The Early Edition: March 6, 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.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un hosted a 10-member delegation of South Korean officials in Pyongyang yesterday, the meeting came amid a thaw in relations that began in January. Anna Fifield reports at the Washington Post.

North Korea signaled a “clear intent to pursue denuclearization” and is willing to hold talks with the U.S., the South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong, who is part of the delegation visiting Pyongyang, said today, adding that Kim said he would be willing to meet the South Korean president Moon Jae-in at the truce village of Panmunjom next month. Jonathan Cheng and Andrew Jeong report at the Wall Street Journal.

It would mark the first time that Kim has indicated a willingness to denuclearize if Chung’s statement is corroborated by North Korea. Chung also said that North Korea “made it clear that while dialogue is continuing, it will not attempt any strategic provocations, such as nuclear and ballistic missile tests.” Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.

Kim said that he wanted to “write a new history of national reunification” with South Korea during his meeting with the South Korean delegation yesterday. Joshua Berlinger and Sophie Jeong reports at CNN.

“We must speak with the North for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” President Moon said today, adding that “at the same time we should focus all our efforts to quickly, effectively create defenses against North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.” Reuters reports.

SYRIA

President Trump has requested military options in response to reports of chemical weapons attacks by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, according to officials, the discussion of potential action comes amid recent reports of symptoms suffered by civilians that suggest the use of chlorine gas, but one official said that the president did not endorse any military action and the Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis did not take part in any such conversations. Karen DeYoung, Missy Ryan, Josh Dawsey and Carol D. Leonnig report at the Washington Post.

Aid convoys yesterday entered the besieged rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta near the capital Damascus, but the ability to deliver aid was disrupted by shelling and Syrian government officials had removed many of the medical supplies. The enclave has been subjected to a two-week intensified campaign by pro-Syrian government forces and the U.N. Security Council passed resolution 2401 on Feb. 24 which called for an immediate 30-day Syria-wide ceasefire, Nick Cumming-Bruce and Nada Homsi report at the New York Times.

At least 70 people were killed in Eastern Ghouta yesterday and at least 30 people appear to have symptoms associated with a chlorine gas attack, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the attacks have continued in spite of the Security Council resolution and the Russia-ordered daily “humanitarian pauses.” The shelling forced the aid convoy to leave before all supplies were unloaded, Al Jazeera reports.

“This one convoy is not enough in order to cover the needs of the nearly 400,000 people on the inside,” the World Food Programme official said yesterday, adding that there are plans for another delivery on Thursday. The U.N. News Centre reports.

“The Russian Reconciliation Center guarantees the immunity of all rebel fighters who take the decision to leave eastern Ghouta with personal weapons and together with their families,” the Russian defense ministry said in a statement yesterday, not offering details on where the rebels would go if they use the safe passage out of the enclave. Pro-Syrian government forces have made significant advances in Eastern Ghouta over the past few days, taking more than a third of the territory, Reuters reports.

Russia, Turkey and Iran will hold a summit next month to discuss the situation in Syria, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said today, a spokesperson for the foreign ministry also said that Cavosuglu will be meeting with U.S. officials this month and is expected to tell Washington that it must take concrete steps to retrieve weapons it has supplied to the Syrian Kurdish Y.P.G. militia. Reuters reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 23 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between February 23 and March 1. [Central Command]

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg publicly defied the special counsel Robert Mueller in a series of bizarre interviews yesterday, he told interviewers that he had been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, that he did not wish to cooperate with Mueller’s subpoena to hand over communications relating to Trump and his associates. Josh Dawsey and Philip Rucker report at the Washington Post.

“Screw that,” the former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg told CNN’s Gloria Borger in response to the subpoena to appear before the grand jury on Friday, adding “I’m not cooperating. Arrest me.” Eli Watkins reports at CNN.

Nunberg was one of several individuals who had received a subpoena from Mueller’s team. During his media interviews last night, Nunberg called the former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page a “weird dude” who had colluded with Moscow, and also said Trump couldn’t have been colluding with the Russians because he was too busy trying to oust his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Rebecca Ballhaus reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Nunberg is a mentee of the Trump adviser Roger Stone, who has been a focus of aspects of the Russia investigation. Nunberg said that Mueller’s team had requested “a ridiculous amount of documents” and that the investigators “may very well have something on the president. But they are unfairly targeting Roger Stone,” Maggie Haberman and Adam Goldman report at the New York Times.

