The Early Edition: December 14, 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

The leaders gathered at the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (O.I.C.) declared East Jerusalem to be the capital of Palestine yesterday in response to Trump’s decision last week to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the meeting also considered Trump’s announcement to be a violation of U.N. resolutions and illegal under international law. Carlotta Gall reports at the New York Times.

The U.N. should replace the U.S. as the mediator of Middle East peace talks, the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas said yesterday, signaling a possible refusal to engage with the U.S. following Trump’s announcement. Karin Laub and Zeynep Bilginsoy report at the AP.

The U.S. “can no longer act impartially,” the Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan said at the O.I.C. meeting, Isil Sariyuce and Arwa Damon and Tamara Qiblawi report at CNN.

“All these statements fail to impress us,” the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in response to the O.I.C. communiqué recognizing East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital. Al Jazeera reports.

Trump “remains as committed to peace as ever,” a senior White House official said in response to Abbas’s comments that the Palestinians would no longer accept a U.S. role in the peace process, adding that the Trump administration would unveil its plan for peace “when it is ready and the time is right.” The AP reports.

The Israeli military carried out overnight airstrikes on facilities belonging to the Palestinian Hamas militant group in the Gaza Strip in response to rockets being fired from the territory, the AP reports.

Israel announced the closure of its Gaza border crossing today in response to daily rocket fire over the past week, Reuters reports.

The Islamic State group today threatened attacks on U.S. soil in response to the Trump’s Jerusalem decision, but did not give any details. Reuters reports.

Trump’s announcement has angered Christians in the region and the pope of the Egyptian Coptic Church has called off a scheduled meeting with Vice President Mike Pence when he visits the region next week. Loveday Morris reports at the Washington Post.

A video has emerged of plain clothes Israeli troops infiltrating a Palestinian demonstration in Ramallah near the military checkpoint in the occupied West Bank, the undercover soldiers arrested Palestinians throwing stones yesterday. Peter Beaumont reports at the Guardian.

The Israeli government should be wary of aligning itself too closely with Trump as it has the potential to undermine the bipartisan support for Israel and ultimately undermine the U.S.-Israel relationship. Derek Chollet writes at Foreign Policy.

NORTH KOREA

“Given North Korea’s most recent missile test, clearly right now is not the time” to engage in dialogue, a White House official said yesterday after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the U.S. is ready to talk without preconditions. Zachary Cohen and Brian Todd report at CNN.

The time for dialogue with North Korea “is not now,” the State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said yesterday, emphasizing that the Trump administration’s policy on North Korea has not changed: talks with North Korea must be based on a commitment to denuclearize. The BBC reports.

The Security Council must be united in implementing sanctions on North Korea, the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said today during a visit to Japan, adding that diplomatic engagement must be permitted to achieve a peaceful resolution to the crisis. The AP reports.

Tillerson is scheduled to participate in a Security Council Ministerial Briefing tomorrow and reiterate the Trump administration’s efforts for “maximum pressure” to be exerted on North Korea. Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.

The South Korean President Moon Jae-in landed in Beijing yesterday for an official trip aimed at improving ties with China, which have been strained due to the deployment of the U.S.-made T.H.A.A.D. anti-missile system in South Korea. The threat posed by North Korea and a resolution to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula are set to feature high on the agenda, Christopher Bodeen reports at the AP.

The Russian-North Korean military commission have gathered to discuss a 2015 agreement preventing dangerous military activities, Russia’s embassy to North Korea said today, Reuters reporting.

The U.S. reneged on its pledge to engage in talks with North Korea if it paused all nuclear and missile tests for 60 days and imposed new sanctions instead, North Korean officials have complained, raising skepticism in Pyongyang about the value of diplomatic engagement. Colym Lynch and Dan De Luce explain at Foreign Policy.

The apparent shift in U.S. policy on North Korea in light of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comments on engaging in talks “without preconditions,” is analyzed by Adam Taylor at the Washington Post.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein defended the Justice Department and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election during testimony before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, making the comments following revelations of alleged bias in text messages between top F.B.I. agent Peter Strzok and F.B.I. lawyer Lisa Page. Aruna Viswanatha and Del Quentin Wilber report at the Wall Street Journal.

