The Early Edition: December 6, 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.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

President Trump plans to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, marking a seismic change in U.S. policy and amid warnings from Middle East leaders, who have highlighted the potential for violence and the threat the decision could pose to Israel-Palestine peace efforts. Mark Landler and David M. Halbfinger report at the New York Times.

Trump’s speech announcing the policy change will be delivered at midday today, the president informed his counterparts in the Middle East of his decision yesterday and, according to an adviser to the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, Abbas told Trump that he would not “accept” the policy change and warned him that he was “playing into the hands of extremism.” David Nakamura, Loveday Morris and Anne Gearan report at the Washington Post.

A timetable for the U.S. Embassy relocation is not expected to be set out in the speech and the president is expected to sign a waiver delaying the move, however Trump informed the Palestinian and Jordanian leaders yesterday of his plans to relocate the mission, which has been met with calls for protests by the rival Palestinian factions – Abbas’s Fatah party and the Islamist Hamas group. Sam Fleming, Erika Solomon and Ilan Ben Zion report at the Financial Times.

The embassy relocation will be delayed to address logistical and security challenges, administration officials said yesterday, adding that the delay would allow them to identify and construct a new facility in Jerusalem. Trump is also expected to say that the specific boundaries of Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations, Felicia Schwartz, Dion Nissenbaum and Rory Jones report at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump administration officials described the forthcoming policy decision as a “recognition of reality” that Jerusalem has long been the seat of the Israeli government, with one senior administration official saying that it “seems clear now that the physical location of the American embassy is not material to a peace deal” as the location of the mission has not changed the dynamics of the peace negotiations over the past two decades.  Jeremy Diamond and Nicole Gaouette report at CNN.

“Such a dangerous step is likely to inflame the passions of Muslims and the world due to the great status of Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa Mosque,” the Saudi Press Agency quoted the Saudi King Salman as telling to Trump during a phone call yesterday, Trump also spoke the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Netanyahu who avoided directly mentioning the change in U.S. policy during a speech in Jerusalem, Julian Borger and Peter Beaumont report at the Guardian.

The recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would be the “kiss of death to the two state solution” and a declaration of war in the Middle East, the Palestinian Authority’s diplomatic representative to the U.K., Manuel Hassassian, said today, Reuters reports.

The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem warned U.S. government employees and family members from traveling in Jerusalem’s Old City and the West Bank, and advised U.S. citizens to consider their own safety when traveling. Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.

No country currently has an embassy in Jerusalem and leaders across the world have expressed concern about the Trump administration’s plan. Al Jazeera provides a breakdown of the various reactions.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called on the U.S. to bring forward its proposals on the Middle East peace process “as a matter of priority” in light of the U.S. policy announcement, Johnson made the comments yesterday alongside the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and said that the U.K. would have to “wait and see” what Trump says in his speech today. The AP reports.

The repercussions of Trump’s announcement, and what to look for in the speech, are examined by Adam Taylor at the Washington Post, noting that a decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital but not to move the embassy would have subtly different implications than a decision to relocate the embassy and recognize Jerusalem.

The recognition of Jerusalem is a sensitive issue steeped in historical and religious divisions, the policy change may have potentially serious ramifications for the region, and Trump’s decision has reportedly surprised Arab leaders amid a changing dynamic in the Middle East – with some arguing that the announcement would undermine the developing relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel in their rivalry against Iran. Ishaan Tharoor provides an analysis at the Washington Post.

Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without advancing peace talks raises tensions rather than improving chances of making a deal between Israel and Palestine, and the move demonstrates how Trump has been pandering to his base at the expense of diplomacy and peace. The New York Times editorial board writes.

The U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem at this point would “unnecessarily put lives at risk,” incite violence from the Hamas terrorist group, and draw the ire of Sunni Arab states at the time when Israel needs their cooperation to counter Iran. Eliora Katz offers the Zionist case against the decision at the Wall Street Journal.

Recognizing Jerusalem as the capital would be a “catastrophe,” creating “enormous and new insoluble problems without addressing the real issues that beset the city,” Nicholas Blincoe writes at the Guardian.

