The Early Edition: December 21, 2017

Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.

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.


President Trump yesterday threatened to cut American aid to countries who vote in favor of a U.N. General Assembly draft resolution condemning the recent U.S. decision to declare Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the General Assembly is set to meet today in an emergency session and the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley warned in a letter to Member States earlier this week that the U.S. would be “taking names” of countries who support the resolution. Felicia Schwartz and Farnaz Fassihi report at the Wall Street Journal.

“Let the vote against us; we’ll save a lot. We don’t care,” Trump also said yesterday, though it is unclear how the president could follow through on the threat as financial assistance goes to U.S. strategic allies and some aid programs are congressionally mandated. Mark Landler reports at the New York Times.

The draft resolution is non-binding and affirms that any change to the status of Jerusalem is “null and void and must be rescinded,” it also demands that “all states comply with Security Council resolutions regarding the holy city of Jerusalem.” The wording bears similarity to Monday’s U.N. Security Council resolution which was vetoed by the U.S., there is no veto power at the General Assembly, Peter Beaumont reports at the Guardian.

“In the words of the President, ‘Let them vote against us, we’ll save a lot.’” Haley said in a message posted on Twitter yesterday supporting the president’s tough rhetoric. Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.

The Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki accused the U.S. of threatening Member States of the General Assembly ahead of the vote, adding that U.S. officials had committed “another mistake” when they distributed the “famous letter” warning that the U.S. would be “taking names.” Al Jazeera reports.

The U.N. is a “house of lies,” the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today, adding that Israel “totally rejects this vote, even before [the resolution’s] approval.” Jeffrey Heller reports at Reuters.

“We expect strong support at the U.N. vote, but we see that the United States, which was left alone, is now resorting to threats,” the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in response to Trump and Haley’s comments, adding that “no honorable, dignified country would bow down to this pressure.” Carol Morello reports at the Washington Post.

The U.S. and Israel have been making a concerted effort to block the resolution, the vote will demonstrate whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has succeeded in forging relations with developing nations and will indicate whether there is support for the U.S.-Israel approach among Israel’s traditional allies. Josef Federman explains at the AP.

Haley’s comments are not about diplomacy, analysts have said that the ambassador has been trying to play to Trump’s base of supporters and her rhetoric could undermine the perception of the U.S. in the eyes of the world. Nicolle Gaouette, Richard Roth and Michelle Kosinski explain at CNN.

Vice President Mike Pence’s postponed trip to the Middle East spells further difficulty ahead, Christian leaders in the region canceled meetings with the Vice President following Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem, Declan Walsh explains at the New York Times.

The opposition Israeli Labor Party has been embracing a rightward shift in a bid to challenge the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Labor leader Avi Gabbay has issued equivocating remarks on the two-state solution with Palestine and settlements in the West Bank, making Gabbay “a sad replica of Mr. Netanyahu himself.” Abe Silberstein and Nathan Hersh write at the New York Times.


Iran denied suppling Yemen’s Houthi rebels with the missile which was fired toward the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Tuesday, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson said that the country had “no arms links with Yemen.” Earlier this week, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley accused Iran of providing the Houthis with weapons and called on the international community to work together to counter Iran’s aggressive behavior in the region. The BBC reports.

U.S. forces have conducted “multiple” ground operations and more than 120 airstrikes in Yemen against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (A.Q.A.P.) and the Islamic State group over the past year, the U.S. Central Command said in a statement yesterday. The extent of U.S. military operations in Yemen was not known prior to this confirmation, Hans Nichols and Mosheh Gains report at NBC News.

Trump was “fired up” when discussing the humanitarian crisis in Yemen with the British Prime Minister Theresa May in a phone call this week, according to a British official, adding that Trump told May that more pressure should be put on the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to prevent civilian suffering. Michelle Kosinski and Ryan Browne report at CNN.

The Houthi attack is the latest escalation in the Saudi-Iran rivalry, the two countries have been locked in a power struggle which has expressed itself in conflicts throughout the region. Amanda Erickson provides a background to the rivalry at the Washington Post.


South Korea has proposed delaying planned joint military exercises with the U.S. until after the 2018 Winter Olympics, the South Korean presidential office said yesterday, remarks that clarified comments made by President Moon Jae-in to NBC News earlier this week. Anna Fifield reports at the Washington Post.

“As we have clearly stated on several occasions, we have nothing to do with cyber attack,” a spokesperson for North Korea’s foreign ministry said today in response to the U.S. accusation that Pyongyang was behind the “WannaCry” ransomware attack. Reuters reports.

