The Early Edition: April 27, 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.

INTER-KOREAN SUMMIT

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un crossed the military demarcation line dividing the two Koreas this morning and shook hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, becoming the first North Korean leader to set foot in South Korea since the end of the 1953 Korean War and marking the beginning of talks to be held between the two leaders in the truce village of Panmunjom. Moon also stepped over the border to the North Korean side following encouragement by Kim, Jonathan Cheng and Andrew Jeong report at the Wall Street Journal.

“A new history begins now,” Kim wrote in the guestbook at the Peace House in Panmunjom, pledging to improve North-South relations after a year of tension and the increased threat of conflict. The BBC reports.

Kim and Moon have agreed a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean war in a document that declares “that there will be no more war on the Korean Peninsula and a new era of peace has begun.” Joshua Berlinger and Nick Thompson report at CNN in rolling coverage of the day’s events.

Kim and Moon have pledged to work toward a “common goal” of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, Anna Fifield reports at the Washington Post, explaining that the joint statement marks a surprising development.

“KOREAN WAR TO END!” President Trump said in a message on Twitter, welcoming the developments at the inter-Korean summit. China and Japan also welcomed the talks taking place between Kim and Moon, Christine Kim and Josh Smith report at Reuters.

Kim told Moon that he would no longer interrupt his “early morning sleep” with ballistic missile tests, according to South Korean officials’ accounts of Moon and Kim’s meeting this morning. Benjamin Haas and Justin McCurry report at the Guardian.

“I came here to put an end to the history of confrontation,” Kim was quoted as saying during talks with Moon, making the comments ahead of the potential summit meeting between Kim and President Trump in May or early June. David E. Sanger and Choe Sang-hun report at the New York Times, providing an overview of Moon and Kim’s meeting this morning.

“We are hopeful that talks will achieve progress toward a future of peace and prosperity for the entire Korean Peninsula,” the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement yesterday ahead of the inter-Korean summit, adding that the U.S. “looks forward to continuing robust discussions in preparation for the planned meeting between President Donald J. Trump and Kim Jong-un in the coming weeks.” Julia Manchester reports at the Hill.

Kim was accompanied by his sister Kim Yo-jong and other high profile North Korean officials to Panmunjom, Hyung-Jin Kim reports at the AP.

An overview of the verbal exchanges between Trump, Kim and Moon is provided by Kim Tong-Hyung at the AP.

An analysis of Kim and Moon’s meeting at the border is provided by Russell Goldman at the New York Times.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

President Trump yesterday discussed preparations for his summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in an interview with Fox News, explaining that five locations are being considered, that the duration of the summit is expected to be “three or four days” and revealing that the recent meeting between Kim and then-C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo was unplanned. Michael C. Bender reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released a photo of Pompeo meeting Kim shortly after Trump discussed the meeting on Fox News. Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

The parents of the American citizen Otto Warmbier have filed a lawsuit against North Korea in a U.S. federal court, alleging that Kim’s regime “brutally tortured and murdered” their son. The timing of the action comes at a significant time in U.S.-North Korea relations and may complicate diplomatic efforts, David Nakamura reports at the Washington Post.

POMPEO CONFIRMED AS SECRETARY OF STATE

The Senate voted 57-42 to confirm former C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo as Trump’s new Secretary of State. The State Department and President Trump issued statements welcoming the Senate’s approval. Lauren Fox, Deirdre Walsh and Laura Koran report at CNN.

Senate Republicans and seven Democrats supported Pompeo’s nomination, his confirmation comes ahead of a series of pressing foreign policy issues, including on North Korea, Russia, Syria, Venezuela and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Gardiner Harris and Thomas Kaplan report at the New York Times.

Pompeo arrived in Brussels this morning to meet his counterparts at N.A.T.O. headquarters, he will meet with the Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Saturday and on Sunday will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah. Carol Morello reports at the Washington Post.

The N.A.T.O. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Pompeo’s decision to attend a N.A.T.O. meeting so soon after being confirmed, calling it “a great expression of the importance of the alliance and the importance we attach to the alliance.” Matthew Lee reports at the AP.

A list of six steps Pompeo should take in his first six months is provided by Daniel B. Baer at Foreign Policy.

MERKEL-TRUMP MEETING

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel will arrive at the White House today to meet with President Trump, it appears that U.S.-German relations have deteriorated due to the lack of personal chemistry between the two leaders. Katrin Bennhold reports at the New York Times.

