The Early Edition: January 3, 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.


“I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” President Trump tweeted last night, responding to Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s address where Kim claimed that he had a “nuclear button” on his desk. In response to the possibility of inter-Korean dialogue, and Kim’s comments stating that he was open to sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics, Trump tweeted “perhaps that is good news, perhaps not – we will see!” Philip Rucker reports at the Washington Post.

North Korea reopened a communication line with South Korea to discuss issues including participation in the Winter Olympics next month, North Korean state television announced today, which was later confirmed by the South Korean Unification Ministry, adding that officials from the North and South held a call at the Panmunjom truce village. Andrew Jeong reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Today’s contact between the two Koreas marked the first use of the communications line since February 2016, North Korea stopped answering calls following a dispute over a joint business park that once employed workers from both countries. Taehoon Lee and Hilary Whiteman report at CNN.

South Korea yesterday proposed high-level talks with North Korea to be held next week, the Trump administration has responded with mixed messages to the possibility of talks, however the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reiterated that the U.S. policy on North Korea “hasn’t changed at all” and the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley cast doubt on the potential of inter-Korean dialogue to deliver concrete results.  Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.

China welcomed the recent developments on the Korean Peninsula, a Chinese government spokesperson called on all relevant parties to “seize this positive turns of events” and said that China would play a “constructive and positive role” in achieving a peaceful settlement. Simon Denyer reports at the Washington Post.

“If the two countries decide that they want to have talks, that would certainly be their choice,” the State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said yesterday, stating that if Kim’s goal is to drive a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea, it would not work. Reuters reports.

North Korea appears to be preparing for another intercontinental ballistic missile (I.C.B.M.) test, if it takes place, it will likely happen later this week or next week. CBS News reports.

Haley said yesterday that she hopes that North Korea does not carry out an I.C.B.M. test, but if it does, “we must bring even tougher measures to bear against the North Korean regime.” Reuters reports.

Trump’s cavalier and childish tweets are likely to further isolate the U.S. and draw the ire of world powers, such as Russia and China, the president’s comments have the potential to further confuse policy and increase the possibility of miscalculation. Stephen Collinson provides an analysis at CNN.


“We must not be silent. The people of Iran are crying out for freedom,” the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said yesterday, calling on the U.N. Security Council and the U.N. Human Rights Council to hold emergency sessions on the protests across Iran that have continued for a sixth day. Jordan Fabian and Rebecca Kheel report at the Hill.

At least 20 people have been killed in clashes between protestors and the security forces since the protests began, yesterday the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused “enemies” of Iran of being behind the tensions. Al Jazeera reports.

Haley dismissed Khamenei’s accusation that Iran’s “enemies” were behind the unrest, saying that the Supreme Leader’s comments yesterday – likely referring to his belief that the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia have played a role in the protests – were “ridiculous.” The BBC reports.

The protestors have directed their anger at the entire political establishment, including President Hassan Rouhani and the Supreme Leader, the protests have been largely been driven by working class, young Iranians, rather than the urban middle class who were at the forefront of the demonstrations that took place in 2009, and the current unrest reflects the frustrations with corruption and unemployment. Thomas Erdbrink observes at the New York Times.

The protestors have criticized the regime for its foreign adventures and use of proxy forces in the region, rather than focusing on improving the Iranian economy. Iran has been involved in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) – which is answerable to the Supreme Leader – has been instrumental in supporting Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Asa Fitch explains at the Wall Street Journal.

The protestors have been using the Telegram social media app to communicate and organize demonstrations, however Iranians have stepped up their use of circumvention tools to continue using online platforms. Sam Schechner and Stu Woo report at the Wall Street Journal.

Telegram has been blocked and internet access has been restricted, demonstrating the importance of technology in cracking down on demonstrations, the C.E.O. of Telegram, Pavel Durov, wrote that it was unclear whether the block on his company’s app would be temporary or permanent. Sheera Frenkel reports at the New York Times.

The Trump administration accused the Iranian government of restricting and blocking internet access and communications, a State Department official yesterday urged technology and social media companies “to make sure the free flow of information is not interrupted.” Carol Morello and Anne Gearan report at the Washington Post.

Iranian state television showed tens of thousands of citizens rallying in support of the government today, Nasser Karimi and Jon Gambrell report at the AP.

The French President Emmanuel Macron has called for Iran to express restraint in dealing with protestors during a call with Rouhani yesterday, according to a statement by Macron’s office, Reuters reports.

Trump’s Iran strategy has ultimately “squandered opportunity to bolster reformists in Tehran and prospects for peaceful political reform,” the former C.I.A. Director John Brennan tweeted yesterday, accusing Trump of diminishing the prospects through his “wholescale condemnation of Iran and nuclear deal.” Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.

Trump must decide by mid-January whether to continue waiving U.S. sanctions on Iran in accordance with the 2015 nuclear deal, the current unrest in Iran complicates the matter as the re-imposing of sanctions may give Tehran the space to argue that the U.S. is the ultimate cause of Iran’s economic problems. Warren Strobel and Arshad Mohammed report at Reuters.

There has been no concerted allied diplomacy aimed at keeping the Iran nuclear deal and the unrest in Iran offers Trump the opportunity to kill the deal. Spencer Ackerman reports at The Daily Beast.

Rouhani has the most to lose from the current unrest, according to analysts, although the authority of the clerical establishment may suffer as a consequence of the protests, the President is tied to economic policy and the undermining of his power may allow Khamenei to increase his grip on the country. Reuters explains.

The protests in Iran shatter the illusions that the Obama administration held about the country, the nuclear deal has not moderated the regime’s behavior, has not curbed Iran’s expansionism in the region, and the protests demonstrate that the policies of the Supreme Leader and the Iranian President are one and the same. President Trump understands the situation better than Obama and he has been right to put the U.S. on the side of the Iranian people, the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

Trump was right to say that the world is watching the protests in Iran, the U.S. should give the Iranian people a “digital lifeline, so humanity can witness their brave struggle and encourage them to prevail.” David Ignatius writes at the Washington Post.


President Trump suggested stopping aid payments to Palestine in a message posted on Twitter yesterday, stating that the U.S. has taken Jerusalem, “the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table” but the Palestinians are “no longer willing to talk peace.” Jeremy Diamond reports at CNN.

“Jerusalem is not for sale, neither for gold nor silver,” the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s office said today in response to Trump’s tweet, separately, a senior Palestinian official called the president’s tweets “blackmail.” Ilan Ben Zion reports at the AP.

The U.S. will host a reception for countries who chose not to oppose the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at the U.N. today, Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.

A bill approve by the Israeli Parliament yesterday offers some hope to advocates for Palestinian rights and a two-state solution, the bill created new obstacles to a land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians, however a provision that would have allowed the municipal map of Jerusalem to be redrawn without a parliamentary vote was scrapped. David M. Halbfinger reports at the New York Times.


Pakistan’s leaders yesterday expressed “deep disappointment” at Trump’s recent remarks attacking Pakistan for giving a safe haven to terrorists and threatening to stop aid payments. Shaiq Hussain and Annie Gowen report at the Washington Post.

“[Pakistan] can do more to stop terrorism and we want them to do that,” the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters yesterday, separately the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said that Pakistan has been playing a “double game for years” and that Washington would withhold $255m in assistance to Pakistan. Steve Holland and Drazen Jorgic report at Reuters.


The Islamic State group has returned to guerilla tactics in Syria and Iraq as it has lost much of its territory in the two countries, the U.S.-led coalition has presented the change in warfare as a reflection of the terrorist group’s dwindling influence. Raja Abdulrahim and Isabel Coles report at the Wall Street Journal.

The Syrian army has been preparing an operation to break the rebel siege of an army base near the capital of Damascus, the Syrian government forces are set to carry out the assault with the help of Russian jets and the besieged army base had been used by the Syrian government since 2013 to carry out attacks on the rebel-held Damascus enclave of Eastern Ghouta. Suleiman Al-Khalidi reports at Reuters.

Air strikes on Eastern Ghouta have increased in recent days, at least 40 people have been killed, Al Jazeera reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 46 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between December 22 and December 28. [Central Command]


The opposition research firm Fusion G.P.S. have accused the president and conservative news outlets of spinning conspiracy theories about their commissioning of a dossier compiled by former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele, saying that the firm has given testimony to the three congressional committees investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia and that they have handed over their relevant bank records. The founders of Fusion G.P.S., Glenn R. Simpson and Peter Fritsch, write at the New York Times.

Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) has said that Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are considering publishing a minority report into the ways in which the Republicans have undermine the Russia investigation. Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.


 “Combat engagement” in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province led to the death of one U.S. service member and the wounding of four others, the U.S. military said in a statement yesterday, Reuters reports.

Republican lawmakers said that they have uncovered irregularities in the F.B.I.’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, congressional investigators have obtained a written witness statement from an employee of a computer firm that helped maintain Clinton’s personal server after she left office as secretary of state. John Solomon reports at the Hill.

A U.S. airstrike killed two al-Shabaab militants in Somalia, the U.S. military said today, Reuters reports.

Several hundred National Security Agency (N.S.A.) employees have left to take more lucrative opportunities in the private sector and due to disillusionment about the reorganization of the agency, the departures have concern about a potential impact on national security. Ellen Nakashima and Aaron Gregg report at the Washington Post. 

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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