The Early Edition: October 5, 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.


“I have never considered leaving this post,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said yesterday at a news conference addressing a report by NBC News which claimed that Tillerson called the president a “moron” after a July 20 meeting and had to be counseled by Vice President Mike Pence about remaining in the job. Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Tillerson did not explicitly deny calling the president a “moron” and deflected questions about the incident, instead using the conference to praise Trump and the administration’s foreign policy agenda, however Tillerson’s comments and body language reinforced the impression that he disapproves of Trump’s approach, consequently raising more questions about his future. Peter Baker, Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush observe at the New York Times.

“The secretary did not use that type of language to speak about the president of the United States,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said yesterday, going further than Tillerson by expressly denying that the Secretary of State called the president a “moron.” Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.

“NBC news is #FakeNews,” Trump tweeted yesterday, castigating the network for its report about the Secretary of State, adding in a follow up tweet that the story had been “totally refuted” by Tillerson and Pence and that NBC News should “issue an apology AMERICA!” Julia Manchester reports at the Hill.

Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Chief of Staff John Kelly “help separate our country from chaos,” the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said yesterday, responding to reports about Tillerson’s frosty relationship with the president and talk of Tillerson resigning, Corker coming to the Secretary of State’s support and accusing “people within the administration” of working against the interest of the country. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

“I’m not going to deal with petty stuff like that,” Tillerson said in response to a question by a reporter asking if he had called Trump a “moron,” also responding with disparaging comments about the culture in Washington to deflect from any apparent tension between himself and the president. Matt Flegenheimer analyzes Tillerson’s cynical remarks at the New York Times.

It may already be too late for Tillerson to hang onto his job: his unhappiness as Secretary of State has been “well-documented,” he has a tense relationship with the president and few allies to support him, his foreign policy approach does not align with Trump’s and he has had trouble managing and reorganizing the State Department. Anne Gearan, Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker write at the Washington Post.

Tillerson should resign as he has been unable to successfully implement Trump’s “America First” agenda or, if he does not agree with the approach, limit and redirect Trump’s foreign policy instincts. Rich Lowry writes at POLITICO Magazine.

Several White House officials and a plethora of senior staff at the State Department have wanted Tillerson to resign for some time, underscoring the deteriorating relationship the Secretary of State has with the White House and his struggles at Foggy Bottom. Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng explain at The Daily Beast.

An “exodus” of officials leaving the State Department due to Tillerson’s mismanagement and the Trump administration’s policies damages U.S. interests and undermines the nation’s core principles. Nik Steinberg writes at POLITICO Magazine.

Military figures have increasingly made public comments that do not always accord with the president’s rhetoric and tweets, demonstrating an increasingly public role for military leaders. Barbara Starr writes at CNN.


“The issue of collusion is still open,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said yesterday at a news conference with fellow leader of the Senate Intelligence Committee Mark Warner (D-Va.) during an interim update on the Committee’s investigation. Patricia Zengerle reports at Reuters.

“Every campaign and every election official” should take the matter of Russian interference “very seriously,” Burr (R-N.C.) said yesterday, warning that Russian operatives are likely to remain active in upcoming elections. Nicholas Fandos reports at the New York Times.

The committee members have reached a “general consensus” over the intelligence community’s assessment of Russia’s disinformation campaign during the 2016 election, but have not come to a conclusion on the extent to which Russia intervened in favor of Trump. Kaite Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

The committee will no longer pursue inquiries about the memos written by former F.B.I. Director James Comey written after his conversations with Trump, Burr stating that “this issue has reached a logical end as it relates to the Russia investigation.” Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

The Senate Intelligence Committee update revealed five important things, including the issues posed by the salacious dossier compiled by former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele, and evidence of a slowly-warming relationships between the committee and social media companies. Kyle Cheney and Elana Schor set out the key takeaways at POLITICO.

“We should have seen this coming,” F.B.I. Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said yesterday, stating that the U.S. should have been prepared for Russian interference in the 2016 election and also suggested that the meddling has not stopped. Tal Kopan reports at CNN.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has taken over F.B.I. inquiries into the Steele dossier, according to three sources familiar with the matter, the sources also stating that Mueller’s investigation has taken control of multiple inquiries into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mark Hosenball reports at Reuters.

Three Russian oligarchs have filed a libel suit against private investigation firm Fusion GPS in relation to their handling of the Steele dossier, Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

Facebook and Twitter will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the social media companies confirmed yesterday, the committee plans to hold a hearing this month but has not set a date. Ali Breland reports at the Hill.

Any evidence of “collusion” between Trump and the Russians remains elusive, the committee should focus efforts on the Russian disinformation campaign without being driven by an agenda to discredit to the president. The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.


The Iraqi town of Hawija has been “liberated” from the Islamic State group, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told reporters today, although the town’s outskirts are yet to be captured. Once the operation has been completed, the only remaining Islamic State territory in Iraq would be a stretch of the Euphrates river valley near the border with Syria. The BBC reports.

The Hawija operation was carried out by U.S.-backed Iraqi government forces and Iranian-trained and armed Shi’ite Popular Mobilization Forces, the offensive bringing the troops into direct contact with Kurdish Peshmerga forces. Reuters reports.

The capture of Hawija has strategic importance due to its geographical location and its position in relation to major routes to the north of Iraq. Al Jazeera explains.


