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The Early Edition: October 12, 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.

IRAN

European officials have been working on a unified response to Trump’s expected decision to decertify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal ahead of the Oct. 15 congressional deadline, their response will likely highlight concerns about Iran’s activities in the Middle East and its ballistic missiles program, but emphasize that these issues should be dealt with separately rather than as part of the nuclear deal. Laurence Norman reports at the Wall Street Journal about the efforts to save the deal and the different perspectives of European leaders and senior officials.

Iran “will never renegotiate” the nuclear accord, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said at a parliamentary session yesterday according to the state I.R.N.A. news agency, adding that Iran would offer a “tougher response” should the U.S. break the terms of the deal. Amir Vahdat reports at the Washington Post.

It would be a “mistake” for Trump to decertify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal, the former Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Tuesday, noting that Iran has been complying with the terms of the agreements and that the other parties to the agreement would not follow the U.S. if they decide to withdraw from the deal – Barak’s comments marking a significant intervention due to his historically hawkish stance toward Iran. Mark Landler reports at the New York Times.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster and top Trump administration officials briefed lawmakers on the Iran deal and certification yesterday; though they did not divulge details about the president’s decision, three officials told NBC News that they left the meeting convinced that Trump plans to decertify Iran’s compliance. Vivian Salama, Andrea Mitchell and Carol E. Lee report at NBC News.

“As flawed as the deal is, I believe we must now enforce the hell out of it,” the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said at a hearing yesterday, ahead of Trump’s expected announcement on Friday about a new Iran strategy. Patricia Zengerle reports at Reuters.

The President “threw a fit” when his top national security advisers set out the benefits of the nuclear deal during a discussion in July, according to a source familiar with the meeting, as a consequence of his reaction, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and other senior advisers turned their focus to a range of options that would not immediately break the deal in order to get Trump to compromise. Anne Gearan reveals at the Washington Post.   

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency (B.f.V.) have warned German companies that sales of certain technologies to Iran remain illegal despite the easing of sanctions following the 2015 deal, adding that the B.f.V. are “intensively” investigating whether Iran has been attempting to circumvent regulations to acquire items for missile development. Andrea Shalal reports at Reuters.

The key points about the deal and the possible implications of decertification are explained by Jonathan Marcus at the BBC.

Decertifying Iran’s compliance would be “the most foolish act of the Trump administration to date,” it would undermine a multilateral agreement aimed at curbing Iran’s development of nuclear weapons and the deal represents a compromise rather than a “grand bargain” intended to instigate a wholesale change in Iran’s behavior. Roger Cohen writes at the New York Times.

Decertification would send a dangerous signal to the international community, particularly North Korea, as it would demonstrate that the U.S. would not be a reliable partner in future negotiations and agreements. Jamie Tarabay writes at CNN.

Trump’s decision to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) as a terrorist organization may prove to be more destructive than a decision to decertify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement, the move would further complicate the U.S.-Iran relationship and the dynamics in the Middle East. Hooman Majd writes at Foreign Policy.

The Trump administration should impose crippling sanctions to bring down the Iranian regime and the president should follow the example of former President Ronald Reagan when approaching the final days of the Soviet Union. Reuel Marc Gerecht and Ray Takeyh write at the Wall Street Journal.

NORTH KOREA

North Korea’s nuclear weapons are a “sword of justice,” North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho said yesterday in comments quoted by Russia’s state Tass news agency, adding that Trump set a “fuse of war” during his speech to the U.N. General Assembly last month. The AP reports.

Trump’s “calm before the storm” comment last week appears to have been in relation to the threat posed by North Korea, the president referring to the Pyongyang regime when asked about the remarks in an interview with Fox News yesterday. Reuters reports.

Trump’s belligerent rhetoric toward North Korea has reinforced the Pyongyang regime’s official narrative that its nuclear weapons program is defensive and his comments indicate that the president’s aggressive approach is based on a series of misconceptions. Nicholas Kristof writes at the New York Times.

TURKEY

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson discussed the U.S.-Turkey diplomatic dispute, the suspension of visas, and the arrest of an employee at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu yesterday. Reuters reports.

The diplomatic crisis between the U.S. and Turkey has been “overblown” and Turkey does not want it to “last more than a second,” Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek said yesterday, seeking to downplay the tensions in U.S.-Turkey relations. Al Jazeera reports.

Turkey is a “N.A.T.O. ally that we will work hard to stay aligned with against our common enemy,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said yesterday, stating that military relations between the U.S. and Turkey have not been affected by diplomatic dispute. Reuters reports.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

“I never discussed increasing” the U.S.’s nuclear arsenal, Trump said yesterday in response to a report by NBC News that he wanted a nearly tenfold increase, the president calling the story “pure fiction,” lashing out at the media in a series of tweets and also saying in remarks at the Oval Office that it was “frankly disgusting that the press is able to write whatever it wants to write.” Michael C. Bender reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called the NBC story “irresponsible,” in a statement yesterday, Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

Congress should pass legislation putting restraints on the president’s ability to deploy nuclear weapons by requiring the secretaries of defense and state to also approve a decision to launch a nuclear weapon. The New York Times editorial board writes.

