The Early Edition: October 4, 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 2015 Iran nuclear agreement serves the U.S.’s national security interests, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said yesterday in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, adding that “absent indications to the contrary, it is something the president should consider staying with.” Nancy A. Youssef reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Mattis made the comments ahead of the Oct. 15 deadline for the president to certify Iran’s compliance with the deal and contradicted Trump, who has repeatedly castigated the agreement, revealing yet another instance of national security advisers disagreeing with the president. Thomas Gibbons-Neff and David E. Sanger report at the New York Times.

Trump’s national security team has devised a strategy to de-certify Iran’s compliance and then work with Congress and European allies to exert pressure on Iran without immediately withdrawing from the deal, according to a yet-to-be-finalized plan led by national security adviser H.R. McMaster, the strategy attempts to take a hard line against Tehran without drawing the ire of the international community. Eliana Johnson reports at POLITICO.

European countries have turned their focus to Congress in the face of the possibility of Trump de-certifying Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal. Julian Borger charts the efforts of European leaders to influence the Trump administration and attempts to lobby Congress at the Guardian.

A member of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team has been sentenced to five years in jail, according to the Tasnim news agency, the report did not include a source or further information. Reuters reports.

The Trump administration’s generals have been consistent in their support for the Iran nuclear deal but it is unclear whether Trump is listening and it is possible that the matter would be left to Congress. Ishaan Tharoor provides an analysis at the Washington Post.


The State Department ordered Cuba to withdraw 15 officials from its embassy in Washington yesterday, a State Department official stating that the decision “does not signal a change of policy or a determination of responsibility for the attacks on U.S. government personnel,” referring to the mysterious attacks on more than 20 U.S. diplomats and their families which have caused a range of health symptoms. Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“Cuba’s failure to take appropriate steps to protect our diplomats” was the reason behind the decision to expel Cuban diplomats, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said yesterday, adding that the U.S. would maintain diplomatic relations and continue to cooperate with Cuba in relation to the investigation into the mysterious attacks. Gardiner Harris, Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Ernesto Londoño report at the New York Times.

The U.S. decision was “irresponsible” and “hasty,” Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez said in response, saying at a news conference that the foreign ministry “strongly protests and condemns this unfounded and unacceptable decision as well as the pretext used to justify it,” the latest developments marking a significant blow to efforts to improve U.S.-Cuba relations. Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.


“I do not see the divergence as strongly as some … have interpreted it,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said yesterday during testimony to the Senate Armed Service Committee, referring to the conflicting comments by the president and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about the efficacy of pursuing talks with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program, Trump having said on Sunday that Tillerson was “wasting his time” trying to negotiate to Pyongyang. Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali report at Reuters.

The U.S. has imposed an “economic blockade” on North Korea, North Korea’s ambassador to the U.N. Ja Song Nam told the U.N. General Assembly committee yesterday, stating that North Korea would “continue to uphold the line of simultaneous development of the state nuclear force and the economy.” Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother died due to VX poisoning, according to a postmortem report submitted to the trial in Malaysia yesterday, Malaysian officials also said during the trial that they believed the two women suspected of murdering Kim Jong-Nam were acting under the directions of the Pyongyang regime, allegations that North Korea has denied. Ben Otto and Yantoultra Ngui report at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump should stop the war of words with North Korea as the heightened rhetoric increases the possibility of nuclear war through miscalculation, instead the president would be wise to understand that diplomacy is possible if conducted from a position of strength. Former Defense Secretary William J. Perry writes at POLITICO Magazine.

The “fake news” that reported talks between Tillerson and North Korea has dangerous implications, a closer look at the transcript of Tillerson’s comments on Saturday revealed a “willingness to discuss” denuclearization rather than stating that active negotiation has been taking place, this narrative provoked a capricious reaction from the president, the State Department then had to play catch-up. Jeffrey Lewis writes how the spread of false information could provoke a conflict at Foreign Policy.

“Bureaucratic obstruction” could provide the key to stopping a war with North Korea in a similar way that advisers prevented former President Richard Nixon from carrying out impulsive attacks. David Ignatius writes at the Washington Post.


A series of Russian-linked Facebook ads were specifically targeted at voters in Michigan and Wisconsin, two battleground states that were instrumental to Trump’s victory over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, according to four sources, the ads promoted divisive messages and were intended to sway public opinion. Manu Raju, Dylan Byers and Dana Bash reveal at CNN.

The intelligence community’s assessment of Russian interference in the 2016 election is expected to be largely endorsed by Senate Intelligence Committee leaders Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) today when they give an interim status update on the committee’s investigation at a public event, it is not expected that they would release an interim report. Karoun Demirjian and Greg Miller report at the Washington Post.

Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-Calif.) met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, the lawyer at the center of a controversial meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and Trump campaign officials in June 2016, during a visit to Moscow in April 2016, prompting questions about Rohrbacher’s relationship with Russia. Elias Groll reports at Foreign Policy.

The Department of Homeland Security’s (D.H.S.) decision to stop federal agencies and departments from using Kaspersky Lab software was based on the “totality of evidence, including on the most part open-source information,” a senior D.H.S. cybersecurity official said yesterday, making the comments after the D.H.S. directed the removal of Kaspersky software in September due to alleged links with Russian intelligence. Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

Some Russian-linked Facebook pages tried to pass for local content, with four accounts continuing to post divisive messages as recently as August 2017. Georgie Wells reports at the Wall Street Journal.


The Russian military critically wounded one of the leaders of the al-Qaeda-linked Tahrir al-Sham militant group and 12 of his commanders in an airstrike, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement today, Reuters reports.

The Islamic State group yesterday claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack on a police station in the Syrian capital of Damascus, and also released a video appearing to show captured Russian soldiers in Syria. The AP reports.

A member of the Syrian Army was convicted of a war crime in a ruling issued in Sweden last week, marking the first conviction since the beginning of the war in Syria and offering the possibility that courts out of Syria would be able to hold some violators to account, even as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s position as leader of the country looks increasingly secure. Anne Barnard explains at the New York Times.

The U.S. has ignored the opportunity to raise questions about enemy combatants and the media, Executive and Congress have shown indifference to the issue. Just Security co-editor-in-chief Steve Vladeck writes at Just Security referring to the recent capture of a U.S. citizen in Syria who allegedly fought with the Islamic State group.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 10 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on October 2. Separately, partner forces conducted four strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]


Iraqi forces launched an operation today to fully recapture the town of Hawija near the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, the military said in a statement, in an offensive intended to retake one of the two territories still in the hands of the Islamic State group. Reuters reports.

The Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan will discuss the outcome of the Iraqi Kurdish referendum with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani today and other regional issues, both countries fearing the impact of the vote on their own ethnic Kurdish populations. Ted Regencia reports at Al Jazeera.

The fears that last week’s Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum would result in war have not been realized as both the central government and the Kurdish Regional Government (K.R.G.) seem willing to avoid a crisis and the Kurds have not given up hope that the overwhelming vote in favor of independence would provide a mandate for negotiations with Baghdad over secession. Rod Nordland and David Zucchino explain at the New York Times.


Reconciliation talks between the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority and the Hamas militant group have stalled due to Hamas’s refusal to disarm, with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas warning that Hamas would not be able to maintain its armed wings in a unity government. Rory Jones reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday offered his support for a “Greater Jerusalem” bill which would effectively annex 19 settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Peter Beaumont reports at the Guardian.


Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) grilled Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chaimran Gen. Joseph Dunford over the Afghanistan strategy yesterday during their testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, noting the lack of details since the plan was announced Aug. 21. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

The Pentagon will no longer provide information about troop numbers or destinations, Mattis said yesterday, stating that U.S. soldiers would be on combat duty but the Afghan forces would “remain in the lead for the fighting.” Paul McLeary reports at Foreign Policy.

The U.S. would “try one more time” to work with Pakistan on its Afghanistan strategy, Mattis said yesterday, separately Dunford stated his belief that Pakistan’s main spy agency had connections to terrorist groups. Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart report at Reuters.

Mattis wants to see more evidence about the level of support Russia provides to the Taliban, the Defense Secretary said yesterday, adding that what he’s seen “doesn’t make sense.” Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.


The newly-appointed U.S. ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr. met with Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday, and vowed to improve relations between the U.S. and Russia. Andrew Roth reports at the Washington Post.

Kurdish rebels killed four soldiers and wounded four others in a bomb attack, according to Turkish officials. The AP reports.

A federal lawsuit was filed Monday against Trump’s latest travel ban by the Iranian Alliance Across Borders, Mallory Shelbourne reports at the Hill.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani yesterday to discuss “cooperation between the two countries,” according to a statement by the Qatar News Agency, amid the crisis in the Gulf triggered by Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar on June 5. Al Jazeera reports.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have launched bipartisan bills targeting the Shi’ite Hezbollah militia group in Lebanon, including new congressional sanctions aimed at foreign financial institutions and the group’s ability to fundraise from abroad. Rhys Dubin reports at Foreign Policy.

Catalonia will declare independence from Spain at the end of this week or the beginning of the next week, Catalonia’s leader Carles Puigdemont said today, following the controversial vote held in the region last week and the heavy-handed response by the national police. The BBC reports. 

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