The Early Edition: May 7, 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

President Trump faces his self-imposed deadline on the future of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal on May 12, Trump appears prepared to reinstate sanctions that were lifted as part of the agreement in spite of attempts by European allies to persuade him to continue waiving sanctions and preserve the deal. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

A U.S. decision to abandon the deal would be a “historic mistake,” the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said yesterday, adding that whatever decision President Trump makes, Iran had made plans and “when it comes to weapons and defending our country, we will not negotiate with anybody.” Sheena McKenzie and Bijan Hosseini report at CNN.

“If we can get what we want from the deal without America, then Iran will continue to remain committed to the deal,” Rouhani said in a televised speech today, adding that Iran wants its interests “to be guaranteed by its non-American signatories.”  Parisa Hafezi reports at Reuters.

The British foreign minister Boris Johnson has arrived in Washington in a last-ditch attempt to persuade the Trump administration to keep the deal, the French President Emmanuel Macron and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel also made recent trips to the U.S. to urge Trump not to rip up the deal. George Parker reports at the Financial Times.

“Of all the options we have for ensuring that Iran nuclear weapon, this [2015] pact offers the fewest disadvantages,” Boris Johnson writes at the New York Times, stating that the U.K. shares Trump’s concerns about Iran’s activities in the Middle East and its ballistic missiles program, but warning that “only Iran would gain from abandoning the restrictions on its nuclear program.”

Trump’s aides hired an Israeli private intelligence firm to conduct an investigation into top Obama administration officials Ben Rhodes and Colin Kahl as part of a campaign to undermine the Iran nuclear deal, the investigators sought to “get dirt” on Rhodes and Kahl and looked into their personal lives and political careers. Mark Townsend and Julian Borger reveal at The Observer.

The Israeli private intelligence firm has denied the reports that it was hired to carry out an investigation into Rhodes and Kahl. Amir Tibon reports at Haaretz.

Senior U.K. officials are “making progress” on negotiations with the Trump administration on the Iran nuclear deal, the British ambassador to the U.S., Sir Kim Darroch, said in an interview yesterday, explaining that the U.K. understands Trump’s concerns, but that action was being taken to address them. Emily Tillett reports at CBS News.

“I said it from the start, it has to be either fully fixed or fully nixed,” the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday, stepping up his calls for an end to the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, warning that “if you keep it as is, you will end up with Iran with a nuclear arsenal in a very short time” and making the comments a week after presenting information on Iran’s nuclear program. Josef Federman reports at the AP.

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) suggested yesterday that Trump should delay his May 12 deadline and “put the French and the British up to the test about whether it is possible to get this other sort of agreement,” referring to discussions of a potential supplemental agreement to the original deal. Luis Sanchez reports at the Hill.

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani suggested that Trump will withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 agreement, making the comments at a conference of the Organization of Iranian-American Communities on Saturday and stating that “we have a president who is as committed to regime change as we are.” Alan Bjerga reports at Bloomberg.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

The U.S. has been “misleading public opinion” by claiming that Pyongyang’s denuclearization has been the consequence of Washington’s sanctions and pressure campaign, North Korea’s official K.C.N.A. news agency said yesterday, stating that the leader Kim Jong-un was motivated by his “peace-loving intention” to pledge denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula at his April 27 summit meeting with the South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Haejin Choi and Hyonhee Shin report at Reuters.

“The U.S. is deliberately provoking the D.P.R.K. at the time when the situation on the Korean Peninsula is moving toward peace and reconciliation,” a North Korean spokesperson said according to the K.C.N.A. report, using the acronym for North Korea’s official title, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The AP reports.

“We now have a date, and we have a location. We’ll be announcing it soon,” Trump said Friday of his upcoming summit meeting with Kim. Michael C. Bender reports at the Wall Street Journal.

There would be enormous challenges verifying the dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear program, David E. Sanger and William J. Broad explain at the New York Times.

