The Early Edition: October 26, 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.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was approached by chief executive Alexander Nix of the data firm Cambridge Analytica, which carried out work for the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, Assange said yesterday, saying that he could confirm that he rejected the request from Cambridge Analytica for help. Nicholas Confessore reports at the New York Times.

Nix asked Assange about Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 missing emails and help to release them, according to sources familiar with the congressional investigations into alleged Trump-Russia connections, Betsy Woodruff reports at The Daily Beast.

The Democratic National Committee (D.N.C.) were unaware that the national party helped to fund the salacious dossier compiled by former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele which alleged connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, current and past leaders of the D.N.C. have said, following revelations this week that the Clinton campaign and the D.N.C. partly funded the research. Jonathan Easley reports at the Hill.

A U.S. District Court judge has given the opposition research firm Fusion GPS until today to answer a subpoena issued by the House Intelligence Committee earlier this month. Fusion GPS hired Steele to compile the dossier and Republicans in the committee have been seeking information about the firm’s bank records, Mark Hosenball reports at Reuters.

Documents from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign are expected to be received by the Senate Intelligence committee next week, according to two sources familiar with the matter. The documents could provide greater detail about the Democrats’ response to Russia’s interference campaign and the Democrats’ role in funding for the Steele dossier, Ali Watkins reports at POLITICO.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has fractured into competing agendas, with Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) focusing on the Obama-era uranium deal with Russia and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) drafting legislation on foreign influence in U.S. elections. Elana Schor and Kyle Cheney report at POLITICO.

It was legal to publish apparently hacked emails from the D.N.C., lawyers from Trump’s presidential campaign argued in a court filing yesterday, saying that WikiLeaks qualifies as an online service immune from legal liability. Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

The key points explaining the background of the dossier and the implications of the latest revelations about funding are set out by Kenneth P. Vogel at the New York Times.

There should be a full investigation following the revelation that the Democrats partly funded the salacious dossier alleging links between the Trump campaign and Russia, congressional investigators should focus on the role of the D.N.C., the Clinton campaign, and the possible role played by the F.B.I., and it would be wise for Mueller to resign from his role. The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

The F.B.I. has been “so thoroughly implicated in the Russia meddling story” and calls for special counsel Robert Mueller to recuse himself from the Russia investigation are not just “fanciful partisan grandstanding,” Holman W. Jenkins Jr. writes at the Wall Street Journal setting out the connections between the dossier, the Obama administration, the F.B.I. investigation into the Trump campaign, Mueller, the Obama-era deal to expand U.S.-Russia nuclear business, the Clinton Foundation, and the F.B.I.’s role in the nuclear business deal.

NORTH KOREA

The U.S. should take “literally” North Korea’s threat to test a nuclear weapon above ground, a senior North Korean official warned in an interview yesterday, adding that Pyongyang “has always brought its words into action.” Will Ripley reports at CNN.

“China is helping us and maybe Russia’s going through the other way and hurting what we’re getting,” President Trump said in an interview with Fox Business Network yesterday, stating that Russia has undermined efforts to rein in North Korea and that the threat posed by the regime could be more easily resolved if the U.S. had a better relationship with Russia. Reuters reports.

“I solve problems,” Trump also said in the interview, lamenting the fact that the “North Korea problem” had not been resolved earlier, but saying that he would deal with the crisis. Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

“Well, I’d rather not say, but you’ll be surprised,” Trump said yesterday in response to a question whether he would visit the Demilitarized Zone (D.M.Z.) between North and South Korea during his 12-day tour of Asia at the beginning of next month. Jordan Fabian reports at the Hill.

The leader of South Korea’s conservative opposition party has called on the Trump administration to reintroduce tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea in the face of the threat posed by Pyongyang, the possibility of this option was also raised by South Korea’s Defense Minister Song Young-moo during a meeting with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last month. Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.

North Korea’s extensive “re-education” camps have been revealed by satellite images and a report by the U.S.-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea due to be released today. Anna Fifield reports at the Washington Post.

