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The Early Edition: September 14, 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 be “reduced to ashes and darkness” and Japan “should be sunken into the sea” as a consequence of the U.N. Security Council resolution agreed Monday imposing new sanctions against the Pyongyang regime, North Korea’s state K.C.N.A. news agency said today. Jack Kim and Kiyoshi Takenaka report at Reuters.

North Korea has resumed work at its Punggye-ri underground nuclear test site, according to defense analysts in spite of the new U.N. sanctions, which were voted on following the regime’s Sept. 3 nuclear test. Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.

North Korea’s latest nuclear test caused significant environmental damage, the power of the blast reshaping the mountain above the Punggye-ri site according to satellite images analyzed by experts. Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports at the Washington Post.

Japan does not have the capability to counter the “unprecedented threat” posed by North Korea, given the difficulties in building up an independent military the Japanese government should expand its diplomatic efforts. Yoichi Funabashi writes at the New York Times.

TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

The son of Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn has been a subject of the Russia investigation, according to current and former government officials, the probe into Michael G. Flynn has been focused at least partly on his work with his father’s lobbying firm, Flynn Intel Group. Carol E. Lee, Julia Ainsley and Ken Dilanian report at NBC News.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation includes a “red-hot” focus on Russian activities on social media, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter, Mueller’s team has also been seeking additional information from companies like Facebook and Twitter. Chris Strohm reports at Bloomberg.

The representatives of social media companies should appear before the House Intelligence Committee as part of the investigation into Russian interference into the 2016 election, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Califf.) said yesterday, Max Greenwood reporting at the Hill.

Facebook cannot “speculate” whether users will be told that they were targeted by Russian propaganda, a Facebook representative said yesterday, stating that the social media company’s focus is to cooperate with the Russia investigations. Ben Collins and Spencer Ackerman report at The Daily Beast.

Allies of former F.B.I. Director James Comey have hit back at the White House for comments made by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders this week suggesting that Comey should be investigated for criminal activity, Comey’s defenders arguing that the allegations are a political attempt to discredit the original investigator into connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. Niall Stanage reports at the Hill.

The White House smears against Comey have been riddled with flaws and have sometimes offered ridiculous legal arguments that have undermined the credibility of the Trump’s team, and they need “far better legal arguments” if they want to continue the campaign against Comey. Bradley P. Moss writes at POLITICO Magazine.

The revelations connecting the Trump campaign and Russia are likely to continue throughout Trump’s presidency and, as a frenzied summer full of major political stories draws to a close, “let’s not lose sight of the Kremlingate scandal.” Max Boot writes at Foreign Policy, giving an overview of the evidence of collusion that emerged over the summer.

RUSSIA-BELARUS MILITARY EXERCISES

The Russia-Belarus joint “Zapad” military exercises starting today have caused alarm in Western nations concerned that the large-scale war games could be used as a cover for Moscow to establish a permanent military presence on the border with N.A.T.O. countries, with the Secretary General of N.A.T.O. Jens Stoltenberg stating that the “lack of transparency increases the risk of misunderstanding, miscalculations, accidents and incidents that can become dangerous.” Andrew Higgins reports at the New York Times.

The exercises simulate a separatist incursion into Belarus by three imaginary countries and will be overseen by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, demonstrating the importance that Putin attaches to the drills who has promised to prevent “color revolutions” in the former Soviet regions. David Filipov reports at the Washington Post.

Sweden has launched its largest military exercise in two decades amid the “Zapad” exercises, the neutral, non-N.A.T.O. country simulating an attack from the east on a Swedish Baltic island. Johan Ahlander reports at Reuters.

The fears about “Zapad” have been unduly heightened as there is no current political crisis on Russia’s northwestern border that Moscow could take advantage of; instead the West should see the exercise as an opportunity to understand the capabilities of the Russian military. Keir Giles writes at POLITICO.

The large-scale “Zapad” exercises have increased tensions and caused concerns, Ishaan Tharoor explains the key points about the military drills at the Washington Post.

RUSSIA-U.S. RELATIONS

Russia confirmed that it sought to reset relations with the Trump administration but was not met with “reciprocity,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said yesterday in response to reports that Russia sent a document to the U.S. in March setting out various initiatives. Thomas Grove reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The Trump administration’s decision to stop using products from the Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab moves back the “prospects of bilateral ties recovery,” the Russian embassy in the U.S. said in a statement yesterday, also calling for the U.S. to consider a Russian proposal to form a joint group to address cyber security issues. Reuters reports.

SYRIA

A convoy of Islamic State fighters that was stranded in the Syrian desert has reached the eastern Deir al-Zour province, according to reports by citizen journalist groups, if officially confirmed it would mean that the militants have successfully been transported from the Syria-Lebanon border in accordance with an agreement brokered by the Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah militia group and in defiance of statements by the U.S.-led coalition that they would not be allowed to make the journey. Rod Nordland reports at the New York Times.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu arrived in Damascus for a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad yesterday, Shoigu handing Assad a letter from Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulating him on lifting the Islamic State group’s siege on the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, the meeting also taking place ahead of a new round of peace talks at the Kazakh capital of Astana due to take place today and tomorrow. Al Jazeera reports.