Trump’s comments on nuclear weapons may usher in a new era of nuclear arms, while many of the issues about nuclear proliferation predate his presidency, his rhetoric has created uncertainty. Adam Taylor provides an analysis at the Washington Post.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The leaders of the House Intelligence Committee intend to make 3,000 Russia-linked Facebook ads public, lawmakers told reporters yesterday about their plans following a meeting with Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. Cecilia King reports at the New York Times.

Facebook would also provide data on how many people the Russia-linked ads were able to reach, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.) said yesterday. Harper Neidig and Scott Wong report at the Hill.

Russia-linked accounts used the Pinterest social media website to spread political posts during the 2016 election, the head of public policy at the company saying that Pinterest has removed the content brought to its attention and it continues to investigate. Elizabeth Dwoskin reports at the Washington Post.

“Russia was an excuse used by the Democrats when they lost the election,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News yesterday, Mallory Shelbourne reports at the Hill.

The data analysis company Cambridge Analytica has been asked to provide information to the House Intelligence Committee in relation its work for Trump’s presidential campaign, a spokesperson for the company said yesterday. Elana Schor reports at POLITICO.

Cambridge Analytica has connections to former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and Trump campaign donors, and there has been speculation about its connections to Russia’s online propaganda efforts. Betsy Woodruff and Spencer Ackerman provide some context about the company and its potential importance in the Russia investigations at The Daily Beast.

The extent of Facebook’s role in the 2016 U.S. election and U.S. politics is steadily being revealed, however there are more questions about the use of the platform. Kevin Roose asked the social media company some election-related questions and he sets out their answers at the New York Times.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY AND TECHNOLOGY

The Russian government used products by the Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab cybersecurity firm to hack classified U.S. documents, their efforts going wider than last week’s reported incident of a hack into the home computer of a National Security Agency (N.S.A.) employee in 2015. Shane Harris and Gordon Lubold report at the Wall Street Journal.

Germany’s federal B.S.I. cyber agency said yesterday that it had no evidence of misconduct by the Kaspersky Lab products or weaknesses in its software, Reuters reports.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

The rival Palestinian factions have reached an agreement over political reconciliation, the Gaza Strip-based Hamas group and the West Bank-based Fatah party have ended a ten year rift and details of the deal will be released later today, according to Hamas. The BBC reports.

The Egypt-brokered deal was reached after unity talks began Tuesday, Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem hailed the agreement as a “new chapter in the history” of the Palestinian people. Reuters reports.

SYRIA

The U.S.-led coalition will not accept a negotiated withdrawal of Islamic State militants from the Syrian city of Raqqa, coalition spokesperson Col. Ryan Dillon said yesterday, adding that the coalition has been working on ways to ensure that the approximately 4,000 civilians trapped in the city can be safely evacuated. Sarah El Deeb reports at the AP.

An Egypt and Russia-brokered ceasefire deal for a pocket of territory south of Damascus was reached today, Egypt’s state TV reported today. Reuters reports.

Pro-Syrian government forces have advanced on the Islamic State-held town of Mayadeen in the east of the country, a Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah group-run news outlet reported today. Reuters reports.

A suicide bomb targeting a police command center in the Syrian capital of Damascus yesterday killed at least two people and injured six others. Al Jazeera reports.

The Islamic State group would likely revert to insurgent tactics once the U.S.-led coalition defeats them in their de facto capital of Raqqa. Saphora Smith explains at NBC News.

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

IRAQ

The Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (K.R.G.) yesterday offered to talk with the Baghdad government over the measures it instituted to isolate the semiautonomous region following last month’s controversial Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum. Reuters reports.

The explosively formed penetrator (E.F.P.) bombing device has reappeared on the battlefield in Iraq, and it is unclear who has been using the lethal weapons. Kareem Fahim and Liz Sly report at the Washington Post.

RUSSIA

Republican and Democrat senators have questioned why the Trump administration has delayed implementing new sanctions against Russia, criticizing the administration for its “lack of responsiveness” in a statement yesterday. Emily Tamkin reports at Foreign Policy.

Russia accused the U.S. of illegally building up its forces in Poland and the Baltic region today, the defense ministry saying in a statement that the U.S. made the breach during last month’s Russia-Belarus “Zapad” joint military exercises. Reuters reports.

Russia accused the U.S. of stealing Russian flags from its consulate in San Francisco yesterday, the State Department disputed the allegation and said that the flags were “respectfully lowered and are safely stored.” Reuters reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The U.S. measures against Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah militia group will not have any effect on their operational activities, a Hezbollah official said yesterday, responding to the State Department’s announcement on Tuesday of a cash reward for information on the location of two Hezbollah operatives. Zeina Karam reports at the AP.

Trump has nominated Kirstjen Nielsen to be the next secretary for the Department for Homeland Security, the White House announced yesterday, Jessica Taylor reports at NPR.

The previously unreported incident of the abduction of a U.S. official by Chinese security services, and the espionage battle between the U.S. and China, is revealed by Ali Watkins at POLITICO.

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About the Author

is an assistant news editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK.