The Early Edition: May 1, 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

“Iran lied – big time,” the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday during a presentation at the Israeli Ministry of Defense, unveiling files that he claimed to be proof that Iran “planned at the highest level to continue work related to nuclear weapons under different guises and using the same personnel” in spite of the 2015 nuclear agreement. Elliot C. McLaughlin reports at CNN.

Netanyahu’s presentation came ahead of President Trump’s self-imposed May 12 deadline whether to preserve the Iran nuclear deal and he urged Trump to do “the right thing” in light of the material found by Israeli intelligence, however many experts and former officials said that Netanyahu’s speech did not reveal any new information. Felicia Schwartz and Dov Lieber report at the Wall Street Journal.

Netanyahu claimed that Iran had deceived the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) and the files obtained by Israel “conclusively prove that Iran is brazenly lying when it said it never had a nuclear weapons program,” however he did not provide any evidence that Iran violated the agreement since it took effect in early 2016 and cited no evidence that Iran’s plans to build up to five nuclear weapons were pursued. David M. Halbfinger, David E. Sanger and Ronen Bergman report at the New York Times.

Netanyahu’s revelations “showed that I’ve been 100 percent right” in saying that the 2015 agreement was the “worst deal” every signed, Trump said at a news conference yesterday, stating that “we’ll see what happens” when it comes to the May 12 deadline. Loveday Morris and Karen DeYoung report at the Washington Post.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the Iran nuclear deal was “built on lies,” that the materials revealed by Netanyahu were authentic and showed proof “beyond any doubt” that “the Iranian regime was not telling the truth” to the I.A.E.A. and the world. The BBC reports.

“The boy who can’t stop crying wolf is at it again,” the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said in a message on Twitter in response to Netanyahu’s speech. Iranian state T.V. also castigated Netanyahu’s presentation as being “full of baseless accusations.” Al Jazeera reports.

“Iran had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program that it has tried and failed to hide from the world and from its own people,” a White House statement said, revising an earlier statement that said Iran “has” such a nuclear weapons program. The tense of the original sentence contradicted I.A.E.A. observations and a White House official blamed a “clerical error” for the wrong tense. Brandon Conradis reports at the Hill.

Israel will be sending experts to France and Germany to share its intelligence on Iran’s alleged efforts to obtain a nuclear weapon, Netanyahu’s office said yesterday. Reuters reports.

The French President Emmanuel Macron has taken efforts to persuade Trump to preserve the Iran nuclear deal ahead of the May 12 deadline, including a proposal for a supplementary agreement, however it appears that Macron has begun to turn his focus to the fallout should Trump withdraw from the deal – which the U.S. president seems intent on doing. Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, Michael Peel and Monavar Khalaj explain at the Financial Times.

Netanyahu gave Israelis a “TED Talk in a foreign language about a nuclear program from 15 years ago,” Noga Tarnopolsky provides an analysis of the speech at The Daily Beast.

“The sooner the world pushes back against Iranian imperialism, the better the chance of avoiding a much larger war,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes, arguing that “Iran has used the windfall from the nuclear deal to fund its regional aggression,” particularly in Syria.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

Trump insisted that his approach to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal would have no bearing on upcoming talks with North Korea, making the comments yesterday ahead of a potential summit meeting to be held between him and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Jordan Fabian and Brett Samuels report at the Hill.

Trump said that he expects the summit with Kim to take place by mid-June and that the administration was considering Singapore and the Demilitarized Zone (D.M.Z.) between the two Koreas as a location for the meeting. Michael C. Bender reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The South Korean President Moon Jae-in has convinced Kim to hold his upcoming meeting with Trump at the D.M.Z., according to a source, and a government spokesperson said today that the truce village of Panmunjom in the D.M.Z. would be “quite meaningful” as a location for the talks. Will Ripley, Ralph Ellis and Ben Westcott report at CNN.

President Trump should receive a Nobel Peace Prize for helping to instigate the peace process on the Korean Peninsula, Moon was quoted as saying by his office yesterday, his comments marking repeated thanks that South Korea has given to Trump over the past months, which may also be seen as an attempt to flatter the U.S. president and encourage him to continue supporting South Korean diplomatic efforts. Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.

South Korea has begun dismantling loudspeakers that broadcast propaganda across its border with the North, an agreement to take down the loudspeakers was made at Friday’s historic inter-Korean summit and South Korea has said it believes the North is also dismantling its loudspeakers. Joori Roh reports at Reuters.

“So far, everyone is playing Kim’s game,” Van Jackson writes at POLITICO Magazine, warning that the U.S and South Korea should not underestimate Kim’s strategy.

