The Early Edition: March 8, 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 White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster is scheduled to meet with his South Korean counterpart Chung Eui-yong this week to discuss the North Korean offer to engage in negotiations on denuclearization and to refrain from nuclear and ballistic missile tests while talks take place. Felicia Schwartz, Michael R. Gordon and Andrew Jeong report at the Wall Street Journal.

“The most urgent issue is to make sure the United States and North Korea will engage in talks,” Chung said today ahead of his flight to Washington with the South Korean National Intelligence Service chief Suh Hoon, who were both part of the South Korean delegation that met with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un this week. Ben Westcott reports at CNN.

“[There are] many critical moments that we still have to go through before reaching the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and a permanent peace,” the South Korean President Moon Jae-in said today when cautiously welcoming Pyongyang’s outreach. Separately, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterated that his country would not change its approach, saying “we should not ease our stance, for instance relax sanctions, just because North Korea agreed to have a dialogue.” Hyung-Jin Kim reports at the AP.

“We are cheering them on,” the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Geng Shuang, told reporters today in response to the two Koreas’ agreement to hold a leaders’ summit on deescalating tensions on the Peninsula, adding that China hopes both sides acknowledge their respective “legitimate security concerns” and calling on the U.S. and North Korea to “engage in dialogue sooner rather than later.” The BBC reports.

U.S. officials and experts have expressed concern that North Korea would seeks to drag out talks with Washington in order to further develop its nuclear arsenal, explaining that though Pyongyang may halt testing during discussions, there are other elements that it can work on while diplomatic efforts take place. Matt Spetalnick, David Brunnstrom and Phil Stewart report at Reuters.

The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un demonstrated a knack for diplomacy when hosting the delegation of South Korean officials this week. Choe Sang-Hun writes at the New York Times, providing an overview of his outreach to South Korea since January this year.


Pro-Syrian government forces have been building up in Deir al-Zour, near where U.S. troops are present, according to three U.S. officials, with one official saying that they have been in communication with the Russian military about the increased presence and the Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway explaining that the U.S. military does not seek confrontation with pro-regime forces but the coalition “will not hesitate to protect themselves when they are threatened.” Ryan Browne reports at CNN.  

The Kurdish-dominated U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) have turned their focus away from fighting the Islamic State group to countering the Turkish offensive against the Syrian Kurdish Y.P.G. militia in the northern area of Afrin, raising the possibility of a resurgence of the terrorist group, which would undermine U.S. aims. A Pentagon official noted that the “coalition will still achieve our goals, but this is a complex situation,” Nancy A. Youssef reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Pro-Syrian government forces control more than half of the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta near the capital Damascus, according to the head of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (S.O.H.R.).  Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s gains have come in spite of U.N. Security Council resolution 2401 which was passed Feb. 24 and called for a nation-wide 30-day ceasefire, the BBC reports.

A pro-Syrian government commander confirmed today that Eastern Ghouta is poised to be split into two, this would put the Syrian government within close reach of capturing the entirety of the territory, however a spokesperson for one of the rebel groups in the enclave has denied the reports. Reuters reports.

At least 87 civilians were killed in Eastern Ghouta yesterday, according to S.O.H.R., adding that around 60 people have experienced breathing difficulties which are consistent with a toxic attack. Agencies in Damascus report.

A planned delivery of aid to Eastern Ghouta today has been “postponed” due to the ongoing pro-Syrian government offensive, the International Committee of the Red Cross (I.C.R.C.) has said. Yesterday, the U.N. Security Council made further calls to implement the Feb. 24 resolution and the U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said that the government offensive was creating an “apocalypse,” Al Jazeera reports.

The Syrian government has opened a second humanitarian corridor out of Eastern Ghouta, Syrian state media said today, according to S.O.H.R., 898 civilians have been killed by pro-Syrian government forces over the past 18 days. Reuters reports.