Republicans on the Committee called for investigations into former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the Justice Department’s handling of the controversial dossier compiled by former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele, and some called for an investigation into Mueller himself, however Rosenstein defended Mueller from the attacks and noted that Strzok was removed from Mueller’s team as soon as the special counsel learned of the text messages. Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein report at POLITICO.

Rosenstein said he would only fire the special counsel if there was good cause and called Mueller “a dedicated, respected and heroic public servant,” Spencer Ackerman reports at The Daily Beast.

Donald Trump Jr. appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday as part of their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Reuters reports.

There are causes of concern regarding Mueller’s investigation, the results till now suggest that his probe is “free of political taint,” but the special counsel must be mindful that the “appearance of fairness is as important as the reality,” therefore he should remove Andrew Weissmann from his team because he does not appear to be objective. Andrew C. McCarthy writes at the Washington Post.

Mueller has undermined his own credibility, his team have been revealed to have been biased, the talk of anti-Trump “insurance policy” among F.B.I. officials suggest potential nefarious activity, and the Justice Department and the F.B.I. have damaged public confidence by refusing to cooperate with Congress. The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

IRAN

Iran may be defying a U.N. resolution calling on it to halt ballistic missile development, the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has said in a report to the Security Council, which said that the U.N. was investigating the possible transfer of ballistic missiles to the Houthi Shi’ite rebels in Yemen. However, the report emphasized that the 2015 Iran nuclear deal remains “the best way” to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains exclusively peaceful in nature. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

The Trump administration has been turning its focus to Iran as its military campaign against the Islamic State group winds down, with some sources saying that the national security adviser H.R. McMaster is considering giving a policy speech on Syria that would outline a new administration strategy and may address the issue of whether U.S. troops in Syria should be used as a bulwark against Iranian expansionism. Dion Nissenbaum reports at the Wall Street Journal.

GUANTÁNAMO BAY

The U.N. special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, claimed that the U.S. has been torturing a detainee at Guantánamo Bay despite banning so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, Melzer made the statement yesterday based on information he has received, however the Pentagon has denied the allegation with a spokesperson saying that “no credible evidence has been found to substantiate his claims.” Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

The president signed a statement this week saying that he was keeping the prison at Guantánamo Bay open, but added that he had authority under the constitution as commander-in-chief to release captives, an action that bears similarity to the authority asserted by President Barack Obama, but the statement differed by explicitly saying that the president fully intends “to keep open that detention facility and to use it for detention operations.”  Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

CHINA

Visits by the U.S. navy vessels to Taiwan would “constitute an interference in China’s internal affairs,” China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said today, after Trump signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act, which lays the groundwork for possible mutual visits. Michael Martina and Jess Macy Yu report at Reuters.

The longer-term concerns of U.S. strategists may turn to the influence exerted by China, while the current focus has been on Russia, China has been developing its soft power, economic interests, possibly interfering in the politics of other countries and using its reach to shape norms and narratives. Ishaan Tharoor writes at the Washington Post.

SYRIA

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s declaration of impending victory in Syria was an over-simplification that does not take into account the vast swaths of territory beyond the control of Putin’s ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Alexander Smith provides an analysis at NBC News.

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]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Islamist al-Shabaab group claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack on a police training camp in Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu today, the explosion killed at least 15 officers, according to officials. Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar report at Reuters.

A U.S. citizen who has been held as an enemy combatant in Iraq also hold Saudi Arabian citizenship, the detainee was captured in mid-September and surrendered to the U.S. military having apparently fought with the Islamic State group in Syria. Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee does not expect to pass a new Authorization on the Use of Military Force (A.U.M.F.) before the end of the year, the chairman of the committee Bob Coker (R-Tenn.) said yesterday, adding that there has, however, been progress on the measure and five principles on the authorization have been circulated. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

The closeness between the Russia-based cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab and Russia’s F.S.B. security service appears to be unusually close according to a court document revealed by suspected cybercriminal from his jail in Moscow. Ellen Nakashima reports at the Washington Post.

The nearly $700bn allocated to the Pentagon in the annual defense policy bill ignores America’s other urgent needs, some of the budget process has been influence by lobbyists who “woo lawmakers to back unneeded or extravagant weapons.” While the military is critical to national security, it should not have a license to “gobble up tax dollars at the expense of other programs,” the New York Times editorial board writes. 

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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