The Early Edition: September 19, 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.

U.N. GENERAL ASSEMBLY

President Trump’s first address to the U.N. General Assembly today will put forward his “America First” values that are driven “by outcomes, not by ideologies” and an appeal to U.S. nationalism and the nationalism of other countries, according to a senior White House official. Farnaz Fassihi and Eli Stokols report at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump will warn U.N. member states that they risk being “bystanders in history” if they fail to confront global threats such as North Korea and Iran, according to a senior White House official, presenting the two countries as forces for greater instability if the international community fails to address their behavior now. Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.

Trump will also target Venezuela and Islamist militants in his speech, senior White House officials said, Steve Holland and Jeff Mason report at Reuters.

“We are giving it an absolute go,” Trump said in relation to the Israel-Palestinian peace process at a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the U.N. yesterday, marking a different tone to Netanyahu who focused on bashing the Iran nuclear deal. Mark Landler reports at the New York Times.

 “Make the United Nations great,” Trump told reporters yesterday after attending a session focused on reforming U.N. institutions, stating during the meeting that leaders of the world should not settle for “business as usual.” David Nakamaru and Anne Gearan report at the Washington Post.

North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho is scheduled to arrive in New York today to attend the General Assembly amid increased tension on the Korean peninsula. The AP reports.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission faces significant cuts in its budget and must consider how to do more with less funding, Trump telling the assembly yesterday that the U.S. “ask that every peacekeeping mission have clearly defined goals and metrics for evaluating success,” adding that he wanted to cap the U.S. contributions to the mission. Aaron Ross and David Lewis report at Reuters.

Live coverage of the General Assembly meeting is provided by the Wall Street Journal.

The global challenges that will dominate the annual gathering include the North Korea crisis, the plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar, international terrorism, climate change, and the Gulf crisis. Edith M. Lederer observes at the AP.

Trump was a subdued figure at the first day of the General Assembly, pledging to cooperate with world leaders to restructure the U.N. and refraining from aggressive anti-U.N. rhetoric deployed throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, however a different and hardline side of the president is expected today during his inaugural speech. Peter Baker and Somini Sengupta observe at the New York Times.

The annual meeting will feature plenty of discussion but few actions to deal with the crises facing the world, Ishaan Tharoor provides an analysis at the Washington Post.

NORTH KOREA

The actions by the U.S. and its “vassal forces” to put pressure on North Korea “will only increase our pace towards the ultimate completion of the state nuclear force,” a statement on North Korean state media said yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.

The U.S. has military options to deal with North Korea and the U.S. has not intercepted recent North Korean missile launches because they have been falling “in the middle of the ocean,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters yesterday, stating that a North Korean missile aimed at Guam or U.S. territory “would elicit a different response,” Helene Cooper reports at the New York Times.

The U.S. military options would not put South Korea at grave risk of counterattack, Mattis also said yesterday, declining to elaborate how this could be achieved, Gordon Lubold and Laurence Norman report at the Wall Street Journal.

South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo discussed reintroducing tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula with Mattis during their Aug. 30 meeting, the Defense Secretary confirmed yesterday, stating that “we have an open dialogue with our allies they want to bring up,” but refraining from discussing the option in further detail. Dan Lamothe reports at the Washington Post.

Japan relocated a missile interceptor to its northern island of Hokkaido, near the flight path of the recent North Korean missile launches, Japan’s Defense Minister said today. Mari Yamaguhi reports at the AP.

Peace talks are key to resolving the North Korea nuclear issue, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said yesterday, also stating in a meeting with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov yesterday at the U.N. that China would strictly implement U.N. Security Council sanctions and that “parties directly involved” must take action and responsibility. Reuters reports.

Spain has ordered its North Korean ambassador to leave the country by the end of September, the Spanish Foreign Ministry said in a statement yesterday. Anna Fifield reports at the Washington Post.

North Korea’s goal for developing its nuclear and missiles programs will be an important question to be addressed at the U.N. General Assembly this week, and figuring out North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s motivations is key to devising a strategy rein in Pyongyang. Gerald F. Seib writes at the Wall Street Journal.

The North Korean regime hopes to strike a deal similar to the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said yesterday, Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

IRAN

“Exiting such an agreement would carry a high cost for the United States of America,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in an interview with CNN yesterday, noting that U.S. withdrawal from the deal would “decrease and cut away and chip away at international trust” placed in the U.S., and adding that Iran would be ready to respond if Trump walks away. Christiane Amanpour and Hilary Clarke report at CNN.

The Trump administration’s behavior and actions aim at “undermining the nuclear deal,” Iran’s Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi said yesterday at the annual conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.), which monitors Iran’s compliance with the 2015 agreement, Laurence Norman reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“We will not accept a weakly enforced or inadequately monitored deal,” U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said at the I.A.E.A. conference, urging the I.A.E.A. to “exercise its full authorities to verify Iran’s adherence,” Shadia Nasralla reports at Reuters.

