The Early Edition: September 25, 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.

The TRAVEL BAN

President Trump issued a new order restricting travel to nationals from eight countries yesterday, replacing the previous order which was due to expire yesterday and imposing indefinite restrictions on travel for most citizens from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad, North Korea, and subjecting Venezuelan citizens to heightened security checks. Devlin Barrett reports at the Washington Post.

“Making America Safe is my number one priority,” Trump tweeted yesterday, linking to a presidential proclamation issued on the same day. It is unclear how the new order will affect the legal challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union (A.C.L.U.), which is due to be considered by the Supreme Court next month. The BBC reports.

The restrictions on the new countries included in the order and the revised waiver policy are set to take effect on Oct. 18; existing visa-holders are exempt from the travel ban and waivers remain available for travelers with ties to the U.S., however the order seems to have narrowed the exemptions. Josh Gerstein and Ted Hesson report at POLITICO.

The new order is more targeted than the president’s previous orders, according to officials, tailoring travel restrictions depending on nationality, with officials expecting that the inclusion of two non-Muslim countries would overcome the charge that it was an unconstitutional ban on Muslims. Laura Meckler reports at the Wall Street Journal.    

Critics of the original ban expressed similar concerns about the new order, the executive director of the A.C.L.U. Anthony D. Romero arguing that the inclusion of North Korea and Venezuela “doesn’t obfuscate the real fact that the administration’s order is still a Muslim ban.” Michael D. Shear reports at the New York Times.

The restriction on North Korea is largely symbolic as most North Koreans in the U.S. are based at the United Nations and North Korea generally does not allows its ordinary citizens to travel abroad. The AP reports.

Iraqi citizens are no longer included in the travel ban but will face heightened security checks, restrictions on citizens from Sudan were also removed. Jeff Mason and Phil Stewart report at Reuters.

“The State Department will coordinate with other federal agencies to implement these measures in an orderly manner,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement yesterday, Laura Jarrett and Sophie Tatum report at CNN.

The Supreme Court could avoid deciding on the travel ban legal case altogether, according to legal experts, the new order potentially allowing the court to consider the case no longer a live issue. Lawrence Hurley reports at Reuters.

A summary of who is affected by the entry restrictions is provided by Marty Lederman at Just Security.

NORTH KOREA

An attack on the U.S. mainland is “inevitable,” North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho said Saturday during a speech to the U.N., on the same day the U.S. flew eight warplanes close to North Korea’s eastern coastline while remaining in international airspace, according to a statement by the Pentagon. Farnaz Fassihi and Ben Kesling report at the Wall Street Journal.

“This is the farthest north of the Demilitarized Zone (D.M.Z.) any U.S. fighter or bomber aircraft have flown in the 21st century,” Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said Saturday, adding that the mission demonstrates “U.S. resolve” and sends a “clear message that the President has many military options to defeat any threat.” John Bowden reports at the Hill.

A 3.5 magnitude earthquake at the weekend near a North Korean nuclear test site appears to have been natural, according to experts, Simon Denyer reports at the Washington Post.

Diplomats and national security experts have expressed concern about Trump’s belligerent rhetoric, stating that the president has created an ambiguous situation where it is difficult to tell whether he would back up his threats with action, thereby widening the possibility of miscalculation and the Pyongyang regime misreading the likelihood of a U.S. attack. Julie Hirschfeld Davis explains at the New York Times.

China has grown increasingly frustrated with North Korea but its influence over the country has never been weaker, according to experts, leaving the country caught between a war of words between the U.S. and North Korea, but not wanting to precipitate the collapse of the Pyongyang regime. Simon Denyer explains at the Washington Post.

IRAN

Iran tested a new medium-range ballistic missile at the weekend, prompting Trump to criticize the 2015 nuclear agreement as not reining in Iran’s ballistic missile program in a tweet and accusing the country of working with North Korea. Aresu Eqbali reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The Khorramshahr ballistic missile was displayed at a military parade on Friday, during which Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated that Iran would continue to develop and strengthen its missile program. Reuters reports.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) unveiled its Russian-made 3-300 air defense system in the capital of Tehran yesterday as part of displays marking the 37th anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war. The AP reports.

The U.S. “is proving that it is unreliable,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said in an interview yesterday with Fareed Zakaria at CNN, criticizing the Trump administration’s approach to the 2015 nuclear deal.

Trump’s decision to certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal by the Oct. 15 deadline could have implications for dealing with the North Korea threat, detractors arguing that the agreement allows North Korea to see what it could get away with, and supporters arguing that walking away from the deal would demonstrate that the U.S. cannot be trusted with negotiations. Rebecca Kheel explains at the Hill.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The president’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner used his personal email account for official government business, his lawyer confirmed in a statement yesterday, stating that the emails “usually forwarded news articles or political commentary and most often occurred when someone initiated the exchange.” Maggie Haberman and Sharon LaFraniere report at the New York Times.