Nunberg talked to the media about his interview with Mueller’s team last month despite requests to avoid discussing it publicly, he revealed that his interview with the investigators gave him the impression that the Mueller has “something” on the president. Darren Samuelsohn reports at the POLITICO.

“I’m going to end up cooperating with them,” Nunberg told the Associated Press, reversing the position he had taken in previous interviews, saying that he would be “happy if the scope changes and if they send me a subpoena that doesn’t include Carter Page.” Jill Colvin and Tom LoBianco report at the AP.

A summary of Nunberg’s comments is provided by Aaron Blake at the Washington Post.

Lewandowski is scheduled to appear before the House Intelligence Committee for a close-door session on Thursday, according to a House official. During his first interview Lewandowski refused to discuss his activities and communications with Trump after he was ousted from the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016, Billy House reports at Bloomberg News.

“I am ready to help with an investigation if they help us get out of here,” the Belarussian self-styled “sex coach” Anastasia Vashukevich, who is detained at an immigration detention center in Thailand, has said, asking the U.S. government to grant her political asylum in exchange for proof of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Vashukevich says that she was the mistress of the Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who previously hired the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Ivan Watson and Kocha Olarn report at CNN.

The Senate Intelligence Committee are seeking more information from Reddit and Tumblr about the use of their platforms by Russian operatives to spread disinformation. Tony Romm reports at the Washington Post.

“I think we are pretty much near the end of it,” the member of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) said yesterday of the panel’s Russia investigation and signaling Republicans’ desire to close the probe, however Democrats have said that Republicans are trying to cut the investigation short in order to protect the president. Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

The consequences of refusing to comply with a grand jury subpoena are serious, Matt Zapotosky explains at the Washington Post, using the example of the former business partner to President Bill Clinton, Susan McDougal, to illustrate his case.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

“I may,” President Trump said in response to a question whether he would attend the opening of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem this year, making the comments yesterday in a joint appearance at the White House with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during which Netanyahu praised Trump’s decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Peter Nicholas and Felicia Schwartz report at the Wall Street Journal.

Guatemala will move its embassy to Jerusalem in mid-May, mirroring the decision and timetable set by the Washington. The AP reports.

“At the U.N. and throughout the U.N. agencies, Israel does get bullied,” the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said yesterday, saying that the U.S. “will not stand for it any longer.” Julia Manchester reports at the Hill.

Any perception that Trump would be neutral in the Israel-Palestine conflict has disappeared, he has shown firm support for Israel and it seems unlikely that he can propose any plan that would be acceptable to the Palestinians. Peter Baker and David M. Halbfinger observe at the New York Times.

AFGHANISTAN

At least two people have been killed by a sticky bomb in the eastern Afghan Nangarhar province today, no group has immediately claimed responsibility. The AP reports.

The Taliban must talk to the Afghan government to negotiate an end to the conflict, not the U.S., the top State Department official Alice Wells said yesterday, noting that President Ashraf Ghani’s proposal last week for a ceasefire and talks was a “comprehensive package” that took the Taliban “by surprise.” The militants have not yet formally responded to Ghani’s proposal, Chris Gordon reports at the Wall Street Journal.   

QATAR

The top Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy has accused Qatari agents of hacking into his emails to plant information in an attempt to discredit him. Broidy owns a company that does lucrative business with the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar and the U.A.E. have been engaged in a dispute which began in October last year. David D. Kirkpatrick reports at the New York Times.

Broidy’s leaked emails demonstrate his apparent efforts to get Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sacked, Broidy maintains that his emails were hacked by Qatar and some of their contents “may have been altered.” Suzanne Kianpour reports at the BBC.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia are critically ill in a hospital in the U.K., British police are seeking information on the “unknown substance” that harmed the individuals. Skripal was granted refuge in the U.K. as part of a “spy swap” in 2010, the BBC reports.

A top Cuban official yesterday denounced the U.S. decision to cut its embassy staff in Havana, the State Department took the decision last week in response to the mysterious health symptoms suffered by at least 24 U.S. citizens at the embassy. The AP reports.

“We are here because Iraq wants us to be here. We are not here without the consent and without an invitation from Iraq,” the N.A.T.O. General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg said yesterday, saying that N.A.T.O. troops will remain in the country, but “should not stay longer than necessary.” Al Jazeera reports.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will embark on a multi-nation tour of Africa today, Julia Manchester reports at the Hill.

A feature on Israel’s 2003 plan to counter Iran’s nuclear ambitions and assassinate Iranian scientists is provided by Ronen Bergman at POLITICO Magazine. 

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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