearless investigator ready to take on his own party” will emerge or the Grassley who is a “loyal member of the G.O.P.,” Karoun Demirjian writes at the Washington Post.

IRAN

U.S. prosecutors have charged four Turkish individuals for conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions against Iran, federal prosecutors announced yesterday, filing charges against prominent defendants that include a former Turkish economy minister and coming at a time of increased tensions between the U.S. and Turkey. Benjamin Weiser reports at the New York Times.

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N.’s case for de-certifying Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal was misleading and irresponsible by trying to place the future of the agreement in the hands of Congress, and Nikki Haley has offered Trump a framework for leaving the deal while failing to offer a feasible alternative for restraining Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The New York Times editorial board writes.

RUSSIA

Russia has blocked N.A.T.O. from properly observing Russia-Belarus “Zapad” military exercises set to begin next week, the N.A.T.O. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said yesterday, stating that the offer to send three experts did not “observe the letter and the spirit of the Vienna document” which provides that other countries must be notified in advanced when nations conduct exercises involving more than 13,000 troops and also be open to observers. Daniel Boffey reports at the Guardian.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has “fallen in with the wrong company,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said today, lamenting awarding Tillerson with a state honor in 2013, Reuters reports.

AFGHANISTAN

The U.S. will send about 3,500 additional troops to Afghanistan, anonymous U.S. officials said yesterday, the Pentagon declining to comment until Defense Secretary James Mattis makes an announcement. Reuters reports.

A top U.S. commander apologized yesterday for distributing a “highly offensive” leaflet in the Parwan Province of Afghanistan, expressing remorse for the leaflet which disrespected Islam and Muslims, Reuters reports.

THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

It would be a “historic mistake” for the State Department to change its mission statement to remove a commitment to democracy and human rights, and would symbolize the “end of American leadership in the world” and undermine U.S. interests. Pippa Norris writes at the New York Times.

White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly has been looking at structures and processes to transform the West Wing, hiring and firing aides to tighten his grip, Tara Palmeri and Eliana Johnson explain at POLITICO.

The lack of a “guiding hand” to navigate the relationship between the U.S. and China has contributed to the Trump administration’s mixed signals toward Beijing, creating challenges at a time of increased tensions in the region and potential further tests in the relationship due to Trump’s trade agenda. Mark Landler writes at the New York Times.

IRAQ

The fears that the Iraqi Kurdish independence referendum would lead to further destabilization are “unfair” and fail to understand the purpose of the referendum: to restructure the relationship between the Kurdish regional government and Baghdad and to open up the possibility of other governance structures, such as a confederal system. Mohammed A. Salih writes at the New York Times.

The Kurdish people deserve independence and the West must support them, the concerns that the referendum would threaten the territorial integrity of other nations neglect to consider that the referendum concerns Kurds in Iraq, and the notion that the Kurds cannot govern themselves constitutes “old colonialist drivel.” Bernard-Henri Lévy writes at Foreign Policy.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 27 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on September 5. Separately, partner forces conducted five strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The U.S. Treasury Department placed sanctions against individuals and organizations closely connected to South Sudan’s president yesterday, the Treasury Department stating that the sanctions were targeted at those who “abuse human rights, seek to derail the peace process an obstruct reconciliation,” Carol Morello reporting at the Washington Post.

“I hope that we will successfully complete negotiations with our Western partners on supplies of defensive weapons,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said today, Reuters reporting.

French authorities have detained three individuals as part of an investigation into explosives found in a Paris suburb, France’s Interior Minister stating that the men had made calls to unspecified people in Syria. The AP 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