The Early Edition: September 20, 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.

TRUMP’S SPEECH TO THE U.N. GENERAL ASSEMBLY

The U.S. would have “no choice but to totally destroy North Korea” if “forced to defend itself or its allies,” the president said yesterday morning at his speech to the U.N. General Assembly, stating that “no nation in the world” has an interest in seeing the Pyongyang regime armed with nuclear weapons and missiles. Eli Stokols and Farnaz Fassihi report at the Wall Street Journal.

The Iran nuclear deal is “an embarrassment” and “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into,” the president also said, labeling Iran a “rogue nation” that the international community must work together to stop its “pursuit of death and destruction.” Rick Gladstone and Megan Specia report at the New York Times.

“As president of the United States, I will always put America first,” Trump said, articulating his vision based on nationalism and appealing to other nations to serve their own interests through international cooperation, adding that “when decent people and nations become bystanders to history, the forces of destruction only gather power and strength.” Peter Baker and Rick Gladstone report at the New York Times.

“Trump’s ignorant hate speech belongs in medieval times,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted yesterday, objecting to the president’s characterization of Tehran as a “rogue” regime – other key officials from around the world also criticized the speech for its tone and content. The BBC reports.

Trump’s remarks “ignored Iran’s fight against terrorism” and “displays his lack of knowledge and awareness,” the semi-official Fars news agency reported Zarif as saying yesterday, Reuters reports.

“In over 30 years in my experience with the U.N., I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted yesterday after Trump’s address to the assembly, pleased with the president’s targeting of Iran and praising him for identifying the challenges facing the world. Nahal Toosi and Nolan D. McCaskill report at POLITICO.

“We are prepared to take further action if the government of Venezuela persists on its path to impose its authoritarian rule on the Venezuelan people,” the president also said in his speech yesterday, taking aim at the government headed by Nicolás Maduro but refraining from repeating threats of military intervention. Anatoly Kurmanaev reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Venezuela would be prepared to defend itself against the U.S.’s “racist government,” the Venezuelan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement yesterday, Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.

Cuba condemned Trump’s speech yesterday which labeled the country “corrupt and destabilizing,” the Cuban Foreign Ministry issuing a statement calling his comments “disrespectful, unacceptable and meddling,” Sarah Marsh reports at Reuters.

U.S. allies in Asia reacted with concern to Trump’s comments on North Korea: the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been unusually silent and South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s spokesperson avoided reacting to Trump’s threat of the “total destruction” of the Pyongyang regime, instead reiterating a commitment to peace. Anna Fifield and Simon Denyer report at the Washington Post.

A full transcript of the address is provided at POLITICO.

The five key takeaways of the speech are provided by Niall Stanage at the Hill.

The reactions from world leaders to the speech have been varied, a breakdown of the reactions is provided at the AP.

The speech elicited differing reactions from the right and left, Anna Dubenko provides a breakdown of the various perspectives at the New York Times.

Trump’s conception of sovereignty belied U.S.’ power in the world and revealed the inconsistency of his approach – aggressively singling out certain countries for their policies but omitting to mention other countries who have transgressed international norms. Mark Landler provides an analysis of the speech at the New York Times.

Trump’s harsh rhetoric pointed out the truths about the threats posed by North Korea and Iran and was right to challenge the U.N. to do more to ensure collective security, however the president’s articulation of “sovereignty” as a basis for the U.N.’s purpose was too narrowly drawn and gives space to other powers to expand their influence based on their own national interest. The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

The president used his platform to threaten rather than urge the peaceful resolution of disputes, going further than other presidents in his aggressive rhetoric and suggesting that he would de-certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal when faced with the decision to notify Congress next month, the New York Times editorial board writes.

Trump’s comments marked a return to realpolitik, strongly asserting an approach to global affairs based on practical considerations and respect for sovereignty, standing in stark contrast to speeches made by other U.S. presidents through its blunt delivery. Gerald F. Seib writes at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump’s bombastic speech revealed a “pronounced incoherence” in his foreign policy approach that is guided by ideology rather than principle or pragmatism. Ishaan Tharoor writes at the Washington Post.

The speech demonstrated that the president’s “America First” values are intact and the departure of former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon has not led to a change in direction, Jeff Mason and Steve Holland write at Reuters.

U.N. GENERAL ASSEMBLY

“This is the time for statesmanship,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said in his opening remarks to the General Assembly yesterday, referring to the threat posed by North Korea and the prospect of war on the Korean peninsula. Michelle Nichols reports at Reuters.

“Today, more than ever before, we need multilateralism,” French President Emmanuel Macron said at his speech to the U.N. General Assembly yesterday, pushing back against Trump’s appeal to nationalistic values and openly disagreeing with the president on North Korea, the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and the Paris agreement on climate change. Farnaz Fassihi reports at the Wall Street Journal.

N.A.T.O. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg praised Trump’s Afghanistan strategy in an interview with the AP at the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly yesterday, also welcoming Trump’s decision to increase military presence in Europe and his challenge to all N.A.T.O. members to pull their weight. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani reiterated his call for “unconditional dialogue” to resolve the Gulf crisis, which began on June 5 when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, U.A.E. and Bahrain isolated Qatar on the basis of its alleged support for terrorism and its close ties with Iran, also stating in his speech yesterday that the actions of the four Arab nations were “inflicting damage on the war on terror.” Yara Bayoumy and Jeff Mason report at Reuters.

The U.N. will use the annual General Assembly to rally support for measures to resolve political tensions in Libya, Aidan Lewis reports at Reuters.

China has offered support to Venezuela until it can resolve its problems, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Venezuelan counterpart at the U.N., dismissing the widespread condemnation of Nicolás Maduro’s government. Reuters reports.

