The Early Edition: May 8, 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

“I will be announcing my decision on the Iran Deal tomorrow from the White House at 2:00pm,” Trump said in a message on Twitter yesterday, amid speculation that the president intends to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 agreement which waives sanctions on Iran in exchange for strict limitations on its nuclear program. David E. Sanger and Steven Erlanger report at the New York Times.

Trump’s forthcoming announcement comes following attempts by European allies to persuade him not to withdraw the U.S. from the deal, the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson met with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to urge the administration not to scrap the deal, making the trip shortly after visits to the White House by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Michael R. Gordon, Felicia Schwartz and Ian Talley report at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump is expected to stop short of reneging on the deal altogether, it is believed that he will address some of the sanctions that were waived when the deal was first implemented and make a decision on other waivers when he faces a congressional deadline in July. Karen DeYoung, Anne Gearan and David Nakamura report at the Washington Post.

“If the United States unilaterally withdraws from the [nuclear accord], Iran could either remain in the agreement and seek to isolate the United States from our closest partners, or resume its nuclear activities,” a group of leading Senate Democrats warned in a letter to President Trump yesterday, stating that withdrawal could undermine U.S. efforts to achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

“It is possible that we will face some problems for two or three months, but we will pass through this,” the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said today, making the comments after Trump said he would announce his decision and adding that Iran wants to keep “working with the world and [maintain] constructive engagement with the world.” Amir Vahdat and Nasser Karimi report at the AP.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson warned that scrapping the Iran deal could lead to a regional arms race in an interview with Fox News as part of his appeal to Trump not to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement. Martin Pengelly reports at the Guardian.

“This deal … is a factor of peace and stabilization in a very eruptive region,” the French Defense Minister Florence Parly said yesterday, stating that the deal was not perfect but has been effective in suspending Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Reuters reports.

Trump criticized former Secretary of State John Kerry for his so-called “shadow diplomacy” on the Iran nuclear deal in a message on Twitter yesterday after the Boston Globe reported last week that Kerry – who helped negotiate the deal – had met with the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif “to discuss ways of preserving the pact limiting Iran’s nuclear weapons program.” Cristiano Lima reports at POLITICO.

The Israeli private investigation firm Black Cube was hired to get dirt on former top Obama administration officials Ben Rhodes and Colin Kahl in order to undermine the Iran nuclear deal, it is unclear who hired Black Cube and a spokesperson for the company said that they have “no relation whatsoever to the Trump administration, to Trump aides, to anyone close to the administration or to the Iran nuclear deal.” Michael D. Shear and Ronen Bergman report at the New York Times.

The Black Cube investigation shows that someone is very keen to scrap the Iran deal, whether it was aides to Trump or a private-sector client. John Kirby provides an analysis at CNN.

Trump’s decision on the deal would have implications for power relations in the Middle East, in particular the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with analysts saying it would have the potential to provoke further confrontations through their proxies in the region and other less direct ways. Asa Fitch and Magherita Stancati explain at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump may be swayed by his domestic voter base when it comes to the decision, however this would risk damaging relations with key European allies who are firmly behind the deal. Alternatively, the president could try to placate both by refusing to continue waiving sanctions and leaving open a narrow window for European allies to try and negotiate an agreement that addresses his concerns, Stephen Collinson explains at CNN.

U.S. withdrawal from the deal would likely push Iranian domestic politics further into the hands of hard-liners, meaning any future rapprochement between Iran and the West would be put at risk. Nasser Karimi reports at the AP.

Iran’s options should Trump withdraw from the deal are analyzed by Babak Dehghanpisheh at Reuters.

Trump’s options on the deal are analyzed by Amanda Erickson at the Washington Post.

An analysis of what U.S. withdrawal would mean for America’s European allies and for Iran’s role in the Middle East is provided by Dan De Luce, Keith Johnson, Robbie Gramer and Emily Tamkin at Foreign Policy.

