The Early Edition: October 13, 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

President Trump is expected to decertify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement in a speech today, it would not would not mean withdrawing from the deal altogether but would instigate a process where Congress would have 60 days to consider re-imposing sanctions against Iran. The BBC reports.

Trump is not expected to ask Congress to re-impose sanctions against Iran, however he is likely to set out measures to curb Iran’s missile program and activities in the Middle East as well as designating Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) as a terrorist organization. Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.

U.S. withdrawal from the deal could lead to its collapse, Iran’s Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani was quoted as saying today by Russia’s TASS news agency, Reuters reports.

The Trump administration’s behavior on the Iran issue “will drive us European into a common position with Russia and China against the U.S.A.,” Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel warned yesterday, his comments demonstrating the strength of feeling shared by European allies in favor of the 2015 agreement. Reuters reports.

Members of Israel’s security establishment have warned against withdrawing from the Iran deal, although they have expressed dissatisfaction with aspects of the agreement, they believe strengthening its provisions would be a better approach and in the interests of Israel’s security. Josef Federman reports at the AP.

Trump’s decision to decertify may be “misunderstood by our adversaries and our allies” and “will lead to some mischief in Congress,” a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Chris Coons (D-Conn.), said yesterday, warning that the president’s speech on Iran would send mixed signals. Julia Manchester reports at the Hill.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster has been trying to save the deal by keeping it out of the president’s sight, according to a congressional Democratic aide and anonymous sources, McMaster having implied in a briefing last week to Senate Democrats that it would preferable for them not to re-impose sanctions on Iran. Asawin Suebsaeng, Spencer Ackerman and Sam Stein reveal at The Daily Beast.

The key points about the deal and Trump’s expected decision are set out at Al Jazeera.

Trump’s decertification could lead to three possible scenarios: the survival of the deal, renegotiation, or the re-imposition of sanctions. Katrina Manson explains at the Financial Times.

Trump’s decision would subject the deal to a “deeply uncertain future” that could lead to its collapse. Stephen Collinson explains the president’s motivations and the possible implications at CNN.

Trump’s new Iran strategy carries many risks, decertification would undermine the U.S.’s credibility in the eyes of the international community and invite Congress to re-impose sanctions, causing tension with European allies, Russia and China, or killing the deal altogether. Vali Nasr writes how the president’s decision would constitute a historic foreign policy mistake at the Washington Post.

Republicans in Congress may be the unlikely saviors of the deal, the concerns about alienating the other countries party to the agreement may encourage the lawmakers to find other means of putting pressure on Iran to change its behavior. Patricia Zengerle observes at Reuters.

The Iran deal violates U.S. federal law as it permits Iran to generate highly enriched uranium for use in medical isotope production in contravention of the American Medical Isotopes Production Act 2012, consequently providing another reason why the administration should “declare the Iran deal null and void.” David B. Rivkin Jr. and James L. Connaughton write at the Wall Street Journal.

TURKEY

“It is unacceptable for America to sacrifice a strategic partner like Turkey for an impertinent ambassador,” Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday, laying the blame for the deteriorating U.S.-Turkey relationship at the feet of U.S. Ambassador John Bass for his decision to suspend most visa services for Turkish citizens, Erdoğan also adding that Turkey would no longer buy U.S.-made weapons for its police force. The AP reports.  

The reasons behind diplomatic dispute between the U.S. and Turkey are explained by Angela Dewan and Gul Tuysuz at CNN.

The deteriorating U.S.-Turkey relationship emboldens Russia and Iran as the interests of Turkey, Russia and Iran interests have converged, especially in relation to Syria, and Turkey-U.S. interests have diverged in light of a number of recent developments. Yaroslav Trofimov writes at the Wall Street Journal.

The relationship between the U.S. and Turkey has been shaky since 1991 and the portrayal of the two countries as being close allies is not based on reality. Steven A. Cook explains at Foreign Policy.

A Turkish-Iranian gold dealer Reza Zarrab is at the center of the dispute between the U.S. and Turkey, the businessman is about to go on trial in the U.S. for corruption and it appears likely that Zarrab would reveal information damaging to Erdoğan. David Ignatius observes at the Washington Post.

Turkey will press ahead with plans to purchase Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems, Turkish newspapers reported today, the decision has been seen by some as a snub to the N.A.T.O. alliance. Reuters reports.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

The Trump administration announced yesterday that it would withdraw from the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) due to its anti-Israel bias, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert saying in a statement that the decision “was not taken lightly.” Mallory Shelbourne reports at the Hill.

“This is a loss to UNESCO. This is a loss the United Nations family. This is a loss for multilateralism,” the Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova said in a statement yesterday, responding to the U.S. decision. The UN News Centre reports.

Israel will prepare to withdraw from UNESCO “in parallel with the United States,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted yesterday, Netanyahu praising Trump for his decision. The BBC reports.

The Trump administration made the right decision withdrawing from UNESCO as it has long been a “political agency masquerading as a cultural institution.” The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

The Trump administration’s foreign policy has found a dominant theme: ditching deals. The approach reinforces the fact that Trump is a unilateralist who seeks to be unconstrained by international agreements, Adam Taylor writes at the Washington Post.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has called for a new law to restrict the presidential use of pre-emptive nuclear strikes, saying yesterday that it would be in the U.S. interest to establish it as a “no first-use” country. Mike Lillis reports at the Hill.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Trump’s lawyers may offer a meeting between the president and special counsel Robert Mueller to help speed up his team’s Russia investigation and dispel suspicion about the president’s actions. Darren Samuelsohn reports at POLITICO.

