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 U.S. Treasury Department added eight North Korean banks and 26 individuals to its sanctions blacklist yesterday, a statement by the department saying that the measures target North Koreans working in China, Russia, Libya and the U.A.E., Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin adding that the sanctions would complement the Sept. 11 U.N. Secretary Council resolution against the Pyongyang regime. Rick Gladstone reports at the New York Times.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will travel to China tomorrow to discuss the North Korea crisis and put further pressure on Beijing to rein in Pyongyang’s aggressive behavior and nuclear program, Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also emphasized the need for diplomacy in separate comments yesterday. Felicia Schwartz, Ian Talley and Chun Han Wong report at the Wall Street Journal.
“If we take that option, it will be devastating,” Trump said yesterday at a White House news conference, referring to the U.S. readiness to take a military action against North Korea if required, but emphasizing that it is “not a preferred option” and also vowing to “fix the mess” over the nuclear program. Barbara Starr and Zachary Cohen report at CNN.
The U.S. has not seen a change in North Korea’s military posture in spite of the insults being traded between the two countries, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said yesterday during testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.
China emphasized the need for dialogue to resolve the North Korea issue, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said today, adding that military action was not an option. Reuters reports.
Escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula could lead to dangerous consequences, the spokesperson for Russia’s Kremlin Dmitry Peskov said yesterday. Reuters reports.
The American people and their representatives in Congress deserve to know how many casualties the Pentagon expects should there be war with North Korea, Democratic lawmakers Reps. Ted Lieu (Calif.) and Ruben Gallego (Ariz.) said in a letter to Mattis yesterday, asking for answers within 30 days on the best- and worst-case scenarios. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.
North Korea “tortured” U.S. student Otto Warmbier, his parents said in an interview with “Fox & Friends” yesterday, contradicting comments by North Korean officials that Warmbier was treated respectfully. Rick Gladstone reports at the New York Times.
North Korea’s colorful threats are nothing new, the difference now, however, is that Trump is matching North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in a war of insults, increasing the possibility of miscalculation or misunderstanding. Anna Fifield and Emily Rauhala explain at the Washington Post.
Why did North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho threaten to shoot down U.S. bombers yesterday? Justin McCurry provides a historical background and some context at the Guardian.
Could North Korea carry out its threat of shooting down U.S. aircraft near its coast? Alastair Gale provides the various perspectives of analysts at the Wall Street Journal.
North Korea’s threat is not confined to nuclear weapons and its ability to carry out cyberattacks should not be underestimated, Eric O’Neill writes at CNN.
It would “make sense” that walking away from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal “would have an impact on others’ willingness to sign agreements,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said yesterday in response to a question about whether withdrawing from the agreement would affect the U.S.’s ability to negotiate with North Korea. Idrees Ali reports at Reuters.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi accused the U.S. of precipitating another nuclear arms race yesterday, referring to Trump’s comments in February that the U.S. would be the “top of the pack” if there were to be nuclear weapons in the world. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.
The Iran nuclear deal should not be “sacrificed” over the understandable concerns about the country’s ballistic missiles program; the U.S. must recognize that the program is here to stay for now, but there would be a possibility of calling for restrictions in the future. Jarrett Blanc writes at the Hill.
The Iran nuclear deal was appropriately negotiated by the Obama administration, the Trump administration would be wrong to believe it could have negotiated a better deal and the idea that Obama did not push hard enough is a “myth.” Colin Kahl writes at Foreign Policy.
Trump’s longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone told lawmakers that he had been falsely accused of colluding with Russia during testimony to the House Intelligence Committee yesterday, when emerging from over three hours of closed-dorr questioning, Stone said that he had “correct[ed] a number of things that members of the committee had said” about him. Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.
Stone refused to disclose the name of his intermediary with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, also stating after the session that he expected special counsel Robert Mueller to “manufacture” a charge against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in the near future. Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.
Stone may be subpoenaed, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said yesterday, making the comments after Stone refused to respond to a key line of questioning, Reuters reports.
An analysis of Stone’s statement to the Committee is provided by Just Security Editor Renato Mariotti at Just Security.
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Manafort are “99 percent” likely to be indicted as part of Mueller’s investigation, Sen. Richard Blumenthal said yesterday (D-Conn.) said yesterday. Darren Samuelsohn reports at POLITICO.
“Why is the F.B.I. so focused on keeping Congress in the dark?” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked yesterday, castigating the Department of Justice and the F.B.I. for not complying with requests for two F.B.I. agents to testify before the committee. Joe Uchill reports at the Hill.
The I.R.S. is providing documents to Mueller’s team about key Trump campaign officials after the agency and the team clashed during the summer – mostly due to concerns about the scope of Mueller’s investigation. Manu Raju, Pamela Brown and Evan Perez report at CNN.
“I think there was an effort to bring some chaos to the groups on the right and the left,” the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said yesterday in reference to the Russian use of ads on Facebook during the presidential campaign, but stating that “there’s nothing that could learn towards one candidate versus the other.” Ali Breland reports at the Hill.
Russian-bought Facebook ads benefited Trump, Bernie Sanders and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, according to a source familiar with the ads. Josh Dawsey reports at POLITICO.
The TRAVEL BAN
The Trump administration intends to cap the number of refugee admissions to the U.S. next year at 45,000, two administration officials said yesterday. Vivian Salama and Julia Ainsley report at NBC News.
