The Early Edition: April 23, 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 U.S. will not be making substantial concessions, such as lifting sanctions, until North Korea has substantially dismantled its nuclear programs,” a senior Trump administration official said yesterday, making the comments after the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced that his country would close its nuclear-test site and suspend long-range missile tests. Michael R. Gordon, Jonathan Cheng and Michael C. Bender report at the Wall Street Journal.

The White House has received Kim’s announcement on nuclear testing with skepticism, although the president hailed the move as “good progress,” aides have privately expressed cynicism about Kim’s intentions. David Nakamura and John Hudson report at the Washington Post.

Trump lashed out at suggestions that the White House has given North Korea too many concessions, saying in a message on Twitter that “we haven’t given up anything & they have agreed to denuclearization …, site closure, & no more testing!” Katie Rogers reports at the New York Times.

“We are a long way from conclusion on North Korea, maybe things will work out, and maybe they won’t – only time will tell,” Trump said in a follow-up message on Twitter, tempering expectations of a breakthrough during his possible meeting with Kim in May or early June. Brent D. Griffiths reports at POLITICO.

South Korea announced today that it had stopped broadcasting propaganda via loudspeakers across its border with North Korea, marking a modest concession ahead of Friday’s summit meeting between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Joshua Berlinger and Yoonjung Seo report at CNN.

“We hope this decision will lead both Koreas to stop mutual criticism and propaganda against each other,” the South Korean defense ministry said in a statement, referring to the use of loudspeakers. Justin McCurry reports at the Guardian.

Satellite images of a construction site in North Korea highlight the difficulties monitoring and evaluating Pyongyang’s proposals on its nuclear weapons program, some analysts suspect that the site is a factory for producing material for nuclear reactors. Joby Warrick explains at the Washington Post.

The upcoming talks between Kim and Moon and between Trump and Kim have caused concerns in China, Beijing has largely been sidelined during the months of diplomatic outreach and any changes on the Korean Peninsula could lead to power being realigned in Northeast Asia. Jane Perlez explains at the New York Times.

An explanation of the issues expected to top the agenda at Trump-Kim talks is provided by David Brunnstrom and John Walcott at Reuters.

North Korea has been taking steps to set up a positive environment ahead of summit talks, this should be welcomed although there remains skepticism and significant concerns about Kim’s motives. Anna Fifield provides an analysis at the Washington Post.

The Trump-Kim talks are “doomed before they even begin,” the summit would allow for some confidence-building measures, however the strategic realities have not changed and there has been little action to counter Pyongyang’s nuclear threat. Jamie Metzl writes at CNN.

AFGHANISTAN

At least 57 people were killed yesterday by a suicide bomber at a voter registration center in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul, a spokesperson for the Afghan Health Ministry said at least 119 were wounded. Mujib Mashal and Jawad Sukhanyar report at the New York Times.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the Kabul attack via its Amaq news agency, saying it had targeted Shi’ite “apostates” in a part of Kabul largely inhabited by Afghanistan’s Shi’ite Hazara minority. Haroon Janjua and agencies report at the Guardian.

At least six people were killed in Baghlan province shortly after the bombing in Kabul, no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. Al Jazeera reports.

The attack in Kabul has raised questions about the security of parliamentary and local elections to be held in October, elections have been delayed for the past three years due to instability and fears of insecurity. Sayed Salhuddin and Pamela Constable report at the Washington Post.

Taliban militants killed 14 soldiers and policemen in the western Baghdis province today, Rahim Faiez and Amir Shah report at the AP.

TRUMP-MACRON MEETING

French President Emmanuel Macron said in an interview yesterday that he had no “plan B” should the U.S. decide to restore sanctions against Iran and urged President Trump to stick with the 2015 nuclear deal, making the comments ahead of his three-day visit to the U.S., starting today. The BBC Reports.

The Iran nuclear deal is set to top the agenda during the discussions between Trump and Macron, other issues include trade, climate change, Russia, North Korea and counterterrorism. An analysis of the relationship between Macron and Trump, and Macron’s approach to key issues, is provided by Karen DeYoung at the Washington Post.