The leaders of Britain, France and Italy will raise the issue of social media and “terrorist content” at an event on the sidelines of the General Assembly today, Michelle Nichols reports at Reuters.

The signing ceremony for the first treaty banning nuclear weapons will be opened by Guterres today, marking the agreement which was approved by more than 120 countries in July, with 51 countries expected to sign today. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

“There are risks that we’ll be forgotten,” the president of the Central African Republic Faustin-Archange Touadera said yesterday at a news conference ahead of a meeting at the General Assembly, urging the international community to support the country which has been ravaged by conflict. Reuters reports.

IRAN

“If we’re going to stick with the Iran deal, there has to be changes made to it,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in an interview with Fox News last night, making the comments about the 2015 agreement and the “sunset” clauses contained within it ahead of a planned meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly today, Arshad Mohammed and John Irish report at Reuters.

“Those who threaten us with annihilation put themselves in mortal peril,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a direct message to Iran during his speech to the General Assembly yesterday, calling on the nations who agreed the 2015 nuclear deal to “fix or nix” it. Rory Jones reports at the Wall Street Journal.

It would be a “big mistake” for the U.S. to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, French President Emmanuel Macron said in an interview yesterday, stating that the agreement allows for monitoring and “international urgency.” Christiane Amanpour and Hilary Clarke report at CNN.

The parties to the 2015 nuclear deal have tried to rally support for the agreement following comments from the Trump administration calling for a change to its provisions or a possible withdrawal. Katrina Manson reports at the Financial Times.  

Israel shot down a drone probably built by Iran over the Golan Heights yesterday, according to an Israeli military spokesperson, the incident coming a few hours before Netanyahu’s address to the General Assembly. Reuters reports.

“If we don’t resolve the Syrian problem with Iran around the table, then we will not have an efficient response,” French President Emmanuel Macron said yesterday, offering to be a mediator between Iran and the U.S. to support a political solution in Syria. Reuters reports.

Analysts have speculated about cooperation between North Korea and Iran over nuclear weapons, however the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) Yukiya Amano, which oversees Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, dismissed the talk of a connection between the two countries as no more than “rumors.” Laurence Norman reports at the Wall Street Journal.

SYRIA

The U.S.-led coalition and its partner forces have evacuated a garrison near the border with Iraq and relocated to the main al Tanf base, according to rebel sources. Suleiman Al-Khalidi reports at Reuters.

Israel has focused on Iran’s intentions in Syria as it looks increasingly likely that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s position has been secured, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu highlighting the threat posed by the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah group at the U.N. General Assembly this week. Josef Federman reports at the AP.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out six airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on September 18. Separately, partner forces conducted seven strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

IRAQ

Iraqi forces launched an offensive on the Islamic State group in the Anbar province yesterday, starting the operation to drive out the militants and where the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is believed to be hiding. Tamer El-Ghobashy and Mustafa Salim report at the Washington Post.

Turkey would consider imposing sanctions against Kurds in northern Iraq if it the independence referendum continues as planned, the Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying by the state Anadolu news agency yesterday. Reuters reports.

The independence referendum “could spark new conflicts and must therefore be avoided at all costs,” Erdogan said at the U.N. General Assembly yesterday. Reuters reports.

The oil-rich and ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk is set to be the site of potential violence ahead of the Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum, Raya Jalabi and Ulf Laessing explain at Reuters.

The Turkish military targeted Kurdish Workers’ Party (P.K.K.) militants in northern Iraq in an airstrike yesterday, according to a statement by the Turkish military. Reuters reports.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is investigating the activities of former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort going back over a decade, in relation to possible tax and financial crimes. Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz reveal at CNN.

“There is no question, underline no question, that the Russian government interfered in the U.S. election last year,” the U.S. ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman said yesterday at his Senate confirmation hearing. Patricia Zengerle reports at Reuters.

Trump’s close business associate Michael Cohen has agreed to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Oct. 25, after the committee canceled the private hearing which was scheduled to be held yesterday. Karoun Demirjian and Rosalind S. Helderman report at the Washington Post.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing next week about “special counsels and the separation of powers,” Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) office said yesterday, the hearing coming as lawmakers push for two bills to make it harder to fire Mueller who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

The report that Manafort was wiretapped by the F.B.I. should raise questions about other instances of wiretapping, including the possibility of eavesdropping on Trump campaign officials and questions should also be asked of the F.B.I.’s potential links to the salacious dossier compiled by former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele. The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

The wiretapping of Manafort is a “big deal” because it suggests that the F.B.I. believed he may be acting as an “unlawful foreign agent” and this was demonstrated to the court that issues warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (F.I.S.A.). Randall D. Eliason writes at the Washington Post.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Hamas called on Palestinian Authority Leader Mahmoud Abbas to end sanctions against the Gaza strip yesterday, emphasizing that it supports dialogue and that it has disbanded its shadow government to allow Abbas to retake control. Reuters reports.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called on Palestinians to “be ready to accept co-existence” with Israel, during his speech to the U.N. General Assembly yesterday, Reuters reporting.

The relationship between Egypt and Israel has never been better and this has implications for Palestinian statehood and the region. Zena Tahhan writes at Al Jazeera.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A Russian helicopter accidentally fired a rocket at spectators during joint “Zapad” military exercises with Belarus yesterday, video footage revealing the incident, David Filipov reports at the Washington Post.

Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdogan said that Trump apologized to him for the brawl outside the Turkish embassy in Washington in May in an interview yesterday, a White House spokesperson contradicting the claim and stating that there was no apology. Jacqueline Thomsen reports at the Hill.

The U.S. must be vigilant in the face of threats to its democracy, Russia poses a considerable threat, but other foreign powers who would want to undermine U.S. elections and spread propaganda should also be considered. The former U.S. permanent representative to the U.N. Samantha Power writes 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