The Early Edition: April 30, 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

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un told the South Korean President Moon Jae-in that his country would abandon nuclear weapons in exchange for a guarantee that the U.S. that it would not invade their country and that the U.S. would agree to a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War, the South Korean government spokesperson Yoon Young-chan said yesterday when giving an overview of Friday’s inter-Korean summit between Kim and Moon. Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.

Kim pledged to shut down the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in May and allow outside experts to see the site, according to Yoon’s account of the summit, adding that Kim said he would be prepared to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and that he would move North Korea’s clock forward to be in synchronization with Seoul and Tokyo. Anna Fifield reports at the Washington Post.

“I am confident a new era of peace will unfold on the Korean Peninsula,” Moon told his aides, asking them to follow up on the agreements made at the summit’s joint declaration, including an end to the Korean War. Hyonhee Shin and Haejin Choi report at Reuters.

The Trump administration has its “eyes wide open” when it comes to negotiating with North Korea and Kim’s statements on nuclear weapons, the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said yesterday, making the comments ahead of the potential summit meeting between Kim and Trump to be held in May or early June. Quinn Scanlan and Connor Finnegan report at ABC News.

Top Trump administration officials said that North Korean denuclearization must be “irreversible” and verifiable in comments over the weekend, as analysts warn that setting up a workable verification system would face numerous difficulties. Julian E. Barnes and Jonathan Cheng report at the Wall Street Journal.

“We have very much in mind the Libya model from 2003, 2004” when it comes to denuclearizing North Korea, the national security adviser John Bolton said in an interview yesterday, explaining that negotiations with Libya took place in private and “allowed American and British observers into all their nuclear-related sites.” Andrew Desiderio reports at The Daily Beast.

North Korean state media focused on promises made at the inter-Korean summit to bring lasting peace to the Peninsula rather than denuclearization. The Rodong Sinmun paper published Kim and Moon’s joint declaration in full, which mentioned denuclearization, but did not engage with the issue elsewhere, Emma Graham-Harrison reports at the Guardian.

South Korea said today that it would start to dismantle loudspeakers broadcasting propaganda across its border with the North, an agreement to take the step was included in Friday’s joint declaration. Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi is scheduled to visit North Korea this week, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said today. Jeremy Page and Eva Dou report at the Wall Street Journal.

“Would [Libyan leader] Colonel [Muammar] Gaddafi have given up nuclear weapons program if he had known what was to come?” Peter Baker asks at the New York Times, explaining that the North Korean perspective on the “Libyan model” proposed by Bolton may be very different than that of the U.S. due to the Western military intervention in Libya in 2011.

AFGHANISTAN

A double suicide attack in the Afghan capital of Kabul has killed 29 people today, the bomber disguised themselves as a T.V. cameraman and eight journalists were killed in the second explosion. Euan McKirdy and Ehsan Popalzai report at CNN.

The Islamic State group have claimed responsibility for the attacks in Kabul, saying that two of its “martyrs” carried out the attack on Afghan intelligence services in Kabul. Pamela Constable and Sayed Salahuddin report at the Washington Post.

POMPEO MIDDLE EAST VISIT

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Saudi Arabia and Israel over the weekend and has landed in Jordan today, his trip comes shortly after being confirmed as Trump’s new top diplomat and after a meeting with N.A.T.O. foreign ministers in Brussels. Matthew Lee reports at the AP.

Iran “is indeed the greatest sponsor of terrorism in the world, and we are determined to make sure it never possesses a nuclear weapon,” Pompeo said yesterday when meeting Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in Riyadh, adding that the U.S. would “continue to work with our European allies” to “fix” the 2015 Iran nuclear deal ahead of Trump’s self-imposed May 12 deadline. Donna Abdulaziz, Dov Lieber and Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s dangerous escalation of threats towards Israel and the region,” Pompeo said, speaking alongside the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with Netanyahu stating that Iran’s “quest for nuclear bombs” and its “aggression” would be stopped by working together with its allies. Lesley Wroughton and Ori Lewis report at Reuters.

“By recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and seat of its government, we are recognizing reality,” Pompeo also said yesterday. Carol Morello reports at the Washington Post.

Pompeo delivered a message to Saudi Arabia that the blockade and diplomatic isolation of Qatar must stop, according to a senior State Department official, explaining that Pompeo said that there must be unity among Gulf Arab nations to counter Iran, to stabilize Iraq and Syria, to seek a resolution to the war in Yemen and to defeat the Islamic State group. Gardiner Harris reports at the New York Times.