The White House has turned over a tranche of documents to Mueller’s team, according to a lawyer familiar with the matter, the “bulk” of Mueller’s requests for documents have been turned over and more are to be provided. Betsy Woodruff reports at The Daily Beast.

The House Intelligence Committee warned yesterday that it would subpoena Trump associate Roger Stone if he does reveal the identity of his intermediary with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Stone appeared before the panel in a closed session last month in relation to the alleged connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb report at CNN.

Facebook will disclose information about the target audience for Russian-backed political ads during the 2016 U.S. election, the company’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said in an interview yesterday. Deepa Seetharaman and Julie Bykowicz report at the Wall Street Journal.

Russian operatives’ interference campaign in U.S. politics was not confined to Facebook and Twitter, they used a plethora of online accounts to spread misinformation and sow division, including YouTube, Tumblr and Pokémon Go. Donnie O’Sullivan and Dylan Byers reveal at CNN.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

The rival Palestinian factions agreed reconcile yesterday following an Egypt-brokered deal, the Gaza Strip-based Hamas group and West Bank-based Fatah party did not offer key details in their announcement, including whether Hamas would disarm its military wing. Abu Bakr Bashir and Rory Jones report at the Wall Street Journal.

The reconciliation offers hope for negotiating a peace with Israel with a united voice and the possibility of addressing the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, however the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasized that Israel “objects to any reconciliation” that does not include accepting international agreements, recognizing Israel and disarming Hamas. Declan Walsh and David M. Halbfinger explain at the New York Times.

The key differences between Hamas and Fatah and their objectives are explained by Zena Tahhan at Al Jazeera.

NORTH KOREA

The United Arab Emirates announced yesterday that it would stop issuing new visas to North Korean laborers, the foreign ministry declined to address the issue of the hundreds of laborers already working in the Emirates. Jon Gambrell reports at the AP.

Malaysia has stopped all imports from North Korea, marking a significant change in the relationship between the two countries who formerly enjoyed good ties. A. Ananthalakshmi reports at Reuters.

A small earthquake near North Korea’s main nuclear site was detected by South Korea today, with some civilian experts speculating that North Korea may stop using the site as it may cause landslides or the collapse of test structures. Hyung-Jin Kim reports at the AP.

Trump claimed that the U.S. has missiles that “can knock out a missile in the air 97 percent of the time,” in an interview with Fox News on Wednesday when discussing the threat posed by North Korea, however this claim amounts to hyperbole. Glenn Kessler fact-checks the president’s comments at the Washington Post.

SYRIA

The Turkish military has begun setting up “observation posts” in Syria’s Idlib province to impose a “de-escalation zone.” The Hürriyet reports.

Suicide attacks by Islamic State militants have killed dozens of people in northeastern Syria yesterday, including Kurds and refugees fleeing the fighting in Deir al-Zour province, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Al Jazeera reports.   

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 27 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on October 11. Separately, partner forces conducted four strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

IRAQ

The Iraqi Kurdistan regional president is “worse” than the Islamic State group, the spokesperson for Iraq’s state-sanction Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.) said yesterday, accusing the Kurdish Peshmerga forces of “occupying” the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Philip Issa reports at the AP.

The Kurdish Regional Government (K.R.G.) has sent thousands of troops to Kirkuk in response to threats by the central government, the K.R.G. said yesterday. Maher Chmaytelli reports at Reuters.

PAKISTAN

An American-Canadian couple held by Islamist militants were freed by Pakistani forces in a joint operation with the U.S., U.S. and Pakistani officials announced yesterday. Saeed Shah and Dion Nissenbaum report at the Wall Street Journal.

The success of the Pakistani military’s operation “is a positive sign” that Pakistan recognizes the importance of protecting U.S. citizens, the head of U.S. Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel said yesterday. Idrees Ali reporting at Reuters.

CUBA EMBASSY “INCIDENTS”

A recording of what U.S. Embassy employees in Havana were hearing has been obtained, Josh Lederman and Michael Weissenstein reveal the mysterious sounds that may be behind the health symptoms suffered by staff at the AP.

The symptoms suffered by U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Cuba may be a form of “mass hysteria” rather than “sonic attacks,” senior neurologists have suggested. Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

“I’m not quitting today,” White House chief of staff John F. Kelly quipped yesterday at a press conference, dismissing rumors that he is frustrated in his position. Michael D. Shear provides an analysis of Kelly’s first extended appearance before the press corps at the New York Times.

Trump formally announced his nomination of Kirstjen Nielsen to lead the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.) yesterday, Nielsen has close ties to chief of staff Kelly and enjoys the respect of the Republican Party’s national security establishment. Jordan Fabian and Morgan Chalfant report at the Hill.

RUSSIA

Russia is preparing to take legal steps to regain its diplomatic facilities in the U.S., Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a phone call yesterday, Lavrov also stating that the U.S. removal of the Russian flag at the consulate in San Francisco was unacceptable. The AP reports.

Russia could take retaliatory measures in response to the U.S. military buildup in Poland, the head of the Russian parliament’s defense affairs committee said yesterday. The AP reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The attack on U.S. special forces soldiers last week in Niger was likely carried out by a self-radicalized, Islamic State-affiliated group, according to Pentagon officials. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

The U.S. military has hardened its approach to hunger strikers at Guantánamo Bay prison, detainees have told their lawyers, with guards no longer taking hunger-striking detainees to feeding stations. Charlie Savage reports at the AP.

The killing of British citizen Sally Jones by a suspected C.I.A. drone strike in Syria raises questions about the legality of the attack. Owen Bowcott provides an analysis of the U.K.’s legal justifications at the Guardian. 

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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