The Early Edition: September 15, 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

North Korea launched a missile over the Japan this morning local time and landed in the Pacific Ocean, Pyongyang firing the intermediate-range ballistic missile in defiance of the U.N. Security Council’s vote on Monday imposing new sanctions against the regime. Alastair Gale and Kwanwoo Jun report at the Wall Street Journal.

The launch was the second in less than three weeks that passed over Japan, prompting angry responses from the international community, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who said in a statement that the U.N. sanctions were “the floor, not the ceiling” and that China and Russia should take “direct action” to put pressure on North Korea’s economy, including restricting oil supplies. Anna Fifield and Dan Lamothe report at the Washington Post.

Japan would “never tolerate” such “dangerous provocative action,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in response to the launch, the U.N. Security Council is set to meet today in New York at the request of the U.S. and Japan. The BBC reports.

The latest launch would result in further diplomatic and economic isolation of Pyongyang, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said today, a spokesperson for Moon also adding that the President “ordered officials to closely analyze and prepare for new possible North Korean threats like E.M.P. (electro-magnetic pulse) and biochemical attacks.” Reuters reports.

The launch was the longest-ever test flight conducted by the regime and traveled about 3,700km (2,300m) and reached a maximum height of 770km (478m), Kim Tong-Hyung and Foster Klug report at the AP.

Neither the U.S. nor Japan attempted to intercept the missile, possibly because it was clear that the missile was not aimed at land and, in the U.S.’ case, the missile did not pose a threat to the U.S. mainland or its territory of Guam. Choe Sang-Hun and David E. Sanger report at the New York Times.

The size of North Korea’s Sept. 3 missile launch “equates to a hydrogen bomb,” the chief of U.S. Strategic Command Gen. John Hyten said yesterday, telling reporters that it could not be confirmed that it was a hydrogen bomb, but the test was nevertheless significant and it has to be assumed that Pyongyang has the ability to make a hydrogen bomb. The AP reports.

President Moon has to juggle a belligerent North Korea with the U.S. who has taken an aggressive approach to the crisis, as well as keeping his supporters on side – who expect Moon to pursue dialogue and diplomacy. James Griffiths explains Moon’s difficult balancing act at CNN.

North Korean leader Kim Jon-un is likely to be motivated by rational concerns and he understands regional politics. Fareed Zakaria imagines an interview with Kim at the Washington Post.

South Korea’s “decapitation units” have a disastrous history and Seoul’s announcement of a “unit” this week conjures memories of previous failed attempts to infiltrate North Korea. Adam Taylor writes at the Washington Post.

A Japanese former professional wrestler provides a link to North Korea, much like the U.S. former N.B.A. star Dennis Rodman. Motoko Rich explains the sportsman’s links to the Pyongyang regime at the New York Times.

IRAN

The Trump administration yesterday waived a wide range of sanctions against Iran in accordance with the 2015 nuclear agreement, but imposed new Treasury sanctions against 11 firms and individuals working with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) in an attempt to rein in Tehran’s ballistic missiles program, cyberattacks and support for terrorism. Felicia Schwartz, Laurence Norman and Ian Talley report at the Wall Street Journal.

“Certainly at a minimum the spirit of the deal is atrociously kept,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One yesterday and, when asked about the decision whether to certify Iran’s compliance with the deal, Trump said “you’ll see what I’m going to be doing very shortly in October,” making the comments as new sanctions were levied against individuals and firms connected to the I.R.G.C., the BBC reports.

“We have to consider the totality of Iran’s activities and not let our views be defined solely by the nuclear agreement,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said yesterday during a visit to Britain to meet Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and before the U.S. announced that it had imposed sanctions against Iranian individuals and firms, Tillerson stating that Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, its ballistic missiles program and cyber activities are “clearly in default” of the expectations in the preface of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (J.C.P.O.A.). William James reports at Reuters.

The decision to waive the sanctions was significant as reimposing sanctions would have violated the J.C.P.O.A., allowing Iran to walk away from the deal and allow it to develop its nuclear weapons arsenal, signaling a potential shift in the Trump administration’s policy that may see the president maintaining the nuclear accord. David E. Sanger explains at the New York Times.

The waiver was a “holding action” pending a “final decision” by the president and his cabinet over its approach to Iran, an anonymous senior administration official said yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.

A leaked memo circulated on Capitol Hill has advocated that Trump declare his readiness to impose a “de-facto global economic embargo” on Iran if it failed to meet certain conditions over a 90-day period. Jana White and Dan De Luce reveal the memo written by former Republican congressional aide Richard Goldberg at Foreign Policy.

RUSSIA-BELARUS MILITARY EXERCISES

Russia and Belarus launched their joint “Zapad” military exercises yesterday, causing tension among Western nations who will be watching the war games closely as some military officials have expressed concern that the drills would allow Russia to leave behind military personnel and equipment at the border with N.A.T.O. countries. David Filipov reports at the Washington Post.

“We reject complaints of these exercises not being transparent,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said yesterday, accusing Western nations of “whipping up hysteria” over the “Zapad” war games and that “everything is being held in line with international law,” Reuters reports.

SYRIA

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) do not intend to enter the city of Deir al-Zour, the spokesperson for the U.S.-led coalition Col. Ryan Dillon said yesterday, stating that the battlefield was already crowded and the S.D.F. would plan to move down the middle Euphrates River Valley. Reuters reports.

