The Early Edition: October 10, 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

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis emphasized that diplomatic efforts remain the priority for dealing with North Korea, but that the army should be prepared should negotiations fail, making the comments yesterday at the annual gathering of the Association of the U.S. Army and following a series of tweets by the president at the weekend stating that “only one thing will work” to counter the threat posed by Pyongyang. Ben Kesling reports at the Wall Street Journal.

There would be “no risk-free options” to counter the North Korea threat, Mattis also said yesterday, noting that a “full-blown war” would be “horrific” but adding that it would be “horrible” should Pyongyang obtain an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the U.S. mainland. Ryan Browne reports at CNN.

The parties involved in the crisis on the Korean peninsula should “exercise restraint,” Russia’s Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters yesterday in response to Trump’s series of bellicose statements, Peskov’s comments were reflected by China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson who urged all sides not to worsen the situation. Reuters reports.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov “underlined the inadmissibility of any escalation of tension on the Korean peninsula” in a phone call to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson yesterday, according to a statement by the Russian foreign ministry. Denis Pinchuk reports at Reuters.

North Korean hackers stole classified military documents from South Korea when they broke into a defense data center in September 2016, a South Korean lawmaker said today. The plans included details about South Korea-U.S. joint operational plans and procedures for a decapitation strike against the Pyongyang regime. Bryan Harris reports at the Financial Times.

The U.N. Security Council announced bans on four North Korean cargo ships from entering all ports in a briefing to member states yesterday, the four ships having been found to have transported “prohibited goods” in violation of U.N. sanctions. The BBC reports.

Former President Jimmy Carter has offered to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to bring “permanent peace” to the Korean peninsula, according to a South Korean academic. Justin McCurry reports at the Guardian.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) warned yesterday that Trump’s “hints” about North Korea should be taken “seriously” as the president’s threats have not always amounted bluster, Murphy making the comments after Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said at the weekend that Trump’s behavior could put the U.S. “on the path to World War III.” Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

IRAN

Trump’s expected decision to decertify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement would have serious consequence for U.S. foreign policy, experienced diplomats have warned, some expressing concern that the situation could be made even worse should Secretary of State Rex Tillerson be replaced by someone more hawkish.  Spencer Ackerman reports at The Daily Beast on diplomats’ views ahead of the Oct. 15 deadline for Trump to decide whether or not to certify compliance.

The U.S.’s recent “delusionary negative postures do not augur well” for the future of the Iran deal and the U.S. should not undermine or weaken the progress made since the agreement was signed, Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said today. Nicole Winfield reports at the AP.

The U.K. “remains firmly committed” to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said in a phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, according to a Downing Street official, both leaders agreed that the international community should push back against Iran’s destabilizing actions in the Middle East. The BBC reports.

Trump’s expected decertification decision has brought Iranian moderates and hardliners closer together and the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has focused efforts on trying to save the deal by lobbying European governments who strongly back the agreement and keeping hardliners on side by defending Iran’s actions in the Middle East. Najmeh Bozorgmehr observes at the Financial Times.

Decertifying Iran’s compliance would be a “huge mistake,” Iran is not violating the terms of the deal and undermining the agreement would have major implications for the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy. Wendy R. Sherman, who was the U.S. lead negotiator for the Iran deal, writes at the New York Times.

“All options” would be on the table if the U.S. designates Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) as a terrorist organization, the top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted as saying today. Reuters reports.

The U.S. would be “joining the terrorists’ camp” if it designates Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) as a terrorist organization, Iran’s government spokesperson said today, stating that the “world should be thankful” to the I.R.G.C. for its efforts combatting Islamic State militants. Reuters reports.

The U.S. designating the I.R.G.C. as a “terrorist organization” would significantly raise tensions and constitute a major escalation. Saeed Kamali Dehgan explains at the Guardian.

TURKEY

The U.S. decision to suspend most visa services for Turkish citizens was an “unnecessary escalation,” Turkish foreign ministry officials told the U.S. Embassy’s undersecretary Philip Kosnett yesterday according to the state Anadolu news agency, the officials having summoned Kosnett after the U.S. stopped processing nonimmigrant visa applications on Sunday. Yeliz Candemir reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. took the decision to suspend visas after a Turkish employee at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul was arrested due to alleged links to Fethullah Gülen – the alleged mastermind behind last summer’s failed coup against Erdoğan – and Turkey responded with identical restrictions on U.S. citizens. Karen DeYoung and Kareem Fahim explain the context to the dispute and the deteriorating U.S.-Turkey relationship at the Washington Post.