The withdrawal U.S. military presence in South Korea has received renewed attention due to the developments on the Korean Peninsula, the recent inter-Korean summit and the planned summit meeting between Kim and Trump, however many have pushed back against the suggestions because of the potential consequences for South Korea’s security. Jonathan Cheng and Andrew Jeong explain at the Wall Street Journal.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said in comments over the weekend that he would advise the president against sitting down for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller, that the president could assert his “Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the Russia investigation,” and that Trump and his legal team “don’t have to comply” with a subpoena by Mueller because “we can assert the same privilege that other presidents have.” Scott Neuman reports at NPR, providing an overview of Giuliani’s interviews and some of his contradictory remarks.

U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis questioned Mueller’s authority in indicting Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, at the hearing in Alexandria, Virginia on Friday. Judge Ellis said that Mueller’s team did not care about Manafort’s bank fraud, but rather “what information Mr. Manafort could give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump or lead to his prosecution or impeachment.” Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

SYRIA

Turkey’s military is “ready for new missions” against U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish Y.P.G. militia in Syria, the Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday, praising Turkish troops for their offensive against Syrian Kurds in the northern Afrin region. Reuters reports.

Turkey has had significant influence in the northern Syrian town of Jarablus. According to officials, the town has become an example of Turkish governance following military operations, Laura Pitel reports at the Financial Times.

Iraq’s air force carried out an airstrike against the Islamic State in Syria and “completely destroyed” the position used by commanders of the group, the Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s office said in a statement yesterday. Reuters reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 27 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between April 27 and May 3. [Central Command]

AFGHANISTAN

An explosion at a mosque in Afghanistan’s Khost province yesterday has killed at least 17 people and wounded 34, according to officials. Qadir Sediqi reports at Reuters.

The mosque was being used as an electoral registration center, no one has yet claimed responsibility, though the Taliban have denied any role in the attack. Fahim Abed and Rod Nordland report at the New York Times.

“The Secretary-General extends his solidarity to Afghan citizens seeking to exercise their constitutional rights and take part in forthcoming parliamentary elections,” the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement yesterday. The U.N. News Centre reports.

At least five police officers were killed by the Taliban in Kandahar province yesterday, according to a provincial official. The AP reports.

Afghan forces have recaptured a district in Afghanistan’s Badakhstan province after Taliban fighters took it last week, officials have said. Reuters reports.

HASPEL CONFIRMATION PROCESS

Trump’s nominee to be C.I.A. Director offered to withdraw her nomination on Friday, Gina Haspel’s nomination has been under scrutiny due to her role in brutal interrogation techniques at a C.I.A. blacksite prison in Thailand and her role in the decision to destroy videotapes documenting the interrogation of al-Qaeda operatives. Haspel told White House officials that she was concerned about damage to the C.I.A. during a contentious confirmation process, Matthew Rosenberg and Mark Landler report at the New York Times.

Senior Trump administration officials met with Haspel on Friday afternoon to convince her not to withdraw the nomination, according to anonymous officials, Haspel decided to continue as nominee on Saturday afternoon. Carol D. Leonnig, Shane Harris and Josh Dawsey report at the Washington Post.  

Haspel is scheduled to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday for a confirmation hearing, the White House has said that it expects the vote to be close. Greg Myre reports at NPR.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

At least 43 Palestinians have been killed since protests began on March 30 at the border between Israel and Gaza. According to Palestinian health officials, two Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli troops yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.

Israel has stepped up its police presence and security ahead of the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 14, there have been fears of violence, particularly as the week marks the celebration of the 70th anniversary of Israel’s creation, which Palestinians mark as the Nakba, “catastrophe.” Oliver Holmes reports at The Observer.

The Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas apologized for offending Jews in his comments to Palestinian lawmakers last week, Abbas’s remarks were widely condemned as anti-Semitic. Siobhán O’Grady reports at the Washington Post.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Trump’s comments on gun laws have drawn anger from the U.K. and France, during a speech to the National Rifle Association (N.R.A.) on Friday, the president criticized the countries and referred to knife violence in London and the Bataclan terrorist attack in Paris, prompting the French Foreign ministry to release a statement expressing “firm disapproval” of the U.S. President’s remarks on the attack. Adam Taylor reports at the Washington Post.

“Turkey will absolutely retaliate” if the U.S. halts weapons sales to Ankara, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said yesterday. Tuvan Gumrucku reports 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