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The Early Edition: November 14, 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

Donald Trump Jr. communicated with WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential campaign via direct messages on Twitter, the messages advised Trump Jr. of the launch of a Political Action Committee (P.A.C.) run website that would draw attention to connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. Trump Jr. responded to the message saying that he was unaware of the P.A.C. or the website but offered to “ask around” and emailed top Trump campaign officials that WikiLeaks had made contact, Julia Ioffe reveals at the Atlantic.

WikiLeaks was behind the leak of damaging Democratic Party emails during the 2016 campaign, the U.S. intelligence community concluded that WikiLeaks was acting as a conduit for Russian operatives when it published the hacked emails. Trump Jr. published screenshots of a selection of his conversations with WikiLeaks on Twitter last night and the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said on Twitter that he could not confirm whether his group had corresponded with Trump Jr. Michael S. Schmidt and Nicholas Fandos report at the New York Times.

“Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us,” the WikiLeaks account wrote to Trump Jr. and included a link to hacked documents from the Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta; although Trump Jr. did not answer, shortly after the message, Trump senior tweeted about WikiLeaks and the information it had revealed about the Democratic Party. Carol D. Leonnig and Rosalind S. Helderman report at the Washington Post.

The communication had been handed over to congressional investigators by Trump Jr.’s lawyers and the president’s son sought to play down his contact with WikiLeaks, referring to his “whopping 3 responses” which “one of the congressional committees has chosen to selectively leak.” Sophie Tatum reports at CNN.

“The Vice President Mike Pence was never aware of anyone associated with the campaign being in contact with WikiLeaks,” Pence’s press secretary said in a statement yesterday, marking another instance where the Vice President has sought to distance himself from the investigations into Russian interference during the election campaign. Matthew Nussbaum reports at POLITICO.

The C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo’s remarks about Russian interference in the election have sought to silence former C.I.A. officers, however former officers must have the space to speak out about threats to national security. Three former C.I.A. officers – Cindy Otis, Ned Price and John Sipher – write at the New York Times.

The Russian-backed R.T. television station registered as a “foreign agent” in the U.S. with the Department of Justice yesterday, the channel was described as “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine” by the U.S. intelligence agencies in a report published in January 2017. Jack Stubbs and Ginger Gibson report at Reuters.

TRUMP ASIA TRIP

Human rights issues were largely ignored during Trump’s tour of Asia, the president has not yet mentioned the situation in Myanmar, he did not challenge Chinese President Xi Jinping’s authoritarianism or the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s extrajudicial war on drugs, and his neglect of human rights reflected the approach he took when visiting leaders in the Middle East in May. David Nakamura and Emily Rauhala explain at the Washington Post.

Trump stayed largely on message during the 12-day trip, which many were concerned would take its toll on the president. Jonathan Lemire and Jill Colvin provide an overview of the visit at the AP.

While the trip went better than expected, and Trump’s speech in South Korea was particularly well-received, expectations were low and confusion remains over the Trump administration’s strategy in the region. Julian Borger explains at the Guardian.

The six key takeaways from Trump’s trip, which ended today, are provided by Dan Merica at CNN.

Trump’s Asia trip “has been at times a disaster, at times a farce,” his cozy relationship with autocratic leaders and his unbelievable comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian interference in the 2016 election reveals “what happens when a very big nation is led by a very small man.” Eugene Robinson writes at the Washington Post.

NORTH KOREA

The U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises currently taking place are creating “the worst ever situation prevailing in and around the Korean Peninsula,” North Korea’s ambassador to the U.N. Ja Song Nam said in a letter the Secretary-General yesterday, stating that the three U.S. aircraft carriers present were “taking up a strike posture.” The naval exercises began on Sunday and lasted for four days. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

It will be “realistically difficult for North Korea to completely destroy its nuclear capabilities when their nuclear and missile arsenal are at a developed stage,” the South Korean President Moon Jae-in said today, saying that negotiations could be held with all options open. Christine Kim reports at Reuters.

The U.S.’s top North Korea negotiator Joseph Yun arrived in South Korea today to help ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula, Josh Smith reports at Reuters.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing today on the President’s sole authority to launch nuclear weapons, the hearing coming amid concerns about the president’s bellicose approach to North Korea. Jim Acosta and Barbara Starr report at CNN.

SYRIA

The U.S. will fight the Islamic State group in Syria “as long as they want to fight,” the Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said yesterday, saying that the U.S. military’s longer-term objective was the prevention of the Islamic State group returning and added that it was important to support a diplomatic solution to the civil war in Syria. Phil Stewart reports at Reuters.

At least 53 people were killed by three airstrikes on the rebel-held town of Atareb in northern Syria yesterday according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, it is not clear whether the Syrian government or Russia were responsible for the strikes, and the town was meant to be protected by a “de-escalation” zone. The BBC reports.

Russia has not promised to ensure the withdrawal of pro-Iranian forces in Syria, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying by the R.I.A. news agency today, Reuters reporting.

The Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdogan discussed the future of Syria in talks yesterday in the Russian city of Sochi, the two countries have supported opposite sides in the conflict but the two leaders hailed their cooperation in Syria and their joint support for “de-escalation” zones. Vladimir Isachenkov reports at the AP.