The U.S. decision was “saddening,” Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday, separately the justice minister said that Turkey has the “right to try a Turkish citizen for acts carried out in Turkey.” Al Jazeera reports.

The U.S.-Turkey relationship is at its lowest point, despite reportedly good relations between Trump and Erdoğan, due to a number of reasons, such as the belief that the U.S. played a part in last year’s failed coup in Turkey and disagreements over tactics in Syria. The Economist explains.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Russia-linked accounts bought tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of ads on Google around the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the content of the ads spanned the political spectrum and raise further questions about the extent of possible manipulation of social media platforms by the Russian government. Daisuke Wakabayashi reports at the New York Times.

Google has shared some of the Russian-bought ads with congressional investigators, according to individuals familiar with the matter, and congressional investigators have invited Google, Facebook and Twitter to testify publicly on Nov. 1 about the Russian use of their platforms during the 2016 election. Jack Nicas reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Microsoft Corp is looking into whether Russians bought U.S. election ads on its Bing search engine or other Microsoft-owned products and platforms, the company said yesterday. Dustin Volz reports at Reuters.

Russian operatives targeted U.S. veterans and active military personnel through a cyber campaign, a study by Oxford University has found. Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

Russian operatives instigated a campaign of misinformation to provoke anger and sow division in U.S. society during the election. Nicholas Confessore and Daisuke Wakabayashi feature some of the Russian accounts and their impact at the New York Times.

SYRIA

Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army rebels expect to implement a de-escalation zone in the northwestern Idlib province “smoothly” as they prepare to face little resistance in their operation against al-Qaeda-linked Tahrir al-Sham militants, rebel commanders have said, with one commander saying that the militants know that they do not have the military capability to fight the Turkish army. Zena Tahhan reports at Al Jazeera.

Russia accused the U.S. of reducing its airstrikes on Islamic State militants in Iraq to allow them to enter Syria and fight Russian-backed forces in the eastern Deir al-Zour province, in a statement by military spokesperson Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov today. The AFP reports.

A Russian military aircraft crashed while taking off from an airbase in Syria killing two crew members, Russia’s defense ministry said today, stating that a technical fault may have caused the accident. Reuters reports.

An exclusive insight into the U.S. air campaign against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq is provided at CNN.

A feature on the destruction in the Syrian city of Raqqa and the ongoing battle against the remaining Islamic State militants is provided by Achilleas Zavallis and Martin Chulov at the Guardian.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 28 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on October 4. Separately, partner forces conducted nine strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

IRAQ

Several hundred suspected Islamic State militants surrendered to Kurdish authorities as they were fleeing Hawija, which was liberated by Iraqi forces last week, a Kurdish security official said today. Reuters reports.

The dispute over the oil-rich Iraqi city of Kirkuk could lead to “civil war,” Iraq’s Vice President warned yesterday, as the Baghdad government and the semiautonomous Kurdish Regional Government both vie for control of the territory which was included in the controversial Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum held on Sept. 25. The AP reports.

The Iraqi Kurds face threats from a dictatorial “Gang of Four” countries who have no moral authority to disregard the independence referendum, and the U.S. and the West must stand with the Kurds and call on the Iraqi authorities to take up the Kurds’ offer of dialogue. Bernard Henri Lévy writes at the Wall Street Journal.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

The White House Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders praised the president for his approach to North Korea and success against the Islamic State group in a tweet yesterday, also tweeting a statement by Vice President Mike Pence making similar comments. Brandon Carter reports at the Hill.

Foreign diplomats have generally accepted that the Trump would not be a reliable partner, having expressed initial tentative optimism that the president would inform himself about the major issues facing the world. Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe reveal the various views of diplomats at the Washington Post.

An interview with the hawkish Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who has advised the president on the Iran nuclear deal, is provided by Susan B. Glasser at POLITICO Magazine.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The U.S. significantly increased the number of airstrikes carried out in Afghanistan in September, which U.S. Centcom attributed to the president’s new Afghanistan strategy. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

Saudi-led coalition airstrikes killed 13 civilians in Yemen near the Saudi border yesterday, according to Yemeni medical and tribal officials. Ahmed Al-Haj reports at the AP.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called for closer ties between the military and defense industry at a speech yesterday, Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

Israel’s Minister of Jerusalem Affairs expressed disappointment that Trump has not fulfilled his promise to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the minister also said yesterday that Israel is expecting to grant approval for more construction in Jewish West Bank settlements. The AP reports.

The U.S. provided two military aircraft to the Lebanese Army yesterday, the army said in a statement yesterday, refraining from giving further details. The AP reports.

An explanation of the reasons behind the U.S. decision to ease sanctions against Sudan is provided at the Economist. 

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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