The Early Edition: December 20, 2017

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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 U.N. General Assembly is scheduled to hold an emergency special session tomorrow on Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the session will include a vote on a draft resolution calling on Trump to withdraw his declaration – a vote that would not be binding, but would carry political weight. Michelle Nichols reports at Reuters.

The draft resolution calls on the General Assembly to declare the U.S. move “null and void” and comes after Monday’s U.N. Security Council 14-1 vote on a similar draft resolution. Peter Beaumont reports at the Guardian.

The U.S. will be “taking names” of the countries that support the draft resolution, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. warned in a letter sent to Member States yesterday, adding that the president and the U.S. would “take this vote personally.” Noa Landau reports at Haaretz.

The decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy there does “not prejudge final status negotiations in any way,” Haley’s letter to Member States also said, noting that the specific boundaries of “Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem” are yet to be decided and that Trump supports “the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites.” Colum Lynch reports at Foreign Policy.

The Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is in the Saudi capital of Riyadh to meet with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss the Jerusalem decision and the latest developments in the city. Al Jazeera reports in rolling coverage.

The killing of a Palestinian wheelchair-bound amputee protestors by Israeli security forces was a “truly shocking and wanton act,” the U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein said yesterday, calling for Israel to open an independent and impartial investigation into the incident that occurred on Dec. 15, amid increased tensions due to Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The U.N. News Centre reports.

The Israeli military denied that it targeted the protestor and said that its own investigation was unable to conclude what had killed him, adding that protestors threw explosive devices and rocks and rolled burning tires at Israeli security forces. Reuters reports.

Trump and the British Prime Minister Theresa May spoke about their different positions on Jerusalem in a phone call yesterday amid tensions between the two leaders, neither the White House nor Downing Street mentioned a presidential visit to London in their accounts of the conversation. Julian Borger and Peter Walker report at the Guardian.

NORTH KOREA

The “WannaCry” cyberattack carried out by North Korea “was meant to cause havoc and destruction,” Trump’s homeland security adviser Thomas P. Bossert said in a press conference yesterday, publicly acknowledging that Pyongyang was behind the attack in May that affected more than 230,000 computers across the world. Ellen Nakashiman and Philip Rucker report at the Washington Post.

Canada and the U.S. are scheduled to co-host a meeting on the North Korean crisis in January, the Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland announced yesterday during a joint news conference with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.

The U.S. gave China a draft resolution for new U.N. sanctions on North Korea last week, according to a Western diplomat. An anonymous U.S. official said that efforts were underway to negotiate a new U.N. resolution, but that an agreement had not been reached yet, Michelle Nichols and Steve Holland report at Reuters.

“I’m not aware of any plans to halt our long-standing and scheduled and regular military exercises with our partners in South Korea,” Tillerson said yesterday following comments by the South Korean President Moon Jae-in to NBC News that proposed postponing joint military drills until after the 2018 Winter Olympics. Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.

“The President had made very clear that on North Korea … now is not the time to talk,” Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster said yesterday, reiterating the White House position after recent comments by Tillerson appeared to contradict previous policy on engaging in negotiations. Daniella Diaz and Dan Merica report at CNN.

U.S. allies and other countries have been slow to implement sanctions against North Korea and the U.S. must take an aggressive approach to Chinese sanctions violators if it wants to force North Korea to the negotiating table. The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

The visit by Jeffrey Feltman, the U.N. undersecretary-general for political affairs to North Korea, was the first by a high-level U.N. official in six years, Feltman made three request of Pyongyang officials during his meetings, however the North Korean response to his requests demonstrate that it seeks to bargain from a position of power and the world should be concerned about the possibility of sleepwalking into a confrontation. David Ignatius provides an analysis of Feltman’s trip at the Washington Post.

YEMEN

Saudi Arabia intercepted a ballistic missile launched toward its capital by the Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels, a spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition said in a statement yesterday, adding that the missile was heading toward “populated residential areas” and a Houthi spokesperson said that the missile was aimed at a royal palace in Riyadh. Kareem Fahim reports at the Washington Post.

The Houthi rebels said that they have opened a new chapter in their confrontation with Saudi Arabia following yesterday’s missile attack, Reuters reports.

The Houthi missile “bears all the hallmarks of previous attacks using Iranian-provided weapons,” the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said yesterday, warning that Iran would “bring the world deeper into a broadening regional conflict” if its crimes were not exposed. The BBC reports.

