The Early Edition: November 7, 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

President Trump has landed in South Korea’s capital of Seoul today accompanied by a show of power by U.S. forces in the Pacific who will be conducting military drills, according to the U.S. Navy, with Trump saying that “we hope to God we never have to use” military force against North Korea and that “it makes sense for North Korea to come to the table and make a deal.” James Griffiths reports at CNN.

“A lot of progress” has been made on North Korea, Trump said today ahead of a speech to be delivered to South Korea’s National Assembly tomorrow, however the president did not explain what progress has been made to rein in Pyongyang. David Nakamura and Ashley Parker report at the Washington Post.

“We cannot allow North Korea to threaten all that we have built,” Trump said today at a joint news conference with President Moon, also telling reporters before the conference that “ultimately it will all work out, it always works out.” Steve Holland, Matt Spetalnick and Christine Kim report at Reuters.

Trump requested an additional $4bn for missile defense “against any North Korean use of ballistic missiles against the United States, its deployed forces, allies or partners” in a letter to Congress yesterday, the letter also included a request for funds for the border wall with Mexico and funds to support the administration’s new Afghanistan and South Asia strategy. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

The U.S., Japan and India conducted military drills in the Sea of Japan, which ended yesterday, Japan’s Navy said today, the exercises coming amid the increased tension on the Korean Peninsula and during Trump’s tour of Asia. Reuters reports.

Trump’s rhetoric has “given North Korea a reason to say ‘Hey we need a bomb,’” the former Secretary of State John Kerry said in an interview yesterday, saying that Trump should not feed into North Korea’s fear of regime change or a unilateral attack. Mallory Shelbourne reports at the Hill.

Live updates of Trump’s trip to South Korea are provided by Veronica Rocha and James Griffiths at CNN.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has sought to establish China as a great power to rival the U.S., Trump’s lavish praise for Xi has been welcomed in Beijing and China is likely to return the favor when Trump visits this week. Jane Perlez and Mark Landler observe at the New York Times.

America’s allies in Asia are concerned that Trump would be tempted to strike a bargain with China upending regional relations and essentially carving up the world between the U.S. and China. Andrew Browne explains at the Wall Street Journal.

Should the U.S.-South Korea relationship remain sacrosanct in light of the U.S.’s disrespect for Seoul and the “erosion of South Korea’s sovereign spirit”? Se-Woong Koo asks at the New York Times.

President Trump, President Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin can try to “knock down” obstacles to diplomatic engagement with North Korea to help achieve the long-term goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula as “these three men are the only ones who can accomplish that, and now may be the least time to do so,” Gerald F. Seib writes at the Wall Street Journal.

SAUDI ARABIA

“We see this is an act of war” by Iran, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir said yesterday in response to Saturday’s failed ballistic missile launch toward the Saudi capital of Riyadh by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, al-Jubeir saying it was “an Iranian missile, launched by [the Lebanese Shi’ite militant group] Hezbollah, from territory occupied by the Houthis in Yemen” and adding that Saudi Arabia reserves the right to respond in the “appropriate manner at the appropriate time.” Becky Anderson and Hilary Clarke report at CNN.

The Lebanese government would “be dealt with as a government declaring war on Saudi Arabia” due to the aggression of Hezbollah – which is both a militant and political group and has representatives in the Lebanese Parliament – the Saudi Gulf affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan said yesterday, making the comments following Saturday’s ballistic missile launch on Riyadh and the resignation of the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri from Riyadh on the same day. In his resignation statement, Hariri cited Iran and Hezbollah’s chaotic role in the region as the reason for his decision, Tom Perry and Lisa Barrington report at Reuters.

“The Lebanese must choose between peace or aligning with Hezbollah,” Sabhan also said, adding that Hezbollah has been involved in every “terrorist act” that has threatened Saudi Arabia. Al Jazeera reports.

Hariri left Saudi Arabia today to meet a top official in the UA.E., possibly to dispel rumors that he has been held under house arrest in Saudi Arabia, Bassem Mroue reports at the AP.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif accused Saudi Arabia of “wars of aggression, regional bullying, destabilizing behavior & risky provocations,” in a statement on Twitter yesterday, and the top commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari called Saudi’s accusations “baseless,” the latest developments in the Saudi-Iran rivalry raising the possibility of a direct military clash. David D. Kirkpatrick reports at the New York Times.

Saudi’s accusation against Iran was “malicious, irresponsible, destructive and provocative,” the spokesperson for the I.R.G.C. Bahram Qassemi said in a statement yesterday, saying that the attack was “independent” and “a result of Saudi Arabia’s aggression.” Al Jazeera reports.

Saudi Arabia’s accusation against Iran comes as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been seemingly consolidating power at home and abroad, and the Saudis have been emboldened by the Trump administration’s support, as demonstrated by Trump’s tweets in support of King Salman and the Crown Prince. Kareem Fahim and Karen DeYoung explain at the Washington Post.

Trump’s comments in support of King Salman and the Crown Prince come after his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, took an unannounced trip to Saudi Arabia late last month. Cristiano Lima reports at POLITICO.

Yemen’s President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has been barred from returning to Yemen from Riyadh according to Yemeni officials, and has been banned due to a dispute between Hadi and the U.A.E. as the U.A.E., a key member of the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis, distrusts Hadi and has accused him of corruption and of being too close to the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al Jazeera reports.

The Trump administration’s support for Mohammed bin Salman is fraught with risk: the events within Saudi Arabia over the weekend have been unprecedented, the escalation in tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran brings possibility of Iran and Hezbollah gaining an advantage, and the ongoing Saudi-led blockade of Qatar has been a failure so far. Bruce Riedel writes at The Daily Beast, noting that Saudi Arabia cannot be relied on to remain a stable player in the region.