The collapse of the nuclear deal would lead to a “spiral of proliferation,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned yesterday, stating that Iran was compliant with the agreement and the I.A.E.A. has strict oversight, making the comments in opposition to Trump who has castigated the deal and argued that Iran has violated its provisions, at least in “spirit.” Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.

Iran is supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen through potent illicit weapons and technology smuggled into the country, the top U.S. admiral in the Middle East Vice Adm. Kevin M. Donegan said yesterday, adding that “these types of weapons did not exist in Yemen before the conflict.” Eric Schmitt reports at the New York Times.

The detention of an Iranian-American father and son is illegal, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said in a report released by the U.S. lawyer for the individuals yesterday, Rick Gladstone reports at the New York Times.

TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

The government wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret orders authorized by the court that handles the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (F.I.S.A.), with investigators surveilling Manafort from 2014 over his connections with Russia and continued into early this year. Evan Perez, Shimon Prokupecz and Pamela Brown reveal at CNN.

Hillary Clinton’s former campaign manager John Podesta testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday in a private session, Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

House and Senate investigators have expressed concern that Facebook has not revealed critical details relating to Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, according to sources familiar with the matter. Carol D. Leonnig, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg explain at the Washington Post.

Three Democratic lawmakers have asked the Federal Communications Commission to investigate the Russian government-funded radio station and news site Sputnik, David Shepardson reports at Reuters.

Steven Groves has joined Trump’s legal team and will serve as deputy to White House special counsel Ty Cobb, signaling that the White House expects more legal work in relation to the Russia investigation. Eliana Johnson reports at POLITICO.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has been aggressive in its approach to the Russia investigation, issuing a series of subpoenas, targeting key figures such as Manafort and warning him that he faces indictment. Sharon LaFraniere, Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman explain Mueller’s tactics and the dynamics of the investigation at the New York Times.

White House lawyer Ty Cobb was overheard loudly discussing the Russia investigation by a journalist last week, including making statements that White House counsel Don McGahn has a “couple documents locked in a safe” in relation to the Russia investigation, marking yet another blunder in Cobb’s career and another example of indiscretion from Trump administration officials. Dana Milbank writes at the Washington Post.

What can be expected from Mueller’s investigation and who is he focusing his efforts on? Renato Mariotti writes at POLITICO Magazine.

SYRIA

Syrian government forces crossed to the eastern side of the Euphrates river in Deir al-Zour yesterday, bringing the Syrian army closer to the U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.), an S.D.F. commander noting that the forces are ready for a clash with the Syrian army. Al Jazeera reports.

The countries opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will not support reconstruction of the country until there is a “transition away from Assad,” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said yesterday. John Irish and Yara Bayoumy report at Reuters.

Syria has been failed by Western democracies who did not intervene to support the Syrian revolution, Fadi Azzam writes at the New York Times.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 35 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on September 17. Separately, partner forces conducted eight strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

IRAQ

The semiautonomous Iraqi Kurdish region intends to hold an independence referendum on Sept. 25 despite a ruling by the Iraqi Supreme Court that the referendum should be suspended, Ben Kesling reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Kurdish security and city police have been deployed to the oil-rich northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk in an effort to stem a possible eruption of ethnic violence ahead of the independence referendum. Reuters reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The U.S. will deploy 3,000 extra troops to Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis confirmed yesterday, the BBC reports.

The Senate overwhelmingly voted in favor of a nearly $700bn defense policy bill yesterday, issues still need to be resolved between two versions of the bill. Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

Trump called the “growing crisis” in Venezuela “totally unacceptable” at a meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly yesterday, adding that the U.S. would be prepared to “take further action if the government of Venezuela persists,” opening the possibility of military intervention. Henry C. Jackson reports at POLITICO.

The Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act (N.D.A.A.) yesterday, calling for the Department of Defense to plan for potential cyberattacks, Joe Uchill reports at the Hill.

Bahrain accused Qatar of detaining three boats yesterday, amid heightened tensions on the Gulf as the result of the isolation of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain on June 5. Reuters reports.

The U.S. inaugurated its first permanent military based in Israel yesterday, Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

Trump would consider holding a military parade on the Fourth of July to “show military strength,” the president said at a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron at the U.N. yesterday, stating that he was inspired by the Bastille Day parade in Paris which he attended with Macron in July. Michael D. Shear reports at the New York Times.

The U.S. cannot ignore the fact that U.S. citizen and Libya militia general Khalifa Haftar has potentially ordered soldiers to commit war crimes, recent videos suggesting it to be a distinct possibility. Ryan Goodman and Alex Whiting examine the evidence, the implications of the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) arrest warrant and jurisdictional issues at Just Security.

The Russia-Belarus “Zapad” military exercises being held this week reveal what a war with N.A.T.O. countries would look like, and demonstrates Russia’s revitalized military. Davi Filipov, Michael Birnbaum and Andrew Roth explain at the Washington Post. 

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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