The Early Edition: November 9, 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

Trump called on China’s President Xi Jinping to exert more pressure on North Korea and its nuclear and missile programs, saying in Beijing in a joint appearance with the Chinese leader today that “we have it in our power to liberate the world” from the North Korean “menace.” Trump also congratulated Xi on recently achieving an exalted status within China’s Communist Party and told reporters that Xi is a “very special man,” Mark Landler reports at the New York Times.

“We must act fast, and hopefully China will act faster and more effectively on this problem than anyone,” Trump said, saying that if Xi “works hard” on the North Korea issue, “there is no doubt” that there would be a breakthrough. Tom Phillips reports at the Guardian.

China would work with the U.S. to fully implement U.N. sanctions against North Korea and achieve “enduring peace” on the Korean Peninsula, Xi said today, and China’s state Xinhua news agency reported that Trump had said that the U.S. uphold the “one China” policy in his talks with Xi – a policy that recognizes that there is only one Chinese government. The BBC reports.

“I don’t blame China. Who can blame a country that is able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens?” Trump also said, referring to the U.S.-China trade relationship and saying that the U.S. must “change its policies.” Talking to reporters after meetings between the two leaders, the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recognized that “a lot more work” must be done to address the trade imbalance but welcomed the fact that China and the U.S. have “no disagreement” on the North Korea issue. David Nakamura and Ashley Parker report at the Washington Post.

Tillerson noted today that there have been “clear signs” that international sanctions against Pyongyang are “creating some stress” to North Korea’s economy, Jeremy Diamond and Allie Malloy report at CNN.

The U.S. should force Trump out of power “if it does not want a horrible nuclear disaster and tragic doom,” North Korea’s state-run media announced today. The AP reports.

“The Taiwan issue is the most important, most sensitive core issue in China-U.S. relations,” the Chinese foreign ministry paraphrased Xi as telling Trump today, although Taiwan was not raised during the joint appearance before reporters. Reuters reports.

“The Pacific Ocean is big enough to accommodate both China and the United States,” Xi said, noting that it is natural that the U.S. and China have differences on some issues, but the “key is to properly handle and manage them.” Jeremy Diamond and Kevin Liptak report at CNN.

The U.S. Navy will conduct rare military drills over the Sea of Japan near the Korean Peninsula on Saturday, the U.S. Pacific Command announced in a statement yesterday, the drills taking place while Trump continues his tour of Asia. Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

A decision for formal talks between Trump and Russian Vladimir Putin at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (A.P.E.C.) summit in Vietnam has not yet been made, Tillerson said today, contradicting statements by a Kremlin aide that the meeting would happen tomorrow. Reuters reports.

The lavish welcome of Trump in Beijing demonstrate how China “will play” the president, granting Trump some of the headlines he seeks but using the state visit as the opportunity for China to rebrand itself as an equal member to the U.S., Ishaan Tharoor provides an analysis at the Washington Post.

While Xi has been emboldened and has embraced multilateralism and globalization, Trump has ceded U.S. global leadership on trade, climate-change, contributions to the U.N., domestic and foreign investments, and projections of power abroad, leading to the possibility that the liberal international order “could give way to an illiberal one.” Antony J. Blinken writes at the New York Times.

SYRIA

The Syrian army has “full liberated” the Islamic State group’s last urban stronghold in the country, taking the eastern border town of Albu Kamal yesterday, meaning that the militants only control a few pockets of territory throughout the country. The BBC reports.

The eastern part of Syria and the northwestern Idlib province would soon be recaptured by the Syrian army, the top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader was quoted as saying by the Mehr news agency yesterday, the eastern area of Syria is dominated by U.S.-backed militias and Idlib is held by the rebels. Reuters reports.

The U.S., Britain, France and Germany urged the U.N. Security Council in a joint statement yesterday to renew the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (J.I.M.) determining the responsibility for chemical weapons attacks in Syria, following a decision by Russia to veto the mandate’s extension late last month. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

YEMEN

There will be a famine in Yemen and it will be the “largest famine the world has seen for many decades with millions of victims” if the Saudi-led coalition maintains its blockade on the country, the U.N. under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, Mark Lowcock, said yesterday, referring to a decision by the coalition to close all air, land and sea ports on Monday after Iranian-backed Houthi rebels launched a missile at the Saudi capital of Riyadh. The BBC reports.

The Saudi-coalition allowed Yemen’s southern port of Aden to reopen yesterday, according to an anonymous official, Reuters reports.

SAUDI-IRAN RIVALRY

“Well, you stop the bombs, and then see if you don’t get a positive reaction from the nation of Yemen,” the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said yesterday, defending the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who fired a missile at the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Saturday, an action that Saudi Arabia labeled an Iranian “act of war.” Thomas Erdbrink reports at the New York Times.

Rouhani accused Saudi Arabia of showing “animosity towards” the peoples of the Middle East, saying that Riyadh has shown hostility towards Syrian and Iraqi citizens, has strengthened the Islamic State group and has interfered with “Lebanon’s internal affairs and governance” – referring to the decision of the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign unexpectedly on Saturday from the Saudi capital. Saeed Kamali Dehghan reports at the Guardian.

The Lebanese government believes that Hariri is being held in Saudi Arabia, a top Lebanese official said today, despite the fact Hariri made a one-day trip to U.A.E. earlier this week before returning to Riyadh. The allegations come as the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah group has accused Saudi Arabia of “hijacking” Lebanon’s political system, Laila Bassam reports at Reuters.