Other Trump administration aides have also used their personal email accounts for government business, meaning that the communications could circumvent the requirements of the Presidential Records Act which requires all documents related to the president’s personal and political activities to be archived. Josh Dawsey reports at POLITICO.

Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump did not set up a private server, according to two sources familiar with their email account, however Kushner’s lawyer declined to answer questions about the possibility of the emails containing classified information. Carol D. Leonnig, Ellen Nakashima and Rosalind S. Helderman report at the Washington Post.

President Obama warned Facebook C.E.O. Mark Zuckerberg about fake news on Nov. 19, two months before Trump’s inauguration, Obama stating that the problem would get worse during the next presidential campaign if not addressed. Adam Entous, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg report at the Washington Post.

IRAQI KURDISTAN REFERENDUM

The Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum is being held today, with ballots being held across the three provinces in the Kurdish autonomous region and disputed territories, including the city of Kirkuk. The BBC reports.

“We will not recognize the referendum, nor its results,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said yesterday, shortly after Barzani made a speech stating that he would be “ready to start the process of dialogue with Baghdad” after today’s vote. Al Jazeera reports.

The Kurdish region was ordered to hand over control of border crossings and airports to Iraq’s central government yesterday, ahead of the referendum. Qassim Abdul-Zahra reports at the AP.

Iran halted flights to and from the Iraqi Kurdistan region yesterday and held military exercises on the border, closing the airspace at the request of Iraq’s central government. Al Jazeera reports.

“We stress again that we will take all measures arising from international law and the Turkish parliament’s authority” in response to the referendum, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement today, Reuters reports.

Turkey blocked access at a border gate with northern Iraq, according to the broadcaster N.T.V., Reuters reporting.

Turkey is considering closing its airspace and a border gate to northern Iraq following a formal request from Iraq’s central government, the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said today, the AP reports.

“We will never go back to the failed partnership” with Baghdad, Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani said yesterday, defying neighboring countries and other Western nations who oppose the referendum. Maher Chmaytelli and Daren Butler report at Reuters.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdogan discussed the referendum by phone, Erdogan’s office said yesterday, sharing mutual concern about impact of the vote on the region and emphasized the importance of Iraq’s territorial integrity. Reuters reports.

The referendum is a “strategic mistake” that undermines the Iraqi Kurds’ quest for independence because it lacks constitutional standing, undermines the government in Baghdad, threatens Iraq’s borders and security, and increases the possibility of further destabilizing the region. The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

The history and context behind the independence referendum is provided by David Zucchino at the New York Times.

SYRIA

The U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) seized a key gas plant from the Islamic State, the S.D.F. said yesterday, marking a significant blow to the extremist group’s ability to generate revenue. Raja Abdulrahim reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) targeted Islamic State group bases with drone strikes yesterday near the Syria-Iraqi border, according to Iranian state television, Reuters reports.

Russia and Syria have intensified their bombing campaigns on rebel-held areas in the Idlib and Hama provinces, rebels and witnesses said yesterday, marking increased violence following six months of relative calm. Suleiman Al-Khalidi reports at Reuters.

Airstrikes hit rural Aleppo in northern Syria yesterday despite a cease-fire in the province, according to activists and a war monitoring group. The AP reports.

A Russian general was killed by mortar shelling near the Syrian city of Deir al-Zour, Russia’s Defense Ministry said yesterday. Reuters reporting.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

U.S. drones conducted a series of “precision strikes” in Libya killing 17 Islamic State militants, the U.S. military said yesterday, marking the first airstrikes by the U.S. since January and demonstrating the significant threat posed by the militants in Libya. Eric Schmitt reports at the New York Times.

The Pentagon has been testing systems to destroy Islamic State group drones, launching a $700m program to draw on the knowledge of the armed services, tech experts and defense industry giants. Eric Schmitt reports at the New York Times.

“The two-state solution is today in jeopardy,” Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas said during his speech to the U.N. General Assembly last week – comments that were overshadowed by discussion of the North Korea threat but nevertheless posing a significant and urgent problem for U.S.-led peace efforts. Josef Federman explains at the AP.

A suicide bomb targeted a convoy of international forces in the Afghan capital of Kabul yesterday, wounding three civilians, with no one claiming responsibility for the attack, separately in the Helmand province the Taliban killed a district police chief. The AP reports.

The intense fighting against Islamic State-backed militants in the Philippine city of Marawi demonstrate the serious the extremists could pose to the country and other counties in Southeast Asia. Tom Allard explains at Reuters.

A breakdown of recent developments in the South China Sea is provided by Christopher Bodeen at the AP.

An explosion in Mali killed three U.N. peacekeeping troops and injured five yesterday, demonstrating the security struggles in the country that was destabilized by Islamist militants in 2012. Sewell Chan reports at the New York Times.

Forthcoming Trump administration rules on the trade of U.S.-manufactured guns has the potential to undermine human rights and aid terrorists and international criminal gangs, and Trump should reconsider the move. Josh Rogin writes 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