The Early Edition: November 6, 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 ASIA TRIP

“The era of strategic patience is over,” Trump said today at a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the second day of his Asia trip, referring to the threat posed by North Korea and emphasizing the need to take a hard line against the Pyongyang regime. Kevin Liptak and Jeremy Diamond report at CNN.

Japan could shoot North Korean missiles “out of the sky” with the “massive amount of military equipment” it purchases from the U.S., Trump also said today, Abe reinforced the need for Japan to “qualitatively and quantitatively” enhance its defense capability and that it would intercept missiles “if necessary.” The BBC reports.

Maximum pressure must be exerted on North Korea, Abe said today, agreeing with Trump’s position that all options are on the table to deal with the Pyongyang regime, Reuters reporting.

“No one – no dictator, no regime and no nation – should underestimate, ever, American resolve,” Trump said yesterday in a campaign-style rally with U.S. troops in Japan, also saying before he landed in the country that the Trump administration would consider designating North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism. Julie Hirschfeld Davis reports at the New York Times.

“It’s expected we’ll meet with Putin, yeah,” Trump told reporters at the weekend before landing in Japan, saying that he would seek help from the Russian President on North Korea when they cross paths at multinational conferences in Southeast Asia. Michael C. Bender reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump should use his Asia trip to reinforce America’s commitment to the region and serve as a “democratic counterweight to China,” the New York Times editorial board writes.

The Trump administration is slowly shifting toward a more traditional Republican position on China and parts of a more hawkish strategy have been incorporated into speeches that he will give on his Asia trip, but the test of whether the administration will get tougher on China will come once Trump returns. Josh Rogin writes at the Washington Post.

Trump’s trip to South Korea tomorrow could raise “several thorny issues,” Hyung-Jin Kim provides an analysis at the AP.

Trump is the perfect guest for China, his egotistical style, shunning of the normal channels of doing work and ignorance of Chinese history giving Beijing the opportunity to control the situation when he visits this week. James Mann writes at The Daily Beast.

NORTH KOREA

An invasion by ground forces would be the only way to locate and secure all of North Korea’s nuclear weapons sites, the Pentagon told lawmakers in a letter at the weekend, noting that further details about responding to a threat could not be publicly discussed but adding that the Pentagon “assess that North Korea may consider the use of biological weapons.” Dan Lamothe and Carol Morello report at the Washington Post.

The Pentagon assessment demonstrates that a diplomatic solution should be the priority as an outbreak of war “would kill hundreds of thousands of people,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said yesterday. Martin Pengelly reports at the Guardian.

A U.N. report on North Korea’s human rights situation and satellite photos showing the extent of abuse provide another reason why we should not “turn a blind eye” to the Pyongyang regime. The Washington Post editorial board writes.

South Korea imposed unilateral sanctions on 18 North Korean individuals today due to their direct affiliation to North Korean banks, according to an announcement by the South Korean finance minister, Seoul taking the measure a day ahead of Trump’s visit to South Korea. Christine Kim reports at Reuters.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Enough evidence has been gathered by special counsel Robert Mueller to bring charges against Trump’s former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn and his son Michael G. Flynn, according to sources familiar with the matter, investigators will be speaking to multiple witnesses to gather more information about Flynn’s lobbying work which has been under scrutiny for months due to the Flynn Intel Group’s links to Russia. Julia Ainsley, Carol E. Lee and Ken Dilanian report at NBC News.

The Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has business connections with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s family and inner circle according to documents leaked over the weekend, known as the Paradise Papers, Ross did not fully disclose the financial ties during the confirmation process and the revelations come amid congressional investigations and Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Carol Morello reports at the Washington Post.

The revelations about Ross creates a potential conflict with his role in the administration and raises ethical concerns. Mike McIntre, Sasha Chavkin and Martha M. Hamilton report at the New York Times.

