The Early Edition: May 9, 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 WITHDRAWS FROM THE IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

Trump announced yesterday that he was withdrawing the U.S. from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, calling the agreement – which was signed by the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, China, Russia and Iran – “a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made.” The U.S. is now poised to reinstate sanctions against Iran that were lifted as part of the agreement, Mark Landler reports at the New York Times.

“The Iran deal is defective at its core … in just a short period of time, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror will be on the cusp of acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapons,” Trump said in remarks at the White House, justifying his decision by calling the deal poorly negotiated and citing recent Israeli revelations about Iran’s nuclear program. Anne Gearan and Karen DeYoung report at the Washington Post.

Iran could begin industrial enrichment of uranium “without any limitations” if “necessary,” the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech yesterday, adding that pending the implementation of Trump’s decision, Iran “will wait for some weeks and will talk with our friends and allies and other signatories of the nuclear deal” and then determine what would be in the national interest. Nasser Karimi and Amir Vahdat report at the AP.

“I have ordered the foreign ministry to negotiate with European countries, China and Russia in the coming weeks,” Rouhani said in a statement, adding that the deal would “remain in place” if other members of the deal cooperate to achieve its goals. The BBC reports.

Trump’s decision has prompted European allies to try and salvage the nuclear deal, the French President Emmanuel Macron, the British Prime Minister Theresa May and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a joint statement expressing their “regret and concern” at the decision and the European Union foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said that the E.U. “is determined to preserve” the deal. The AFP reports.

“The deal is not dead. There’s an American withdrawal from the deal but the deal is still there,” the French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said yesterday, adding that the Middle East “deserves better than the further destabilization provoked by American withdrawal.” Reuters reports.

The foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany are scheduled to meet with representatives of Iran on Monday “to consider the entire situation,” Le Drian said in the interview. Al Jazeera reports.

Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and Bahrain welcomed Trump’s announcement on the Iran nuclear deal, the Saudi foreign ministry claimed that Iran’s economic gains from the lifting of sanctions had allowed it to support militant groups and develop ballistic missiles, while the U.A.E. foreign affairs minister said that Iran had interpreted the agreement “as concurrence of its regional hegemony.” Stephen Kalin and Sarah Dadouch report at Reuters.

The former Secretary of State John Kerry strongly criticized Trump’s decision, stating that the president’s announcement on the deal, which he helped negotiate, “weakens our security, breaks America’s word, isolates us from our European allies, puts Israel at greater risk, empowers Iran’s hardliners and reduces our global leverage to address Tehran’s misbehavior while damaging the ability of future administrations to make international agreements.” Julia Manchester reports at the Hill.

Former President Barack Obama branded Trump’s decision a “serious mistake” and defended his administration’s approach to Iran and its nuclear program in a statement posted on Facebook. Al Jazeera reports.

Iranian hardliners rejoiced at Trump’s decision, the commander of the Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) “congratulated” Iran on the U.S. withdrawal and members of parliament held up a paper U.S. flag and set fire to it in the chamber. Saeed Kamali Dehghan reports at the Guardian.

A breakdown of the reactions to Trump’s decision from world leaders and U.S. lawmakers is provided by the New York Times.

The British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said today that the U.S. had ignored the U.K.’s concerns about withdrawal from the deal, admitting that Trump had not listened to entreaties by European allies. Andrew Sparrow reports at the Guardian.

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL: OPINION & ANALYSIS

Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal has damaged U.S. relations with its European allies, undermined U.S. standing with Russia and China and changed the balance of power within Iran’s domestic politics. Tim Lister provides an analysis at CNN.

The foundation for Trump’s decision was laid during his campaign to be president, John Hudson and Philip Rucker write at the Washington Post, giving a breakdown of Trump’s approach to the deal before, and since, he took office.

“Where is the ‘Plan B’? How is Iran to be contained? And how is an international consensus to be maintained to further this goal?” Jonathan Marcus asks at the BBC, providing an analysis of Trump’s motivations and the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program that are contained in the agreement.

An analysis of how long it would take for Iran to build a nuclear bomb is provided by Laurence Norman at the Wall Street Journal.

“Mr. Trump is engaged in a grand, highly risky experiment,” David E. Sanger and David D. Kirkpatrick write at the New York Times, noting the risks that the decision has for power dynamics in the Middle East.

