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.
“I have decided,” President Trump repeated three times when asked yesterday about the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, but not revealing what he intends to do when faced with the Oct. 15 deadline whether to certify Iran’s compliance with the agreement to Congress, prompting criticism from Iranian leaders and European officials. Felicia Schwartz, Farnaz Fassihi and Emre Peker report at the Wall Street Journal.
Trump intends to impose stricter limits on the nuclear deal rather than withdraw right away, administration officials said yesterday, looking at measures that include extending “sunset” clauses and restricting Iran’s ballistic missiles program, however it remains unclear whether European allies and other parties to the agreement would be willing to renegotiate. Peter Baker and Rick Gladstone report at the New York Times.
Trump is leaning toward decertifying Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal, according to four sources familiar with the White House discussions, although several of the sources warned that the president could change his mind in the face of international pressure. Hallie Jackson, Carol E. Lee, Vivian Salama and Kristen Welker report at NBC News.
“It will be a great pity if this agreement were to be destroyed by rogue newcomers to the world of politics,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in his address to the U.N. General Assembly yesterday, referring to Trump’s comments on the nuclear deal, also denouncing Trump’s “ignorant, absurd and hateful rhetoric, filled with ridiculously baseless allegations.” Nicole Gaouette reports at CNN.
“Iran has never sought nuclear weapons, will never seek nuclear weapons, is not now seeking nuclear weapons,” Rouhani said yesterday at a news conference after delivering his speech to the General Assembly, adding that Iran would not be willing to talk to the Trump administration about issues other than the nuclear deal. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.
Trump’s remarks about Iran were “cheap, ugly, foolish and unreal,” Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said today, the AP reports.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson conceded that Iran was complying with the deal during his meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif yesterday, but reiterated concerns about the “sunset” clause contained within the agreement which lifts restrictions on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program after 2025. The BBC reports.
Tillerson emphasized that Iran was not fulfilling the “expectations” of the agreement, making the statement after a meeting about the deal’s implementation at the U.N. yesterday, despite acknowledging Iran’s technical compliance with the requirements. Julian Borger and Philip Oltermann report at the Guardian.
The president has not shared his decision about certifying Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal “with anyone externally,” including British Prime Minister Theresa May who asked Trump directly, Tillerson told reporters yesterday. Nicole Gaouette and Lauran Koran report at CNN.
The 2015 agreement is not “enough,” French President Emmanuel Macron said yesterday, stating that the deal does not effectively restrict Iran’s actions in the Middle East and limit its development of ballistic missiles, adding that he wanted to open negotiations immediately on the timeframe of the deal and discuss Iran’s role in the region, offering also to mediate between the U.S. and Iran. John Irish reports at Reuters.
“We already have one potential nuclear crisis. We definitely [do] not need to go into a second one,” the E.U. Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini told reporters yesterday, defending the Iran nuclear deal and referring to the threat posed by North Korea. Michelle Nichols and Jeff Mason report at Reuters.
“Iran is operating under the agreements that we signed under the J.C.P.O.A.,” the top general of U.S. Strategic Command Gen. John Hyten said yesterday, using the acronym for the 2015 deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but stating that Iran’s development of its ballistic missiles program provides “significant concerns” to the U.S. and its allies. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.
Tillerson was caught out by Trump’s remarks that he had made a decision on the nuclear deal, telling reporters last night that Trump was “still considering” whether to de-certify Iran’s compliance, but was then informed by a reporter about the president’s comments a few hours earlier, reinforcing the impression of an incoherent administration that has sidelined the Secretary of State. David Nakamura and Anne Gearan report at the Washington Post.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) urged the Trump administration to stay in the agreement in an interview yesterday, stating that the administration should instead pursuit a separate deal that targets Iran’s ballistic missile program. Seung Min Kim reports at POLITICO.
North Korea would not be scared by “the noise of a dog barking,” North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho told reporters in New York yesterday in response to a question about Trump’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly and his threats to “totally destroy” the country if it continued to threaten the U.S. and its allies with nuclear weapons and missiles, Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.
China urged restraint following Trump’s comments about North Korea, while Japan and South Korea offered cautious praise for the president’s speech, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterating support for the U.S. position that “all options are on the table” during his speech to the General Assembly yesterday, and a spokesperson for South Korea’s presidential Blue House stating yesterday that Trump’s speech demonstrated the urgency of the situation. Te-Ping and Megumi Fujikawa report at the Wall Street Journal.