“Secretary Ross misled me, the Senate Commerce Committee, and the American people,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a statement yesterday, adding that the financial disclosures “are like a Russian nesting doll, with blatant conflicts of interest carefully hidden within seemingly innocuous holding companies.” Barney Jopson reports at the Financial Times.

The Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page met with Russian government officials during a trip to Moscow in July 2016, Page said in testimony to the House Intelligence Committee last week, contradicting previous accounts of his trip to Moscow, Mark Mazetti and Adam Goldman report at the New York Times.

The House Intelligence Committee has called on Trump’s security chief Keith Schiller to testify tomorrow in relation to their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and lawmakers are expected to ask about the details contained in the dossier compiled by former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele, which alleged connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. Carol D. Leonnig and Greg Miller report at the Washington Post.

Kremlin finances supported Russian billionaire Yuri Milner to invest millions of dollars in Facebook and Twitter through the Russian state-controlled V.T.B. bank and the government-controlled Gazprom Investholding financial institution, however there has been no suggestion that Milner or his companies have direct connections to Russia’s online propaganda campaign. Jesse Drucker reports at the New York Times.

Milner invested $850,000 in a startup co-founded by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner according to the Paradise Papers, a revelation that is likely to attract more questions about Kushner’s business ties and possible connections to the Kremlin. Andrew Desiderio reports at The Daily Beast.

At least nine Trump associates had contacts with Russian during the 2016 U.S. election campaign or the presidential transition, the documents that were released last week as part of the Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos’s guilty plea show that Mueller’s team has an interest in a range of individuals, however the question remains whether the connections between Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives amounted to a concerted Russian government campaign or were isolated coincidences. Rosalind S. Helderman, Tom Hamburger and Carol D. Leonnig explain at the Washington Post.

The potential legal battles in the charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former campaign aide Rick Gates are set out by Darren Samuelsohn and Josh Gerstein at POLITICO.

The role of Gates has been under the spotlight and Michael Kranish and Tom Hamburger explain at the Washington Post how he has come to attention.

The importance of Josef Mifsud, the professor referred to in Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos’s guilty plea, and who offered to be a conduit between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, is analyzed by Griff Witte and Karla Adam at the Washington Post.

YEMEN

A ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels at the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Saturday was “a blatant act of military aggression by the Iranian regime” and “could rise to be considered as an act of war,” a statement by the Saudi-led military coalition said today, adding that debris from the missile, which was intercepted, showed that it was made in Iran, a claim that was denied by the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari. Asa Fitch reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“Iran’s role and its direct command of its Houthi proxy in this matter constitutes a clear act of aggression,” the statement also said, adding that Iran’s supply of military weapons to Yemeni armed group was in violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution. Al Jazeera reports.

Trump also blamed Iran for the attack, a claim that was rejected by Jafari as another “one of those slanders” by the U.S. president, adding that “we do not have even the possibility to transfer missiles to Yemen.” Reuters reports.

All flights to Yemen’s airports have been canceled today following the Saudi-led coalition’s closure of all land, air and sea ports which was announced today in response to the Houthis firing a missile toward Riyadh. Ahmed Al-Haj reports at the AP.

The Saudi-led coalition carried out at least 29 airstrikes on Yemen’s Sana’a province in response to the ballistic missile, in what many residents described as the worst day of bombing since the war started. Al Jazeera reports.

Militants set off a car bomb outside a security headquarters in the Yemeni city of Aden yesterday, killing at least 17 people and conflicting accounts have emerged regarding the storming of the compound. Ahmed Al-Haj reports at the AP.

SAUDI ARABIA

The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman consolidated his power through the targeting of high-profile figures as part of purported efforts to tackle corruption. President Trump appeared to give a tacit endorsement of the arrests in a phone call with King Salman, the crown prince’s father, yesterday. David D. Kirkpatrick reports at the New York Times.