Saudi Arabia’s internal power struggle has the potential to exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as the Saudis place further restrictions on the country and the Saudi-led coalition continues its air campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Max Bearak explains at the Washington Post.

The post-Islamic State group phase in the Middle East has expressed itself through the Iran-Saudi rivalry which “threatens to boil over in Lebanon” as both have been involved in proxy wars; Saudi Arabia’s ally Prime Minister Hariri having resigned on Saturday from Riyadh, while Iran has backed Hezbollah in Lebanon and supported its military operations in Syria and across the Middle East. Ben Wedeman writes at CNN, setting out the complex alliances and the potential for further escalation.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page received “incredible insights and outreach” from senior Russian officials during his visit to Moscow in July 2016, according to the transcript of Page’s testimony to the House Intelligence Committee released yesterday. Byron Tau reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Page described a “private conversation” with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich in an email to Trump campaign aides while he was in Moscow, the testimony reveals, the email saying that Dvorkovich “expressed strong support for Mr. Trump and a desire to work together.” Rosalind S. Helderman, Matt Zapotosky and Karoun Demirjian report at the Washington Post.

Page’s testimony claimed that he sought permission from former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, Hope Hicks and J.D. Gordon for the Moscow trip, he also said that he mentioned the trip to Attorney General Jeff Sessions in passing and maintained that he went to Russia as a private citizen rather than as a representative of the Trump campaign, however an excerpt read by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) suggests that he played a wider role. Page’s testimony also revealed that he had spoken with a Russian energy executive and had “recently been in contact” with special counsel Robert Mueller, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein and other senior Justice officials in relation to “multiple outstanding requests” about Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (F.I.S.A.) warrants reportedly issued against him. Manu Raju, Jeremy Herb and Katelyn Polantz report at CNN.

Page wanted Trump to visit Russia during the campaign and make a speech in a similar fashion to Obama’s visit to Germany in 2008 as a candidate, the testimony reveals, Page also said that he was “not convinced” that Russia had tried to meddle in the 2016 election to help support Trump’s campaign. Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

Highlights from Page’s testimony, which was given without legal advice, is provided by Kyle Cheney and Randy Lemmerman at POLITICO.

Sessions is scheduled to appear before the House Judiciary Committee next week according to three sources familiar with the matter, the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 election is expected to be discussed and the hearing comes following a demand by Senate Democrats last week that Sessions be recalled to testify on contacts with Russia in light of the revelations in the guilty plea by former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. Warren Strobel and Sarah N. Lynch report at Reuters.

The Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross would “probably not” keep his stake in a shipping firm with business ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, Ross said in an interview yesterday, making the comments following revelations about his dealings leaked as part of the “Paradise Papers.” Bill Allison and Margaret Talev report at Bloomberg.

A recent analysis of Twitter data shows that support for Trump by Russian social media accounts started earlier than previously known, perhaps even as early as December 2015. Mark Maremont and Rob Barry report at the Wall Street Journal.

A U.S. district judge maintained the bail conditions for Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and the former campaign adviser Richard Gates yesterday, noting concerns about Manafort’s financial situation, Sarah N. Lynch reports at Reuters.

The media organization BuzzFeed has subpoenaed the Democratic National Committee (D.N.C.) for information about the dossier compiled by former British Intelligence Officer Christopher Steele as part of its efforts to defend against a libel suit, the dossier alleged connections between the Trump campaign and Russia and BuzzFeed has been seeking information relevant to the hack of D.N.C. computers as well as other information. Jana Winter and Elias Groll report at Foreign Policy.

A background to Trump’s security chief Keith Schiller, who will be appearing before the House Intelligence Committee today as part of the investigation into Russian interference, is provided by Annie Karni at POLITICO.

The former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo has been making every effort to remove any reference of him working with Russia, Lachlan Markay explains at The Daily Beast.

Should all business ties to Russia be viewed as suspect? Bernard Condon and James Ellingworth ask at the AP, noting that many Russia companies have connections to the Kremlin.

AFGHANISTAN

The building of an Afghan TV channel has been attacked by gunmen disguised as police officers, the Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attack and at least one person has been killed and 20 injured. The BBC reports.

There has been “no evidence of civilian casualties,” the U.S. military in Kabul said today following a U.S. investigation into allegations that at least 13 civilians were killed during an operation in Kunduz province last week. Reuters reports.

N.A.T.O. is expected to agree to increasing troop levels to Afghanistan by around 3,000 on Thursday, N.A.T.O.’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said today. Reuters reports.

Religiously-motivated attacks in Afghanistan have increased significantly in the past two years, according to the findings of the U.N. Assistance Mission to Afghanistan, Reuters reports.

SYRIA

Russia hopes that an international Syrian peace congress would take place soon, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said today, after the previous congress scheduled for Nov. 18 was canceled due to objections by Turkey. Reuters reports.

Militants in Syria have been accessing black markets to buy and sell weaponry through the Telegram messaging app, including U.S.-made weapons. Adam Rawnsley, Eric Woods and Christiaan Treibert reveal at Foreign Policy.  

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out four airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on November 3. Separately, partner forces conducted two strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

“We have had access to all the locations that we needed to visit,” the director-general of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) Yukiya Amano said yesterday in relation to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and the monitoring and inspection of Iran’s compliance with the agreement. Katrina Manson reports at the Financial Times.

The Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim today welcomed the “positive development” in the “limited reissuing of visas between the United States and Turkey,” but said that the U.S. should extradite the cleric Fethullah Gülen, who Turkey accuses of being the mastermind behind last summer’s failed coup in Ankara. 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