Pro-Syrian President Bashar al-Assad forces made an “incursion into the de-confliction zone” near the at-Tanf garrison in southeastern Syria, coalition spokesperson Col. Ryan Dillon told CNN yesterday, adding that the incursion was communicated through channels with Russia and the forces withdrew from the zone. Ryan Brown reports at CNN.

A Russian airstrike in Syria’s Idlib province killed 49 Nusra Front militants, who head the Tahrir al-Sham alliance, a Russian state TV channel quoted the defense ministry as saying today. Reuters reports.

The leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Tahrir al-Sham militant group has fallen into a coma after being injured by a Russian airstrike, Russia’s military said today, the AP reports.

Russian airstrikes targeted civilians trying to flee fighting in the Deir al-Zour province, killing at least 60 civilians, according to opposition activists, former residents and the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Suleiman Al-Khalidi reports at Reuters.

The reports that Russian soldiers were captured by the Islamic State group in Syria should be viewed with caution and “are hardly official information,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said yesterday, responding to a video released by the militants appearing to show two Russian men captured in Deir al-Zour province. Mariya Petkova reports at Al Jazeera.

The presence of sarin was found in an attack on the Syrian town of Latamneh in March, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (O.P.C.W.) told Reuters yesterday, ahead of a report to be published within the next few weeks. Anthony Deutsch and Michelle Nichols report at Reuters.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 34 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on October 3. Separately, partner forces conducted five strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]


“We will not accept changing borders in the region,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said at a news conference with Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan, referring to last week’s overwhelming vote in favor of independence in a referendum held in Iraq’s Kurdish region, Erdoğan reflected Rouhani’s comments and called the referendum “illegitimate.” Amir Vahdat reports at the AP.

“The Iraqi Kurdish secession vote is an act of betrayal toward the entire region and a threat to its future,” Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted as saying on Iranian state TV yesterday, stating that “Turkey and Iran must take necessary measures against the vote.” Parisa Hafezi and Tulay Karadeniz report at Reuters.

French President Emmanuel Macron offered today to mediate between Baghdad and the Kurdish region during Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s visit to Paris. John Irish and Marine Pennetier report at Reuters.


A military strike on North Korean nuclear and missile sites may not achieve the aim of disarming the country as it may have other hidden facilities, Russian President Vladimir Putin cautioned yesterday, emphasizing that all sides should be pursuing diplomatic efforts. Reuters reports.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Trump agreed to maintain pressure on North Korea in a phone call yesterday, according to a senior Japanese government official the two leaders also agreed that “dialogue for the purpose of dialogue was meaningless.” Reuters reports.

Some products made by North Korean laborers have been making their way to the U.S. and other Western countries, meaning that consumers may be unwittingly supporting North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Tim Sullivan, Hyung-Jin Kim and Martha Mendoza reveal at the AP.

North Korean officials seek to preserve the regime and have rational aims, the U.S. cannot progress while Pyongyang believes its survival is at stake and the next step for the U.S. should be to “offer to send a high-level delegation to Pyongyang for peace talks or to support an international conference.” Former President Jimmy Carter writes about his experience with North Korean leaders and ways forward at the Washington Post.

China and Russia’s “good-cop, bad-cop” routine undermines U.S. efforts to rein in North Korea and the level of cooperation shown marks a significant development in international relations, Alexander Gabuev writes at the Wall Street Journal.

Russian companies have been providing North Korea with economic support to maintain influence in Asia although it has also backed tougher U.N. sanctions against North Korea. Andrew Osborn provides an analysis of Russia’s relationship with North Korea at Reuters.


Russia has targeted N.A.T.O. soldiers’ personal smartphones to gather information about operations and monitor troop levels, according to Western officials. Thomas Groves, Julian E. Barnes and Drew Hinshaw report at the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S.-Russia relationship has “become hostage to the internal political situation in the U.S.,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday, stating that he had no real personal relationship with Putin but adding that Russia had “many friends” in the U.S. who could help to improve relations. Ivan Nechepurenko reports at the New York Times.

The U.S. should provide arms to Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, particularly due to its violations of cease-fire agreements and the threat posed by its military, as demonstrated by the recently conducted Russian-Belarus “Zapad” military drills. Antony J. Blinken writes at the New York Times.

Saudi Arabia King Salman’s visit to Russia reflects shifting global relations that can have an impact in the Middle East and across the world. Patrick Wintour explains at the Guardian.


U.S. Army Special Forces came under fire in southwest Niger yesterday, three soldiers were killed and two were wounded according to U.S. military officials, the incident taking place as the U.S. and Niger were conducting joint patrols near the border with Mali. Eric Schmitt reports at the New York Times.

Sudan has fulfilled the U.S.’s conditions and expects the U.S. to lift economic sanctions, Sudan’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Hamed Momtaz said yesterday, the U.S. imposed sanctions in relation to its alleged support for global terrorism and violent suppression of rebels in Darfur. Khalid Abdelaziz reports at Reuters.

The Islamic State group have claimed responsibility for an attack that killed at least four and wounded nearly 40 in the Libyan city of Misrata yesterday. Ahmed Elumami reports at Reuters.

There are compelling arguments against extending the jurisdiction of military tribunals to domestic offenses and the Supreme Court should decide to settle the issue this term in the case involving a Yemeni prisoner at Guatánamo Bay. Just Security co-editor-in-chief Steve Vladeck writes at the New York Times. 

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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