The Early Edition: March 9, 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.

TRUMP TO MEET KIM

President Trump has accepted the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s invitation to meet, the invitation was delivered yesterday to the Trump by the South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong, who had been part of a delegation that visited Pyongyang earlier this week. Jeremy Diamond and Euan McKirdy report at CNN, explaining that it would mark the first time that a sitting U.S. president has sat down with a North Korean leader.

“[Kim] expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible,” Chung told reporters at the White House yesterday after meeting with Trump, adding that Trump agreed to “meet Kim Jong-un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization.” In a message on Twitter, the president welcomed the development but reiterated that there must be “no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time … [and] sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached,” Mark Landler reports at the New York Times.

Kim has committed to stopping nuclear and missile testing, including during the scheduled joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises which will take place in April, Chung also told reporters. Anna Fifield, David Nakamura and Seung Min Kim report at the Washington Post.

“I explained to President Trump that his leadership and his maximum pressure policy, together with international solidarity, brought us to this juncture,” Chung said, Scott Horsley and Elise Hu reporting at NPR.

“We look forward to the denuclearization of North Korea,” the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement after Chung’s announcement, adding that “in the meantime, all sanctions and maximum pressure must remain.” Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

“At this point we are not even talking about negotiations,” an anonymous senior U.S. official said, reiterating that the U.S.’s aim is complete denuclearization and that the Trump administration had decided that “it made sense to accept an invite to meet with the one person who can actually make decisions.” Ali Vitali reports at NBC News.

“If President Trump and Chairman Kim meet following an inter-Korean summit, complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula will be put on the right track in earnest,” the South Korean President Moon Jae-in said when welcoming the development. China has also praised the breakthrough and called for “political courage,” The BBC reports.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe confirmed with Trump that maximum pressure must continue on North Korea, Abe said today, adding that he hoped to visit the U.S. soon to discuss the situation and other issues – perhaps as early as April. Reuters reports.

“President Trump has said for some time that he was open to talks and he would willingly meet with Kim conditions were right. And I think in the president’s judgment that time has arrived now,” the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said today, explaining that the U.S. had taken the decision after it was surprised at how “forward-learning” Kim had been when talking to the visiting South Korean delegation. Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.

A location for meeting has not yet been determined, progress between Trump and Kim could offer a path for negotiations to be carried out by aides, however if either, or both, sides are found to be intransigent, it could further raise tensions on the Peninsula. Michael R. Gordon, Louise Radnofsky and Jonathan Cheng observe at the Wall Street Journal.

“We ask that you respond to Congress in a timely manner regarding the administration’s strategy to engage the D.P.R.K.,” six Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committee wrote in a letter to the president yesterday, using the formal acronym for North Korea and warning that “when it comes to the North Korean regime, we must verify before we trust.” Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

TRUMP TO MEET KIM: REACTION AND ANALYSIS

“There is no way that President Trump can be ready, by May, to have a high stakes negotiation on denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, it’s just impossible,” the former national security adviser to President Obama, Samantha Vinograd, said on CNN yesterday, explaining that such a meeting takes months of preparation and that Kim “is going to be fully prepared.” Josh Delk reports at the Hill.

Current and former officials, and foreign policy experts have expressed skepticism about the prospect for progress, while the breakthrough offers the possibility of respite in the short-term, the ability to deliver long-term stability is fraught with risks. Stephen Collinson and Nicole Gaouette explain at CNN.

A meeting between Trump and Kim is surprising considering the barbs the two leaders have exchanged over the past year, Matt Stevens provides an overview of the instances that Trump and Kim have insulted each other at the New York Times.

The Trump-Kim meeting is likely to cause anxiety in Asia as it opens the possibility of Trump offering concessions that do not serve their countries’ interests. Motoko Rich explains at the New York Times.

The Trump administration must prepare an unprecedented meeting while key diplomatic and advisory positions remain unfilled, the U.S. special envoy on North Korea policy, Joseph Yun, announced his retirement last month and has not been replaced, and the administration has still not nominated an ambassador to South Korea. Paul Sonne and John Hudson observe at the Washington Post.

The efforts of the South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign must be credited for North Korea’s change of heart, however key questions remained unanswered, in particular: what is the United State willing to put on the table for a negotiation? Victor Cha provides an analysis at the New York Times.

The breakthrough has been a coup for President Moon, who has taken the opportunity to engage with North Korea. Jonathan Cheng writes at the Wall Street Journal.

China is likely to be nervous about talks between Trump and Kim, experts have said that China may fear that the breakthrough could provide the opportunity to undermine China’s long-term interests in the region and they may also be frustrated that they have been bypassed during the Korean and U.S. diplomatic initiative. Tom Phillips and Daniel Hurst provide an analysis at the Guardian.

Kim’s invitation gives Trump his “Nixon in China” moment, Jamil Anderlini writes at the Financial Times, explaining what the apparent rapprochement means for China.

Trump’s instinct has been to do away with caution and the precedent set by his predecessors, his decision to meet with Kim is the latest action in this vein, Michael Crowley writes at POLITICO.

Trump’s decision to accept Kim’s invitation has given the leader exactly what he’s wanted: to be seen as an equal to a sitting U.S. president. Ankit Panda explains at The Daily Beast.

The decision to accept Kim’s invitation is “a dangerous gamble and a bad idea,” Nicholas Kristof writes at the New York Times.

A “lot could go right” during a summit between Trump and Kim, but also there are “major pitfalls ahead,” Eric Talmadge provides the opinions of three experts at the AP.

The possible location for the summit is discussed by David Smith at the Guardian.

An overview of the meeting between former President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is provided by Jane Perlez at the New York Times, explaining why the meeting delivered so few results.

SYRIA

A delivery of aid to the besieged rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta yesterday was postponed once again due to the ongoing campaign by pro-Syrian government forces. Kareem Shaheen reports at the Guardian.

An emergency aid convoy crossed the front lines into Eastern Ghouta today, according to Red Cross officials. The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights today said that 931 civilians have been killed since the campaign began over two weeks ago, Reuters reports.

The U.S. has not been supporting the defense of its Syrian Kurdish Y.P.G. allies against a Turkish operation against them in northern Syrian region of Afrin, meanwhile the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has sent forces to defend the area, giving Assad leverage over the Kurdish self-administration. Philip Issa reports at the AP, explaining the changing dynamics in northern Syria.

Turkish forces and their Free Syrian Army (F.S.A.) rebel allies have seized control of the town of Jandaris in Afrin, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, taking the second most populated town in the district from the Y.P.G. fighters. Al Jazeera reports.

Russia’s desire to find a solution to the Syrian conflict has been obstructed by Assad, Moscow has found itself too closely tied to the regime and unable to pursue its aims. Neil MacFarquhar writes at the New York Times.

Assad’s regime has continued to use chemical weapons on his people, despite vows by President Trump to act, he remains silent. The New York Times editorial board writes, arguing that Trump should ask Arab leaders to use their leverage with Russia to “push for an end the carnage.”

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

A meeting between the Trump ally Erik Prince and the Russian investor Kirill Dmitriev in the Seychelles in January 2017 has been of interest to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators, the U.A.E. adviser George Nader, has told Mueller’s team that Prince was not introduced to Dmitriev by intermediaries from the U.A.E. – which was what Prince’s had told the House Intelligence Committee during his testimony last year. Rebecca Ballhaus and Aruna Viswanatha report at the Wall Street Journal.

The former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has again pleaded not guilty to criminal charges issued by Mueller as part of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Katanga Johnson and Mark Hosenball report at Reuters.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A suicide bomb in the Afghan capital of Kabul has killed at least nine people and injured 18, officials have said. The Islamic State group have claimed responsibility for the attack, which targeted minority Hazara Shi’ites, Amir Shah reports at the AP.

The Trump administration has carried out eight airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Libya since January this year but has only publicly acknowledged four of those strikes, the spokesperson for the U.S. Africa Command, Maj. Karl J. Wiest, said that details of the additional four strikes were not disclosed because they were to protect U.S.-backed forces or had “diplomatic sensitivities.” Eric Schmitt reports at the New York Times.

Proposed rules to protect U.S. elections from foreign interference may not be in place before the 2018 midterms, the chairperson of the Federal Election Commission Caroline Hunter told reporters yesterday. Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Tony Romm report at the Washington Post.

“European countries come [to Tehran] and say we want to negotiate with Iran over its presence in the region. It is none of your business,” the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said yesterday, making the comments days after France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited Tehran. Al Jazeera reports.

“Detention facility capabilities and procedures are classified,” the Pentagon said in response to a question about the presence of a microphone inside a special client meeting room at the Guantánamo Bay, the discovery of which was the reason why three civilian lawyers quite the U.S.S. Cole bombing case. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

“The incident is behind us; the visit by the secretary of state today is proof of the importance of relations between the different parties,” the chairman of the African Union commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, said yesterday in a joint conference with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, referring to Trump’s derogatory comments about African countries and other nations in January. Paul Schemm reports at the Washington Post.

The State Department has offered million dollar rewards for information on key members of the Pakistani Taliban and its affiliates. Reuters reports.

The members of the Iran-backed Iraqi Shi’ite Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.) militias have been formerly included into Iraq’s security forces, Reuters reports.

The State department has approved a proposed weapons sale to the U.A.E. air force and to Qatar’s air operation center in spite of the ongoing isolation of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E.. Egypt and Bahrain, which began in June due to Qatar’s alleged support for terrorism. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill. 

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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