IRAQ

The U.S. and Iran should not bring their “trouble” inside Iraq, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi urged yesterday, saying that he would like to work with both countries, that U.S. forces should remain in Iraq after recapturing the last of the territory in the hands of the Islamic State group, and that Iranian-backed militias would be disbanded if they did not come under the control of the Baghdad government. Yaroslav Trofimov reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“We won’t accept anything but its cancellation and the respect of the Constitution,” Abadi said in a statement today, saying that the Kurdistan region’s offer to “freeze” the result of the controversial Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum held last month was not enough to open negotiations. Reuters reports.

Iraqi federal forces and Iranian-backed Iraqi militia attacked Peshmerga positions in Nineveh province, the Kurdistan Region Security Council (K.R.S.C.) said today, also calling on the Baghdad government to accept the offers for unconditional talks and adding that the U.S. should “stop Iraq’s reckless behavior.” Reuters reporting.

The clashes between Iraqi federal forces and Kurdish Peshmerga have impeded the movement of coalition military equipment inside Iraq and Syria, thereby undermining the campaign against the Islamic State group, the spokesperson for the U.S.-led coalition Col. Ryan Dillon said today. The AP reports.

The U.S. has sought to defuse tension between the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Kurds, the two U.S. allies have been involved in clashes since last month’s Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum, the Iraqi Kurds yesterday offered to suspend the results of the referendum which returned an overwhelming vote in favor of independence, however this has fallen short of Baghdad’s demand that the result be annulled. Isabel Coles, Ali A. Nabhan and Yaroslav Trofimov report at the Wall Street Journal.

Abadi is set to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani today in Tehran for talks on regional security, Ted Regencia reports at Al Jazeera.

Abadi’s approach to the Kurdistan independence referendum has won praise from even his traditional critics, and his increased popularity as a consequence of his decisive actions have seemingly cemented his reelection next year, however difficulties remain. Tamer El-Ghobashy and Mustafa Salim observe at the Washington Post.

Abadi has managed to keep Iraq unified despite the predictions of an inevitable breakup, taking a tough stance against the Iraqi Kurdistan has seemingly paid off and Abadi is in a stronger position to lead the country out of the “shadow of war” and work with regional powers. Ishaan Tharoor provides an analysis at the Washington Post.

NIGER

“My generals and my military” had authorization over the U.S. mission in Niger, Trump said yesterday when asked whether he authorized the mission, making the comments after the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said earlier this week that the U.S. special forces members were on a reconnaissance mission. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

The confused information amid the Niger ambush on Oct. 4 led the White House to believe that several U.S. soldiers might have been missing, the White House did not receive information that three bodies had been recovered and one soldier remained missing until at least eight hours after the attack began, according to an official familiar with the matter. Greg Jaffe and Karen DeYoung report at the Washington Post.

The Trump administration has been putting in motion plans to allow lethal drone strikes in Niger, according to U.S. officials, and the plan had been under consideration long before the deadly Oct. 4 attack. Ken Dilanian, Courtney Kube, William M. Arkin and Hans Nichols report at NBC News.

IRAN

Israel would “act militarily by itself” if international efforts led by Trump do not “help stop Iran attaining nuclear capabilities,” Israel’s Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said today. Tim Kelly and Nobuhiro Kubo reporting at Reuters.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has embarked on efforts to increase financial pressure on Iran and target the financing of terror in the Middle East, launching a new anti-terror finance center in Saudi Arabia yesterday. The efforts come following Trump’s refusal to certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement last month, Ian Talley and Margherita Stancati report at the Wall Street Journal 

The House of Representatives voted for new sanctions against the Iran-backed Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah militia group yesterday, today the House will vote on another bill calling for additional sanctions aimed at Iran’s ballistic missiles program. Al Jazeera reports.

A bipartisan plan for a tougher approach on Iran is being crafted by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) along with his Democratic counterpart Ben Cardin (Md.), Corker said yesterday. Elana Schor reporting at POLITICO.