HASPEL CONFIRMATION PROCESS

Gina Haspel, Trump’s nominee to be next C.I.A. Director faces a bruising confirmation process tomorrow in the U.S. Senate. The White House said yesterday that Haspel remains “100 percent committed” to the confirmation process, Reuters reports.

Haspel’s nomination has been controversial due to a number of reasons as although she has decades of experience she has had a role in brutal interrogation techniques at a C.I.A. “black site” prison in Thailand and the destruction of videotapes showing the use of the techniques on detainees. Peter Baker and Matthew Rosenberg explain at the New York Times.

Haspel had offered to withdraw her nomination on Friday because of the controversy surrounding her role in Thailand, however she changed her mind at the weekend after discussions with White House officials. Shane Harris reports at the Washington Post, also giving an overview of what is known about Haspel’s career as an intelligence officer.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) yesterday accused Democrats of “smearing” Haspel and urged the Senate to confirm her as C.I.A. Director. Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

Senate Republicans have expressed confidence that they can confirm Haspel as C.I.A. Director by the end of the month, with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) saying that he believes Haspel “will be voted out of the [Senate] Intelligence Committee on a bipartisan basis and she will be confirmed by the full Senate on a bipartisan basis.” Burgess Everett and Elana Schor report at POLITICO.

The Department of Justice delivered a summary of a 2010 report to leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee which may offer further information on Haspel’s role in the destruction of videotapes showing brutal interrogations. Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

Democrats have called for further declassifications of records that show Haspel’s work at the C.I.A., Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said there was a “lack of transparency,” with the C.I.A. responding that it had sent more classified documents to the Senate covering her “actual and outstanding record.” Mark Hosenball and Patricia Zengerle report at Reuters.

“Haspel is probably the senior intelligence officer who best understands the Russia threat,” David Ignatius writes at the Washington Post, saying that this offers a powerful counterargument to those who say she shouldn’t be approved by the Senate.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

There was speculation today that the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was in the Chinese port city of Dalian for a second meeting with Chinese President Xi ahead of his expected summit meeting with Trump, after reports of tightened security and a sighting of Kim’s plane at the airport. The Washington Post reports in breaking news.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in today said that Japan and North Korea should begin talks to normalize relations between them in comments to Japanese newspaper Yorimuri ahead of Wednesday’s summit with the leaders of Japan and China in Tokyo, adding that at his summit last month with Kim both sides agreed to work towards denuclearization. Kaori Kaneko reports for Reuters.

US diplomats have been concerned by comments made by President Donald Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani about the release of three Americans detained in North Korea ahead of Trump’s upcoming summit with Kim, with officials still working to confirm verification for the release. Zachary Cohen and Kevin Liptak report for CNN.

Donald Trump has softened his formerly tough rhetoric on North Korea’s treatment of its people ahead of the upcoming talks on denuclearization, raising concerns amongst human rights organizations, a dozen of whom have sent Trump a letter pressing him to urge North Korea to release political prisoners and “improve its human rights record.” Reporting and analysis from Nahal Toosi at POLITICO.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani has announced a target of May 17 to decide whether Trump will testify in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation with Trump’s legal team having been divided on whether the President should submit to a sit-down interview, and Giuliani admitting that despite Trump’s apparent willingness to testify, “every day we swing a little different” on whether he should expose himself to interview. Peter Nicholas writes in the Wall Street Journal.

Trump’s former adviser Roger Stone made comments on Monday distancing himself from Rick Gates, the deputy campaign chairman of the Trump campaign, who pleaded guilty in February to financial fraud and lying to investigators in the Russia inquiry, with Stone claiming that he had had a single dinner with Gates. Maggie Haberman reports for the New York Times.