Jerusalem is “unmistakably Israel’s capital” and U.S. recognition of this fact would be a “great American moment,” even if it results in violence. Shmuel Rosner writes at the New York Times.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Special counsel Robert Mueller issued a subpoena to Deutsche Bank requesting documents and data about people and entities affiliated with Donald Trump, according to an individual briefed on the matter, however Ty Cobb, the White House chief lawyer handling the Russia investigation, said that the reports about the subpoena were “false.” Jenny Strasburg reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“No subpoena has been issued or received. We have confirmed this with the bank and other sources,” Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow said yesterday, a spokesperson for Mueller declined to comment on the matter. Arno Schuetze and Karen Freifeld report at Reuters.

Donald Trump Jr. is scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee today in a closed-door session, he will be questioned on financial relationships with Russia and his meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June 2016 at Trump Tower. Katie Bo Williams and Olivia Beavers report at the Hill.

Trump Jr. asked Veselnitskaya whether she had evidence of illegal donations to the Clinton Foundation at their June meeting, Veselnitskaya said in a statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee, she also contended that she did not work for the Russian government and was not carrying messages from government officials. Ken Dilanian and Natasha Lebedeva report at NBC News.

The British publicist Rob Goldstone who arranged the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting will testify before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, perhaps as earlier as next week, according to sources familiar with the matter. Jeremy Herb and Manu Raju report at CNN.

The confirmation of K.T. McFarland as the U.S. ambassador to Singapore has been “frozen” following questions about her knowledge of Trump campaign aide Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in late December 2016, McFarland submitted written responses in July to questions posed by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) about the transition period and Russian contacts and denied knowledge of Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak. Byron Tau reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Justice Department prosecutor and key member of Mueller’s team, Andrew Weissmann, said he was “so proud and in awe” of former acting Attorney General Sally Yates on the day she was fired by Trump for refusing to defend the travel ban, providing ammunition to conservatives who contend that Mueller’s investigation has been compromised by partisan prosecutors. Jonathan Easley reports at the Hill.

Democrats have been engaged in efforts to defend Mueller following attacks from Trump allies and the revelation that Weissmann showed apparent anti-Trump sentiments, with lawmakers pushing for two bills seeking to protect Mueller from being fired. Elana Schor and Kyle Cheney report at POLITICO.

The claim that Vice President Mike Pence has been completely unaware of Russia connections has been tested by court filings unsealed last week in relation to former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Elizabeth Landers, Kevin Liptak and Jeff Zeleny explain at CNN.

The anti-Trump bias of top F.B.I. official and Mueller team member Peter Strzok warrants a review but does not undermine the Mueller investigation, Bradley P. Moss writes at POLITICO Magazine.

YEMEN

Yemen’s Houthi rebels have set up checkpoints across the capital of Sana’a and consolidated their control yesterday, having killed the former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Monday, the Houthi gains and Saleh’s death marking a possible turning point in the conflict which has seen Iran backing the Houthis and a Saudi-led military coalition intervening to try and reinstate the internationally-recognized president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Mohammed al-Kibs and Margherita Stancati report at the Wall Street Journal.

The Saudi-led coalition carried out 25 air strikes on Houthi targets overnight as the Houthis tightened their grip on Sana’a, the BBC reports.

Saleh’s son Ahmed Ali Saleh said he would “confront the enemies of the homeland and humanity” in a statement yesterday railing against the Houthis and their Iranian backers, Ahmed Ali’s intervention signaling that he may be the Saleh family’s last chance to win back influence in the conflict. Sami Aboudi and Noah Browning report at Reuters.

Saleh’s nephew and senior military commander Tareq Mohammed Abdullah Saleh was also killed this week, a statement from Saleh’s party said yesterday. Reuters reports.

The Defense Secretary Jim Mattis noted yesterday that the humanitarian situation in Yemen is likely to get worse following the death of Saleh, Idrees Ali reporting at Reuters.

NORTH KOREA

The U.S. military flew a B-1B bomber over South Korea in an apparent show of force as part of U.S.-South Korea largescale joint military exercises that began on Monday, the BBC reports.

