The Early Edition: November 29, 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.


North Korea launched an advanced intercontinental ballistic missile (I.C.B.M.) yesterday, according to North Korean state television the new missile was a Hwasong-15 and the test was personally ordered by the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Kim was quoted as saying that the success of the launch signaled the realization of the “great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force,” Jonathan Cheng reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“With this system, we can load the heaviest warhead and strike anywhere in the mainland United States,” North Korean state television stated, a claim that falls in line with experts’ calculations about the latest launch, which achieved a longer flight time than any previous North Korean missile test and could theoretically reach Washington D.C.. Anna Fifield reports at the Washington Post.

The I.C.B.M. reached a height higher than any North Korean missile had done before and was the first test since September 15, undermining hopes that the Pyongyang regime has been heeding the warnings of President Trump. James Griffiths reports at CNN.

“It is a situation that we will handle,” Trump said in response to the launch, the Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was more alarmist in his assessment, noting that the I.C.B.M. reached an unprecedented height and that it constituted “a continued effort to build a threat – a threat that endangers world peace, regional peace, and certainly, the United States.” Mark Landler, Choe Sang-Hun and Helene Cooper report at the New York Times.

South Korea fired “pinpoint missiles” into the sea in response to Pyongyang’s test, Mattis explained yesterday, the South Korean launch was confirmed by an official with South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. Josh Delk reports at the Hill.

North Korea has not yet shown that it can mount a miniaturized nuclear warhead on a long-range missile, however Pyongyang’s development of its technology strengthens the country’s hand in any future negotiations. Justin McCurry and Julian Borger report at the Guardian.

China is “seriously concerned about and opposed to” the latest missile launch, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson said today, adding that it “strongly urges” Pyongyang to abide by U.N. Security Council resolutions and that all parties should “act with caution.” The AP reports.

The U.S. and Canada will convene a meeting of the U.N. Command to discuss a non-military solution to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced yesterday, saying in a statement that diplomatic options with North Korea “remain viable and open, for now.” Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

The U.N. Security Council is due to hold an emergency session following the latest test which contravened international sanctions imposed on North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs. The BBC reports.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said in a phone call yesterday to President Trump that Pyongyang’s missile technology seems to have improved, after the latest launch landed in waters off Japan. Reuters reports.

“This is a further breach of multiple U.N. Security Council Resolutions,” the Secretary General of N.A.T.O., Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement yesterday, condemning Pyongyang’s actions. Reuters reports.

“We’re headed toward a war if things don’t change,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, warned yesterday, saying that “every test” puts North Korea closer to conflict. Cristiano Lima reports at POLITICO.

Trump tried to connect the latest launch to domestic politics in a tweet yesterday however, in general, the president’s response was relatively muted in comparison to previous comments about the Pyongyang regime. Stephen Collinson provides an analysis at CNN.

“The risk of war is greater than the public appreciates,” Adam B. Ellick and Jonah M. Kessel warn at the New York Times, writing about the crisis following their recent trip to North Korea.

China should send troops to North Korea to reassure the country about resisting an attack and threats to overthrow the Pyongyang regime, a deployment that would mirror the position of U.S. troops in South Korea, and creating a constructive and symmetrical stance that would reduce the likelihood of war. Alton Frye writes at Foreign Policy.


The Syrian government yesterday agreed to a Russia proposed ceasefire in the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area near the capital of Damascus, following two weeks of intense bombardment that has led to dozens of civilian deaths. The BBC reports.

The report of the Eastern Ghouta ceasefire deal came as opposition delegates gathered in Geneva for U.N.-backed talks on the Syrian peace process, representatives of the Syrian government are expected to arrive in Geneva today. Al Jazeera reports.

Turkey said that it would consider expanding its military operations in Syria to Western Aleppo and Afrin provinces, in a statement by Turkey’s National Security Council yesterday, this would potentially bring its forces into confrontation with U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters. Reuters reports.

Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (P.Y.D.) forces attacked a Turkish border post in Afrin province in Syria yesterday, according to private broadcaster C.N.N. Turk. The Syrian Kurdish Y.P.G. militia are affiliated to the P.Y.D. and Turkey views the groups as offshoots of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.), which is designated as a terrorist group in Turkey, the U.S. and the E.U., Reuters reports.

The previous rounds of U.N.-backed talks have been consistently disrupted, allowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to score key military victories and, in each instance, Russia has provided cover for Assad, an example of how Russia has been dominating in its calculations while the U.S. has been absent – if there are any breakthroughs in Geneva this week they would pave the way for Assad’s success as a result of “immense Russian cynicism dressed up as realpolitik.” Nic Robertson writes at CNN.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 11 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between November 24 and November 26. [Central Command]


“There is no hollowing out,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said yesterday in response to criticisms about his reorganization of the State Department, saying that “we’re keeping the organization fully staffed” and adding that the reports of the restructuring made it sound “like the sky was falling,” which was offensive to employees at the department. Carol Morello reports at the Washington Post.

