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The Early Edition: September 11, 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

The U.S. called for a vote to be held today on new U.N. sanctions against North Korea, it is unclear whether the measures set out in the draft U.N. Security Council resolution circulated last Tuesday would be included in the final text and anonymous Security Council diplomats stated that the U.S. and China were still negotiating the details late last night. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

The U.S. would pay a heavy price for its efforts to impose further sanctions against Pyongyang, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry warned in a statement issued this morning, adding that the U.S. was seeking to use North Korea’s right to self-defensive measures to “strangle and completely suffocate” the country. Eric Talmadge reports at the AP.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons program “is a global threat and requires a global response,” N.A.T.O. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said yesterday, declining to “speculate” whether an attack on the U.S. territory of Guam would trigger the provision for collective self-defense under Article 5 of the N.A.T.O. treaty. The BBC reports.

Rather than launching another nuclear missile, North Korea held a celebration on Saturday to mark its government’s 69th birthday, defying the predictions of many, including South Korean officials who believed the increased tensions on the Korean peninsula and the U.S. call for additional U.N. Security Council sanctions against the regime would provide further impetus for another weapons test. Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.

The 2015 Iran nuclear deal could provide a model for resolving the threat posed by North Korea’s weapons program, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in an interview with a German newspaper published yesterday, adding that “Europe and especially Germany should be prepared to play a very active part” in a similar diplomatic initiative. Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.

Japan and U.S. air forces conducted joint exercises over the East China Sea Saturday, Japan’s Air Self Defense Force said, coming amid heightened tension in the region and shortly after North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan. Reuters reports.

The U.S. must make it clear that “the price will be extinction” if North Korean leader Kim Jong-un acts in an “aggressive fashion,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said yesterday, also calling for a wider strategy on North Korea. Eli Watkins reports at CNN.

The efficacy of sanctions depends on the cooperation of other nations and there are acute challenges in relation to Pyongyang as U.N. Member States’ compliance has been poor and China has proven to be “reluctant partner.” Ian Talley writes at the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. should impose crippling sanctions against the Pyongyang regime and must not wait for approval or cooperation from Russia and China, the Trump administration should press ahead unilaterally, or with allies, to exert maximum economic pressure. Josh Rogin writes at the Washington Post.

China seeks to avoid instability on the Korean peninsula and the actions of the Pyongyang regime have often undermined its goals, but North Korea has also proven useful by distracting Washington from pursuing a broader strategy in Asia. Richard McGregor writes at the Guardian.

SYRIA

The U.S.-backed Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) launched an offensive on the Islamic State stronghold of Deir al-Zour, the S.D.F. announced Saturday, coinciding with an offensive launched by the Russia and Iran-backed Syrian government forces last week which broke the Islamic State’s siege on the city. Louisa Loveluck reports at the Washington Post.

The Syrian army and its allies have breached the Islamic State siege on Deir al-Zour military airport, Syria’s state S.A.N.A. news agency said Saturday, making the advance the same day as the S.D.F. launched an offensive against Islamic State militants in Deir al-Zour city. Al Jazeera reports.

The S.D.F. and Syrian government forces are separated only by about 10 miles of ground as a consequence of the separate offensives, further complicating the increasingly crowded battleground. John Davison reports at Reuters.

Western and Arab backers have called on two rebel groups fighting the Syrian army and their allies to retreat from the battleground in the southeast of the country and retreat to Jordan, rebel and diplomatic sources said yesterday, with Western diplomatic sources citing the end of the C.I.A. program in July supporting rebel groups against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a reason for the request. Suleiman Al-Khalidi reports at Reuters.

The U.S. withdrew warplanes monitoring a stranded convoy of Islamic State fighters at Russia’s request on Friday, the convoy now lying in Syrian army-controlled territory, Liz Sly reports at the Washington Post.

At least 34 civilians have been killed in a series of Russian airstrikes in eastern Syria near Deir al-Zour city, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said yesterday, the Russian authorities have not issued an immediate response. Al Jazeera reports.