The inclusion of Chad in the recent travel ban has the potential to undermine the U.S.’s long-term national security interests, administration officials said yesterday, with Defense officials at the Pentagon expressing dismay that the U.S. imposed restrictions on a country that has been working with the U.S. Africa Command to combat Islamic extremists on the continent. Helene Cooper, Michael D. Shear and Dionne Searcey report at the New York Times.
IRAQI KURDISTAN REFERENDUM
The Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum on Monday was damaging to U.S. foreign policy, according to former U.S. officials and policy experts, as it undermined years of efforts to maintain Iraq’s unity. Jonathan Landay reports at Reuters.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi yesterday demanded that the Kurdish Regional Government (K.R.G.) surrender control of two international airports by Friday, after the K.R.G. leader Massoud Barzani announced that majority of Kurds voted in favor of independence. Al Jazeera reports.
The K.R.G. refused to close the two airports today, the Transport Minister stating that control was needed for Kurdish authorities and security forces as part of the fight against the Islamic State group, the Iraqi central government has now sent notice to foreign airline companies to notify them of a ban on international flights. Raya Jalabi reports at Reuters.
Egypt’s national airline will suspend flights between its capital and the Iraqi city of Erbil from Friday, the AP reports.
Iraq’s central government, Turkey and Iran have all threatened strong action against the Kurdish region in Iraq in an effort to stop any secession efforts, with Turkey and Iran expressing concern that their own Kurdish populations would be emboldened by the vote. Tamer El-Ghobashy and Kareem Fahim report at the Washington Post.
Turkey would consider imposing sanctions on the K.R.G. to persuade Barzani’s administration to “give up on this adventure that can only have a dark end,” Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday. The BBC reports.
France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian warned the Kurdish region today not to declare independence as it would “provoke new major crises in the Middle East.” Reuters reports.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry warned Iraq and the Kurds not to take any action that would destabilize the region, Reuters reports.
Although the referendum vote was understandable, it was dangerous because it unrealistically raised the hopes of Kurds throughout the Middle East and created the possibility of further instability in an already unstable and volatile region. All parties involved must now “avoid any action that could prompt violence” and then step up diplomatic efforts. The New York Times editorial board writes.
An “action plan” to unite Libya’s rival factions was put forward by the U.N. Chief’s Special Envoy for Libya Ghassan Salame yesterday at a new round of talks in Tunisia. Aidan Lewis and Ulf Laessing report at Reuters.
Top Italian officials yesterday called on Libyan National Army Gen. Khalifa Haftar to “contribute effectively” to the U.N. efforts, also ruling out a military solution to the crisis in Libya. The AP reports.
The U.A.E. and Haftar have committed war crimes in Libya, Libyan human rights groups said yesterday, accusing the U.A.E. of violations through air strikes and Haftar of carrying out human rights abuses. Al Jazeera reports.
The U.N. condemned yesterday’s attack against three Israelis, the U.N. envoy for the Israel-Palestine peace process Nickolay Mladenov saying in a statement that the attacks “undermine the possibility of a peaceful future.” The UN News Centre reports.
The Israeli military has prepared to demolish the home of the Palestinian gunman who killed three Israelis yesterday, the AP reports.
Interpol voted today to include Palestine as a member state of its agency, Angela Charlton reports at the AP.
A Russian airstrike killed five al-Qaida warlords in Syria’s Hama province, Russia’s Defense Ministry said today. The AP reports.
An Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) soldier killed in Syria by Islamic State militants was mourned as a martyr by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and thousands of Iranians today, Nasser Karimi reports at the AP.
A feature on the destruction in the city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State group in Syria, is provided by Quentin Sommerville and Riam Dalati at the BBC.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 30 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on September 25. Separately, partner forces conducted 10 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
Russia tested an intercontinental ballistic missile and launched military drills in Siberia yesterday, the defense ministry stating that it was part of efforts to develop its missile program, the AP reports.
Russia dismissed the allegations of human rights violations in Crimea as “groundless,” the Deputy Foreign Minister was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency today, after a U.N. report accused Russia of “grave” human rights violations. Reuters reports.
CUBA EMBASSY “INCIDENTS”
The investigations into health symptoms suffered by at least 21 U.S. diplomats has included information provided by U.S. investigators, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parilla told Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at a meeting yesterday, reiterating that Cuba was not involved in any attack that could have caused the illnesses, referring to U.S. officials’ belief that the diplomats were subjected to some sort of sonic device or weapon. Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Rodriguez also urged the U.S. not to make any hasty decisions over the alleged incidents, expressing concern that the matter would be “politicized.” Sarah Marsh and Matt Spetalnick report at Reuters.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis arrived in the Afghani capital of Kabul today on an unannounced visit, a few hours before several small rockets exploded near Kabul airport – for which the Islamic State group claimed responsibility. Reuters reports.
South Sudan should seize the “last chance” to save the 2015 peace agreement, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley urged yesterday at a Security Council meeting, highlighting that the U.S. had recently imposed sanctions against South Sudanese officials “who thwarted peace.” Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.
Saudi Arabia warned that an international, independent investigation into Yemen’s civil war would “negatively affect” trade and diplomatic ties, in a letter to other countries obtained by the Associated Press yesterday, making the comments ahead of a proposed Dutch-Canadian resolution to the U.N. Human Rights Council to establish a probe. Jamey Keaten reports at the AP.
Democratic lawmakers called on Mattis to deploy additional military resources to Puerto Rico yesterday, urging more support for the island that has been battered by two hurricanes. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
“I’m just for a united Spain,” Trump said yesterday at a joint press conference with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, supporting the Spanish government in its opposition to the Catalonian independence referendum scheduled for this weekend. Reuters reports.