Trump was able to withdraw because Obama never won domestic support for the deal, the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes, noting that the deal was never put to the Senate for approval as a treaty, however Trump’s action means that his administration must carry out more work to push back against Iran’s expansionism and “more diplomacy with Europe to fix the nuclear deal’s fatal weaknesses.”

Trump proposed no new strategy in yesterday’s speech and his action has potential implications for the administration’s attempts to negotiate denuclearization with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Karen DeYoung provides an analysis at the Washington Post.

The agreement provided for stringent verification of Iran’s nuclear program, Trump’s decision has now made Iran more dangerous and undermined U.S. interests. The former national security adviser to President Obama, Susan E. Rice, writes at the New York Times.

Trump said he would be able to get an even better deal on Iran’s nuclear program – where is it? The New York Times editorial board asks, noting that the president’s approach to Iran is part of a pattern of behavior that reveals a lack of “policy depth or strategic vision.”

An analysis of who will be “hurt” by Trump’s decision is provided by Al Jazeera.  

Trump’s announcement has made the prospect of war in the Middle East more likely, the Washington Post editorial board writes.

Suggestions on what Trump should look for in a new nuclear agreement with Iran is provided by Ray Takeyh at POLITICO Magazine.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is currently on a surprise visit to Pyongyang, intending to lay the groundwork for the planned summit between President Trump and North Korean leader King Jong-un, with speculation growing that Pompeo will bring home three Americans detained in North Korea. The BBC reports.

Pompeo is being hosted by Gen. Kim Yong-chol, though is unclear whether Mr. Pompeo’s visit will include a meeting with Kim Jong-un. Gen. Kim told Pompeo during a lunch today that the detente on the peninsula is driven by “the will of the Korean people,” rather than by Trump’s sanctions campaign, Jonathan Cheng reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“We expect him to bring the date, time and the captives,” a South Korean official has commented, indicating to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency that in addition to securing the release of the three U.S. prisoners – Kim Dong Chul, Kim Sang Duk and Kim Hak Song – Pompeo is expected to return with the details of Trump and Kim’s proposed meeting. John Bowden reports at the Hill.

Pompeo told Kim Yong-chol and former Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong that North Korea can “have all the opportunities your people so richly deserve,” reassuring the senior officials that although the U.S. and North Korea have been adversaries for decades, “you have been a great partner in working to make sure our two leaders will have a summit that is successful.” Carol Morello and Anna Fifield report at the Washington Post.

China’s Premier Li Keqiang suggested that the parties involved should seize the opportunity to promote denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the comments arising from today’s trilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Tokyo. Reuters reports.

Japan would normalize its relationship with North Korea if nuclear and missile issues, along with that of the abduction of Japanese citizens, are resolved conclusively, Abe said today, following North Korea’s admission that it kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens decades ago. Updates from Kiyoshi Takenaka at Reuters.

Moon said that actual steps to achieve denuclearization would be difficult, even though North Korea supports denuclearization in principle, with a Japanese official commenting that Moon and Abe have agreed to work together to figure out the required steps. Updates from the Washington Post.

Kim and Xi met for two days of meetings starting Monday in the northeastern Chinese coastal city of Dalian as a follow-up to their summit six weeks ago, allegedly discussing the possibility of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. Chun Han Wong and Jeremy Page report for the Wall Street Journal.

Trump’s decision to jettison the Iran nuclear suggests that he is likely to remain tough in his insistence on North Korea getting rid of its nuclear program. Donald Kirk writes at The Daily Beast.

HASPEL CONFIRMATION PROCESS

“I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership C.I.A. will not restart such a detention and interrogation program,” Gina Haspel, Trump’s nominee to be the new C.I.A. Director, will tell the Senate Intelligence Committee today according to excerpts of her testimony, referring to controversy surrounding her role in interrogation programs following the 9/11 attacks, including at a C.I.A. “black site” in Thailand. Byron Tau and Nancy A. Youssef report at the Wall Street Journal.

The Senate Intelligence Committee looks set to ask Haspel hard-hitting questions at today’s confirmation hearing, however public questioning of certain issues may be limited due to the classified nature of the operations. Mark Hosenball reports at Reuters.

