The Early Edition: November 21, 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.

SYRIA

The Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared the end of the Islamic State today in a television broadcast, saying that “with God’s guidance and the resistance of people in the region we can say that this evil has either been lifted … or has been reduced,” making the announcement after pro-Syrian government forces captured the Syrian town of Albu Kamal at the weekend and the Iraqi army captured the border town of Rawa on Friday, signaling the collapse of the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate. Babak Dehghanpisheh reports at Reuters.

Russia is scheduled to host the leaders of Turkey and Iran tomorrow for a summit on the future of Syria, giving Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Rouhani and Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan the opportunity to strategize for the post-conflict scenario, U.S. officials separately have urged Russia to consider ways to stabilize the country once the Islamic State group has been defeated. Nathan Hodge reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The Russian President Vladimir Putin held unannounced talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Russian city of Sochi yesterday, ahead of the summit in Russia and a new round of Syria peace talks scheduled to be held in Geneva this month. Nataliya Vasilyeva and Bassem Mroue report at the AP.

The military operation “is indeed wrapping up,” Putin said in his meeting with Assad, adding that “we still have a long way to go before we achieve a complete victory over terrorists,” the BBC reports.

Putin said he would follow up his meeting with Assad with calls to Trump and Middle Eastern leaders, and Assad said in talks with Putin that “we count on the support of Russia to ensure the non-interference of outside players in the political process.” Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.

Putin discussed the situation in Syria with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in a phone call yesterday and raised the prospects of a political solution, according to the Kremlin, Reuters reports.

The head of the main armed and political opposition to the Assad regime resigned yesterday, the head of the High Negotiations Committee (H.N.C.) Riyad Hijab did not give reasons for his decision and resigned ahead of a conference of Syrian opposition groups scheduled to be held in Saudi Arabia tomorrow. Zena Tahhan reports at Al Jazeera.

The TRAVEL BAN

The Justice Department yesterday asked the Supreme Court to fully reinstate the latest travel ban which was issued in September and the Trump administration contends was formulated following careful deliberation, the Justice Department’s request comes after the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco allowed part of the latest ban to go into effect earlier this month. Jess Bravin reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The latest travel ban placed a variety of restrictions on foreign nationals from eight countries and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling allowed the ban to go into effect except for foreign nationals who have a “bona fide” relationship with people or entities in the U.S., Ariane de Vogue reports at CNN.  

An official watchdog of the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.) has accused the D.H.S. of delaying the release of a report on Trump’s first travel ban and the confusion among senior managers at Customs and Border Protection in implementing the executive order, with the D.H.S. Inspector General John Roth saying in a letter sent to Congress yesterday that he was “very troubled” by the fact that officials had declined to authorize the report’s release over the past six weeks. Josh Gerstein, Ted Hesson and Seung Min Kim report at POLITICO.

The confusion over the first travel ban led to federal agents violating court orders, according to Roth’s letter to Congress, saying that immigration agents were unsure how to enforce the ban and passengers were unclear whether they could enter the U.S.. Devlin Barrett and Carol D. Leonnig report at the Washington Post.

NORTH KOREA

Trump plans to reinstate North Korea’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, the president said yesterday a week after his 12-day tour of Asian nations, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying that the “practical effects may be limited, but hopefully we’re closing off a few loopholes with this.” Felicia Schwartz and Jonathan Cheng report at the Wall Street Journal.

Tillerson said that the designation was to hold Pyongyang accountable for recent actions “including assassinations outside of their country” and “using banned chemical weapons,” in comments to reporters at a White House briefing, adding that the listing would be “very symbolic.” The BBC reports.

The Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s belated statement on behalf of 18 world leaders at the (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) A.S.E.A.N. summit today said that only “some” leader condemned the threat posed by North Korea, despite Trump’s lobbying on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles program during his recent Asia trip. Jim Gomez reports at the AP.

North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper called Trump “an old lunatic, mean trickster and human reject” in response to his speech about Pyongyang delivered to South Korea’s National Assembly during his Asia trip, which marked North Korea’s “most hyperbolic tirade to date,” Anna Fifield observes at the Washington Post.   

North Korea has been designated as a state sponsor of terrorism before, Adam Taylor explains the history of the Pyongyang regime’s designation and removal over the decades at the Washington Post.

The decision to redesignate North Korea is “welcome as diplomatic truth in advertising,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes, saying that Trump’s decision corrects the approach of previous administrations.

AFGHANISTAN

U.S. and Afghan forces have launched an air campaign targeting several opium-production plants in southern Afghanistan in an attempt to undermine the Taliban’s revenue sources, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr. said yesterday, Ellen Mitchell reporting at the Hill.

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) Fatou Bensouda filed a request for permission from the court to investigate war crimes in Afghanistan yesterday, including the possibility of war crimes committed by Americans, signaling the possibility of the I.C.C. prosecuting Americans for the first time. Rick Gladstone and Marlise Simons reports at the New York Times.

Alleged “war crimes by members of the United States armed forces” and “secret detention facilities” used by the C.I.A. justify the court’s investigation, Bensouda said in a statement, the targets of the investigation would also include the Taliban, the Haqqani network and the Afghan National Security Forces. James McAuley reports at the Washington Post.

“The I.C.C. constitutes a direct assault on the concept of national sovereignty,” the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton writes at the Wall Street Journal, arguing that the Trump administration should be resolute in its rejection of the I.C.C.’s jurisdiction.

