The Early Edition: January 2, 2018

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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.

NORTH KOREA

“A nuclear button is always on the desk of my office,” the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in his New Year’s address yesterday, stating that the country should accelerate its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles programs. Andrew Jeong reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“These weapons will be used only if our security is threatened,” Kim also said, stating that the U.S. should be aware that the whole of U.S. territory is within range of a North Korean nuclear strike and adding that the latest round of U.N. sanctions imposed against the country amounted to an “act of war.” Simon Denyer reports at the Washington Post.

Kim suggested in his address that Pyongyang would be open to dialogue with South Korea and that it would consider sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea next month. Justin McCurry reports at the Guardian.

The South Korean President Moon Jae-in welcomed Kim’s suggestion of engaging in dialogue, Kim’s comments have enthused Moon who has long advocated for closer relations with North Korea. Steve George and Taehoon Lee report at CNN.

South Korea has offered to hold talks with North Korean officials on Jan.9, the South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said today that the discussions would cover North Korea’s possible participation in the Winter Olympics as well as improving overall ties. Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.

Kim’s calls for reduced tensions seems to be aimed at blunting international pressure and may be a strategy to drive a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea by playing to South Korea’s eagerness to avoid any disruption of the Winter Olympics. Josh Smith and David Brunnstrom explain at Reuters.

South Korea’s hit squad lacks proper resources to successfully eliminate Kim Jong-Un should a war break out, according to military analysts. Bryan Harris and Kang Buseong report at the Financial Times.

Trump administration officials should abandon the language of a full-blown crisis when talking about North Korea, recent statements by officials, such as national security adviser H.R. McMaster, do not reflect the reality of the situation – that North Korea has nuclear capability – and they should instead focus on dialing down the rhetoric. Eugene Robinson writes at the Washington Post.

IRAN

Protests in Iran continued yesterday despite warnings from the Iranian government that there would be a crackdown in response to the demonstrations, which have been motivated by political and economic frustrations and are the largest in the country since the 2009 Green Movement protests. Thomas Erdbrink reports at the New York Times.

President Trump expressed his support for the protestors in a post on Twitter yesterday, saying that it was “time for change” in Iran. According to U.S. officials, the Trump administration has been considering imposing new sanctions on Iran, including targeted sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.), Aresu Eqbali, Asa Fitch and Michael R. Gordon report at the Wall Street Journal.

“Our great nation has witnessed a number of similar incidents in the past and has comfortably dealt with them. This is nothing,” the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said yesterday, separately, in a pre-recorded message at the weekend, Rouhani urged calm and said that Iranians had the right to protest legally, also adding that Trump’s words of sympathy for the protestors were not welcome as he had labeled the Iranian people “terrorists” and has been “constantly creating problems” for Iran. Eliza Mackintosh and Alanna Orjoux report at CNN.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei today accused enemies of Iran of meddling in recent protest rallies, adding that he would explain more in the near future, the AP reports.

It is estimated that 21 people have died as a consequence of clashes between protestors and security forces according to the semi-official Ilna news agency, 450 people have been arrested in the capital of Tehran. Saeed Kamali Dehghan and agencies report at the Guardian.

Protestors attacked police stations last night, according to news agency and social media reports, Bozorgmehr Sharafedin reports at Reuters.

Street protests have been “curbed” and would soon end, the Deputy Interior Minister Hossein Zolfaghari said today, stating that the police and security forces “practised tolerance as long as state and private properties and military bases were not attacked.” Najmeh Bozorgmehr reports at the Financial Times.

The protests began with a focus on economic grievances and spread across the country with the aid of social-media apps like Telegram and WhatsApp, some of the protestors’ chants have called on the Supreme Leader to relinquish power. Farnaz Fassihi explains the origins of the protests and its demands at the Wall Street Journal.

“I wish the Iranian people success in their noble quest for freedom,” the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday, also dismissing suggestions that Israel and U.S. were behind the unrest as “laughable.” Reuters reports.

The German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel yesterday called on the Iranian government to respect the protestor’s freedom of assembly and expression, and urged all sides to “refrain from taking any violent action.” Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

The British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson yesterday called on Iranian authorities to permit “meaningful debate” about the issues being raised by the protestors, Reuters reports.