The main architect of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, has sought permission from a military judge at Guantánamo Bay to share information about Haspel to the Senate Intelligence Committee. According to a Senate Intelligence Committee report, Mohammed was subjected to waterboarding and other brutal interrogations. Charlie Savage reports at the New York Times.

“Did you know about my abduction and abuse? Were you involved with it? What will you say if President Trump asks you to do something like that again?” Fatima Boudchar, who was abducted by C.I.A. agents and rendered to Thailand, asks at the New York Times.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY AND TECHNOLOGY

The Senate Intelligence Committee released a report yesterday concluding that Russian hackers surveilled around 20 state election systems in the run-up to the 2016 elections in a move designed to undermine confidence in the U.S. voting process, although the committee said it saw no evidence that the Russians had in fact changed voter registration information or vote tallies. Nicholas Fandos and Michael Wines report for the New York Times.

The committee has recommended that states expand their measures to monitor threats aimed at federal agencies. Tim Starks writes at POLITICO.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said on Tuesday that he intends for the panel to wind up its investigation into Russian interference this August, when the Senate goes into recess. Katie Bo Williams writes at The Hill.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen received hundreds of thousands of dollars from a company connected to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. The confirmation comes after allegations made yesterday by Michael Avenatti, lawyer for former porn actress Stormy Daniels, Noah Shachtman and Kate Briquelet report at The Daily Beast.

Avenatti said that Vekselberg and his cousin Andrew Intrater made eight transfers to Cohen between January and August 2017 through a U.S.-based investment firm called Columbus Nova LLC for a total of $500,000. The U.S. had imposed sanctions last month on Vekselberg and Renova to retaliate for the Kremlin’s suspected meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and other “malign activity,” reports Nathan Layne for Reuters.

Columbus Nova said it retained Cohen as a consultant “regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures,” and although Columbus Nova is described in federal regulatory filings as an affiliate of the Vekselberg’s Renova Group, the company said Vekselberg was not involved with hiring or paying Cohen. Reporting from Rosalind S. Helderman, Tom Hamburger and Emma Brown at the Washington Post.

Vekselberg was questioned by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team about the payments, the questions asked suggesting that the investigators have been examining Michael Cohen’s business relationships as part of the broader probe into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Kara Scannell and Shimon Prokupecz report at CNN.

The telecommunications giant AT&T Inc. has confirmed that it too had made payments to Mr. Cohen’s company in 2017 for “insights” into the Trump administration at a time when it needed government approval for the $85 billion takeover of Time Warner Inc. Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Drew FitzGerald, Michael Rothfeld and Rebecca Ballhaus report at the Wall Street Journal.

SYRIA

Syrian air defenses yesterday shot down two Israeli missiles near the capital Damascus, according to the S.A.N.A. state media, Israel has not commented on the reported attack. Oliver Holmes reports at the Guardian.

Syrian state media stated that the Israeli missiles were targeted at an Iran-linked army base, Sune Engel Rasmussen and Dov Lieber report at the Wall Street Journal.

The report from Syrian media came shortly after the Israeli military said it had identified “irregular activity” by Iranian forces in Syria, which also took place a few hours after Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Dan Williams and Angus McDowall report at Reuters.

Rebels from territory between Homs and Hama arrived in the opposition-held northern Idlib province and the northern Jarablus city yesterday as part of an evacuation agreement with Russia, which is allied to the government of President Bashar al-Assad. 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]

YEMEN

Saudi Arabia’s state media reported today that the military had intercepted two ballistic missiles fired from Yemen and targeted at the capital, Riyadh. Reuters reports.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for the missile attack, Reuters reports.

AFGHANISTAN

A double suicide attack hit two police stations in the Afghan capital of Kabul today, at least two police officers have been killed and several have been wounded, according to officials. Rahim Faiez reports at the AP.

The Islamic State group have claimed responsibility for the attack in Kabul, Reuters reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Vietnam has requested that China “show its responsibility” and withdraw military equipment installed at outposts in the South China Sea, stating that the installation “features under Vietnam’s sovereignty.” The AP reports.

The former C.I.A. officer Jerry Chun Shing lee has been charged gathering classified information to pass on to China. Scott Neuman reports at NPR. 

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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

Robbie Stern

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK - Follow him on Twitter (@robbieguystern).