The Early Edition: May 2, 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.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Special counsel Robert Mueller told Trump’s legal team that he could issue a subpoena for the president to appear before a grand jury if he declined to talk with federal investigators, according to four people familiar with a March 5 meeting between Mueller’s team and Trump’s lawyers, with two of the sources saying that the president’s lead lawyer John Dowd reacted strongly to the warning, telling Mueller that “you are screwing with the work of the president of the United States.” Carol D. Leonnig and Robert Costa report at the Washington Post.

“So disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were ‘leaked’ to the media,” President Trump said in a message on Twitter yesterday, responding to a report in the New York Times on Monday revealing over 40 questions that Mueller would want to ask the president as part of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, and whether the president obstructed justice. The BBC reports.

Trump’s legal team is preparing for court battles that could lead to the Supreme Court should Mueller issue a subpoena, according to sources familiar with the matter, with sources close to the president saying that it seems increasingly unlikely that Trump would sit down for a voluntary interview with the special counsel. Evan Perez, Gloria Borger and Pamela Brown report at CNN.

“The Department of Justice is not going to be extorted,” the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – who is overseeing Mueller’s Russia investigation – said yesterday, making the comments after some Republican lawmakers have proposed articles of impeachment against him. Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

Mueller’s office have asked for two more months before a sentencing hearing for the former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, Katelyn Polantz reports at CNN.

There president would face significant challenges in an interview with Mueller based on the list of questions that were revealed yesterday, legal experts have said. Charlie Savage explains at the New York Times.

The leak of Mueller’s questions raises multiple questions, if Trump’s legal team decided to leak them, it may backfire. Barbara McQuade provides an analysis at The Daily Beast.

The list of questions suggests that the special counsel “knows a great deal more than he’s letting on” and “whatever information he has, Mr. Mueller, like any seasoned prosecutor, does not ask questions unless he already knows the answers.” The New York Times editorial board writes.

“Under oath or not, Mr. Trump owes the country answers,” the Washington Post editorial board writes.

Mueller has not yet spoken to the president’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump, though she was at the center of many of the events during the presidential campaign that are under scrutiny. Annie Karni provides an analysis of the reasons for this at POLITICO.

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

The U.S. and European countries have been divided in their response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech on Monday on Iran’s nuclear program, which claimed that Iran had deceived the world and International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) inspectors when it said its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes only. European powers have said that Netanyahu’s revelations reinforce the need for the robust inspection and verification regime enshrined in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Mark Landler, David M. Halbfinger and David E. Sanger report at the New York Times.

“They don’t want the world to know what I showed the world yesterday,” Netanyahu said in an interview defending his claims on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, also saying that “nobody is seeking that kind of development” in response to questions about whether Israel would be prepared to go to war with Iran. James Masters reports at CNN.

“The problem is the deal was made on a completely false pretense,” the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday, stating that Netanyahu’s presentation showed that “Iran’s nuclear capability were far more advanced and further along than they indicated” at the time the agreement was negotiated in 2015. Reuters reports.

Iran has been working to keep European countries on its side ahead of Trump’s self-imposed May 12 deadline whether to reinstate sanctions on Iran, which were lifted as part of the 2015 deal. Sune Engel Rasmussen and Asa Fitch report at the Wall Street Journal.

“Every detail PM Netanyahu presented yesterday was every reason the world came together to apply years of sanctions and negotiate the Iran agreement,” the former Secretary of State John Kerry said in a message on Twitter, arguing that the Obama-era agreement stopped a threat that was “real.” Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

“I don’t know what the U.S. president will decide May 12,” the French President Emmanuel Macron said yesterday, noting that “whatever the decision will be, we will have to prepare such a broader negotiation … because I think nobody wants a war in the region.” Ben Doherty reports at the Guardian.

All sides should uphold the Iran nuclear deal, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said today, noting that the I.A.E.A. has said several times that Iran is in compliance with the terms of the agreement. Reuters reports.