The North Korean threat requires “pressure” not “dialogue,” Abe said in his speech yesterday, devoting his entire address to the danger posed by Pyongyang and aligning Japan with the U.S.’ stance; taking a different approach to other world leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel who urged diplomacy in a broadcast to German television yesterday. Matthew Pennington reports at the AP.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Vice President Mike Pence acknowledged the importance of a peaceful resolution to the North Korea crisis and “acknowledged the important consensus both sides have on the denuclearization of the peninsula,” the Chinese state Xinhua news agency reported yesterday. Reuters reporting.
Wang called on South Korea to remove the U.S.-installed T.H.A.A.D. antimissile system, the Xinhua news agency said today. Reuters reporting.
Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are scheduled to meet today to discuss the North Korean threat, then he will meet with Moon and Abe, and finish with a separate meeting with Abe. Steve Holland and John Walcott report at Reuters.
South Korea approved a plan today to send $8m in aid to North Korea to support humanitarian programs, a measure at odds with the hardline approach advocated by the U.S. and Japan, the South Korean Unification Ministry stating that there was “realistically no possibility” that the aid could be used by the North’s military. Justin McCurry reports at the Guardian.
At least eight North Korean cargo vessels left Russia this year and changed their destination mid-voyage, prompting speculation that the ships circumvented international sanctions. Polina Nikolskaya reveals at Reuters.
The international community should expel North Korea from the U.N., the country having never fulfilled the requirements of membership, but reaping the benefits of membership through legitimacy and the opportunity for spying, money laundering and illicit procurement. Claudia Rosett writes at the Wall Street Journal.
Trump’s belligerent rhetoric helps to shore up North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s position and aids the narrative that the U.S. is singularly hostile to the country, giving the Pyongyang regime an excuse or incentive to launch more missiles and further develop its nuclear program. Anna Fifield explains the views of North Korea analysts at the Washington Post.
Special counsel Robert Mueller has requested documents related to Trump’s actions as president, according to White House officials, the requests focusing on 13 areas of interest including Trump’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak a day after firing F.B.I. Director James Comey, and the circumstances surrounding the firing of national security adviser Michael Flynn. Michael S. Schmidt reports at the New York Times.
The details of the requests were provided by two anonymous sources who explained that the extensive requests demonstrate Mueller’s focus on key actions that could reveal whether the president tried to block the F.B.I. investigations of Flynn and Russian interference. Carol D. Leonnig and Rosalind S. Helderman report at the Washington Post.
The White House attorney Ty Cobb declined to comment on the special counsel’s request for documents and the process of his investigation, but added that the White House was fully cooperating with Mueller and his team. Sophie Tatum, Gloria Borger and Pamela Brown report at CNN.
The former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort offered to provide private briefings to Russian billionaire Oleg Derispaska about the 2016 presidential election, emails between Manafort and the Kremlin-linked Derispaska reveal, anonymous sources familiar with the probe stating that the emails have prompted concern among investigators that Manafort’s actions opened the possibility of Russian interests being expressed at the highest level of the presidential campaign. Tom Hamburger, Rosalind S. Helderman, Carol D. Leonnig and Adam Entous report at the Washington Post.
The exchange between Manafort and Derispaska was “innocuous,” the spokesperson for Manafort, Jason Maloni, said yesterday, stating that Manafort was “owed money by past clients after his work ended in 2014.” Ken Dilanian and Tom Winter report at NBC News.
Manafort used his presidential campaign email account to send emails to a Ukrainian operative suspected to have ties to Russian intelligence, according to sources familiar with the correspondence, apparently making it clear in the emails that he had significant influence in the Trump campaign. Josh Dawsey reports at POLITICO.
Suspected Russia propagandists organized more than a dozen pro-Trump rallies in Florida during the 2016 election, the Daily Beast has found, a spokesperson for Facebook stating that it was not able to confirm any of the details of Facebook pages suspected to be of Russian origin. Ben Collins, Gideon Resnick, Kevin Poulsen and Spencer Ackerman reveal at The Daily Beast.
Russian special forces have been deployed to the Syrian city of Deir al-Zour to assist Syrian government forces in their fight against the Islamic State group, Russia’s defense ministry said today, a spokesperson for the ministry Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov also warning the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) that Russia would retaliate if they were to come under fire. Nataliya Vasilyeva reports at the AP.
The S.D.F. have captured 80% of the northern city of Raqqa, a statement by the forces said yesterday, also announcing its new offensive against the Islamic State militants on the northern edge of the city, Al Jazeera reports.
The U.S.-led coalition’s air campaign on Raqqa has resulted in significant civilian deaths, the monitoring group Airwars stating that at least 433 civilians died last month from coalition actions. Priyanka Gupta reports at Al Jazeera.