GULF-ARAB DISPUTE

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia declares that any dialogue or communication with the authority in Qatar shall be suspended,” a Saudi Foreign Ministry official said in a statement Saturday carried by Saudi state media, making the comments after a phone call on Friday between Qatar’s ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which sought to address the dispute that began in June, ended in acrimony. Nikhil Lohade and Margherita Stancati report at the Wall Street Journal.

The two sides issued contradictory statements and the reports in Qatari state media that bin Salman proposed the assigning of two envoys may have caused anger in Saudi Arabia due to a breach of protocol, the BBC reports.

“We are keen to sort out this problem, and we need to support mediation efforts,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a news conference yesterday in Saudi Arabia, expressing support for direct talks between the disputing parties. Al Jazeera reports.

The fractious phone call was arranged by Trump as an attempt to end the standoff, but instead demonstrated the difficulty of resolving the dispute which has seen both sides seemingly entrenched in their position and may have been undermined by Trump’s apparent siding with Saudi Arabia. Declan Walsh explains at the New York Times.

TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is expected to question key West Wing aides and Trump campaign officials, including figures such as former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, interim communications director Hope Hicks, former press secretary Sean Spicer and chief counsel Don McGahn, Josh Dawsey reports at POLITICO.

President Trump’s firing of former F.B.I. Director James Comey was the biggest mistake in “modern political history,” the former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon said in an interview said yesterday, adding that the firing would not have led to the wider-ranging investigation into links between Trump campaign and Russian election interference by Robert Mueller and his team. Fred Barbash reports at the Washington Post.

The congressional investigations into Russian electoral interference last week have revealed some key information, Morgan Chalfant sets out five major details at the Hill.

President Trump is likely to be subpoenaed by the federal grand jury impaneled by Mueller and it is “conceivable that the prosecutors will grant him immunity and thereby compel him to testify,” Bennett Gershman writes at The Daily Beast.

RUSSIA

Western security officials are closely monitoring Russia as it prepares for large-scale joint “Zapad” military exercises with Belarus starting Thursday, David Filipov and Michael Birnbaum explain at the Washington Post.

German officials have been mystified by the lack of Russian interference in September’s upcoming election, having expected a series of revelations following the suspected hacking by Russians into the German Parliament in 2015. Griff Witte reports at the Washington Post.

IRAQ

Iraqi Kurdistan would draw its own borders if Baghdad does not respect the outcome of the independence referendum scheduled for later this month, the leader of Iraqi Kurdistan Massoud Barzani said today. The BBC reports.

Iraqi’s Sunni Arabs face an uncertain future and are concerned that the country’s Shi’ite majority and the Kurdish control of formerly Sunni-dominated areas will lead to forced demographic change and insecurity. Hamza Hendawi explains at the AP.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The U.S. denied any direct contact with an Iranian military vessel after Iran’s Tasnim news agency reported yesterday that an Iranian military vessel confronted a U.S. warship in the Gulf, Reuters reports.

President Trump and Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdogan emphasized the “important of continuing to work together to strengthen bilateral relations and increase stability in the region,” according to a statement by the Turkish Presidency after the two leaders spoke Saturday. Tulay Karadeniz and Dirimcan Barut report at Reuters.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions proposed giving polygraph tests to National Security Council staff to establish who has been leaking information, according to a source familiar with the matter. Kaitlan Collins reports at CNN.

Many are skeptical that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the man accused of being the “architect” of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, will ever stand trial as he prepares for his 25th pre-trial hearing next month. Joanna Walters explains at the Guardian.

“The minimal efforts made towards accountability over the past year are insufficient,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said today, calling for an independent inquiry into human rights violations in Yemen. Reuters reports.

Egyptian authorities killed 10 suspected militants linked to the Islamic State group, the Egyptian Interior Ministry said yesterday, Hamza Hendawi reports at the AP.

The European Union needs a coherent foreign policy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in an interview yesterday, Esther King reports at POLITICO.

Trump’s executive order instituting a travel ban is set to expire soon, meaning that the Justice Department has little to gain from appealing the latest federal court ruling to the Supreme Court and the government should allow time to run out on the executive order to “let the administration save face while avoiding the risk of a damaging Supreme Court decision,” the Washington Post editorial board writes.

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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.