The main topic of conversation is expected to be trade, other issues that are likely to be discussed include the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the Russian planned Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in Europe and Germany’s N.A.T.O. contributions. Paul Carrel and Jeff Mason report at Reuters.

Merkel’s trip comes shortly after French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to the U.S., unliked Merkel, Macron has cultivated a warm relationship with Trump. Jenny Hill provides an analysis at the BBC.

Merkel’s no-nonsense approach may yet achieve results, Atika Shubert provides an analysis at CNN.

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

It appears that European efforts to persuade Trump to preserve the deal ahead of his self-imposed May 12 deadline have not progressed, despite French President Emmanuel Macron devoting much of his time to the issue during his recent visit to Washington. Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stated that the provisions of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal allow “pretty robust oversight” of Iran’s compliance when answering questions posed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, defending parts of the agreement but declining to give his opinion whether the U.S. should withdraw from the deal. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

Plenty of myths surround the Iran nuclear deal and two are “particularly pernicious:” that restarting oil sanctions on May 12 would not lead to the collapse of the deal and that reinstating sanctions against Iran does not mean withdrawing from the agreement. Richard Nephew, a former member of the U.S. negotiating team with Iran, writes at Foreign Policy.

Macron proposed revisions to the deal and the U.S. and Europe “should agree on terms for a rewrite” of the agreement, the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

SYRIA

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis expressed concern about establishing a holding force in Syria without U.S. involvement in comments to the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, which come as the U.S. has been exploring the possibility of helping set up a military force consisting of troops from Arab nations to stabilize parts of Syria. Paul Sonne and Missy Ryan report at the Washington Post.

“You’ll see a re-energized effort against [Islamic State militants in] the middle Euphrates River Valley in the days ahead,” Mattis told the panel, explaining that there would be increased operations against the remaining territories held by the extremists. Reuters reports.

Trump has agreed “in principle” to a new Syria strategy that would mean continued U.S. involvement, the French President Emmanuel Macron said before leaving Washington. Karen DeYoung, John Hudson and Josh Dawsey report at the Washington Post.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have turned their focus to opposition-controlled pockets in southern Damascus and in Homs province, it appears that U.S., U.K. and French missile strikes against the Assad regime in response to the alleged chemical weapons attack on Douma on April 7 have done little to deter Assad’s use of military force. Raja Abdulrahim reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Britain yesterday condemned Russia’s presentation of unharmed people from Douma to Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (O.P.C.W.) investigators as a “stunt,” adding that other Western countries had boycotted the closed-door briefing. Stephanie van den Berg 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

“I do not think we need to willy-nilly appoint special counsels,” the Attorney General Jeff Sessions said yesterday, commenting that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election had taken on “a life of its own.” John Bowden reports at the Hill.

“This thing needs to conclude,” Sessions said following Rep. Evan Jenkins’ (R-W. Va.) comments expressing frustration at the length and scope of Mueller’s investigation. Matt Zapotosky reports at the Washington Post.

The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday approved bi-partisan legislation protecting Mueller amid rumors that the president is considering firing the special counsel and comments from the president that he may play a more direct role in the investigation. Elana Schor reports at POLITICO.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

“Gaza is about to explode,” the U.N. special coordinator for the Mideast Peace Process, Nikolay Mladenov, told the Security Council yesterday, warning that increased tensions on the Israel-Gaza border and unmet humanitarian needs have the potential to lead to conflict. The U.N. News Centre reports.

The commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army (L.N.A.) Khalifa Haftar has returned to Libya after receiving treatment in Paris, Haftar has often presented himself as the only person able to bring stability to the country and has been touted as a possible future leader. Al Jazeera reports.

The U.S. military has been fundamentally flawed in the way that it accounts for civilian casualties, the Just Security co-editor-in-chief Ryan Goodman writes at the New York Times, analyzing the reasons for the lack of accuracy.

Today’s meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been overlooked due to other developments in Asia, the encounter may have significant implications for power dynamics in the region. Ishaan Tharoor provides an analysis at the Washington Post.

President Trump gave a free-wheeling interview to Fox News yesterday that was a “disturbing reflection of both his undisciplined mind, and his unprincipled character.” Michael D’Antonio writes at CNN. 

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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