China’s foreign ministry called for restraint after the B-1B bomber flew over South Korea, Reuters reporting.

North Korea has not demonstrated its “reentry capability,” “remote targeting, or the miniaturization required to do this,” South Korea’s foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha said today, doubting North Korea’s nuclear capability but acknowledging that they have developed their program at “a pace that’s far faster than many of us have expected.” Mick Krever reports at CNN.

Russia is “ready to deploy” its channels for conducting dialogue with North Korea, the R.I.A. news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov as saying yesterday. Vladimir Soldatkin reporting at Reuters.

South Korea will develop a weaponized drone unit for reconnaissance missions and to monitor North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile sites, a South Korean official confirmed yesterday. Bryan Harris reports at the Financial Times.

The U.S. cannot rely on Chinese President Xi Jinping to help resolve the crisis on the Korean Peninsula, Xi has used the crisis to undermine American credibility by tolerating North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons. Daniel Nidess writes at the Wall Street Journal.

TILLERSON IN EUROPE

The Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Brussels yesterday and received chilly reception from European diplomats, the E.U.’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini welcomed Tillerson in a matter-of-fact tone, warned the Trump administration about the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and reinforced Europe’s support for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Gardiner Harris reports at the New York Times.

Tillerson and Mogherini discussed joint efforts under the Iran nuclear agreement to “hold Iran fully compliant with the terms of that deal and fully enforce that agreement,” Tillerson said in a statement yesterday, making the comments ahead of Congress’s forthcoming decision whether to re-apply sanctions on Iran. Al Jazeera reports.

“While we don’t have any wins on the board yet, I can tell you we’re in a much better position to advance America’s interests around the world than we were 10 months ago,” Tillerson told senior U.S. diplomats and embassy staff in Brussels yesterday, he also sought to reassure European foreign ministers that the U.S. remains committed to transatlantic ties. Robin Emmott reports at Reuters.

Tillerson called on European allies to help with efforts to curb Iran’s expansionism and its missile program, Mogherini said that the E.U. would be willing to work with the U.S. but that it would be dependent on Washington abiding by the provisions of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Laurence Norman and Julian E. Barnes report at the Wall Street Journal.

Tillerson’s encounter in Europe was awkward, demonstrating how Trump has become a destabilizing for E.U. policymakers and amid speculation over the future of Tillerson’s position. David M. Herzenhorn writes at POLITICO.

SYRIA

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a bomb attack that killed eight and injured 16 others in the Syrian city of Homs yesterday, Reuters reporting.

Russian long-range bombers struck Islamic State group target in Syria’s Deir al-Zour province, Russian news agency quoted the defense ministry as saying yesterday, Reuters reporting.

Fewer than 3,000 Islamic State militants remain in Iraq and Syria, the spokesperson for the U.S.-led coalition fighting the terrorist group, Col. Ryan Dillon, said yesterday. Ahmed Aboulenein reports at Reuters.

The major combat against Islamic State group is practically over, however Syria and Iraq are braced for a wave of terrorist violence, which explains the lack of a celebration over the gains against the extremist group. Tamer El-Ghobashy, Mustafa Salim and Louisa Loveluck observe at the Washington Post.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 33 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between December 1 and December 3. [Central Command]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Al-Qaeda’s “No. 2 leader” Omar bin Khatab was killed in a joint U.S.-Afghan operation, along with several other al-Qaeda operatives, the U.S. military command in Afghanistan confirmed yesterday. Sayed Salahuddin and Dan Lamothe report at the Washington Post.

Kirstjen M. Nielsen was confirmed to lead the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.) yesterday, Nielsen was the deputy to John Kelly – now the White House chief of staff – when he led the D.H.S., Nick Miroff reports at the Washington Post.

The meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (G.C.C.) ended abruptly yesterday, raising the possibility that the G.C.C. is “effectively dead,” Al Jazeera explains, also referring to comments calling for the G.C.C. to be restructured.

An Islamist plot to kill the British Prime Minister Theresa May was foiled by MI5 and the British police and the two suspects will appear in court today on charges of terrorism offences.  David Bond reports at the Financial Times. 

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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