The meeting is set to test Macron’s ability to act as a “Trump whisperer,” while he has cultivated a relationship with the president, it remains to be seen whether he can achieve any concrete results. Angelique Chrisafis writes at the Guardian.

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to meet with Trump this week to discuss the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, making the trip shortly after French President Emmanuel Macron who has also been trying to urge Trump to stick with the agreement before his self-imposed May 12 deadline. Michael Peel and Katrina Manson report at the Financial Times.

Trump’s attempts to change the nuclear deal sends a “very dangerous message … that you should never come to an agreement with the United States,” the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Saturday, warning Macron and Merkel that “to try to appease the president would be an exercise in futility.” Michelle Nichols reports at Reuters.

“Iran has many options, and those options are not pleasant,” Zarif said in an interview with CBS News at the weekend, adding that this would include resuming nuclear activities at a “much greater speed.” Kyle Balluck reports at the Hill.

“It is either all or nothing,” Zarif said in a message on Twitter today, adding that “European leaders should encourage Trump not just to stay in the nuclear deal, but more important to begin implementing his part of the bargain in good faith.” Reuters reports.

U.N., E.U. and Russian officials stated their support for the Iran nuclear deal today. Tom Miles and Maria Kiselyova report at Reuters.

SYRIA

A team of inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (O.P.C.W.) was able to visit the town of Douma on Saturday after multiple delays and a week after arriving in Syria. Megan Specia reports at the New York Times.

The investigators have started to carry out testing at one of two alleged blast sites where a suspected chemical weapons attack took place on April 7, which lead to the U.S., U.K. and France to launch strikes to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in response. Louisa Loveluck reports at the Washington Post.

Israel and Iran both tried to downplay the possibility of a major escalation between their forces over Syria at the weekend, top officials from both countries blamed each other’s governments for aggression, but toned down talk of an imminent war. Dan Williams reports at Reuters.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 30 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between April 13 and April 19. [Central Command]

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The Democratic National Committee (D.N.C.) Chairman Tom Perez yesterday defended the decision to sue Russia, WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign over Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, hitting back at Trump’s message on Twitter which mocked the D.N.C. for the action. Tom McCarthy and Martin Pengelly report at the Guardian.

The Trump administration official Marc Short yesterday declined to rule out the president firing special counsel Robert Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, making the comments amid rumors that the president has considered the action against Mueller, who is investigation Russia interference in the election, or Rosenstein, who is overseeing Mueller’s investigation. Ian Kullgren reports at POLITICO.

The U.S. is not prepared to counter Russian interference on upcoming elections, including November’s midterm elections, the Washington Post editorial board writes, urging a “shift in presidential attitude.”

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

At least 20 people were killed by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes on a wedding in northwestern Yemen yesterday, a Saudi-led coalition spokesperson said that it would fully investigate the reports. Reuters reports.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is poised to vote against the nomination of Mike Pompeo to be Secretary of State this evening, nevertheless Pompeo is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate. Rebecca Ballhaus reports at the Wall Street Journal.

A newly declassified memo stated that Trump’s nominee to be C.I.A. Director, Gina Haspel, “acted inappropriately” while she was at a black site prison in Thailand,in particular her role in the destruction of tapes that showed the use of brutal interrogation techniques. Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

The spokesperson for the Islamic State group yesterday called for attacks against Arab nations, appearing to demonstrate the militant’s return to its roots as a regional insurgency due to the loss of the majority of the territory it captured in Iraq and Syria. Rukmini Callimachi reports at the New York Times.

A senior State Department official explained that there was unity among the foreign ministers of G-7 countries “on opposing Russia’s malign behavior” during their meeting yesterday, which took place amid a number of key foreign policy crises and problems across the world. Carol Morello reports at the Washington Post.

The Treasury Secretary Steve Mncuhin is expected to lead the delegation opening the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, according to Israeli officials. Barak Ravid reports at Axios.

The Supreme Court will consider President Trump’s third version of the travel ban on Wednesday. An overview and analysis of the case is provided by Robert Barnes at the Washington Post.   

An analysis of the factors that drive the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran is provided by Madawi al-Rasheed at the New York Times. 

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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