The watchdog group Democracy Forward filed a suit against the Trump administration to try and reveal the circumstances behind the warning of a potential Syrian chemical weapons strike in June which never took place, seeking to establish whether there was consultation with Pentagon officials over the matter. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 30 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on September 19. Separately, partner forces conducted 14 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
Iraqi forces launched an operation to recapture the town of Hawija, according to a statement by the Iraqi Prime Minister’s office, starting the offensive against one of the last Islamic State group strongholds in the country two days after Iraqi forces began an offensive against Islamic State positions in the western Anbar province. Balint Szlanko reports at the AP.
The foreign ministers of Iran, Turkey and Iraq issued a joint statement today expressing concern over the Iraqi Kurdistan referendum, stating that they would “consider taking counter-measures in coordination” if the vote takes place, without detailing what the action would look like. Reuters reports.
The former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been working to promote the Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum, taking on an advisory role that is at odds with the U.S. opposition to the referendum. Kenneth P. Vogel and Jo Becker report at the New York Times.
The Iraqi Kurdistan referendum poses a significant challenge for Turkey, the Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdogan having championed the Kurdish Regional Government leader Masoud Barzani as an economic and military ally and a counterbalance to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.) – the militant group outlawed by Ankara – but also concerned that the referendum would bolster broader movements for Kurdish secessionism, including in Turkey. Mehul Srivastava, Erika Solomon and David Sheppard explain at the Financial Times.
Will there still be an Iraq following the recapture of Islamic State territory? Michael Dempsey asks at the Wall Street Journal, highlighting five key unresolved issues that will determine whether the country can hold together.
“This agreement has been reached, and we are satisfied with this agreement,” Palestinian authority leader Mahmoud Abbas said during his speech to the U.N. General Assembly yesterday in relation to the Egypt-brokered deal with Hamas in recent days which will see the militant group cede control of the Gaza Strip and allow Abbas’ Fatah party to govern. Paul Sonne and Rory Jones report at the Wall Street Journal.
The agreement between Fatah and Hamas does not significantly change the dynamics of the political division and it is unlikely that the reconciliation will lead to unified government, analysts have said. Linah Alsaafin and Zena Tahhan explain at Al Jazeera.
Palestinian human rights groups have urged the International Criminal Court to “open a full investigation” into the complicity of Israeli officials in alleged war crimes in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in East Jerusalem. Zena Tahhan reports at Al Jazeera.
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres kick started a strategy for peace and stability in Libya at the General Assembly yesterday, the UN News Centre reports.
The Libyan Anas al-Dabbashi brigade have sought legitimacy from Libya’s U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (G.N.A.) in exchange for stopping trafficking from the country to Italy, Steve Scherer and Aidan Lewis report at Reuters.
U.N. GENERAL ASSEMBLY
The U.N. Security Council backed reforms to its peacekeeping missions yesterday, Vice President Mike Pence stating that the U.N. must be more efficient and effective. Alexandra Olson reports at the AP.
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres opened the signing ceremony for the treaty banning nuclear weapons yesterday, which was adopted on July 7. The UN News Centre reports.
“There are no sanctuaries anymore,” the newly-elected Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said yesterday in response to a question about the presence of Islamist militants on the border with Afghanistan, possibly causing further tensions with the U.S. who maintains that Pakistan plays a role as a safe haven for terrorists who operate in Afghanistan. Mark Landler reports at the New York Times.
The State Department were aware of the extent of the attacks on U.S. diplomats at the embassy in Cuba long before it was publicly acknowledged, according to documents obtained by CBS News. Steve Dorsey reports at CBS News.
The U.S. and China should make “good preparations” ahead of Trump’s visit to China later this year to ensure “concrete achievements can be obtained,” China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Vice President Mike Pence, according to China’s state Xinhua news agency. Reuters reports.
The National Security Agency (N.S.A.) agreed to drop new data encryption techniques following pressure from U.S. allies, Joseph Menn reports at Reuters.
“Sometimes we do have to clarify,” U.S. ambassador the U.N. Nikki Haley said in response to a question about having to interpret and explain Trump’s remarks, making the comments in a wide-ranging interview with Ashley Parker at Glamour Magazine that includes discussion of Syria and Russia.
The independence referendums planned in Iraqi Kurdistan and Catalonia scheduled for the end of this month and early next month have raised significant tensions, facing resistance from most of the international community and it is “far from certain that the outcome” of the referendums “will be a happy one.” Ishaan Tharoor writes at the Washington Post.