The Early Edition: December 13, 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

The U.S. is ready to talk with North Korea “without preconditions,” but only after a “period of quiet,” Tillerson said yesterday at the Atlantic Council, noting that it would be unrealistic to call for talks with North Korea based on them coming to the table ready to give up their program – comments that seemingly demonstrate a shift in U.S. policy toward North Korea. Nicole Gaouette and Joshua Berlinger report at CNN.

“The President’s views on North Korea have not changed,” the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement responding to Tillerson’s comments. Josh Delk reports at the Hill.

Trump has been pushing for China to rein in North Korea and “cut the oil off,” Tillerson said yesterday, Demetri Sevastopulo and Katrina Manson reporting at the Financial Times.

Tillerson also ruled out a containment strategy for North Korea, saying that Pyongyang would use its nuclear weapons as a deterrent and for commercial activity, and that the U.S. had already seen elements of nuclear technology sales in the marketplace. Paul Sonne reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The U.N. undersecretary for political affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, emphasized the “urgent need to prevent miscalculation and reduce the risk of conflict” in comments yesterday following his recent trip to North Korea to meet with top officials, saying that he had told the North Koreans that “they need to signal that they’re willing now to go in a different direction.” Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

Feltman said he believed he left “the door ajar” for future talks when he met with officials in Pyongyang, adding that though North Korea did not make any kind of commitment to talks, he “fervently” hopes that the “door to a negotiated solution will now be opened wide.” Michelle Nichols reports at Reuters.

North Korea’s scientists and workers would continue manufacturing “more latest weapons and equipment,” the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said yesterday, according to the state K.C.N.A. news agency, Reuters reporting.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

The Palestinian people will not accept a role for the U.S. in the peace Middle East peace process “from now on,” the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas said today, calling Trump’s recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital a “crime.” Zeynep Bilginsoy and Sarah El Deeb report at the AP.

“I invite all other countries supporting international law to recognize Jerusalem as the occupied capital of Palestine,” the Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan said in remarks opening the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (O.I.C.) summit in Turkey, Ali Kucukgocmen reports at Reuters.

“The U.S. has never been an honest mediator and never will be,” the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a message on Twitter today, Rouhani also attended the O.I.C. meeting, Reuters reports.

“It seems some countries are very timid of the United States,” the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said ahead of the summit, accusing some Arab countries of issuing “very weak responses” to Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Tuvan Gumrukcu and Parisa Hafezi report at Reuters.

Israeli forces carried out airstrikes in Gaza this morning and struck a compound belonging to the Palestinian Hamas militant group in Gaza in response to rocket fire toward southern Israel, according to the Israeli military. The AP reports.

Erdoğan has been aggressive in his response to Trump’s decision and has threatened to cut diplomatic ties with Israel, Al Jazeera provides an overview of the Turkish president’s recent remarks on Israel and Palestine.

The relatively muted response in Palestine and the region to the change in U.S. policy reflects weariness, skepticism about the sincerity of those who have called for an uprising, or intifada, and the key issue now is what impact the announcement would have on the peace process and America’s ability to act as a broker. Rachel Elbaum observes at NBC News.

Jordan has been deeply critical of Trump’s announcement despite, according to Jordanian politicians and analysts, pressure from Saudi Arabia, U.A.E. and other Arab states to accept the change in U.S. policy, however Jordan may pay the price diplomatically and economically for an apparent rift in relations with Saudi Arabia. Ali Younes provides an analysis at Al Jazeera.

Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem was good for peace because it recognizes that the conventional approach to understanding the conflict has produced decades of diplomatic failure. The change in U.S. policy reinforces useful messages that “Israel is here to stay;” that Jews have a connection to the land and are not “foreigners or crusaders;” that U.S. and Israel have a strong relationship; and that the U.S. has a key role to play in Arab-Israeli diplomacy. Douglas J. Feith writes at Foreign Policy.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Top F.B.I. agent Peter Strzok and F.B.I. lawyer Lisa Page exchanged texts calling Trump an “idiot” and a “menace,” Strzok was part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team investigating the Russian interference in the 2016 election but was removed from his post in the summer, and a Justice Department watchdog has launched an inquiry into the texts. Brent Kendall and Aruna Viswanatha report at the Wall Street Journal.

The F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray declined to discuss the texts during testimony last week citing the ongoing investigation, but said that he would “hold people accountable after there has been an appropriate investigation.” Michael S. Schmidt, Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman report at the New York Times.

Strzok and Page played an important role in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, Devlin Barrett reports at the Washington Post.

