The Early Edition: September 26, 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

The U.S. has declared war on North Korea and North Korea has “every right to make countermeasures,” North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-Ho told reporters in New York yesterday, stating that a tweet by the president at the weekend was a proclamation of war and adding that Pyongyang’s right to respond extends to shooting down U.S. strategic bombers, “even if they are not yet inside the airspace border of our country” – referring to a the flight of eight U.S. warplanes near North Korea’s coastline on Saturday. Farnaz Fassihi reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The international community “should clearly remember that it was the U.S. who first declared war on our country,” Ri also told reporters yesterday, adding that “the question of who won’t be around much longer will be answered then.” Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

The U.S. has not declared war on North Korea and “frankly the suggestion of that is absurd,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday in response to Ri’s comments, the BBC reports.

It is “never appropriate to shoot down a country’s aircraft when it’s over international waters,” Sanders also said yesterday, emphasizing that the U.S. seeks a peaceful resolution to the crisis on the Korean peninsula, separately Pentagon spokesperson Col. Robert Manning told reporters that if North Korea did not stop its provocations the Pentagon would make sure that the president would be provided with options “to deal with North Korea.” Rick Gladstone and David E. Sanger report at the New York Times.

North Korea appears to have bolstered its defenses on its east coast following the flight of U.S. warplanes near the Korean peninsula at the weekend, according to the South Korean Yonhap news agency, which has not been immediately confirmed by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service. Christine Kim and Christian Shepherd report at Reuters.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has been “working behind the scenes” to find a political solution to the North Korea threat, the R.I.A. news agency cited a senior Russian diplomat as saying. Reuters reports.

“Fiery talk can lead to fatal misunderstandings,” Stéphane Dujjaric, the spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, warned yesterday, reflecting fears that a miscalculation could lead to military confrontation. Carol Morello reports at the Washington Post.

“It’s getting too dangerous,” China’s ambassador to the U.N. Liu Jieyi said yesterday, responding to comments made by Ri and emphasizing that the crisis could only be resolved through negotiations. Reuters reports.

Twitter stated that the president’s tweet about North Korea did not violate its terms of service, adding that, among other considerations, the social media company looks at whether a tweet is of “public interest.” Alex Johnson reports at NBC News.

IRAN

“As far as we can see, it did not happen,” a Trump administration official said yesterday in relation to reports from Iran at the weekend that the country launched a new ballistic missile. Barbara Starr reports at CNN.

The demise of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement “would be a major loss,” the E.U. envoy in Washington David O’Sullivan said yesterday, joining the British, French and German ambassadors to Washington in support of the deal amid signals that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing. Patricia Zengerle reports at Reuters.

Trump should decertify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement by the Oct. 15 deadline and then use the opportunity to change the provisions of the deal to impose stricter limits on Iran. Mark Dubowitz and David Albright write at the Wall Street Journal.

The Trump administration would find it difficult to impose Obama-era sanctions on Iran’s crude oil due to Iran’s share in the global oil market, making it difficult for European allies and Asian countries to swallow the prospect of instituting similar sanctions again, especially as the International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly found Iran to be compliant with the agreement. Keith Johnson and Dan De Luce explain at Foreign Policy.

The TRAVEL BAN

The Supreme Court canceled oral arguments on the travel ban yesterday, which were scheduled for Oct. 10, following the president’s new order on Sunday that was a broader ban on travel and included two non-Muslim majority countries, potentially shielding the ban from charges that it amounts to religious discrimination. Michael D. Shear, Ron Nixon and Adam Liptak report at the New York Times.

The court asked the parties to file new briefs by Oct. 5 to determine whether the new order renders the dispute over the travel ban “moot,” also asking the parties to discuss Trump’s order stopping global refugee programs which is set to expire Oct. 24. Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

The U.S. travel restrictions on Venezuela amount to “psychological terrorism,” Venezuela’s foreign minister said in a statement, the BBC reports.

The reactions to the travel ban from around the world have drawn mixed reactions, the New York Times provides a breakdown.

Why was Chad included in the travel ban? Their inclusion has caused confusion but seems to be based on problems with information sharing and administrative capacity. Kevin Sieff explains at the Washington Post.

The “political function” of the new travel ban is the same, to inflame prejudice against Muslims and stoke xenophobic sentiments, the New York Times editorial board writes.

The new travel ban has been part of a broader and more considered review but the purpose of it is still in question as it does not appear to do much to counter terrorism. The Washington Post editorial board writes.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Russian bought Facebook ads sought to sow division in U.S. society by using targeted messages to influence political discourse, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.) stating that the public “should see a representative sample of the ads to see how cynical the Russians were using these ads.” Adam Entous, Craig Timberg and Elizabeth Dwoskin report at the Washington Post.

The House Intelligence Committee has scheduled an open hearing for Thursday to cover “document production,” following subpoenas issued by the Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) to the Justice Department and the F.B.I. in relation to the salacious dossier compiled by former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele. Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation may have a broad mandate but it does not have the authority to produce a public report, therefore there should be a bipartisan commission to investigate the full scale of Russian interference culminating in a comprehensive report. Just Security Editor Asha Rangappa writes at the Hill.

SYRIA

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) yesterday accused Russian warplanes of targeting their fighters at three locations in the Deir al-Zour province, stating that one of the sites targeted was a gas field recently seized from Islamic State militants. Erin Cunningham and David Filipov report at the Washington Post.

The U.S.’s “two-faced policy” was to blame for the death of Russian Gen. Valery Asparov in Syria, a senior Russian official said yesterday according to a report by the R.I.A. news agency, the general having been killed by Islamic State group shelling near Deir al-Zour. Al Jazeera reports.

Russia denied allegations that it launched airstrikes in Idlib province that killed civilians, the Defense Ministry said today in response to assertions by the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’ yesterday, which were reflected by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu who also accused the Russians of bombing civilians and moderate rebels in Idlib. Reuters reports.

The Syrian government could discuss Kurdish demands for autonomy within Syria’s borders, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said yesterday in an interview with Russia Today, which was reported by the Syrian state S.A.N.A. news agency. Reuters reports.

The battlefield victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has been clear for some time, however the endgame is still being played out as the various parties scramble for influence in the country. Liz Sly provides an analysis of the possible scenarios at the Washington Post.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 29 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on September 24. Separately, partner forces conducted six strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

IRAQI KURDISTAN REFERENDUM

Iraqi Kurds voted in a historic independence referendum yesterday, despite warnings from the international community and countries in the region that the vote would undermine the fight against the Islamic State group and foster instability. Tamer El-Ghobashy, Mustafa Salum and Kareem Fahim report at the Washington Post.

More than 90% have voted in favor of independence, according to partial unofficial results published by the Kurdish Rudaw website, and the electoral commission has estimated turnout at around 72%, with Kurds stating that the result would give the region a mandate to negotiate secession with the central government in Baghdad. The BBC reports.

“We are not ready to discuss or have a dialogue about the results of the referendum because it is unconstitutional,” the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a televised speech last night. Reuters reports.

“Our armed forces are on the borders with Iraq to do whatever it takes,” Turkish president Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday as voting took place, adding that Turkey views the referendum as “illegitimate.” Al Jazeera reports.

Erdoğan threatened to cut off Iraqi Kurdistan’s petroleum exports yesterday, in light of the independence referendum, warning that Turkey owns “the tap.” Benoit Faucon, Sarah Kent and Summer Said report at the Wall Street Journal.

Kurds in Iran rallied in their thousands to support the Iraqi Kurdistan referendum, highlighting the fears of Iranian and Turkish governments that the referendum would embolden their Kurdish populations. Susannah George reports at the AP.

The U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres expressed concern about the “potential destabilizing effects” of the referendum, the Secretary-General’s spokesperson Stéphane Dujjaric said yesterday. The UN News Centre reports.

The referendum has prompted strong reactions from Turkey, Iran and Iraq who fear the impact of the vote on their nations and the region. David Zucchino explains at the New York Times.

An overwhelming vote in favor of independence is expected, but what does this mean for the future? Ishaan Tharoor provides an analysis at the Washington Post.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

A Palestinian gunman killed three members of Israel’s security force at a checkpoint at a West Bank settlement today, the militant Hamas group praising the attack as reinforcing that the “natural relationship with the occupation” as being one of “conflict,” while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas for “methodical incitement” to violence against Israelis. Rory Jones reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“The attack is also a message to special U.S. envoy [Jason] Greenblatt,” the Israeli Minister of Intelligence Israel Katz said today, highlighting that Greenblatt, who had just arrived in the region to discuss the peace process, must be aware that “Israel’s security was and yet remains the supreme consideration in the government’s policy.” Aron Heller reports at the AP.

Israel’s settlement expansion contravenes U.N. Security Council resolutions and makes the achievement of a two-state solution “increasingly unattainable,” the U.N. envoy for the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov told the council yesterday, emphasizing that the U.N. considers the expansion to be illegal under international law. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

RUSSIA

The U.S. is preparing to restrict Russian military flights over its territory due to Russia’s violation of the Open Skies treaty because it has restricted flights over the Russian Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad. Bret Forrest reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The Russian occupation of the Crimea led to “grave human rights violations,” a report published yesterday by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said, drawing particular attention to the issue of enforced Russian citizenship. The UN News Centre reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

At least six top Trump administration advisers used private email addresses to discuss government business, current and former officials said yesterday, including former Chief White House Strategist Stephen Bannon and former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, however the private email use has not been linked to a private server and officials claim that the use of personal accounts has been sporadic. Matt Apuzzo and Maggie Haberman report at the New York Times.

Trump has been pushing Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to close the Taliban mission in Qatar, and Ghani is expected to agree to the closure as he does not view the Taliban ‘political office’ as facilitating peace, however some are concerned that it would send a message that the U.S. is not interested in peace and negotiations. Stephanie Kirchgaessner, Sune Engel Rasmussen and Julian Borger report at the Guardian and explain the context behind the office in Doha.

“By their measure they are pushing Qatar to Iran,” Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Adbulrahman al-Thani said yesterday, referring to the diplomatic isolation of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain and stating that the blockade has forced Doha to look for alternative economic ties and saying that this “is not a wise objective.” Al Jazeera reports.

Trump has been acting like “the world’s emperor,” Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly yesterday, castigating the president for using a “podium built for peace to announce wars,” referring to Trump’s speech last week to the U.N., Jennifer Peltz reports at the AP.

The U.S. should keep its embassy in the Cuban city of Havana open but expel the 19 Cubans working at its embassy in Washington, then emphasize that relations would be normalized once the Cuban government explains how embassy employees were harmed by sonic weapons. The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes. 

Filed under:
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