Israel has been aligning its policies with Saudi Arabia to counter Iran and its Hezbollah allies, revealing changing regional dynamics following recent developments, especially Hariri’s decision to resign based on Iran and Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon. Rory Jones reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Iran must stop “meddling” in the Middle East, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fatteh el-Sissi said yesterday, supporting his Saudi allies and adding that the region does not need “any new complications involving Iran or Hezbollah.” Hamza Hendawi reports at the AP.

Sissi also emphasized the importance of de-escalation, saying that he is “always against war” and that he has “faith in the wise and firm leadership of Saudi Arabia.” Ahmed Aboulenein and Malak Ghobrial report at Reuters.

French President Emmanuel Macron warned countries in the Middle East against exacerbating rising tensions in a visit to the U.A.E. yesterday, also reiterating support for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, but saying that it is “important for us to remain firm with Iran with regard to its regional activities and its ballistic missile program.” Reuters reports.

The political instability in Lebanon following Hariri’s resignation raises the risk of a war with Israel, the Saudis may have had a hand in removing Hariri with the intention of provoking Israel to attack Lebanon, which has been presented as being wholly in the hands of Hezbollah. Louisa Loveluck and Loveday Morris explain at the Washington Post, also discussing the dynamics and proxy battles in Yemen and Syria.

The complicated regional power games between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and recent escalations in the rivalry, have been set out by Erika Solomon at the Financial Times.  

Recent legislation from the U.S. House of Representatives foreshadowed the escalation in Saudi-Iran relations, the bill expanded sanctions against the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group and was passed within the context of changing U.S. policy in the region, which has been focusing on targeting Iran with the support of Saudi Arabia and Israel. Nicola Perugini and Neve Gordon write at Al Jazeera.

LIBYA

Islamic State group militants fleeing Iraq and Syria are likely to establish themselves in Libya from which they will launch attacks against Egypt, the Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi warned yesterday, saying that Egypt’s arms buildup was in response to the “strategic imbalance” in the region. Hamza Hendawi reports at the AP.

The International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda vowed yesterday to seek new arrest warrants in Libya if serious crimes do not cease, warning that the situation in the country “remains unstable with violent clashes occurring between various factions.” Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

Bensouda also urged the international community to hand over top Libyan officials who have already been issued an arrest warrant, including Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi, the U.N. News Centre reports.

IRAQ

The operation to take over the Iraqi city of Kirkuk “was led by Iranians with the knowledge of the U.S. and British officials,” the former president of Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government (K.R.G.) Masoud Barzani said this week, Barzani resigned as leader of the K.R.G. following the controversial Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum held in September. Al Jazeera reports.

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]

AFGHANISTAN

The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is expected total nearly 16,000, according to U.S. officials, many of the additional troops will be trainers. Lolita C. Baldor reports at the AP.

The U.N. Mission in Afghanistan contradicted the U.S. military’s investigation into alleged civilian deaths in Kunduz province last week, saying that they believed at least 10 civilians were killed, Reuters reports.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The Justice Department is seeking a plea deal in its criminal investigation into the former son-in-law of Trump’s former campaign Paul Manafort, according to sources familiar with the matter, the charges against Jeffrey Yohai do not appear to be directly related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Michael Rothfeld and Katy Stech Ferek report at the Wall Street Journal.

The co-founder for opposition research firm Fusion G.P.S., Glenn Simpson, has agreed to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee next week, the firm has been under the spotlight having commissioned the dossier compiled by the former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele, which alleged connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney report at POLITICO.

The former national security adviser Michael Flynn has expressed concern for his son and his possible legal exposure, according to a source familiar with the family, Michael Flynn Jr. has been under scrutiny for his work with his father at the Flynn Intel Group consulting firm and their connections to Russia. Jim Sciutto and Marshall Cohen report at CNN.

A federal judge yesterday restricted the comments lawyers, defendants and witnesses can make in the case of Manafort and his associate Rick Gates, Josh Gerstein and Darren Samuelsohn report at POLITICO.

The academic, Joseph Mifsud, suspected of acting as a conduit between the Trump campaign and Russia, has disappeared from public view since comments made last week about the contents of former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos’s guilty plea. Tim Lister and Nic Robertson report at CNN.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The senior ranks of U.S. diplomacy have been “depleted at a dizzying speed,” a former U.S. ambassador to Panama and charge d’affaires in London, Barbara Stephenson, said yesterday, warning that key talent has left and would lead to a “tangible effect on the capacity of the United State to shape world events.” Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.

The investigation into the deaths of four U.S. Special Forces members in Niger is expected to be completed in January of next year, according to Pentagon officials, Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

At least 111 suspected Islamic State group militants have been detained by Turkish police following raids in the capital of Ankara, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported today. The AP reporting.

A militant faction in Somalia loyal to the Islamic State group has grown in number to 200 this year, according to a U.N. report, the leader of the faction has reportedly received money and orders from Iraq and Syria. Katharine Houreld reports at Reuters.

N.A.T.O. yesterday agreed to create two new command structures to protect Europe in the face of the threat posed by Russia, Robin Emmott reports at Reuters.

The Defense Secretary Jim Mattis discussed ways to bring Russia into compliance with an arms control treaty with his N.A.T.O. counterparts, Mattis said today, Reuters reporting. 

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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