The U.S. efforts to recruit Afghan women to join the Afghan police carries great risks, especially as they are often not provided adequate protection and support, Sophia Jones writes at the New York Times.

IRAN

The U.S. Treasury has imposed “large-scale” sanctions on an Iranian counterfeiting ring affiliated to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.), the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying yesterday that the scheme “exposes the deep levels of deception the I.R.G.C.-Quds Force is willing to employ against companies in Europe, governments in the Gulf, and the rest of the world to support its destabilizing activities.” Ian Talley reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The Arab League is “old, worn-out, exhausted and ineffective,” Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said today, criticizing the organization for its support for the Saudi-led coalition’s role in the war in Yemen, and making the comments after the foreign ministers of the Arab League nations accused Iran and its Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah ally of destabilizing the region. The AP reports.

LEBANON

The Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri is scheduled to meet with the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi today amid speculation over Hariri’s status since he resigned on Nov. 4 from Saudi Arabia’s capital of Riyadh, and cited the role of Iran and its Lebanese Shi’ite militant and political ally Hezbollah as the reason behind his decision. Reuters reports.

“Israeli targeting still continues and it is the right of the Lebanese to resist it,” the Lebanese President Michel Aoun was quoted as saying yesterday, appearing to defend Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon after an Arab League gathering on Sunday accused the group of terrorism. Reuters reports.

Lebanon’s army chief today called on his soldiers to be fully ready at the southern border “to face the threats of the Israeli army and its violations,” according to comments quoted on the army’s Twitter account. Reuters reports.

“We have not sent any ballistic missiles or advanced weapons – not even guns – not to Yemen, not to Bahrain, not to Kuwait, not to Iraq … or any Arab country,” Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah said yesterday, rejecting the accusations of foreign ministers at the Arab League gathering, saying that Hezbollah had only sent weapons to Palestine and Syria. Al Jazeera reports.

IRAQ

Iraq’s Supreme Court ruled that the Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum held in September was unconstitutional, saying in a statement that it has annulled “all the consequences of the referendum” in which 92% of Iraqi Kurds voted in favor of independence. The BBC reports.

“We feel we are under a huge threat,” the head of foreign relations for the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (K.R.G.) Falah Mustafa Bakir said yesterday, saying that the “international community has to engage” to address the tensions between Baghdad and the K.R.G. which have escalated since the controversial independence referendum. Ben Kesling reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The K.R.G. called on the international community to help lift sanctions imposed by Baghdad on the region, saying in a statement yesterday that measures “are in violation of Iraq’s obligations and responsibilities under international and humanitarian law.” Reuters reports.

An exposé of the violence and killing of detainees following the liberation of the Iraqi city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is provided by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad at the Guardian.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out three airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on November 18. Separately, partner forces conducted five strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page met with Hungarian officials during the 2016 election campaign, the meetings have drawn scrutiny due to the increasingly close ties between Hungary and Russia. Matthew Mosk reports at ABC News.

The court filing against the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort may “provide clues” for special counsel Robert Mueller’s approach to former national security adviser Michael Flynn, including possible charges relating to registration as a foreign agent and lobbying for a foreign government, or more “sensational” charges that may involve kidnapping due to Flynn’s alleged role in a plan to deliver the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen to the Turkish government. Josh Gerstein explains at POLITICO.

TRUMP ADMINSITRATION FOREIGN POLICY

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson discussed regional security and “ways to combat terrorism” with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman yesterday, according to Saudi’s state S.P.A. news agency, Reuters reports.

It is possible that commentators have been unfair in their assessment of Tillerson: there have been many poor Secretaries of State, Tillerson has the difficult task of serving under a president who is “genuinely clueless about foreign policy,” and his efforts to reorganize the State Department have been long overdue. Stephen M. Walt writes at Foreign Policy, arguing that Tillerson’s ineffectiveness also reflect consistency “with trends that have been underway for some time.”

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A suicide bomber killed at least 50 people at a mosque in northern Nigeria today, marking the biggest mass killing this year in an area of the country that has been blighted by an insurgency led by the Islamist Boko Haram militant group, there has not yet been a claim of responsibility for the attack. Percy Dabang and Ardo Hazzad report at Reuters.

“Regional players are acting irresponsibly, taking a political gamble with the lives of other nations’ citizens with no exit strategy,” the Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said yesterday, warning of the “dark ages” in the Middle East and making the comments amid the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar which began in June. Al Jazeera reports.

The Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab was indicted for his role in evading U.S. sanctions on Iran, however his whereabouts have become unknown and the mysterious circumstances surrounding his case have raised questions about a possible deal between the Turkish government and the U.S. to secure his release amid a recent deterioration in U.S.-Turkey relations. Elias Groll observes at Foreign Policy.

F.B.I. informant William Campbell gathered extensive evidence on the Uranium One deal while he was undercover for six years, according to documents reviewed by the Hill, which contradict statements made by Justice Department officials that Campbell’s evidence would not offer useful information. John Solomon reports at the Hill.

Islamist militants in Niger’s border village of Tongo Tongo have been established for some time, having entrenched themselves in the local community where the four U.S. Special Forces members were killed on Oct. 4. Sudarsan Raghavan explains at the Washington Post. 

Filed under:
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