Russia, Turkey and Iran have finalized a deal creating four de-escalation zones in Syria, the nations said in a joint statement. Reuters reports.

A U.S. citizen fighting with the Islamic State in Syria surrendered to the S.D.F. and has been turned over to the U.S. military in Syria, a Pentagon spokesperson said yesterday, refraining from identifying the detainee or offering further details of his surrender and detention. Karen DeYoung reports at the Washington Post.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held a phone call yesterday to discuss the Syria crisis, the Russian ministry said in a statement today, Reuters reporting.

Russia show-cased its active role in the Syrian war yesterday, the navy firing a series of cruise missiles at Islamic State positions in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour in front of an audience of international journalists. Nathan Hodge reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Russia has had significant involvement in the Syria war and provides an opportunity for Russia to demonstrate its role in the world, Shaun Walker writes about the Russia organized tour for foreign journalists at the Guardian.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 39 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on September 13. Separately, partner forces conducted four strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

IRAQ

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for an attack in southern Iraq yesterday that killed 84 people and wounded almost 100, according to the head of the provincial health directorate. Ghassan Adnan, Ali A. Nabhan and Isabel Coles report at the Wall Street Journal.

The attack targeted a route used by Shi’ite pilgrims visiting holy shrines in Karbala and Najaf, Tamer El-Ghboashy and Mustafa Salim report at the Washington Post.

The Iraqi Kurdistan independence has no international support at this moment, the U.S. special envoy to the coalition against the Islamic State Brett McGurk said yesterday, stating that he was encouraged that the Kurdish region could delay the vote. Reuters reports.

The U.S. and Iran are united in their desire to defer the Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum, however this does not mean that the adversaries have shared motivations and a vote for independence could bring the U.S. and Iran closer to conflict. The Economist explains.

CUBA EMBASSY “INCIDENTS”

U.S. officials are investigating the cause of symptoms suffered by 21 people linked to the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said yesterday, noting that the department is “very deeply concerned” about the incidents which have some in the media have reported as an “acoustic attack” or a “sonic weapon.” Reuters reports.

The symptoms include hearing loss and mild brain damage, causing confusion among U.S. officials who have tried to determine the cause and motive of the mysterious attacks. The AP explains.

YEMEN

“We could target Saudi oil tankers and we could do anything” if Saudi Arabia attacks Yemen’s main port at Hodeidah, the leader of the Houthi rebels Abdel-Malek al-Houthi said yesterday, Reuters reporting.

China expressed its support for an independent international inquiry into Yemen’s war on Wednesday, a Chinese delegate to the U.N. Human Rights Council stating that China agrees with actions to “promote the political solving” of the crisis. Tom Miles reports at Reuters.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY AND TECHNOLOGY

The founder of the Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab has denied that his cyber-security firm has close connections to the Kremlin, telling U.S. customers that they can “trust” the company. Rory Cellan-Jones reports at the BBC.

Kaspersky has agreed to testify before the House Science Committee, after an invitation was sent by the committee yesterday, but adding in a statement that he would need an “expedited visa in order to publicly address allegations” about the Kasperksy Lab and its products. Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A bomb that went off at London Underground’s District Line is being treated as a terrorist incident by the police, William Booth and Karla Adam report at the Washington Post.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed “great concern” that no end to the Gulf crisis is in sight, she said today during a joint press conference with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the Chancellor referring to the isolation Qatar by Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain on June 5 and expressing hope that dialogue could lead to “fair compromises.” David Rising reports at the AP.

A final agreement on the young undocumented migrants must include border security measures, the President said yesterday, stating that he was close to a deal with the Democrats to deliver this. Ayesha Rascoe and Richard Cowan report at Reuters.

“This violence must stop; this persecution must stop,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said yesterday in relation to the “horrors that we are witnessing” in Myanmar. Felicia Schwartz and Jenny Gross reporting at the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. should withdraw its Peace Corps volunteers from Cambodia, the Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told the U.S. today, making the comment amid increased tensions between the two countries and allegations that the U.S. conspired with the Cambodian opposition leader. Prak Chan Thul reports at Reuters.

Former national security adviser Susan Rice was wrong to unmask the names of top aides to the president, Trump told reporters on board Air Force One yesterday, referring to Rice’s revelation that she took the action to understand why the U.A.E. crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nayhan met with Trump officials before he was inaugurated as president. Nathan Easley reports at the Hill.

Turkey’s purchase of Russian anti-missile weaponry may result in the automatic imposition of sanctions, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ben Cardin (Md.) said in a letter sent to Trump administration officials yesterday. Andrew Hanna reports at POLITICO.

Russia has been trying to play a larger role in Libya’s civil war, taking the opportunity to exercise influence in the absence of U.S. leadership and can “fix” what the U.S. breaks. Lincoln Pigman and Kyle Orton explain at Foreign Policy.

The Federal Election Commission (F.E.C.) should work to ensure that U.S. elections cannot be interfered with, including providing for strong new disclosure rules and ensuring that incoming F.E.C. commissioners understand the dangers foreign interference pose to democracy. Ellen L. Weintraub, a member of the F.E.C. writes at the Washington Post.

The proposed modeling of a new local Afghan force on the Indian Territorial Army has raised concerns that it resembles a previous force that was accused of human rights violations, Mujib Mashal explains at the New York Times. 

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About the Author(s)

Pouneh Ahari

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK