The Early Edition: March 29, 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 Korea leader Kim Jong-un and the South Korean President Moon Jae-in have agreed to meet on April 27, marking the first inter-Korean summit since 2007 and the third such meeting between the leaders of the two Koreas since the 1950-53 war. Andrew Jeong reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“Both sides agreed to prepare for [the summit] in a way that would allow sincere and heartfelt discussions,” the South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told reporters today, but did not definitively say whether the issue of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will be on the agenda. Lee Jin-Man and Kim Tong-Hyung report at the AP.

Kim and Moon are scheduled to meet at the so-called truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone (D.M.Z.), according to a joint statement issued by negotiators today. Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.

“We feel like things are moving in the right direction,” the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday of the recent developments on the Korean Peninsula, adding that the White House is “cautiously optimistic” that a meeting between Kim and President Trump will go ahead at some point in May. Karen DeYoung and Anne Gearan report at the Washington Post.

The summit follows months of diplomacy that began when North Korea reached out to the South in January. Relations between the countries have seen a remarkable turn around since las year’s heightened tensions due North Korea’s repeated missile and nuclear testing and the insults traded between Kim and President Trump, Ben Westcott and Yoongjung Seo report at CNN.

Talks between Japan and North Korea have begun through the two countries’ embassies, the top aide to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said today, signaling Japan’s desire not to be sidelined in the upcoming talks and diplomatic initiatives. Chieko Tsuneoka reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“The Japanese government has expressed a wish to host a leaders meeting,” the Japanese Asahi newspaper quoted an anonymous North Korean source as saying. Reuters reports.

An overview of the two previous inter-Korean summits is provided by the AP.

The Trump-Kim summit raises three key questions: is denuclearization feasible, what will be China’s role, and what will the appointment of the new national security adviser John Bolton mean for the U.S. approach? Ishaan Tharoor provides an analysis at the Washington Post.

Plenty of uncertainty surrounds the Trump-Kim summit despite the fact that the president has expressed optimism in messages on Twitter. Kevin Liptak and Jeremy Diamond provide an analysis at CNN.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates and the London-based lawyer Alex van der Zwaan communicated with a former member of Russia’s military intelligence agency (G.R.U.) in September and October 2016, according to a court filing by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office – which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia. Aruna Viswanatha reports at the Wall Street Journal.

A person with knowledge of the matter identified the former G.R.U. officer as Konstantin V. Kilimnik. Kilimnik was a close associate of the former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort when Manafort and Gates were working on a project in Ukraine, Mark Mazzetti reports at the New York Times.

Trump’s personal lawyer John Dowd suggested last summer that Trump pardon Manafort and the former national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to people familiar with the discussions. Mueller’s team has built cases against both of the men, Michael S. Schmidt, Jo Becker, Mark Mazzetti, Maggie Haberman and Adam Goldman report at the New York Times.

“We never talked about pardons. There was no reason to talk about pardons,” Dowd said yesterday in response to reports, which have come amid Mueller’s increased focus on whether the president obstructed justice by seeking to undermine or shut down the Russia investigation. Carol D. Leonnig, Josh Dawsey and Rosalind S. Helderman report at the Washington Post.

“There’s no discussion or consideration of that [a pardon] at this time,” the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday in response to the reports. Jordan Fabian and Jonathan Easley report at the Hill.

The Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz yesterday announced that his office will review the warrant to surveil the former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page during the 2016 presidential campaign, there have been allegations that the Justice Department and F.B.I. did not include key information when they made the surveillance application. Lorraine Woellert reports at POLITICO.

RUSSIA

The U.S. wants to boost the readiness of N.A.T.O. troops in the face of threats from Russia, N.A.T.O. has more than one million troops but only several thousand are combat ready. The Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has been focused on improving that figure to 30,000, Julian E. Barnes reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The ways that the Trump administration could punish Russia beyond the steps already taken are explored by Samantha Vinograd at POLITICO Magazine, providing an analysis in light of Russia’s campaign to influence U.S. politics, the nerve agent attack on the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the U.K., and Russian military actions in Ukraine and Syria.

SYRIA

Turkey’s National Security Council yesterday announced that it would expand its military campaign on the Syrian Kurdish Y.P.G. militia to the region of Manbij if the militants do not withdraw immediately. Such action would further raise tensions between the U.S. and Turkey as the U.S. has troops stationed in the area, Reuters reports.

Nearly 5,300 rebels and their family members remain in the enclave of Eastern Ghouta near the Syrian capital of Damascus, the Russian defense ministry said today. Reuters reports.

The Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has successfully executed a divide-and-conquer strategy in Eastern Ghouta in a bid to capture the territory and oust the rebels. Aron Lund provides an analysis at Foreign Policy.

Trump’s approach to Syria has been even more of a failure than Obama’s, Frida Ghitis writes at CNN, noting the ongoing civilian suffering and the administration’s confused policy.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 14 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between March 16 and March 22. [Central Command]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The U.S. Africa Command announced yesterday that one of its drones killed a top al-Qaeda recruiter in southern Libya at the weekend, Eric Schmitt reports at the New York Times.

The U.S. will no longer contribute more than 25 percent of U.N. budget’s costs, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said yesterday, explaining that “all of us have a role to play, and all of us must step up.” Jennifer Peltz reports at the AP.

The Ecuadorean Embassy in London has barred the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s access to the Internet, saying that Assange violated an agreement that his messages on social media would not interfere with other countries’ affairs. William Booth and Karla Adam report at the Washington Post.

At least 855 civilians have been killed by the U.S.-led coalition since it began its campaign against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, according to civilian casualty reports released by the coalition. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

A U.S. judge yesterday rejected Saudi Arabia’s motion to dismiss lawsuits claiming it helped the 9/11 terrorists to carry out the attacks, Jonathan Stempel reports at Reuters.

Facebook yesterday announced that it would restrict the information it exchanges with information brokers. The measures have been taken following the revelation that the data research firm Cambridge Analytica harvested the information of 50 million Facebook users to promote political campaigns, Deepa Seetharaman, Georgia Wells and Suzanne Vranica report at the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S.-made Patriot missiles used by the U.S. and allies across the world have been shown to be failures, Jeffrey Lewis provides an analysis at Foreign Policy. 

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