The Early Edition: April 26, 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.

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

“My view … is that he [President Trump] will get rid of this deal on his own, for domestic reasons,” the French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters yesterday, referring to the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement and adding that he did not have specific inside information, but believed there was a “big risk” Trump would withdraw the U.S. from the deal come the May 12 deadline. Angela Dewan reports at CNN.

Macron explained that he was working on a diplomatic strategy to contain the fallout should the U.S. withdraw from the agreement, he told reporters that Trump repeated his criticisms of the deal during their private meeting in the Oval Office on Tuesday and also suggested that Trump’s approach to the Iran nuclear deal has been shaped by the developments on the Korean Peninsula – that hardline tactics can put pressure on the other side to make concessions. Andrea Mitchell reports at NBC News.

Macron said he warned Trump would “open Pandora’s box” if he withdrew from the deal without an alternative in place during their discussions on Tuesday, adding that there was a danger that such a move could increase the possibility of war with Iran. Stacy Meichtry and Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Macron said his visit to the U.S. was successful in advancing a potential framework for the U.S. and Iran should the agreement collapse. Ben Smith reports at BuzzFeed News.

The Iranian President Hassan Rouhani strongly criticized Trump for his approach to the deal yesterday and said that he had spoken to Macron “several times by phone, and one time in person at length” and explained to him explicitly “that we will not add anything to the deal or remove anything from it, even one sentence.” Al Jazeera reports.

Rouhani questioned the attempts by the U.S. and European allies to change the deal, saying they had no “right” to renegotiate a seven-party international agreement. The BBC reports.

European envoys have said they are close to finalizing a plan to try and save the deal, the results of meetings over three months have been leading to a package of separate measures that could be taken against Iran in the hope that European countries could persuade Trump to preserve the deal. Marine Pennetier and Robin Emmott report at Reuters.

The U.S. is “seeking a supplemental agreement that would in some fashion layer upon it a series of additional rules,” the U.S. non-proliferation envoy Christopher Ford said yesterday, explaining that the U.S. is not aiming to renegotiate, reopen or change the deal’s terms. Tom Miles reports at Reuters.

A U.S. decision whether to reinstate sanctions on Iran on May 12 may not lead to the collapse of the deal, some experts have said that the July 11 deadline whether to reimpose a larger package of sanctions provides the key test for the future of the agreement and could provoke a stronger reaction from Tehran. Nahal Toosi explains at POLITICO.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will walk across the border tomorrow to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a historic summit on the southern side of the border village of Panmunjom in the De-militarized Zone (D.M.Z.), according to South Korean officials, with Kim to be accompanied by nine of his top officials. Hyung-Jin Kim reports at the AP.

South Korea has warned of the difficulties in reaching an agreement on denuclearization, which will be the focus of the talks between Kim and Moon. It is expected that the two leaders will also discuss a way to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, the BBC reports.

North Korea’s Punngye-ri nuclear test facility in the northwest of the country has collapsed, according to Chinese scientists. The finding suggests that Kim’s recent announcement that he would close the facility was a symbolic rather than substantive move, Charles Clover reports at the Financial Times.

The collapse of Punngye-Ri threatens an “unprecedented risk” of radioactive fallout, according to the South China Morning Post newspaper. Al Jazeera reports.

An explanation of what will take place at the inter-Korean summit is provided by Benjamin Haas at the Guardian.

U.S. intelligence experts have been attempting to build a psychological and political profile of Kim ahead of the potential summit meeting between the North Korean leader and Trump. Matt Spetalnick, David Brunnstrom and John Walcott provide an insight into the efforts at Reuters.

Japan has been increasingly concerned about being sidelined in the upcoming summit talks and that its interests will not feature highly on the agenda. Motoko Rich explains at the New York Times.

Kim has attempted to present himself as a statesman through his attempts at diplomacy, Anna Fifield explains at the Washington Post.

The TRAVEL BAN

The Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments on the third version of Trump’s travel ban yesterday, the government lawyer, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, argued that the restrictions on five Muslim-majority nations were based on national security assessments and discounted Trump’s comments about Muslims while he was a candidate. The lawyer representing the state of Hawaii and other challengers, Neal Katyal, argued that Trump’s campaign statements were relevant and said that the September executive order contradicted a federal law addressing security concerns. Jess Bravin and Brent Kendall report at the Wall Street Journal.

A transcript and audio of the oral arguments in Trump v. Hawaii can be found on the Supreme Court website.

Key justices appeared skeptical of the challenge to the travel ban, the conservative wing consistently deployed hostile questioning to those challenging the ban and appeared willing to dismiss Trump’s comments about a “Muslim ban” when he was candidate. Adam Liptak and Michael D. Shear report at the New York Times.

Justice Anthony Kennedy seems poised to join with conservatives when they issue their ruling by the end of June, Justice Kennedy sometimes joins liberals in major rulings but appeared to doubt the challengers’ arguments. Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung report at Reuters.

MACRON STATE VISIT

The French President Emmanuel Macron delivered a speech to a joint meeting of Congress yesterday, the themes of his speech often appeared to be a direct rebuttal of Trump’s worldview as he offered a passionate defense of multilateralism on a variety of issues, including on climate change, the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and trade policy. Karen DeYoung reports at the Washington Post.

Macron’s thinly veiled attack of Trump’s isolationism stood in stark contrast to the intimacy the two leaders had shown each other before the congressional speech, the BBC reports.

An analysis of Macron’s “takedown of Trumpism” is provided by E.J. Dionne Jr. at the Washington Post.

SYRIA

A team of inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (O.P.C.W.) issued a statement yesterday saying they had reached a second site in the Syrian town of Douma, which was the location of the suspected chemical weapons attack that took place on April 7. Al Jazeera reports.

The total of funds donated for emergency aid for Syria and its neighbors fell well short of the U.N.’s 2018 target after the U.S. failed to submit a bid. Gabriela Baczynska and Robin Emmott report 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 whistleblower of the political research firm Cambridge Analytica, Christopher Wylie, explained to House Democrats last week that the firm set up focus groups to test messaging on Russia and President Vladimir Putin. The focus groups were carried out under the instruction of the former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, Ashley Gold reports at POLITICO.

Cambridge Analytica “was set up to be essentially a full service propaganda machine,” Wylie said in his discussion with Democrats, explaining that Bannon sought to suppress Democratic turnout. Mike Memoli and Anna R. Schecter report at NBC News.

Senators have been putting forward non-binding resolutions to signal their support for special counsel Robert Mueller to complete his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election amid rumors that Trump has considered firing Mueller. Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

Trump’s legal team has been seeking to ascertain whether Mueller has an “open mind” and are trying to assess his team’s “good faith.” Rebecca Ballhaus reports at the Wall Street Journal.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A final vote to confirm C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo as the new Secretary of State will take place in the Senate today, he has the necessary votes to be confirmed. Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

A report on the killing four U.S. Special Forces soldiers in Niger in October has highlighted numerous shortfalls that contributed to their deaths. Gordon Lubold and Nancy A. Youssef report at the Wall Street Journal.

Tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan have increased due to an alleged hit-and-run attack carried out by a U.S. diplomat in Islamabad. Shaiq Hussain reports at the Washington Post.

A team of U.S. investigators led by the State Department have been examining alleged atrocities against Mynmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority, U.S. officials have said. Reuters reports.

Trump is expected to make an official visit to the U.K. in mid-July, according to sources, but will not be afforded the honor of a state visit. Pippa Crear reports at the Guardian. 

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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