Tillerson’s defense of the restructuring came after increasingly vocal complaints from Republican and Democratic lawmakers, the secretary of state saying that many of the reports about the loss of diplomatic personnel are “just false.” Nahal Toosi reports at POLITICO.

Russia has been using “malicious tactics” against the U.S. and European allies, Tillerson said yesterday, saying that Russia’s actions “are not the behaviors of a responsible nation” and said any “reset” of relations would be out of reach while the situation in the Ukraine remains unaddressed. Carol Morello reports at the Washington Post.

“President Trump is actively considering when and how to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Vice President Mike Pence said yesterday at an event commemorating the U.N. vote leading to the creation of the state of Israel, the move was promised by Trump throughout the 2016 campaign however a relocation would represent a break with longstanding U.S. policy. Jordan Fabian reports at the Hill.

Trump’s foreign policy is conducted with a view to a domestic audience based on “celebrity populism,” however this approach does not serve the nation’s interests, eschews the principles of postwar presidents of both parties, most Americans do not agree with the approach, and patriotic Republican and Democratic leaders “must challenge Mr. Trump’s foreign-policy destruction.” The former World Bank president, U.S. trade representative and deputy secretary of state Robert B. Zoellick writes at the Wall Street Journal.


Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn promoted a controversial nuclear-power proposal in the Middle East within the White House, according to interviews with current and former government officials, individuals from the private-sector and documents describing the plan. Christopher S. Stewart and Rob Barry report at the Wall Street Journal.

Flynn’s advocacy for the proposal shortly after Trump’s inauguration was being pushed by a company that Flynn said he had advised during the 2016 campaign and transition, creating a potential conflict of interest. Greg Jaffe, Carol D. Leonnig, Michael Kranish and Tom Hamburger report at the Washington Post.

It appears that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Flynn includes his activities as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (D.I.A.) during the Obama administration, he was ousted from the D.I.A. in 2014. Thomas Frank and Jason Leopold report at BuzzFeed News.

The Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab yesterday pleaded guilty to violating U.S. sanctions on Iran, his testimony may have implications for Flynn due to Flynn’s dealings with the Turkish government and an alleged agreement with Turkey to kidnap the exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen, who is accused of being the mastermind behind last year’s failed coup in Ankara. Katie Zavadski observes at The Daily Beast.


Ahmed Abu Khatalla, the Libyan man who was accused of being the mastermind behind the assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi in 2012, was found guilty of terrorism charges but was not found guilty of murder, Spencer S. Hsu and Ann E. Marimow report at the Washington Post.

The reports of apparent “slave auctions” in Libya have shone a spotlight on the country, highlighting the instability in the country since the collapse of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, Ishaan Tharoor provides an analysis at the Washington Post.


Saudi Arabia paints Iran as enemy because it wants to “cover up their defeats” in Qatar, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said yesterday, making the comments after the Saudi Crown Prince called Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “the new Hitler of the Middle East.” Reuters reports.

The Saudi minister for Gulf affairs Thamer al-Sabhan has been a key figure in the campaign to counter Iran, it is believed that he was behind the unexpected resignation of the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Nov. 4 – which Hariri claimed was because of the destructive influence of Iran and its Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah ally – and the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s hawkish approach towards Iran is “largely embodied and amplified in al-Sabhan.” Bassem Mroue and Aya Batrawy explain at the AP.

The Trump administration is pushing a false pretext about Iran’s connections to al-Qaeda in a similar way to the Bush administration’s lie about Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s links to Osama bin Laden, and Trump “is beating the drum for war in the Middle East.” Mehdi Hasan writes at the New York Times.


The Trump administration’s new Afghanistan strategy increases the risks to U.S. troops as they are deployed to accompany Afghan army forces in an advisory role, the commander of the U.S. and N.A.T.O. forces in Afghanistan Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr. said yesterday. Missy Ryan reports at the Washington Post.

The man accused of carrying out last month’s attack in New York has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and terrorism, Sayfullo Saipov entered his plea deal yesterday, the BBC reports

The Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi called on his military to “secure and stabilize Sinai within the next three months,” in a speech today, adding that the forces “can use all brute force necessary” to combat the Islamist insurgency. Reuters reports.

Any attempts by the U.S. to impose further U.N. sanctions against South Sudan would likely be vetoed by Russia, the U.S. threatened to take further action yesterday however Russia said such a move would be “counterproductive.” Michelle Nichols reports at Reuters.

Saudi Arabia has been preparing to release Yemenis who were formerly detained in Guantánamo Bay, a move likely to be met by consternation by Trump, Molly O’Toole explains at Foreign Policy.

China has been “quiet but relentless” in its pursuit of becoming a global superpower, and its project has been aided by Trump’s “America First” strategy, David Ignatius writes at the Washington Post. 

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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