Jordan would only reopen its border with Syria “when the right security conditions materialize on the ground,” Jordan’s King Abdullah II said in an interview published today, also stating that the cease-fire brokered for southwest Syria could be replicated in other areas of the country. The AP reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 62 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on September 12. Separately, partner forces conducted three strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

IRAN

The Israeli government’s main concern about the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is the “sunset clause,” an anonymous Israeli official said ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the U.S., the clause allowing Iran to increase the nuclear capability after 10 years. Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash report at the Washington Post.

British Prime Minister Theresa May emphasized the importance of the nuclear deal during a meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson today, a spokesperson for May said, Reuters reporting.

The 2015 Iran nuclear deal was a “net plus for international nuclear nonproliferation efforts,” more than 80 disarmament experts said in a joint statement, defending the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (J.C.P.O.A.) as a robust framework for monitoring Iran’s capability to develop nuclear weapons. Rick Gladstone reports at the New York Times.

The House voted yesterday in favor of amendments prohibiting the sale of commercial aircraft to Iran, despite warnings from Democrats that blocking the sales would penalize American companies and undermine the nuclear agreement. Cristina Marcos reports at the Hill.

There has been little evidence that Iran is violating the J.C.P.O.A. but it appears to “exploiting the loopholes in the deal,” meaning that Trump was not wrong to label it a “bad deal,” however the president should work with allies to more strictly interpret the existing text and to work on issues not included in the agreement. Michael Singh writes at the New York Times.

IRAQ

The Iraqi Kurdistan region “should be aware that there will almost certainly be a price to pay for insisting on its approach for a referendum,” a statement from Turkey’s Foreign ministry said today, the AP reports.

The decision to hold a referendum on Sept. 25 “is a historic mistake,” Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said today, welcoming the Iraqi parliament’s vote to reject the referendum. Reuters reports.

The impending defeat of the Islamic State group in Mosul carries risks for the future of the city, opening up the possibility of reemerging sectarian divides, posing challenges in terms of rebuilding and has also been complicated by the upcoming referendum for an independent Iraqi Kurdistan. Liz Sly and Aaso Ameen Schwan explain at the Washington Post.

The U.S. continues to pursue the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the working assumption by the U.S. is that Baghdadi is alive despite various reports over the summer that he had been killed. Barabara Starr reports at CNN.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is headed to Mexico to try and repair strained U.S.-Mexico relations over issues such as the border wall with Mexico and the failure of President Trump to immediately respond to Mexico’s offer of help for U.S. citizens affected by Hurricane Harvey. Helene Cooper reports at the New York Times.

The U.S. must maintain the “triad” of nuclear weapons to act as an effective deterrent, Mattis said yesterday, acknowledging that he had previously questioned its purpose but was now persuaded that it is “the right way to go.” Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

The U.N. Secretary General António Guterres seeks to build a “constructive relationship” with President Trump, Guterres said at a news conference yesterday, making the comments ahead of Trump’s address to the U.N. General Assembly scheduled for Monday. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

African countries should to more to pressure South Sudan to end its civil war, the U.S. under-secretary for political affairs at the State Department said yesterday, Reuters reporting.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s letter to State Department employees yesterday offers a preview into his plans to redesign the department, the changes hoping to save up to $10bn and intended to increase coordination between the State Department and U.S.A.I.D., Nahal Toosi reports at POLITICO.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

Former national security adviser Susan Rice unmasked the identities of senior Trump officials to understand why U.A.E. crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nayhan met with Trump officials during the transition period before Trump was sworn into office, Rice told the House Intelligence Committee in a private session last week. Manu Raju reports at CNN.

A memo by national security adviser H.R. McMaster warned employees about leaking classified information and threatened to take aggressive action against leakers, Chris Geidner reveals at BuzzFeed News.

The Trump administration has a loose interpretation of law and order despite maintaining that they are committed to it. Andrew Rosenthal sets out the various instances the president and his team have undermined law and order at the New York Times.

D.A.C.A. PROGRAM

Democratic leaders struck a deal with the president to extend protections for young undocumented migrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (D.A.C.A.) program and to work out a package for border security that did not include the proposed border wall with Mexico. Maggie Haberman and Yamiche Alcindor report at the New York Times.

President Trump said today that “no deal was made last night on D.A.C.A.,” disputing the account of Democratic leaders in a tweet that a deal had been reached last night, adding in a separate tweet that the border wall with Mexico “will continue to be built,” Reuters reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Former Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn advocated a private-sector nuclear power plan in the Middle East while he was working at the White House which, at one point, called for Russian companies to play a key role in the initiative. Christopher S. Stewart, Rob Barry and Shane Harris report at the Wall Street Journal.

The Senate yesterday rejected two amendments put forward by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to get rid of the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (A.U.M.F.), Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani is scheduled to arrive in Turkey today to discuss the dispute in the Gulf which began when Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain isolated Qatar on June 5 due to alleged support for terrorism and close ties to Iran. The AP reports.

The U.N. “is failing in vital areas” and must reconsider its structures and procedures in order to more effectively address issues of peace and security. The former New Zealand Prime Minister and current head of the U.N. Development Program, Helen Clark, writes at the Guardian.

The former chief of Fatah’s security force in Gaza, Muhammad Dahlan, has set up a reconciliation program in an apparent attempt to rehabilitate his image and extend his influence in Palestine, Majid Al Waheidi explains at the New York Times.

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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.