Netanyahu’s presentation provided no evidence that Iran contravened the terms of the 2015 agreement, according to non-proliferation experts, adding that the speech offered no new information and the I.A.E.A. was already familiar with what was revealed. Oren Lieberman provides an analysis at CNN.

Netanyahu’s presentation was “flimflam” aimed at Trump with the intention of persuading him to withdraw from the agreement, however the tensions in the Middle East and Iran’s role in the region “make maintaining the nuclear deal even more important.” The New York Times editorial board writes.

The U.S. should use Netanyahu’s revelations as a “pressure tool” to “isolate Iran and tighten the deal,” David Ignatius writes at the Washington Post.

“Netanyahu’s presentation works as an advertisement for the pact he was trying to take down,” Jeffrey Lewis writes at Foreign Policy.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has begun a two-day visit to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang to discuss recent developments on the Korean Peninsula, the recent inter-Korean summit, and a possible visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to North Korea in early June. Al Jazeera reports.

Japan will host South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang for a trilateral summit on May 9, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced yesterday, explaining that he would push for more “concrete actions” from North Korea on its pledge to denuclearize. Motoko Rich reports at the New York Times.

“U.S. troops stationed in South Korea are an issue regarding the alliance between the South Korea and the United States,” a South Korean presidential spokesperson said, explaining that the presence of 29,000 U.S. troops in South Korea, as part of a security agreement that was reached after the Korean War ended in 1953, had “nothing to do with signing peace treaties.” The BBC reports.

The U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has pledged the U.N.’s “full support” to further talks between the two Koreas, according to a spokesperson for Guterres. The AP reports.

SYRIA

U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) yesterday relaunched their campaign against the remaining territory held by the Islamic State group, their operations had been disrupted by a Turkish offensive against Kurdish militias in northern Syrian region of Afrin. Reuters reports.

The S.D.F. will “liberate” areas held by the Islamic State group and end their presence in eastern Syria “once and for all,” the S.D.F. said in a statement yesterday. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

At least 23 civilians were killed by airstrikes yesterday in a pocket of territory in Syria controlled by the Islamic State group, according to Syrian state media and the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (S.O.H.R.), coming as the U.S.-led coalition said that they had relaunched their campaign against the terrorist fighters. S.O.H.R. said it was unclear whether the strikes were carried out by the U.S.-led coalition or the Iraqi air force, Sarah El Deeb reports at the AP.

Rebels have agreed to surrender an enclave near the city of Homs, according to Syrian state media they will have the option of pledging allegiance to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s government or moving to rebel-held territory in northern Idlib province. The AP reports.

“On the list of the potentials for most likely live hostility around the world, the battle between Israel and Iran is at the top of the list right now,” a senior U.S. official has said, with three U.S. officials saying that Israel seems to be preparing for military action. Courtney Kube reports at NBC News.

The T-4 airbase in Syria has been the center of increasing tensions between Iran and Israel and may be the source of a direct military confrontation. Oliver Holmes explains at the Guardian.

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

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo introduced himself to diplomats at the State Department yesterday, in an email to staff he said he was eager to restore the department’s “swagger.”  Robbie Gramer reports at Foreign Policy.

The Obama-era executive order that requires the civilian casualty report “is under review,” a White House spokesperson said yesterday, making the comments following a decision by the Trump administration not to comply with some aspects of the executive order. Greg Jaffe reports the Washington Post.

Bomb attacks on a mosque in northeastern Nigeria killed at least 28 people yesterday, it is believed that the Boko Haram extremist group were responsible. Ibrahim Abdul’Aziz reports at the AP.

U.S. and Israeli officials denounced the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for his comments on anti-Semitism and the creation of the state of Israel, the U.S. special envoy Jason Greenblatt said his remarks were “very distressing and terribly disheartening.” The AP reports.

World leaders have developed techniques to try and influence Trump, including the use of visual aids and flattery. Adam Taylor 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