The Early Edition: April 24, 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 Trump administration is “not naïve in this process,” the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday of the potential summit talks between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in May or early June, making the comments after Kim announced Friday that North Korea’s nuclear weapons capability was “complete” and it would suspend further testing. Zachary Cohen reports at CNN.

“We’ve seen some steps in the right direction but we have a long way to go,” Sanders also said, explaining that Trump’s message on Twitter on Sunday that Kim had “agreed to denuclearization” was a reference to South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s comments last week that North Korea had expressed a desire for “complete denuclearization” rather than Kim’s announcement on Friday. Cristiano Lima reports at POLITICO.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis yesterday expressed optimism about the talks between Trump and Kim, saying there were indications that the negotiations would be “fruitful.” Reuters reports.

The unity of the U.N. Security Council has played a key part in the positive developments on the Korean Peninsula and the international community is “on track … for a peaceful denuclearization,” the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said yesterday. The U.N. News Centre reports.

Trump and Kim are both unpredictable characters faced with a high-stakes meeting, before the talks have taken place, there are signs that there may be misunderstandings about each other’s expectations. Max Fisher provides an analysis at the New York Times.

The meeting between Trump and Kim is likely to be a low-stakes summit that reframes the “longstanding U.S.-North Korea standoff than to end it” and would be more about “can-kicking than peace-making.” Walter Russell Mead writes at the Wall Street Journal.

TRUMP-MACRON MEETING

President Trump yesterday welcomed French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House for a three-day state visit. Jordan Fabian reports at the Hill.

The 2015 Iran nuclear deal is set to top Macron’s agenda as he tries to put pressure on Trump to preserve the agreement ahead of the self-imposed May 12 deadline to decide whether the U.S. should reinstate sanctions against Iran. Peter Baker and Julie Hirschfeld Davis report at the New York Times.

“I am telling those in the White House that if they do not live up to their commitments … the Iranian government will firmly react,” the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned in a speech today, adding that a betrayal of the 2015 deal would lead to “severe consequences” and making the comments as Macron tries to convince Trump not to tear up the agreement. Bozorgmehr Sharafedin reports at Reuters.

Macron has attempted to use the friendship he has cultivated with Trump to exact leverage and bring the U.S. and France closer together, by doing so, he hopes to persuade Trump to change his mind on key foreign policy issues. Stephen Collinson provides an analysis at CNN.

An explanation of why Macron and European leaders want to keep the Iran deal is provided by Rick Noack and Erin Cunningham at the Washington Post.

SYRIA

Western nations are considering using an alternative route at the U.N. to transfer the issue of responsibility for chemical weapons use in Syria to the General Assembly, the proposal has been put forward after repeated Russian vetoes at the Security Council blocking action targeting Syria. Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.

The second U.N.-E.U. conference on Syria has started today, the atmosphere is one of skepticism and pessimism about the future of Syria and opportunities for a political solution the crisis, however it is expected to deliver much-needed financial support for humanitarian efforts. Michael Peel and Mehreen Khan report at the Financial Times.

Russia has not yet decided whether to deliver S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Syria, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday, adding that “there is probably no secret about this and it can all be announced [if a decision is taken].” Maria Kisleyova and Dan Williams report at Reuters.

Tensions between Israel and Iran over Syria have grown and there is potential for an open conflict. Ishaan Tharoor provides an analysis at the Washington Post.

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]

POMPEO CONFIRMATION PROCESS

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) changed his vote at the last minute giving C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo the endorsement of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to be Secretary of State, it had seemed that Pompeo would not receive the panel’s recommendation. Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

The vote at the Committee was made along party lines, Paul said he had changed his mind after discussions with President Trump and Pompeo, including assurances on a number of issues and a promise from the president that there would be a review of U.S. surveillance policy. Byron Tau and Peter Nicholas report at the Wall Street Journal.

Pompeo agrees with the president that “Iraq was a mistake, that regime change has destabilized the region and that we must end our involvement with Afghanistan,” Paul wrote in a series of messages on Twitter when explaining his decision. Nicholas Fandos reports at the New York Times.

Pompeo now has the backing of three Democratic senators to be next Secretary of State, increasing the chances that he will be confirmed by the full Senate. Daniella Diaz reports at CNN.  

YEMEN

The political leader of Yemen’s Houthi rebels, Saled al-Sammad, was killed last week in a Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, the Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV network reported yesterday. The Houthi leader, Abdul Malik-al-Houthi, said that “this crime will not break the will of our people and state … [and] will not pass without accountability,” Al Jazeera reports.

“The forces of aggression, led by the U.S. and the Saudi regime, bear the legal responsibility for this horrendous crime, as well as any consequences following it,” al-Houthi also said yesterday. The BBC reports.

The U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres yesterday condemned recent Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen – including a strike that hit a wedding party in the northwestern part of the country – reminding all parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law. The U.N. News Centre reports.

The TRAVEL BAN

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case concerning the third version of President Trump’s travel ban tomorrow, offering the Justices the “chance to deliver a message” about the extent of executive authority. The New York Times editorial board writes.

“Even if his travel ban is bad policy, the Justices need to make clear that Mr. Trump is acting well within his constitutional authority.” The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya has said she has not been contacted by special counsel Robert Mueller who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Veselnitskaya met with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort at Trump Tower in June 2016 after Trump Jr. was told the lawyer had compromising information on Hillary Clinton. Nataliya Vasilyeva reports at the AP.

There has been concern among current and former U.S. officials about the approach of foreign countries to former lower-risk Guantánamo prison detainees, Senegal decided this month to deport two former detainees to Libya and there are fears that other countries may also send former detainees to unstable places. Charlie Savage, Declan Walsh and Dionne Searcey report at the New York Times.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said today that it would conduct military exercises that simulate repelling an invading force, the announcement coming amid increased tensions between Taiwan and China, and the U.S. and China over the approach to Taiwan. Reuters reports.

Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton has named Mira Ricardel as his choice for his deputy, Ricardel is a Trump supporter and will improve Bolton’s image as a Trump loyalist, however her appointment could create further tensions between Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the rest of Trump’s new national security term. Robbie Gramer and Dan De Luce explain at Foreign Policy.

Attempts at reconciliation in Iraq have faced numerous obstacles, including divides between Sunnis and Shi’ites, tribal disputes, concerns about the government’s approach, and the extent of destruction that has been wrought on buildings and the landscape. Erika Solomon explains at the Financial 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