Trump has lashed out at the Mueller investigators, sending a message stating that the “13 Angry Democrats in charge of the Russian Witch Hunt are starting to find out that there is a Court System in place that actually protects people from injustice,” warning also that the investigators should “wait ‘till the Courts get to see your unrevealed Conflicts of Interest!” following earlier messages in which he questioned the probe’s credibility and drew attention to  the resignations last week of two top FBI advisers to former Director James Comey. Eli Okun follows the developments in POLITICO.

Since 2000 members of Mueller’s team have indeed given over $77,000 to Democratic candidates, Philip Bump comments in the Washington Post, but noting that this does not constitute a breach of impartiality, that those at the head of the investigation are in fact known Republicans and that Trump’s own contributions to Democrats and Democratic committees since 2000 total $330,000.

SYRIA

Hundreds of rebels have been relocating from the territory between the Syrian cities of Homs and Hama to the opposition-held Idlib province as part of an evacuation deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Russian allies. The BBC reports.

“If Assad allows Iran to turn Syria into a military base against us … he must know that it is his end and the end of his regime,” the Israeli minister Yuval Steinitz, who attends Israel’s security cabinet, said yesterday. The BBC reports.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has used the war in Syria to expand Russian military power in the eastern Mediterranean region, the N.A.T.O. southern Europe commander U.S. Navy Adm. James Foggo said yesterday. Trisha Thomas reports at the AP.

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]

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

President Trump’s daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, and his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, will be attending the opening ceremony of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, in December 2017 Trump made the controversial decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and announced that the U.S. would regard Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Al Jazeera reports.

Israel has said that Paraguay will be moving its embassy to Jerusalem by the end of the month, Paraguay’s foreign ministry and presidential office could not confirm or deny the news. Laurence Blair reports at the Guardian.

JOHN DOE

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has upheld a decision barring the U.S. government from transferring U.S.-Saudi dual national, known as John Doe, to Saudi Arabia from military detention in Iraq, leaving Doe’s fate ambiguous. It remains unknown whether the Trump administration will seek to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, Katie Bo Williams reports at The Hill.

The appeals court’s reasoning remains unknown as both its majority opinion and the dissent were issued under seal, Lawrence Hurley reports for Reuters, noting that the A.C.L.U. had filed a habeas corpus petition on Doe’s behalf.

Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said yesterday that officials were reviewing the decision, claiming that Doe’s “alleged activities with I.S.I.L. [Islamic State group] implicate numerous national security, law enforcement, international relations and foreign policy concerns” and that “both domestic and international law confer on the U.S. military broad discretion over battlefield operations, including the transfer of individuals captured on overseas battlefields.” Josh Gerstein reports for POLITICO.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Airstrikes by Afghan forces killed at least 30 children on April 2, a U.N. report said yesterday, casting doubt on government claims that the strikes hit mainly Taliban militants. Sayed Salahuddin reports at the Washington Post.  

Saudi-led coalition airstrikes yesterday hit Yemen’s presidential palace in the capital of Sana’a as part of military action against the Houthi rebels. According to the Houthi-controlled Saba news agency, at least six people have been killed and 90 injured. Simeon Kerr reports at the Financial Times.

The Iran-backed Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah group have increased their influence following the parliamentary elections in Lebanon, their success is likely to unnerve the U.S. and those in the region concerned about Iran’s influence. Ben Hubbard and Hwaida Saad report at the New York Times.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has called on lawmakers in the House and the Senate to include measures in the National Defense Authorization Act tightening oversight of foreign investment, saying in a letter that a national security risk “may arise from coercive industrial policies.” Reuters reports.

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani “speaks for himself and not on behalf of the administration on foreign policy,” the State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said yesterday, following a series of comments by Giuliani on North Korea and Iran. Josh Lederman reports at the AP.

Russian hackers have been operating under the flag of the Islamic State group and threatening the wives of U.S. soldiers, according to evidence found by the Associated Press, noting that the Russian hackers were the same group that hacked into the emails of Democratic National Committee Chairman John Podesta during Hillary Clinton’s campaign to be president. Raphael Satter reveals at the AP.    

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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