The House Intelligence Committee interviewed Trump’s former campaign adviser Sam Clovis yesterday in a closed session, two Democratic lawmakers confirmed, Clovis has been under scrutiny after reports that he had encouraged a campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, to arrange a meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russian officials. Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

Mueller yesterday completed interviews with current and former White House witnesses which were part of his initial request, according to the White House lawyer Ty Cobb, the specific witnesses have not been named and it is unclear whether Mueller will seek follow-up interviews. Darren Samuelsohn reports at POLITICO.

Russia “interfered” in the U.S.’s democratic processes, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a closed-door meeting with U.S. diplomats yesterday, taking a different line to the president who has decried the Russia investigations as “fake news.” Spencer Ackerman reveals at The Daily Beast.

The office of the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (Calif.) has denied that he or his staff leaked “non-public information” about Donald Trump Jr.’s testimony last week, defending the decision to inform the public of a witness’ noncooperation. Kyle Cheney reports at POLITICO.

IRAQ

There must be an effort to remove the “grassroots” of the Islamic State group in the region, the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told reporters yesterday, warning that the extremist group has an “unfortunately ability to recruit young people very quickly.” The AP reports.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have expressed concerns about consolidating the victory against the Islamic State group in Iraq, noting that reconstruction and stability are urgently needed to prevent the terrorists from making a comeback. Michael R. Gordon reports at the Wall Street Journal.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 18 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between December 4 and December 7. [Central Command]

IRAN

A Congressional deadline for re-imposing sanctions on Iran will be allowed to pass without action this week, congressional and White House aides said yesterday, meaning the decision would revert back to Trump, who must take a decision in mid-January whether continue to waive sanctions on Iran as part of the 2015 nuclear agreement. Patricia Zengerle reports at Reuters.

“I’m semi-hopeful we may be successful,” the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said yesterday, referring to a possible agreement between Congress and the White House on legislation relating to the Iran nuclear deal. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

YEMEN

At least 15 people have been killed and more than 30 wounded in suspected Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, according to Yemeni Houthi rebel officials. Ahmed Al-Haj reports at the AP.

Russia has suspended its diplomatic presence in Yemen due to the situation in Sana’a, Russia’s R.I.A. news agency reported yesterday, saying that some diplomatic staff would temporarily be working from the Saudi capital of Riyadh. Al Jazeera reports.

A public display of the U.S.’s evidence that Iran is providing missiles to the Houthi rebels in Yemen is set to be unveiled by the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley at the Defense Intelligence Agency headquarters, according to officials. Courtney Kube, Carol E. Lee and Robert Windrem report at NBC News.

SYRIA

Russian and Syrian forces carried out bombing in southern Aleppo province and in the Damascus countryside yesterday, killing civilians in both locations, according to activists and a correspondent. Al Jazeera reports.

U.S. officials have challenged Russian President Vladimir Putin’s characterization of the war in Syria, saying that his declaration of victory against the Islamic State group was premature and a White House National Security spokesperson expressed skepticism about the ability of Syria to achieve peace and stability once the remaining Islamic State militants have been defeated. Phil Stewart reports at Reuters.

The Syrian opposition delegation has called for direct talks with representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the U.N.-backed Geneva talks, Al Jazeera reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Trump signed a nearly $700bn annual defense policy bill yesterday, the president said the signing of the bill accelerates the process of “fully restoring America’s military might.” Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

Federal charges have been brought against Akayed Ullah, who has been accused of the attempted suicide bombing in central New York on Monday. Joseph Ax and Brendan Pierson report at Reuters.

A U.S. airstrike targeted an al-Shabaab vehicle laden with explosives in Somalia yesterday, the U.S. Africa Command said in a statement, Ellen Mitchell reporting at the Hill.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson engaged in an outreach effort yesterday to try and dampen criticism of his reorganization of the State Department and his management style, seeking to change the narrative about him amid rumors that he is soon to leave his position. Carol Morello reports at the Washington Post.

The future of five Guantánamo Bay prisoners cleared by the U.S. to leave the base are in doubt as the Trump administration has not released any prisoners and not added any to the list of cleared to go home. Ben Fox reports at the AP.

The International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda called on the U.N. Security Council to prioritize action on the “outstanding warrants of arrest issued by the Court,” noting that the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has recently travelled to countries and was not arrested. The U.N. News Centre reports.

The lack of progress toward parliamentary elections in Afghanistan has raised fears that the government would collapse despite Western officials’ efforts to support President Ashraf Ghani, the continuing instability could undermine the security situation and the ability to combat the Taliban and the Islamic State group. Mujib Mashal explains at the New York Times.

The isolation of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain “does not undermine America’s core interests in the Middle East” and military cooperation, the U.S. should let the Gulf countries battle politically over extremist ideologies. Jonathan Schanzer writes at the Wall Street Journal. 

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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