“We are certainly open to a two-party solution [between Israel and Palestine] as a likely outcome,” Pompeo said today at a news conference in Jordan, adding that peace was an “incredible priority for the United States.” Lesley Wroughton reports at Reuters.

The State Department did not even attempt to set up a meeting between Pompeo and Palestinian leaders, according to Palestinian officials, indicating that U.S. officials probably knew that the Palestinians would have refused to meet. The lack of U.S. engagement and increased violence on the Israel-Gaza border has further raised concerns about the possibility of progress on peace between Israel and Palestine, Gardiner Harris and Isabel Kershner explain at the New York Times.

The recent confirmation of Pompeo and the appointment of the new national security John Bolton is likely to crowd out other voices in the foreign policy team, in particular the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley and Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolosky provide an analysis at CNN.

SYRIA

Military sites in the northern Syria provinces of Hama and Aleppo were struck by missiles last night, according to the Syrian military.The BBC reports.

The missile strikes killed 26 pro-Syrian government fighters, most of whom were Iranians, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said today, adding that the attack appears to have been carried out by the Israeli military. Bassem Mroue reports at the AP.

U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) clashed with pro-Syrian government forces in the eastern Deir al-Zour province last night, the S.D.F. said it had recaptured villages near the Euphrates River after briefly losing control of them and the U.S. military said in a statement that the “coalition used established de-confliction channels to de-escalate the situation” and that it would continue to work alongside S.D.F. partners to defeat the Islamic State group in eastern Syria. Al Jazeera reports.

Pro-Syrian government forces have stepped up operations against besieged areas near Homs province in a bid to capture remaining rebel-held areas, a war monitor said today. Reuters reports.

Pro-Syrian government forces yesterday continued to launch military strikes against Islamic State fighters in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp near the capital Damascus, according to the U.N. around 1,200 civilians and Palestinian refugees remain trapped in Yarmouk. Al Jazeera reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 26 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between April 20 and April 26. [Central Command]

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

The French President Emmanuel Macron, the U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed that the 2015 Iran nuclear deal provides the “best way” to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed country, making the statements after separate phone calls over the weekend. Emma Anderson reports at POLITICO.

May yesterday agreed to sign up to Macron’s proposal for a supplemental agreement to the 2015 deal, which would include issues such as sunset clauses and Iran’s ballistic missiles program. The Financial Times reports.

Macron and the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani discussed the 2015 deal in a phone call yesterday, according to a statement by the Elysee Palace, the two leaders agreed to work closely to preserve the deal and Macron called for further talks on areas of concern, including the perceived flaws in the agreement set out by Trump. Ben Westcott reports at CNN.

Iran “will not accept any restrictions beyond its commitments” to comply with international rules after 2025 when the current agreement expires, Rouhani said in talks with Macron, according to the Iranian Presidency’s official website. The BBC reports.

Trump and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the Middle East and Iran’s “destabilizing activities” in a phone call on Saturday, ahead of a decision by the U.S. whether to withdraw from the 2015 deal. Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Violence at the border between Israel and Gaza continued over the weekend, three Palestinians were killed in two separate incidents yesterday, according to the Israeli military. Reuters reports.

The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said that the Palestinians should take up U.S. proposals on peace “or shut up and stop complaining,” according to three sources briefed on the Crown Prince’s meeting with heads of Jewish organizations in New York on March 27. Barak Ravid reports at Axios.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The U.S. military announced today that it had closed down its headquarters coordinating its ground forces in Iraq, marking the end of major combat operations against the Islamic State group, however the statement did not give any indications about U.S. troop levels. Tamer El-Ghobashy reports at the Washington Post.

Rohingya Muslim minorities in Bangladesh pleaded with members of the U.N. Security Council for support to help them return safely to Myanmar, Security Council leaders will travel to Myanmar today for talks with officials and the country’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Michelle Nichols reports at Reuters.

The former F.B.I. Director James Comey yesterday called the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election “a wreck” and castigated it as partisan, making the comments after Trump praised the panel’s report and said it proved that “there’s no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded, coordinated or conspired with Russia.” Sari Horwitz reports at the Washington Post.

The Trump administration’s approach to Iran and North Korea has been incoherent, an agreement to denuclearize North Korea “may not look that different from the nuclear pact [with Iran] he intends on scrapping.” Ishaan Tharoor provides an analysis at the Washington Post. 

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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