SYRIA

Pro-Syrian government forces have seized an oil pumping station in the eastern Deir al-Zour province, a Hezbollah-run news service reported today, the report saying that the position constitutes a “launch pad” for an offensive on what is believed to be the last remaining Islamic State stronghold in Syria. Reuters reports.

“The outcome is not in doubt,” the U.S. commander of the international campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, Lt. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, said yesterday, saying that the militants were “on the run” and they cannot hold territory, but noting that the coalition would continue to pursue foreign Islamic State fighters before they can return to their home countries and there is a “real problem” that the “virtual caliphate” continues to recruit. David Zucchino reports at the New York Times.

The U.N. envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura will meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Geneva today, the AP reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out seven airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on October 24. Separately, partner forces conducted three strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

RUSSIA

Top Senate Republicans have vowed to press the White House on delays to imposing new sanctions on Russia and whether this has been done intentionally, the legislation for the sanctions was passed three and a half weeks ago and were in response to Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Kevin Liptak, Ted Barrett and Sara Murray report at CNN.

Democratic members of House Foreign Affairs Committee have also demanded answers from the Trump administration on delays to sanctions against Russia in a letter to the president yesterday. Andrew Desiderio reports at The Daily Beast.

Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier met with Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday to discuss key issues, such as Ukraine, Syria, economic ties, the Iran nuclear deal and the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. The AP reports.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner is expected to take a low-profile role during Trump’s visit to China next month, with some speculating that Kushner’s diminished position has been a consequence of chief of staff John Kelly’s efforts to standardize practice at the White House. Annie Karni and Andrew Restuccia report at POLITICO.

The relationship between the most senior U.S. officials at N.A.T.O. headquarters is described by David M. Herszenhorn at POLITICO Magazine.

The challenges facing the Trump administration did not start with Trump and the White House must grapple with the “most challenging foreign-policy environment” in modern history due to threat, organizational and cognitive complexities. Amy Zegart writes at The Atlantic.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Pakistan this week shone a spotlight on the difficulty U.S.-Pakistan relationship, it is difficult to understand the U.S. position due to its inconsistent messages and Tillerson should not have lectured Pakistan without recognizing Pakistan’s “legitimate security interests.”  The DAWN.com editorial board writes.

Tillerson achieved a rare diplomatic victory by bringing Saudi Arabia and Iraq closer together last weekend, marking a potentially significant development between the two countries who have been traditional adversaries. Rhys Dubin writes at Foreign Policy.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The House of Representatives held a series of hearings focused on the Trump administration’s knowledge of Kaspersky Lab anti-virus software and Russia’s ability to access U.S. National Security Agency (N.S.A.) classified information through Kaspersky Lab products. Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

The U.S. and Gulf Arab allies sanctioned eleven Yemeni individuals and entities suspected of financing the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda, the U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin praising the designation by Gulf Arab allies, the measure demonstrating a rare moment of coordination, especially amid the Gulf crisis which began on June 5. Aya Batrawy and Abdullah Al-Shihri report at the AP.

A former F.B.I. informant has been cleared to testify before Congress over the Obama-era nuclear business deal with Russia, a Justice Department spokesperson confirming that the informant would not be subject to a confidentiality agreement. John Solomon reports at the Hill.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has expressed confidence that it will finish work on the annual defense policy bill soon, the chairman of the committee John McCain (R-Ariz.) saying that it can be done “in the next few days.” Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

“I haven’t seen any hard evidence on the delivery of weapons from the Russians to the Taliban,” the chairman of N.A.T.O.’s military committee Gen. Petr Pavel told reporters yesterday, making the comments amid concern from Pentagon officials that Russia has been increasingly involved in the conflict in Afghanistan. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

The position of military generals at the top of the Trump administration carries risks and “perhaps they are in over their heads.” Mark Perry writes at POLITICO Magazine.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to propose strategic dialogue between the leaders of the U.S., India and Australia to counter China’s expansionism. Reuters reports. 

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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