The Early Edition: November 16, 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

“America is back,” Trump said yesterday following his 12-day tour of Asia, claiming that the days of the U.S. “being taken advantage of are over” and saying that his efforts to drum up support for putting pressure on North Korea were successful. Sabrina Siddiqui and Julian Borger report at the Guardian.

“America’s renewed confidence and standing in the world has never been stronger than it is right now,” Trump claimed yesterday, providing a positive assessment of his Asia trip and referred to his previous trip to Saudi Arabia, his tough talk with N.A.T.O. allies, and lauded his close personal relationships with leaders across the world. Michael D. Shear reports at the New York Times.

Trump blamed the “naïve thinking and misguided judgment” of previous administrations for neglecting a wide-range of issues in Asia, from the North Korean threat to trade relationships. Jordan Fabian reports at the Hill.

China and Japan have seemingly warmed their relations at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (A.S.E.A.N.) summit at the weekend, apparently moving closer over concerns about the U.S.’s role in Southeast Asia. Motoko Rich and Jane Perlez explain at the New York Times, providing an overview of the relationship and referring to Trump’s recent trip to Asia.

The two U.C.L.A. basketball players who were detained in China thanked Trump for intervening in their case and helping to bring them back to the U.S., Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.

Despite Trump’s comments, the White House seemingly did not achieve any major diplomatic wins during the Asia trip, Cristiano Lima explains at POLITICO.

NORTH KOREA

China reiterated its support for a “freeze-for-freeze” deal to de-escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula today, contradicting Trump, who said yesterday that the Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed with him that “we would not accept a so-called ‘freeze-for-freeze’ agreement” which calls for a suspension of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles tests in return for the U.S. and South Korea suspending their annual joint military exercises. Simon Denyer reports at the Washington Post.

It is unlikely that the visit by a Chinese special envoy to North Korea tomorrow would lead to a breakthrough in the crisis on the Peninsula, observers have warned, saying that the focus of the meetings would likely be on improving relations between the two countries rather than on the nuclear weapons program. Ben Westcott reports at CNN.

Singapore has suspended trade relations with North Korea according to a customs notice obtained today, demonstrating the increasing international efforts to isolate the Pyongyang regime. Reuters reports.

Japan has been considering plans to deal with a sudden influx of North Korean evacuees should a crisis break out on the Peninsula, a Japanese newspaper reported today, Reuters reports.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

Top lawmakers have expressed concern about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s management of the State Department, with Senators from both parties saying that Tillerson’s reorganization may impact the ability to fulfil the U.S.’s foreign policy aims. Robbie Gramer reports at Foreign Policy.

The C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo has emerged as the favorite to replace Tillerson as Secretary of State, Pompeo and Trump have a warm relationship and are more in tune with each other’s foreign policy concerns. Eliana Johnson and Annie Karni report at POLITICO.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) has requested documents relating to Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and his potential involvement in the firing of former F.B.I. Director James Comey and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Feinstein made the request in a letter yesterday ahead of the committee’s questioning of Kushner. Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

The former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele said that he believes 70% to 90% of the contents of the dossier connecting the Trump campaign and Russia is accurate, according to a quote from Steele in an upcoming book. Steele was commissioned by the opposition research firm Fusion G.P.S. to compile the controversial dossier, Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.

Special counsel Robert Mueller may have ‘flipped’ the Turkey-based businessman Reza Zarrab in his investigation into Flynn, Zarrab is set to face trial for his alleged role in gold-for-gas deals between Turkey and Iran but speculation that he has cooperated with federal prosecutors has arisen following Zarrab’s secret removal from a federal prison earlier month and it is unclear where he is currently being held. Earlier this year, Flynn disclosed that he had been a paid agent of Turkey once he had resigned as Trump’s national security adviser due to his interactions with Russia. Katie Zavadski reports at The Daily Beast.

The State Department under former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were aware of the Russian propaganda and disinformation campaign, which started with the Russian annexation of the Crimea in 2014, however the State Department was unable to deal with the scale of the Russian efforts. Rick Stengel, the former under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, explains at POLITICO Magazine.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY AND TECHNOLOGY

“Russia is seeking to undermine the international system. That much is clear,” the head of the U.K. government’s National Cyber Security Center Ciaran Martin said yesterday, saying that the agency has responded to over 600 significant incidents in the last year, and making the comments after the British Prime Minister Theresa May singled out Russia as a threat to western democracies. Jenny Gross and Wiktor Szary report at the Wall Street Journal.

The rules on disclosing cybersecurity flaws were publicly released by the White House yesterday, the publication comes following years of criticism of a lack of transparency over the federal agencies’ assessment of the balance between disclosure and retention. Ellen Nakashima reports at the Washington Post.

LEBANON

The French President Emmanuel Macron extended an invitation to the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his family yesterday amid concerns that Hariri has been held in Saudi Arabia against his will following his unexpected resignation from the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Nov. 4 via a televised announcement, Alissa J. Rubin and Anne Barnard report at the New York Times, explaining that the invitation has raised further questions over Hariri’s status and the possibility that he could be being eased out to exile in France.

