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The Early Edition: September 13, 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. would “suffer the greatest pain” for leading efforts to impose U.N. Security Council sanctions against North Korea, the North Korean ambassador to the U.N. Han Tae Song said yesterday, adding that the U.S. had “fabricated the most vicious sanction resolution.” Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports at the Washington Post.

The U.N. sanctions “are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen,” President Trump said yesterday without giving details of what further action should be taken, the BBC reports.

The sanctions are “just another very small step, not a big deal,” Trump also said yesterday, casting doubt on their efficacy but welcoming the unanimous Security Council vote in favor of the resolution. Nicolle Gaouette and Zachary Cohen report at CNN.

The Trump administration threatened additional sanctions against China and measures to “prevent them from accessing the U.S. and international dollar system” if they do not take stronger action against North Korea, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said at a conference yesterday, reflecting frustration that China has not been doing enough to implement sanctions and rein in Pyongyang. Ian Talley reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The Trump administration called out Russia and China for their role in helping North Korea evade international sanctions, the Assistant Treasury Secretary Marshall Billingslea setting out the evidence from the intelligence community and using specific examples in testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday, with lawmakers asking how the administration intended to ensure that China and Russia complied with the measures. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

The State Department’s special representative for North Korea policy traveled to Moscow on the day of the Security Council vote on additional sanctions against Pyongyang, making the trip after the Russian government had invited the official to discuss Russia’s role in the North Korea crisis. Josh Rogin reports at the Washington Post.

South Korea plans to establish a “decapitation unit” by the end of the year, South Korea’s defense ministry Song Young-moo told lawmakers yesterday, with defense officials stating that the unit could conduct cross-border raids and infiltrate North Korea under the cover of darkness – sending a message to Pyongyang that South Korea would not be passive if the regime continues to develop its nuclear arsenal. Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.

Traces of radioactive xenon gas were detected following North Korea’s nuclear test on Sept. 3, South Korea’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission confirmed today, however the commission was unable to deduce what kind of nuclear test Pyongyang had conducted. Reuters reports.

Egypt has cut military ties with North Korea, Egypt’s defense minister said yesterday during a visit to Seoul, according to the South Korean Yonhap news agency, the Egyptian government has not immediately confirmed the report. Samy Magdy reports at AP.

THE TRAVEL BAN

The Supreme Court granted the Trump administration’s request yesterday to block a decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals allowing refugees who had assurances from sponsors to enter the U.S., Robert Barnes and Matt Zapotosky report at the Washington Post.

The Supreme Court justices are scheduled to hear arguments on the travel ban on Oct. 10, however the travel ban lapses in September and the refugee ban lapses in October, meaning that it is unclear what will be left for the court to decide, the AP explains.

TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

The Department of Justice should “look at” prosecuting former F.B.I. Director James Comey, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday, emphasizing that the President was “100 percent right” in firing Comey because of his “improper” actions that “likely could have been illegal.” Anne Gearan reports at the Washington Post.

Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn refused to comply with a new request to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee, a congressional source said yesterday, Jim Sciutto reporting at CNN.

GULF-ARAB DISPUTE

The media campaign against Qatar is being carried out by “dogs” backed by “some regimes,” the Qatari Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Soltan bin Saad al-Muraikhi said at an Arab League meeting yesterday, in a thinly veiled reference to Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain who isolated Qatar on June 5 on the basis of its alleged support for terrorism and interest in forging closer ties with Iran. The AP reports.

Qatar “will be held responsible” for its “rapprochement with Iran,” Saudi Arabia’s envoy to the Arab League Ahmed al-Kattan said at the meeting, adding that the establishment in Doha would be proved wrong because the “Qatari people will never accept the Iranians to play a role in Qatar.” Al Jazeera reports on the war of words at the Arab League meeting.

IRAN

“War is coming because of a soft position on Iran, and a stronger position would avert war,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview yesterday, warning about Iran’s expansionism in the Middle East and arguing that the 2015 Iran nuclear deal should be changed as Tehran still intends to develop its nuclear arsenal. Oren Liebermann and Jose Levy report at CNN.

The Iranian authorities have detained a suspected leader of the Islamic State group, the semi-official Iranian YJC.ir news outlet reported today. The AP reports.

