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The Early Edition: November 10, 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 employed a mix of flattery and tough talk when meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing yesterday during his tour of Asia, the talks focused on the U.S.-China trade relationship and the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying that the strong personal rapport between Trump and Xi allowed the two leaders to communicate more effectively, especially when discussing the Pyongyang regime. Jeremy Page, Michael C. Bender and Chun Han Wong report at the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. and China could “probably” solve all of the world’s problems, Trump said yesterday, notably toning down his criticisms of Beijing. Jill Colvin and Jonathan Lemire report at the AP.

Trump arrived in Vietnam today for the Asian-Pacific Economic Forum (A.P.E.C.), amid improved relations between U.S. and Vietnam, partly due to Vietnam’s desire for the U.S. to counter China’s influence in the region. Hannah Beech explains at the New York Times.

Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will not hold a formal meeting at the A.P.E.C. summit today, but it is “possible and likely” that the two leaders would “bump into each other,” the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Air Force One today. Ali Vitali reports at NBC News.

Trump was “more conciliatory than confrontational” when meeting with Xi, taking a softer approach on the North Korean threat and China’s role in the crisis, thanking Xi for his efforts but calling on him to put more pressure on the Pyongyang regime. Jonathan Lemire provides an analysis at the AP.

There was “nothing but pleasantries and soothing tones” when Trump and Xi met in Beijing, however the question remains what each leader gained and what was lost. Emily Rauhala and Simon Denyer provide an analysis at the Washington Post.

The relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines has been strained as the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has moved closer to China, on the other hand, the U.S. has been improving relations with Vietnam and this is a relationship that Trump can exploit. Jamie Tarabay provides an analysis at CNN.

SAUDI-LEBANON RELATIONS

There have been growing fears that the recently resigned Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri is being held in Saudi Arabia following his resignation from the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Saturday, the speculation has fueled concerns that Lebanon would be the battleground for the escalating Saudi-Iran tensions as Hariri blamed Iran and its Hezbollah allies for creating a “state within a state” – Hariri’s speech mirroring the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s combative rhetoric. Louisa Loveluck and Kareem Fahim report at the Washington Post.

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun told Saudi Arabia’s envoy today that Hariri must return to Lebanon and explain why he tendered his resignation from Riyadh. Tom Perry and Sarah Dadouch report at Reuters.

Lebanese government officials have said that they haven’t heard from Hariri since he left for Saudi Arabia last week, Hariri’s decision to resign left the Lebanese government and the nation stunned and the resignation occurred in the context of Saudi Arabia’s contention that Hezbollah acts as a proxy of Iran and has true control of Lebanon. Zeina Karam and Bassem Mroue report at the AP.

A source close to Hariri claimed that Saudi Arabia ordered Hariri to resign and have put him under house arrest, another source claimed that Saudi Arabia have been controlling and limiting his movement. Laila Bassam and Tom Perry report at Reuters.

Hariri’s resignation shows that “Iran is taking over Lebanon. Hezbollah is taking over Lebanon,” Israel’s Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said yesterday, saying that the time is now appropriate for a diplomatic offensive against Iran and Hezbollah at the U.N., he also dismissed allegations that Saudi Arabia forced Hariri to resign. Josef Federman reports at the AP.

The State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert refused to elaborate on Hariri’s status in Saudi Arabia when asked yesterday to describe the meetings between Hariri and the U.S. charge d’affaires in Riyadh, meanwhile Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon threatened to refer Hariri’s case to the U.N. Security Council if the “ambiguity” continues. Al Jazeera reports.

Saudi Arabia yesterday ordered its citizens to leave Lebanon, raising concerns of further instability and possible war as Lebanon is seemingly caught in the middle of the Saudi-Iran rivalry. Anne Barnard reports at the New York Times.

Kuwait and Bahrain have also ordered their citizens to leave Lebanon, the AP reports.

SAUDI-IRAN RIVALRY

“We would like to see sanctions on Iran for its support of terrorism and sanctions on Iran for violating the ballistic missile resolutions of the United Nations,” the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said yesterday, referring to Saturday’s firing of a ballistic missile by Iranian-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels at the Saudi capital of Riyadh. When asked whether Saudi Arabia were heading for a direct confrontation with Iran, al-Jubeir responded “we hope not.” Hadley Gamble and Sam Meredith report at CNBC.

The French President Emmanuel Macron made a surprise visit to Saudi Arabia last night to talk with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Macron blamed Iran for a ballistic missile launch saying that it was “obviously” an Iranian missile, but adding that it was important for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to be maintained in the interests of global and regional stability. Jon Gambrell reports at the AP.

Macron also discussed the status of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who resigned from the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Saturday and cited threats to his life and Iran and Hezbollah’s destructive role in Lebanon as reasons for his decision. Macron said that all Lebanese officials should be able to live freely and without threats. The BBC reports.

There is no end in sight for the war in Yemen as the Saudi-led coalition continue their campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and initiatives to bring about peace remain elusive. Brian Rohan provides an overview of the situation in the context of the Saudi-Iran rivalry at the AP.

The Trump administration has chosen to back Saudi Arabia and has been hostile to Iran, in particular the 2015 nuclear deal and Iran’s support for the militant faction of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, however the latest escalation in tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia has raised concerns about the dynamics of the U.S.-Saudi relationship and its impact on the region and the world. Vivian Salma explains at NBC News.

The U.S. faces a dilemma: how closely should it align with Saudi Arabia in its combative approach to Iran? There has been no consensus within the Trump administration and some have raised concerns that they would not want to antagonize Iran and provoke a reaction from Iran’s proxies in Iraq and Syria. Dion Nissenbaum explains at the Wall Street Journal.