“We are on the verge of letting our hopes get in the way of our survival,” Jeffrey Lewis writes at Foreign Policy, pointing out that there remains plenty of risks and Kim’s vow to close a nuclear test site does not mean much in practical terms.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Special counsel Robert Mueller has a list of over 40 questions to ask Trump should they sit down for an interview on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, and whether the president obstructed justice during the investigation. Michael S. Schmidt reveals at the New York Times.

The questions cover four main areas: the circumstances surrounding the firing of the former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, the president’s interactions with former F.B.I. Director James Comey, the president’s relationship with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and questions related to Trump campaign coordination with Russian operatives. Matt Apuzzo and Michael S. Schmidt provide a breakdown at the New York Times.

The issue of potential obstruction of justice by Trump has consistently featured in the list of questions, the list also reveals a question relating to the former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, his interactions with Russia, and Trump’s knowledge of any such activities. David Smith reports at the Guardian.

Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus have drafted articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing Mueller’s investigation. It is unlikely that the draft articles by Trump allies would gain significant support in Congress, Robert Costa, Sari Horwitz and Matt Zapotosky report at the Washington Post.

Manafort’s legal team have argued that repeated leaks of classified information by government officials have undermined his right to a fair trial, in particular “the government-sourced leaks concerning surveillance of Mr. Manafort with foreign individuals.” Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

AFGHANISTAN

The double suicide bombing in the Afghan capital of Kabul yesterday demonstrates the never-ending nature of the conflict in the country, a branch of the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack which killed at least 25 people, including nine journalists. Mujib Mashal and Fahim Abed report at the New York Times.

The number of Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (A.N.D.S.F.) has seen a drop in its personnel of almost 11 percent over the past year, highlighting the scale of the security challenge. Idrees Ali reports at Reuters.

“The U.S. is in a triple bind: it cannot win the war, it cannot halt the war, and it cannot leave,” Simon Tisdall provides an analysis of the war in Afghanistan, within the context of recent terrorist attacks, at the Guardian.

POMPEO MIDDLE EAST VISIT

“We do believe the Israelis have the right to defend themselves, and we’re fully supportive of that,” the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at a joint press conference in Jordan with Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, referring to recent clashes between Israel and Palestinians at the Israel-Gaza border and making the comments amid criticisms that the Israeli military has been heavy-handed in its response to demonstrations at the border. Suha Ma’ayeh reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Pompeo’s decision to go on a foreign trip shortly after being confirmed as Secretary of State sent a message on a number of issues, including that he wants to improve morale at the State Department and that he “expects to own U.S. diplomacy” in the Middle East. Carol Morello provides an analysis at the Washington Post.

SYRIA

“We do not want to simply pull out [U.S. troops] before the diplomats have won the peace,” the Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon yesterday, suggesting that a full withdrawal of U.S. troops in the near future is unlikely. Reuters reports.

Syrian government forces continued their assault on rebel enclaves between the cities of Hama and Homs yesterday and have said they would implement a ceasefire to allow rebels to agree a surrender deal and relocate to the opposition-held Idlib province in northwestern Syria. Reuters reports.

Tahrir al-Sham alliance fighters yesterday agreed with the Syrian government to leave the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus and relocate to Idlib province. Al Jazeera reports.

Islamic State group fighters have expanded their control in parts of the Syrian capital of Damascus and have a presence in the eastern Deir al-Zour province, according to a monthly report by the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres circulated yesterday. The AP reports.

Iran appears to have few options in responding to a recent suspected Israeli airstrike on Iranian forces in Syria, Jon Gambrell provides an analysis at the AP.

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]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The White House chief of staff John Kelly dismissed a report that he called Trump an “idiot” as “total B.S.,” NBC News reported yesterday that Kelly felt he was saving the U.S. from disaster. Josh Dawsey reports at the Washington Post.

Tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan have increased following a decision by Pakistani police to charge a U.S. Embassy security officer for seeking to obstruct the investigation of an accident involving an embassy vehicle. Salman Masood reports at the New York Times.

Lawyers for Guantánamo Bay detainee Khalid Sheikh Mohamed have revealed limited data that shows “evidence of head injuries consistent with the physical trauma” he may have suffered in C.I.A. custody, the details in the memo could lead to the court sparing the man – who is accused of orchestrating the 9/11 attacks – the death penalty. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

U.S.-made Javelin weapons have been delivered to Ukraine, the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said yesterday. Reuters reports.

The Islamic State in West Africa (I.S.W.A.) has embarked on a campaign to win over local people and gain territory in northeastern Nigeria and in Niger. Paul Carsten and Ahmed Kingimi explain at Reuters. 

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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