The protestors have been mobilized by economic concerns, but generally lack leadership and clear objectives, unlike the initial coherent goals of the 2009 protests. Trita Parsi writes about the different nature of the current protests at CNN.

President Trump was right to express support for the demonstrators and European leaders should be more vocal in support of the protests, the West should hold Rouhani to his words that the protestors have a right to protest and should look at ways to facilitate communication between Iranians in the face of restrictions of the Internet. The Washington Post editorial board writes.

Americans across partisan divides should come together to support the Iranian people to be “free from their brutal and corrupt rulers,” an end to the regime would not only be welcome for Iranians, but also for U.S. interests and those in the region who have felt the consequences of Iran’s expansionism. Mark Dubowitz and Daniel B. Shapiro write at POLITICO Magazine.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Right-wing Israeli lawmakers have been taking measures that may undermine hopes of a two-state solution, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party has called for the annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Israel’s top legal officers have urged the extension of Israeli law into occupied territory, and today the Israeli Parliament voted to create obstacles to any deal that would divide Jerusalem. David M. Halbfinger reports at the New York Times.

The bill making it difficult to divide Jerusalem would “destroy” hopes for a two-state solution, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (P.L.O.) executive committee Saeb Erekat said, adding that U.S. was to blame for the Israeli Parliament’s vote because it had been emboldened by Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Al Jazeera reports.

Vice President Mike Pence still intends to visit Israel this month, Pence’s office said yesterday, the vice president had been scheduled to visit last month but postponed the trip, citing the Senate vote on the tax bill, however the delay also came shortly after Trump’s controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The AP reports.

The Palestinian envoy to the U.S. Husam Zomlot has said today that he would return to Washington after consulting with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas about Trump’s Jerusalem decision, the BBC reports.

PAKISTAN

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit,” President Trump tweeted yesterday, criticizing Pakistan for providing a “safe haven” for terrorists that the U.S. targets in Afghanistan. The president’s comments came after a recent report in the New York Times that the administration has been considering withholding $255m in aid to Pakistan, Daniella Diaz reports at CNN.

Pakistan’s Defense Minister Khurram Dastgir-Khan denounced Trump’s comments, saying in a post on Twitter that that the U.S. has given Pakistan nothing but “invective & mistrust” and the Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif said that Pakistan has already been doing all it could to combat terrorism and that it has already told the U.S. that it would “not do more.” Shaiq Hussain and Annie Gowen report at the Washington Post.

Pakistan’s foreign office has summoned the U.S. ambassador in response to Trump’s tweets, the Pakistani Prime Minister is expected to chair a cabinet meeting today to discuss the tweet, and civilian and military chiefs are scheduled to meet tomorrow to discuss deteriorating Pakistan-U.S. relations. Reuters reports.

SYRIA

The Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reshuffled his government yesterday, according to the Syrian state media, including the appointment of a new defense minister who was previously chief of staff in the army, Reuters reports.

The announcement of a reshuffle came as heavy clashes broke out between Syrian government forces and insurgents near the capital of Damascus and in the northwestern Idlib province, Bassem Mroue reports at the AP.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have offered differing accounts of the progress of the Russia investigations, with Republicans expressing confidence that the probes are nearing an end, and Democrats expressing concern about being denied the ability to call key witnesses and obtain documents. Byron Tau explains at the Wall Street Journal.

Australian officials have expressed annoyance and frustration that U.S. officials leaked that Australian diplomat Alexander Downer was a source of information in the F.B.I. investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, which was reported by the New York Times at the weekend. Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

At least 23 people were killed yesterday in the Yemeni port city of Hodeida by suspected Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, Ahmed El-Haj reports at the AP.

The U.S., U.K. and Norway have called on the parties to the conflict in South Sudan to stop violating the ceasefire deal agreed last month, Reuters reports.

The Trump administration took its eye off China’s activities in the South China Sea in 2017, however they may have to pay attention this year as China expands its influence and continues civilian and military building projects. Emily Rauhala observes at the Washington Post.

The U.N. General Assembly has agreed to budget and spending reforms following U.S. lobbying efforts, and credit must be given to the Trump administration, the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes. 

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