The extraordinary events in Saudi Arabia over the weekend have brought attention to Riyadh and the ruthless ambition of the crown prince. The weekend started with the interception of a Houthi ballistic missile, then the resignation of the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri while on a trip to Saudi Arabia, followed by a purge of Saudi figures – the incidents seemingly sending a message about Saudi’s power at home and abroad, Ishaan Tharoor writes at the Washington Post.

The crown prince’s action are part of a risky power play and he has been emboldened by support from Trump, his administration, and most probably, a visit by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner to Riyadh earlier this month. David Ignatius writes at the Washington Post.

The impending defeat of the Islamic State group is reorienting the focus of the region to the cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, intensifying the Sunni-Shi’ite divide expressed through proxy warfare and opening the possibility of further escalation. Asa Fitch writes at the Wall Street Journal.

The events in Saudi Arabia at the weekend demonstrate the conflicts to come in the Middle East, the Crown Prince’s desire to reshape Saudi Arabia in the face of the threat posed by Iran, the resignation of the Lebanese Prime Minister who cited Iran’s responsibility for causing “devastation and chaos” in the region, and the firing of a missile by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, show Iran’s ability to exploit vulnerability. The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

LEBANON

The Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned on Saturday in an announcement broadcast from the Saudi capital of Riyadh, criticizing Iran for its destructive role in Lebanon and across the Middle East, saying that he feared an assassination plot, and referring to the destabilizing role of the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah group. Nazih Osseiran and Margherita Stancati report at the Wall Street Journal.

Hariri’s resignation was a decision “imposed” on him by Saudi Arabia, the leader of Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah said in response, saying that “it was not our wish for Hariri to resign,” and Hariri’s decision has prompted fears of a further escalation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with Lebanon playing a key role. Al Jazeera reports.

Could recent events drag Lebanon into another conflict? Halim Shebaya provides an analysis at Al Jazeera.

SYRIA

The Syrian army declared victory in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour on Friday, marking what a military spokesperson termed the “last phase” in the Syrian army’s campaign against the Islamic State group. Louisa Loveluck and Tamer El-Ghobashy report at the Washington Post.

A truck bomb blast on Saturday killed refugees fleeing the Islamic State group in Deir al-Zour province, according to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.), the AP reports.

IRAQ

The Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi raised the Iraqi flag at a border crossing with Syria yesterday, following the Iraqi forces’ successful campaign to liberate the western town of al-Qaim from the Islamic State group. Sinan Salaheddin reports at the AP.

At least five people were killed in two suicide bombings in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Saturday, following the first such attack since the Iraqi federal forces took the city from Kurdish Peshmerga last month. Mustafa Mahmoud reports at Reuters.

The Iraqi Kurds have lost vast swathes of territory since the controversial independence referendum held in September, Sergio Peçanha explains at the New York Times.

AFGHANISTAN

A ground and aerial offensive by Afghan and U.S. forces at the weekend in the Kunduz province led to civilian deaths, with lawmakers saying they have received conflicting reports about the number of people killed, with some putting the death toll at nearly 60. Sayed Salahuddin reports at the Washington Post.

The Afghan and U.S. military authorities are investigating the reports of civilian deaths, officials said today, Reuters reporting.

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) has pushed to open an investigation into possible war crimes committed in Afghanistan, an investigation that could implicate U.S. forces. James McAuley and Pamela Constable report at the Washington Post.

NIGER

The four U.S. Special Forces members killed on Oct. 4 in an ambush in Niger were helping to track militants on the border with Mali, suggesting that the soldiers were carrying out operations in a complex battlefield rather than a low-risk reconnaissance mission, as the Pentagon has asserted. Sudarsan Raghavan reports at the Washington Post.

Islamic State militants may have kidnapped one of the four soldiers killed, Debora Patta reports at CBS News.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A federal judge in Indiana imposed blocked the military judge hearing the U.S.S. Cole case at Guantánamo Bay from seizing the war court defense attorney Rick Kammen, who quit the case over a secret ethical conflict. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

The Israeli military uncovered the bodies of five Palestinian militants who were members of the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad group in Gaza, the AP 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