The French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian again called on Russia and Iran to use their influence to ensure that the Syrian government implement Security Council Resolution 2401 and reiterated that France would respond if it is proven that the regime has used chemical weapons on its people. 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]


Special counsel Robert Mueller has gathered evidence that a meeting in the Seychelles in January 2017 was an attempt to set up a back channel between the incoming Trump administration and Russia, according to people familiar with the matter, the meeting was attended by the Trump informal adviser and founder of the private security firm Blackwater, Erik Prince and a Kremlin-linked Russian investor, Kirill Dmitriev. During his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee in November, Prince told lawmakers that the Seychelles meeting was unplanned, unimportant and he did not attend as an official or unofficial representative of the Trump transition team, Sari Horwitz and Devlin Barrett report at the Washington Post.

Prince may have misled the House Intelligence Committee during his testimony, Democrats have said, pointing out that he neglected to mention that the Lebanese-American businessman George Nader was present at the Seychelles meeting. Manu Raju and Marshall Cohen report at CNN.

President Trump asked key witnesses about their discussions with Mueller’s investigators, one conversation was with the White House counsel Don McGahn and concerned a January New York Times report that said the president ordered McGahn to fire Mueller, the other was a conversation with the former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus during which he asked whether the investigators had been “nice.” Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman report at the New York Times.

The outgoing White House communications director Hope Hicks revealed that one of her email accounts was hacked during her testimony before the House Intelligence Committee last week, according to sources who were present as she gave her testimony as part of the panel’s Russia investigation. Jonathan Allen, Mike Memoli and Ken Dilanian report at NBC News.

An analysis of what Mueller’s team is believed to be investigating is provided by Philip Bump at the Washington Post, noting that his investigation is clearly wider than looking at possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.


The discovery of a microphone in the special client meeting room was the reason that three civilian lawyers quit the U.S.S. Cole bombing case at the Guantánamo war court, according to a 15-page prosecution filing. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

At least 20 members of the Pakistani Taliban (T.T.P.) were killed today by a U.S. drone strike in the northeastern Afghan province of Kunar, according to a Taliban statement. The son of the T.T.P. chief and a prominent commander were among those killed, Asad Hashim reports at Al Jazeera.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were both in Ethiopia yesterday but did not meet, both countries accused each other of failing to arrange a meeting and their barbed comments over the issue reflect the high tensions in U.S.-Russia relations. Josh Lederman reports at the AP.

The British police announced that a nerve agent was used to attack the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in the English city of Salisbury on Sunday, the two victims remain critical ill and the British Home Secretary Amber Rudd has declined to speculate who might be responsible. Euan McKirdy and Laura Smith-Spark report at CNN.

China remains committed to non-interference but the rise of China’s global diplomatic stature is inevitable, the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said, seeking to assuage concerns about China’s increasing clout. Gerry Shih and Christopher Bodeen report at the AP.

The Trump administration is considering Tibor Nagy to be the next assistant secretary of state for African affairs, according to current and former U.S. officials, with former officials saying the appointment would send a positive message about the State Department under Trump. Robbie Gramer reports at Foreign Policy.

The U.S.’s new embassy in Jerusalem will lie partly in a contested zone between Jordan and Israel, the diplomatic compound, which lies partly in the area known as “No Man’s Land,” will serve as the embassy until a permanent site is found. Isabel Kershner explains at the New York Times.

Islamic State militants and their families have been detained in Iraq and Syria, in Iraq legal proceedings have begun against the detainees and the International Committee of the Red Cross (I.C.R.C.) has urged all sides to treat them with respect to international law. Raya Jalabi explains at Reuters.

The president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner met with the Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto yesterday after meetings between the Mexican president and Trump have been canceled twice, the situation reflects the deteriorating U.S.-Mexican relations and represents a shift in U.S. diplomacy and foreign policy. Azam Ahmed and Nicholas Casey observe at the New York Times.

The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has embarked on a diplomatic offensive through a series of meetings this week, part of his tour was intended to send a message to his rivals, which he has described as a “triangle of evil” in the Middle East – Iran, Islamist extremist groups and Turkey. Ishaan Tharoor provides an analysis 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