IRAQ

Israel “supports the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to attain a state of its own,” the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said today, expressing support for the Sept. 25 Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum but emphasizing that Israel is opposed to the Turkish-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.) and considers it to be a terrorist organization. Jeffrey Heller reports at Reuters.

Iraqi Kurdistan Regional President Masoud Barzani defended holding the referendum in the oil-rich Kirkuk province yesterday, a decision which has caused tension with Baghdad. Balint Szlanko and Muhanad Al-Saleh report at the AP.

An Iraqi court has sentenced a Russian national to death for his membership of the Islamic State group, the Baghdad central criminal court said in a statement released yesterday, adding that the individual was arrested as part of the Iraqi forces’ operation to recapture the city of Mosul. Qassim Abdul-Zahra reports at the AP.

RUSSIA

Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed the full normalization of relations with the U.S. in an effort that began in April, according to a document obtained by BuzzFeed News, which called for a reset of diplomatic, military and intelligence interactions to the position before Russia’s interventions in Ukraine and Syria. John Hudson reports at BuzzFeed News.

Two Russian government-backed news outlets have come under the scrutiny of the Justice Department, which is seeking to establish whether they are operating in the U.S. as foreign agents. Byron Tau reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed concerns raised by N.A.T.O. allies over a deal to purchase Russian air missile defense systems, adding that Turkey would “continue to take precautions when it comes to our security and we’ll fend for ourselves,” the AP reports.

SYRIA

Iran has signed a deal to repair part of Syria’s power grid, Syria’s state news agency S.A.N.A. reported yesterday, demonstrating the potential major role Iran is set to play in the reconstruction of the country. Al Jazeera reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 38 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on September 11. Separately, partner forces conducted three strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

Trump is likely to visit China in November during his first official visit to Asia where he is scheduled to attend three summits, a U.S. official said yesterday, Reuters reports.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has booked accommodation at the Trump International Hotel during his visit to the White House, raising yet another ethical question regarding Najib’s visit, the Malaysian Prime Minister having been placed under investigation by the Justice Department for alleged corruption. Mark Landler explains at the New York Times.

Senators have sought to inject some stability into U.S. foreign policy by supporting spending bills that strengthen the State Department and provide funding for foreign aid programs – in the absence of poor leadership from the Trump administration, the rest of Congress should ensure that a strong version of the Senators’ bill become law, the New York Times editorial board writes.

Trump would be wise to reverse the Obama administration’s rapprochement with Burma, also known as Myanmar, and Trump should take action to put pressure on Burma’s military due to their violence and ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims. Ishaan Tharoor writes at the Washington Post.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A top White House aide suggested that funding for the border wall with Mexico would not be tied to legislation reinstating the Deferred State for Childhood Arrivals (D.A.C.A.) program, the aide saying that he would not “prejudge” which package the funding would be linked to. Ben Jacobs reports at the Guardian.

Now is not the right time to establish an independent inquiry into human rights violations in Yemen, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.N. Abdulaziz Alwasil said today, stating that Saudi Arabia does not object inquiry itself, which has been long-called for by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. Tom Miles reports at Reuters.

“We are open for joint patrolling, we are open for joint posts” along the border with Afghanistan, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said yesterday, making the comments a few weeks after Trump accused Pakistan of harboring militants who fight the U.S. military in Afghanistan. Munir Ahmed reports at the AP.

The paying of ransoms by some European nations puts U.S. hostages at greater risk, according to a report published today by the London-based Royal United Services Institute (R.U.S.I.), as the U.S. maintains a policy of not paying ransoms to banned militant organizations and some European nations have not taken such a strict approach. Alexander Smith and Michele Neubert report at NBC News.

The State Department today imposed visa restrictions on Eritrean nationals and officials of Cambodia, Sierra Leone and Guinea due to their refusal to take back deported citizens, Elias Meseret and Matthew Lee report at the AP.

The European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker supports the creation of a pan-European cybersecurity agency as cyberattacks pose a threat to the stability of democracies, Juncker said in a speech today. The AP reports.

Increased communication between Turkey and Iran does not entail the blossoming of a close relationship, the two countries sharing some common concerns but also having plenty of diverging interests, Galip Dalay writes at Al Jazeera.

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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.