South Korean investigators are looking at the possibility of North Korean involvement in the hacking of a bitcoin exchange, according to various sources the heist bears similarity to previous North Korean hacks. Timothy W. Martin, Eun-Young Jeong and Steven Russolillo report at the Wall Street Journal.

A North Korean soldier defected to South Korea today, South Korean soldiers fired warning shots at North Korean guards who were searching for the defecting soldier. Ben Westcott and Jake Kwon report at CNN.

Burkina Faso has suspended trade relations with North Korea in accordance with U.N. Security Council resolutions, the Burkina Faso Foreign Affairs Minister said that the U.S. reminded West African nations earlier this year to abide by the sanctions resolutions. The AP reports.


The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee Mark Warner (Va.) warned Trump yesterday that firing special counsel Robert Mueller could provoke a “constitutional crisis,” Warner denounced the attacks on Mueller and said that the special counsel should be able to conduct his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election without interference or obstruction from the Trump administration. Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

Actions to impeded the investigation should be as “red lines” that Congress “simply cannot allow” to be crossed, Warner also said, his comments leaving the clear implication that such a move could lead to impeachment. Ben Collins and Spencer Ackerman observe at The Daily Beast.

The White House counsel Don McGahn’s research shortly after Trump’s inauguration demonstrate his concerns that the former national security adviser Michael Flynn had potentially violated federal laws, according to sources with knowledge of the confidential government documents which were turned over to Mueller’s team in the fall. Murray Waas reports at Foreign Policy.


At least 19 people were killed in airstrikes in a rebel-held village in the Syrian province of Idlib, activists believe that the strikes were carried out by Russian or Syrian jets. The Syrian government launched an offensive to retake the province last week, despite the fact that Idlib has been designated a “de-escalation zone,” the BBC reports.

A new round of Syria peace talks in Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana started yesterday, the talks have been led by Russia, Turkey and Iran and previous rounds have agreed “de-escalation” zones to support ceasefires in Syria. Al Jazeera reports.

The U.N. special envoy on Syria is scheduled to attend the Astana talks tomorrow, according Russia’s state R.I.A. news agency. Reuters reports.

Russia’s parliament voted today to extend the lease of a naval base in Syria for 49 years, the agreement was submitted by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The AP reports.

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]


The Trump administration has approved an export license for lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine, reversing Obama-era policy banning the sales of arms, the approval comes within the context of Russia’s occupation of eastern Ukraine. Josh Rogin reports at the Washington Post.

U.S. sanctions on five Russians and Chechens are “grotesque,” the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said today, adding that Russia would issue retaliatory measures in response to yesterday’s U.S. Treasury Department action. Reuters reports.

A planned vote renewing a controversial surveillance authority was abandoned by House Republicans yesterday, a short-term extension is expected to be approved in the meantime. Karoun Demirjian reports at the Washington Post.

The Pentagon returned a proposed Southeast Asia war crimes case put forward by Guantánamo prosecutors, according to a military official the case was returned due to a procedural issue. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

Senior Trump administration national security officials have been discussing transferring an American citizen being held in Iraq to Saudi Arabia, the detainee was born in the U.S. to visiting Saudi parents, he surrendered to U.S.-backed Syrian militia in September and is suspected of having fought for the Islamic State group. Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt and Adam Goldman report at the New York Times.

Iranian-backed Iraqi Shi’ite militias are keen to gain political power in parliamentary elections next year, there is concern among Iraqis about Iran further expanding its influence in the country. Isabel Coles and Ali A. Nabhan report at the Wall Street Journal.

The U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has said that he would not seek a second four-year term once his term expires in September, explaining that continuing in the current geopolitical context “might involve bending a knee in supplication.” Somini Sengupta and Nick Cumming-Bruce report at the New York Times.

A letter by four Republican congressmen has called on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to declassify a memorandum of understanding with Qatar on counterterrorism, saying that progress on the memorandum, which was signed in July, could not be “effectively and objectively” measured due to its classification. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

Russia has been filing competing extradition requests following U.S. requests, seemingly engaging in a tactic that disrupts American investigations. Andrew E. Kramer explains at the New York Times.

The Obama administration undermined a criminal investigation into the Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah group to pursuit the Iran deal, the report by Josh Meyer at POLITICO earlier this week offers compelling evidence which warrants a congressional investigation. The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes. 

Filed under:
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