Macron invited Hariri a day after meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia have denied holding Hariri against his will or coercing him into resigning as Prime Minister. In his resignation speech, Hariri cited threats to his life and the role of Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon and the region as the reason for his decision, the BBC reports.

Hariri has accepted Macron’s invitation, the AP reports.

The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet with the Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil tomorrow, the Russian Foreign Ministry said today, Reuters reporting.

France’s attempts to solve the crisis caused by Hariri’s resignation carries risks as France has not yet received assurances from Riyadh about Hariri’s freedom of movement and speech, analysts have said. Jillian Kestler-D’Amours explains at Al Jazeera.

SYRIA

Turkey, Russia and Iran are scheduled to hold a summit on Nov. 22 to discuss developments in Syria in the Russian coastal city of Sochi, Reuters reports.

The Syrian army and Russian jets have stepped up their air strikes and shelling of the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta region near the capital of Damascus, residents and a war monitor said yesterday, the increased military power coming after Free Syrian Army rebels launched an attack on an army complex in northeastern Damascus on Tuesday. Suleiman Al-Khalidi reports at Reuters.

The Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu today accused the Syrian Kurdish Y.P.G. militia of being more concerned with capturing territory than combating the Islamic State group, Reuters reports.

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]

RUSSIA

The likely targets of a Russian bill targeting international media organizations include Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and CNN, the Russian parliament’s lower house yesterday voted overwhelmingly in favor of legislation allowing authorities to designate foreign media as a “foreign agent” and the move was in retaliation to the U.S. Justice Department’s requirement that the Russian state-funded R.T. television channel register as a “foreign agent.” Andrew Roth reports at the Washington Post.

Russia restructured more than £3bn it is owed by Venezuela yesterday, throwing the Venezuelan government a lifeline amid a crisis that President Nicolás Maduro has blamed on U.S. sanctions. James Marson and Kejal Vyas report at the Wall Street Journal.

MYANMAR

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for an independent investigation into the reports of widespread atrocities committed by Myanmar’s security forces in a press conference with the Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday, adding that the U.S. government was still assessing whether the violence against the minority Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine state amounted to ethnic cleansing. Niharika Mandhana reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch accused Myanmar security forces of widespread sexual violence and rape of women and girls in the Rakhine state in a report published today. Reuters reports.

SOUTH CHINA SEA

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (A.S.E.A.N.) avoided referring to China’s creation of artificial islands in the South China Sea in a statement delivered by the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on behalf of his fellow heads of state yesterday, the omission reflecting China’s influence on A.S.E.A.N. and the region. Jim Gomez reports at the AP.

China and the Philippines have agreed to avoid violence in the dispute over the South China Sea in a joint statement carried by China’s Xinhua news agency today which reaffirmed the importance of peace and engaging in dialogue. Reuters reports.

SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi Arabia’s blockade of Yemen’s ports is an attempt to “try and starve Yemen into submission,” the kingdom “must realize that the world is finally taking notice” of its actions in the Yemen civil war and Congress and the U.N. must “keep pressing all parties for a political solution.” The New York Times editorial board writes, referring to the blockade that began on Nov. 5 in response to a ballistic missile that was fired by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels at the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts to reform the kingdom are “necessary” but also “impossible,” Kamel Daoud writes at the New York Times, charting the rise of the Wahhabi ideology, Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the ideology, and offers an analysis of the Crown Prince’s actions and the impact of his proposed reforms on Islamists outside the kingdom.

URANIUM ONE DEAL

Republican congressional investigators began their efforts to secure information about an Obama-era nuclear deal with Russia yesterday, writing letters to the F.B.I., Justice Department, Treasury Department and intelligence agencies. John Solomon reports at the Hill.

It would send a “signal that we’re going to be like some dictatorship” if the President directs the Justice Department to investigate the uranium deal, the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday, adding that she would not be concerned if a special counsel were appointed or if she faced indictments “because I know there’s no basis to it.” Brent D. Griffiths reports at POLITICO.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

House Democrats introduced five articles of impeachment against President Trump yesterday, however the representatives have acknowledged that the efforts would not be successful while Republicans control both houses of Congress. Maegan Vazquez reports at CNN.

The Justice Department aims to release a report into the alleged misconduct by then-F.B.I. Director James Comey in late winter or early spring, the Justice Department Inspector General said yesterday, the review includes an investigation of Comey’s actions during the presidential campaign, leaks by the F.B.I. and the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email use. Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

The F.B.I. Deputy Director Andrew McCabe gave the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email use a “special status,” documents released yesterday reveal, however F.B.I. officials refused to answer what was meant by this status. John Solomon reports at the Hill.

Live updates of the Zimbabwean military takeover and the ousting of President Robert Mugabe are provided at the BBC.

The self-styled Libyan National Army launched air strikes against Islamic State militants in their stronghold of Sirte yesterday, a commander with the force said yesterday, Reuters reporting.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee advanced legislation that would reduce U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority unless it stops making payments that, lawmakers described, reward violent crimes. 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