Bin Salman’s decision to oust Hariri has handed power to Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon, however Saudi’s economic influence in Lebanon may force Hezbollah to compromise over its weaponry in order to “salvage the economy,” the Economist writes.

Trump has played a role in Bin Salman’s efforts to consolidate his power in Saudi Arabia, the Crown Prince’s zeal for reform reflects a modernization drive that eschews democratic principles and diverges from the Western model – a framework that Trump has consistently undermined through rhetoric and action. Anne Applebaum writes at the Washington Post.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Trump’s former security chief Keith Schiller testified before the House Intelligence Committee yesterday, confirming that a foreign individual offered to send five women to Trump’s hotel room during his visit to Moscow in November 2013, but Schiller refused the man’s offer saying that “we’re not interested in that.” Carol D. Leonnig reports at the Washington Post.

Schiller made the comments about the five women in the context of him strenuously disputing the contents of the salacious dossier compiled by former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele, which alleged connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. Ken Dilanian and Jonathan Allen report at the Hill.

The White House senior adviser Stephen Miller has been interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team as part of investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election, sources familiar with the investigation said yesterday, one source claiming that Miller’s role in the firing of former F.B.I. Director James Comey was among the topics discussed. Pamela Brown, Gloria Borger and Evan Perez report at CNN.

The opposition research firm Fusion G.P.S. produced negative information on the Clinton Foundation that the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya offered to Trump Jr. and Trump campaign officials during their meeting in June 2016, according to sources familiar with the matter. Mark Hosenball reports at Reuters.

Schiller’s revelation about the offer of five women demonstrates how things work in Russia and their pursuit of “kompromat” tactics, Chris Cilizza writes at CNN.

RUSSIA

The Russian state-funded R.T. television news network said yesterday that it would register as a foreign agent in compliance with a request from the U.S. Justice Department, but said that it would challenge the decision as the “demand is discriminative.” Focus on the network has intensified in light of the investigations into Russia’s role in the 2016 election and the lobbying efforts of Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates. Paul Sonne reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The Russian embassy in the U.S. yesterday condemned the Justice Department for demanding R.T. to register as a foreign agent, saying that measures limiting activity “will inevitably trigger an immediate symmetrical response.” Julia Manchester reports at the Hill.

The U.S. is expected to propose the deployment of 20,000 peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine in the coming days in a test of Russia’s willingness to end the conflict in Ukraine, however Western officials remain skeptical that Russia would fulfil its commitments under the 2015 Minsk agreement to withdraw all troops and weapons out of Ukraine and allow Kiev to restore control over the country following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in 2014. Laurence Norman and Julian E. Barnes report at the Wall Street Journal.

Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday accused the U.S. of attempting to interfere in Russia’s presidential campaign and claimed that the U.S.’s role in trying to disqualify Russian athletes at the 2018 Winter Olympics was a means of trying to undermine his presidency. David Filipov and Marissa Payne report at the Washington Post.

SYRIA

The Islamic State group have taken back half of the Syrian town of Albu Kamal despite the Syrian army’s announcement yesterday that it had captured the town, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Reuters reports.

The Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was spotted Albu Kamal, a Hezbollah-run media unit claimed today, but did not offer further information, Reuters reporting.

Syrian opposition activists denied claims that al-Baghdadi has been sighted, saying that the Syrian army was seeking to distract from its losses in Albu Kamal. Bassem Mroue reports at the AP.

Iran- and Russia-backed Syrian government forces now face possible confrontation with U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) following yesterday’s defeat of the Islamic State group in their last significant stronghold in the country, Sarah El Deeb explains at the AP.

Russia’s “deplorable” attempts to discredit the report into chemical weapons attacks in Syria continue to “deny the truth,” the U.S. representative Kenneth D. Ward said yesterday at a meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (O.P.C.W.), remarks that were posted on O.P.C.W.’s website. Mike Corder reports at the AP.

IRAQ

The U.S.-led coalition has been setting up outposts in western Iraq near the border of Syria to clear Islamic State group militants from their last redoubt in the Euphrates River valley, Susannah George reports at the AP.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out six airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on November 3. Separately, partner forces conducted four strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command] The figures have not been updated since November 4.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The U.S. military has killed several al-Shabab Islamist militants in Somalia in airstrikes yesterday, the U.S. military stated. Abi Guled reports at the AP.

The European Union will preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and ensure that it will be “fully implemented by all, in all its parts,” the E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said today. Reuters reports.

The self-styled Libyan National Army forced Islamist fighters from the city of Beghazi yesterday, expelling the militants from one of their last strongholds in the country, Reuters reports.

N.A.T.O. announced yesterday that it would deploy around 700 troops to Afghanistan, falling short of U.S. expectations of around 1,500 troops, the N.A.T.O. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that there are still “some gaps” that the alliance would work on. Julian E. Barnes and Craig Nelson report at the Wall Street Journal.

Militants loyal to the Islamic State group killed six soldiers and injured four on a southern Philippine island, according to Philippine military spokesperson, Reuters reporting.

Israel will be holding its largest-ever air drills with pilots from 8 countries and around 1,000 participants, the Israeli military announced yesterday, the exercises coming amid increased tensions in the region. Tia Goldenberg reports at the AP.

An ex-Guantánamo Bay inmate has filed a lawsuit against the Canadian government claiming that it was complicit in his detention and torture, Jillian Kestler-D’Amours reports at Al Jazeera.

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About the Author

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK