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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.
Trump is expected to announce today his decision to continue to waive sanctions on Iran as part of the 2015 nuclear deal, according to people familiar with the matter, Trump reached the decision after discussions with his national security team yesterday, meaning that the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (J.C.P.O.A.) would be kept in place for now. Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Trump is also expected to announce a deadline for Congress and European allies to improve the deal or it would lead U.S. withdrawing from the agreement and, according to sources, Trump has approved targeted sanctions against several Iranian government officials for corruption and human rights abuses. Mark Landler reports at the New York Times.
The Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told reporters yesterday that he expects there will be more sanctions against Iran, these sanctions are likely related to targeted measures against Iranian individuals and entities rather than the major sanctions that were lifted as part of the nuclear agreement. The BBC reports.
European diplomats yesterday called on Trump not to rip up the deal, the officials – including the British, German, French foreign ministers and the E.U. foreign affairs chief – met in Brussels with the Iranian foreign minister ahead of today’s deadline for Trump to decide whether to re-impose sanctions on Iran. Angela Dewan reports at CNN.
“Unity is essential to preserve a deal that is working, that is making the world safer, that is preventing a nuclear arms race in the region,” the E.U. foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said yesterday after talks with European officials. Brian Murphy reports at the Washington Post.
Trump’s unpredictability could lead to him taking the U.S. closer to noncompliance with the nuclear deal, the collapse of the J.C.P.O.A. would create a crisis in U.S.-Europe relations as Europe strongly favors the agreement. Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.
Iran “must stop its destabilizing activity in the region,” the French President Emmanuel Macron said in a phone call with Trump yesterday, according to the White House. Reuters reports.
Keeping the nuclear deal would be in the economic interests of the Iranian protestors and, for the parties who negotiated the J.C.P.O.A., there are concerns that failing to renew the waivers would risk destroying the deal. The former British ambassador to the U.S., Peter Westmacott, writes at POLITICO Magazine.
The importance of the nuclear deal has been reinforced by the recent protests in Iran, the unrest was motivated by economic grievances and has shone a spotlight on the people’s dissatisfaction with Iran’s foreign policy, a U.S. decision to withdraw could offer Tehran “the oxygen it needs to distract from popular demands.” Ishaan Tharoor writes at the Washington Post.
The differing reactions of Sunni Muslim states to the recent unrest in Iran demonstrate reveal that the notion of a “Sunni bloc” to counter Iran’s influence in the Middle East is “fanciful at best.” Yaroslav Trofimov writes at the Wall Street Journal.
“I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un,” President Trump said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal yesterday, making the comments despite trading insults with the North Korean leader and the escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula, Trump also suggested that he was open to diplomacy with North Korea. Michael C. Bender, Louise Radnofsky, Peter Nicholas and Rebecca Ballhaus report at the Wall Street Journal.
Trump refused to comment on whether he had directly spoken to Kim during the interview, a senior administration official also declined to comment on the matter when asked. Dan Merica reports at CNN.
Kim Jong-un “is an absolutely competent and already mature politician,” the Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday, adding that Kim has been “calming” the tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The AP reports.
China’s customs agency said today that its trade with North Korea fell by 50 percent in December, the AP Reports.
FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE SURVEILLANCE ACT
The House yesterday voted 256-164 to extend section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (F.I.S.A.) and voted down an amendment that required stronger privacy protections for Americans. The law – which authorizes the National Security Agency’s (N.S.A.) warrantless surveillance program – is set to expire in January and a vote on the legislation will now go to the Senate, Byron Tau reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The bill approved by the House contains a requirement for a warrant if an F.B.I. agent wants to gain access to emails about a subject of an open criminal investigation and there is no national security aspect, however this provision is narrowly written and does not constitute much of a constraint on the surveillance program. The Senate seems unlikely to favor any major changes to the legislation and the bill is likely to pass, Charlie Savage, Eileen Sullivan and Nicholas Fandos report at the New York Times.
Within the space of two hours, Trump tweeted in favor of the F.I.S.A. extension and then tweeted that he was no longer in favor, the White House supported the bill and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan had to explain the differences between domestic and foreign surveillance in a phone call to the president after Trump mistakenly stated that F.I.S.A. had been used to warrant spying on his presidential campaign. Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey report at the Washington Post.
The vote extending section 702 constitutes a victory for “sensible antiterror policy,” the surveillance of foreigners who are abroad is crucial to foiling attacks on U.S. soil and there has been no evidence that officials have abused the surveillance program. The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.
TRUMP IMMIGRATION COMMENTS
Why should the U.S. accept immigrants from “shithole countries” like Haiti and African nations? President Trump remarked yesterday, according to people with knowledge of the conversation he had with members of Congress, which concerned a deal to give legal status to immigrants illegally brought to the U.S. as children (known as D.A.C.A.). Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Thomas Kaplan report at the New York Times.
A White House statement did not deny that the president made the remarks which have drawn widespread condemnation. The White House spokesperson Raj Shah said that “certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump always fights for the American people,” Lauren Gambino reports at the Guardian.
Trump claimed that he used “tough” language in a message posted on Twitter, but denied that he used the language reported. The BBC reports.
“The African Union Commission is frankly alarmed at statements by the president of the United States when referring to migrants of African countries and others in such contemptuous terms,” a spokesperson for the commission’s chair said today, the U.N. Human Rights spokesperson called the remarks “racist,” and in El Salvador and Haiti the comments were greeted with dismay. Paul Schemm and Eli Rosenberg report at the Washington Post.
Haiti has formally requested that a U.S. official explain his comments, according to the Haitian ambassador to the U.S., Josh Delk reporting at the Hill.
Republican efforts to block Democrats’ access to witnesses and documents as part of the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation were set out by the top Democrat on the panel Adam B. Schiff (Calif.) yesterday, who contended that Republicans were also unwilling to press the members of Trump’s campaign team who met with Russians at the Trump Tower in June 2016. Karoun Demirjian reports at the Washington Post.
The former member of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, F.B.I. agent Peter Strzok, committed “treason” when he discussed an “insurance policy” against Trump in a text message, the president said in an interview yesterday. According to sources close to Strzok, the agent’s reference to an “insurance policy” was in relation to the F.B.I.’s need to investigate the allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, Rebecca Ballhaus reports at the Wall Street Journal.
“The accusations of alleged meddling leveled against our country are absolutely unfounded,” the Kremlin spokesperson said yesterday in response to a report by U.S. Senate Democrats which detailed alleged Russian efforts to undermine Western democracies. Vladimir Isachenkov and Angela Charlton report at the AP.
The House Intelligence Committee is set to interview the former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon next week in a closed-door session, according to a source familiar with the matter, and the interview will focus on Bannon’s role in the Trump campaign rather than his time at the White House. Karen Freifeld and Patricia Zengerle report at Reuters.
Bannon has hired lawyers ahead of his appearance before the House Intelligence Committee, Betsy Woodruff, Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng report at The Daily Beast.
Trump’s demand earlier this week that Republicans “finally take control” of the Russia investigation should “send shivers down our spines,” the Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said yesterday, stating that “Republican lawmakers ought to shout down that kind of appeal.” Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.
It would be “valuable” for the president’s daughter and senior aide Ivanka Trump to testify before the House Intelligence Committee, Schiff said yesterday, Kyle Cheney reports at POLITICO.
The Syrian rebels yesterday launched a counteroffensive against pro-Syrian government forces advancing on the Idlib province, which is the largest territory held by the rebels, a statement by Free Syrian Army (F.S.A.) rebels said that they had set up a joint operations room and the al-Qaeda-linked Tahrir al-Sham alliance said that they had already made gains. Reuters reports.
The Turkish President Tayyip Reçep Erdogan yesterday called on the Russian President Vladimir Putin to halt Syrian attacks on the Idlib province if he wants peace negotiations to be successful, according to Turkish government sources. Reuters reports.
The State Department official David Satterfield suggested that U.S. troops would focus on Iran’s activities in Syria once the Islamic State group has been defeated, making the comments during an interview with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, to which the ranking member of the panel Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) responded that such a role had not been authorized by Congress. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 58 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between December 29, 2017 and January 4, 2018. [Central Command]
TRUMP LONDON VISIT
Trump said that he has canceled a planned trip to the U.K. next month to open the new U.S. embassy in London, saying in a Twitter post that President Obama’s decision to move the embassy from its previous location in London was a “bad deal” and he did not want to “cut ribbon.” Louise Radnofsky, Felicia Schwartz and Jenny Gross report at the Wall Street Journal.
Trump’s announcement demonstrates the increasingly strained ties in the normally close U.S.-U.K. relationship, his comments over the last year about terrorist attacks in London, criticisms of the London Mayor Sadiq Khan, and his decision to share a message from a far-right anti-Islam British group elicited widespread condemnation in Britain. Austin Ramzy reports at the New York Times.
“We cannot accept interference from anyone in Lebanese politics,” the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said in an interview yesterday, calling on Iran and Saudi Arabia to have a relationship with Lebanon to be “one that serves the national interests of Lebanon,” and also saying that he was open to Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah group playing a part in government – a position that appears to be at odds with the approach taken by Saudi Arabia. Yaroslav Trofimov reports at the Wall Street Journal.
A U.N. report on Yemen’s civil war has detailed the extent to which Iran and Saudi Arabia have intervened in the conflict, the report – which has not yet been published – describes “strong indications” of Iran supplying arms to Yemen’s Houthi rebels and strongly criticizes airstrikes conducted by the Saudi-led coalition. Kareem Fahim reports at the Washington Post.
The war in Yemen has been perpetuated by the Saudi-Iran rivalry, Nasser al-Shakkaf and Andrew England explain at the Financial Times.
Pakistan has stopped sharing intelligence with U.S. from its sources on the ground near the border with Afghanistan, according to Pakistani officials, the decision has come shortly after the Trump administration decided to suspend around $2bn of military assistance to Pakistan. Farhan Bokhari, Katrina Manson and Kiran Stacey report at the Financial Times.
The Pentagon plans to bulk up military presence in Afghanistan by reallocating drones, military vehicles and other equipment, according to U.S. and military officials. Nancy A. Youssef and Gordon Lubold report at the Wall Street Journal.
The WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange has been granted Ecuadorean citizenship, Ecuador announced yesterday, a move that has further strained the relations with the U.K., and the British Foreign Office said in a statement that Assange must leave Ecuador’s embassy in London to “face justice.” Maggy Ayala and Steven Erlanger report at the New York Times.
“Those comments were not the position of the State Department, and you will never hear those words from this podium,” the State Department Undersecretary Steve Goldstein told reporters yesterday in relation to baseless claims made a few years ago by the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands that there were no-go zones in the Netherlands due to the “Islamic movement.” Eli Rosenberg reports at the Washington Post.
Russia and the U.S. have been holding discussions about the 2010 U.S-Russia New S.T.A.R.T. nuclear arms reduction treaty, the Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday. The AP reports.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is establishing a team focusing on drug-trafficking carried out by the Iran-backed Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah group, a Justice Department statement said that the team would “begin by assessing the evidence in existing investigations.” Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.
Clashes between Palestinian protestors and Israeli troops have led to the deaths of two Palestinian teenagers, the BBC reports.
Turkey today warned its citizens about traveling to the U.S., stating that there were risks of “terrorist” attacks and arbitrary arrests of Turkish citizens. Al Jazeera reports.
Trump’s comments during the presidential campaign that Guantánamo Bay should be loaded up “with some bad dudes” has prompted a group of lawyers to present a new legal petition on behalf of 11 detainees. Alex Daugherty reports at the Miami Herald.
The U.S. congratulated Libya for “destroying the last remnants of its Qadhafi-era chemical weapons stockpile,” the White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement, also calling on Syria to fully dismantle its chemical weapons program. Reuters reports.