The U.S. condemned the Houthis for the attack, the spokesperson for the State Department, Heather Nauert, called on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps “to stop arming and enabling the Houthis’ violent actions” and reiterated the need to allow humanitarian aid to reach the Yemeni people. Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.

The main Yemeni port of Hodeida will remain open for a month, despite the Houthi attack, the Saudi-led coalition said today, saying that the decision was made to allow for humanitarian aid to reach the Yemeni people. Reuters reports.

Trump’s nominee for the top legal adviser at the State Department acknowledged that Saudi Arabia’s blocking of humanitarian aid to Yemen may constitute a violation of U.S. and international law in a written answer to questions raised by a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Todd Young (R-Ind.), last month. Dan De Luce reports at Foreign Policy.

TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY

China and Russia criticized Trump’s new national security strategy (N.S.S.), which was unveiled on Monday and called both countries “rivals,” with China saying that it revealed “Cold War thinking” and Russia saying that it had an “imperialist character.” Andrew E. Kramer reports at the New York Times.

The N.S.S. offered a harsher but more realistic view of U.S.-China relations than that of the Obama administration, it acknowledged China’s rise and its bullying behavior, however Trump’s challenge “will be to convince Asian friends and allies he is serious about upholding U.S. primacy in the region” and the dispute in the South China Sea could lead to another Cold-War style brinkmanship. Andrew Browne writes at the Wall Street Journal.

The N.S.S. offered glimmers of hope, is a move in the right direction by acknowledging the threat posed by China and Russia, and may help to correct the “foreign policy damage of the recent past.” David Von Drehle writes at the Washington Post.

The N.S.S. omitted key points, such as the threat of climate change and the need to uphold human rights and promote democracy, it reversed the notion put forward by the Obama and Bush administration that free trade deals serve the U.S. national interest, and the strategy revealed a dissonance between Trump’s words on Russia and China and his actions. The Washington Post editorial board writes.

At its core, the N.S.S. was “hardly a radical departure from American tradition,” and the critics have reacted with hyperbole. The most striking element of the speech was the linking of economic prosperity with the furthering of U.S. interests and national security – a focus that is welcome. Zachary Karabell writes at POLITICO Magazine.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The F.B.I. Deputy Director Andrew McCabe appeared before the House Intelligence Committee yesterday amid the committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, concerns among some Republicans about anti-Trump bias within the F.B.I. and speculation over McCabe’s possible departure. Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) have called on the Justice Department to make senior F.B.I. officials available for testimony before Congress, the two lawmakers are seeking information on the F.B.I.’s handling of the investigation into the Russia investigation and their investigation into former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of classified information. Kyle Cheney reports at POLITICO.

The House Intelligence Committee interviewed the former State Department official David Kramer yesterday, Kramer met with the former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele who compiled the controversial dossier that alleged ties between Trump and Russia. Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

A group of Democratic lawmakers have called on speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to arrange a briefing to Congress by the Department of Homeland Security and F.B.I. on Russian efforts to target state voter systems ahead of the 2016 election, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

SYRIA

The U.N. will propose a timeline for elections in Syria and guidance on constitutional reforms, the U.N. special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura told the Security Council yesterday, expressing hope that the propositions would spur “fresh thinking in all quarters.” Michelle Nichols and Tom Miles report at Reuters.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 19 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between December 15 and December 17. [Central Command]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley called for the Security Council to take action to address Iran’s “dangerous violations” of U.N. resolutions and its “destabilizing behavior,” saying yesterday that the council could strengthen the resolution that endorsed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, adopt a new resolution prohibiting all Iranian ballistic missile activity, explore sanctions in response to violations of the Yemen arms embargo, and hold Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps accountable for violating council resolutions. Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador said that abandoning “the language of threats and sanctions” was needed to implement the resolution on the nuclear deal, Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

An analysis has revealed that between 9,000 and 11,000 civilians were killed in the battle to free the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State group, the AP reports.

The House is set to hold a vote on a bill renewing the National Security Agency’s (N.S.A.) warrantless surveillance program, which was modified by the House Intelligence Committee and does not include many new privacy controls but tries to strike a compromise between the F.B.I.’s desires and the protections sought by privacy advocates. Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

Saudi Arabia has permanently closed its only land border with Qatar, according to a letter issued by Saudi Arabia’s customs directorate yesterday, the move coming in the eighth month of the diplomatic crisis that started when Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain isolated Qatar due to its alleged ties to terrorism and its close ties to Iran. Al Jazeera reports. 

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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