Before meeting with Putin, Erdogan criticized the U.S. and Russia for their approach to Syria, saying that if the two countries agreed that a military solution was not the answer, then they should withdraw their troops from Syria.  Al Jazeera reports.

Islamic State militants and their families were able to escape from the city of Raqqa in a secret deal that neither the U.S.-led coalition nor the Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) want to admit any involvement in, the BBC reveals.

Russia said today that it has been talking to the U.S. about the U.N. Security Council renewing the mandate of the inquiry looking into chemical weapons attacks in Syria, however the U.S. has said that Russia has “refused to engage” on its draft resolution. Michelle Nichols reports at Reuters.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 10 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on November 12. Separately, partner forces conducted one strike against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

YEMEN

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted in favor of a resolution stating that military assistance to Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen was not authorized by the 2001 or the 2003 Authorizations for Use of Military Force (A.U.M.F.s), the vote was largely symbolic but signals frustration with the lack of scrutiny of U.S. military engagements abroad. Gregory Hellman reports at POLITICO.

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.N. denied that there has been an embargo on Yemen, saying yesterday that “there are many sources of supply to Yemen” and that the restrictions were “a temporary procedure” that lasted a few days in response to the launch of a ballistic missile by Yemeni Houthi rebels at the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Nov. 4. The AP reports.

A suicide bomb in Yemen’s southern port city of Aden killed at least six people yesterday, according to residents, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack. Mohammed Mukhashaf reports at Reuters.

LEBANON

Kuwait today expressed support for Lebanon’s sovereignty and efforts to overcome the “delicate situation” that was triggered when Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned on Nov. 4 in televised comments broadcast from Saudi Arabia’s capital of Riyadh; Hariri cited the destructive role of Iran and its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon as the reason behind his decision. Reuters reports.

Iran hopes that Hariri would return to Lebanon and continue as prime minister “if Lebanese laws allow,” the top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Akbar Velayati said today, also denying that Hariri had resigned after a tense meeting with him in Beirut. Reuters reports.

An overview of the role the Iran-backed Lebanese militant Hezbollah group plays in Lebanon and the region, and Saudi Arabia’s desire to restrict its activities, is provided by Erika Solomon at the Financial Times.

Saad Hariri’s announcement that he would return to Lebanon soon and Saudi Arabia’s announcement that it would reopen ports in Yemen suggest that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been trying to “walk back” the escalations in the two countries. Zeina Karam explains at the AP.

Hariri’s resignation and the ensuing crisis in Lebanon has set the stage for future confrontations in the Middle East, Ishaan Tharoor provides an analysis at the Washington Post, referring to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, the Saudi-Iran rivalry, the complex relationships in the region and the war in Yemen.

IRAN

The U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) certified that Iran has not been violating the provisions of the 2015 nuclear agreement in a report issued yesterday, strongly suggesting that Iran has been honoring its commitments. George Jahn reports at the AP.

The European Union has no plans to discuss new sanctions on Iran, the E.U. foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said yesterday, adding that the issue was not on the agenda when she discussed the Iran nuclear deal at a series of meetings in Washington last week. Laurence Norman reports at the Wall Street Journal.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Justice Department said yesterday that prosecutors are considering whether to appoint a special counsel to investigate the Clinton Foundation, an Obama-era uranium deal with Russia and other Clinton-related issues. An investigation would raise questions about the impartiality of federal investigations and the role of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has come under repeated criticism from the president, Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman report at the New York Times.

A new defense pact was agreed by 23 European Union countries yesterday in an effort to boost defense cooperation, the E.U. foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said that it was a historic day that meant the E.U. could develop its military capabilities to reinforce its “strategic autonomy.” Julian E. Barnes and Robert Wall report at the Wall Street Journal.

Venezuela is “an increasingly violent narco-state,” the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said yesterday at an informal session that was boycotted by Russia, China, Egypt and Bolivia and denounced by Venezuela’s U.N. ambassador. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

The U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May accused Russia of meddling in elections and spreading disinformation in a speech yesterday, saying that Russia has attempted to undermine western democracies and that the U.K. would do “what is necessary to protect ourselves, and work with our allies to do likewise.” Rowena Mason reports at the Guardian.

At least 22 police officers were killed in a Taliban attack in Afghanistan’s southern province of Kandahar, officials said today, Reuters reporting.

Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain show no signs that they want to reach a solution to the Gulf crisis, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani said today, referring to the Saudi-led bloc’s isolation of Qatar on June 5 due to its alleged support for terrorism and ties to Iran. Reuters reports.

Palestinian officials rejected a report by an Israeli new outlet that claimed that Saudi Arabia had ordered the Palestinian Authority leader President Mahmoud Abbas to accept U.S. peace efforts or resign, a spokesperson for the Fatah party saying that the Palestinian position and the Saudi position are “aligned.” Al Jazeera reports.

Trump’s latest travel ban partially went into effect yesterday after a ruling by the U.S. appeals court in California, Lawrence Hurley reports at Reuters.

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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