The Early Edition: May 23, 2018

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Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute

The KOREAN PENINSULA

President Trump said yesterday that he would cancel a planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un unless Kim first consented to a list of unspecified conditions, speaking at a White House meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Trump’s comments lend  further uncertainty to the fate of the meeting scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, Michael C. Bender reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“I don’t want to waste a lot of time, and I’m sure he doesn’t want to waste a lot of time. So there’s a very substantial chance that it won’t work out,” Trump told reporters, adding that “That doesn’t mean it won’t work out over a period of time. But it may not work out for June 12th.” David Nakamura, Carol D. Leonnig, John Hudson and Ashley Parker report at the Washington Post.

Trump told reporters “We’ll see what happens…There are certain conditions that we want and I think we’ll get those conditions and if we don’t we don’t have the meeting”, commenting further that Kim’s attitude had changed after his second visit to China earlier this month. The BBC reports.

“I dont like that. I dont like it from the standpoint of China, Trump cautioned, drawing attention to the opening up of the North-Korea China border and remarking that “Every time I talk to China about trade, I’m thinking about the border. Because that border is a very important element in what we’re doing.” Bryan Harris and Charles Clover report at the Financial Times.

Trump appeared to back away from his previous demand that Kim completely abandon his nuclear arsenal and raised the alternative of a phased dismantling –commenting that while “It would certainly be better if it were all in one…Does it have to be? I don’t think I want to totally commit myself.” Mark Landler reports the New York Times.

“In the end it will work out. I can’t tell you how or why, but it always does,” Trump conjectured, promising that if Kim agreed to denuclearize, “We will guarantee his safety. He’ll be safe. He’ll be happy. His country will be rich.” Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.

Moon commented that the “fate and future” of the Korean Peninsula is hinged on the proposed landmark summit, Al Jazeera reports.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the administation “will do what it takes” to make a summit with North Korea happen – comments echoed by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders who said that “we’re going to continue in preparations, and we’ll see what happens.” Rebecca Kheel and Jordan Fabian report at the Hill.

Pompeo said in the news briefing that China had offered “historic assistance” in lobbying Pyongyang. Lesley Wroughton reports at Reuters.

High-level talks between the two Koreas are likely to resume after May 25 once joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises are completed, a South Korean government spokesman told reporters yesterday in Washington following the meeting between Trump and Moon. David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick report at Reuters.

The scheduled demolition of North Korea’s Punggye-ri test site is due to take place sometime between today and Friday, depending on the weather, despite the uncertainty surrounding the summit with the U.S. AFP reports.

North Korea has permitted a number of South Korean reporters to visit Punggye-ri, South Korea’s unification ministry said today, reversing a decision last week  to exclude reporters from the South following joint U.S.-South Korean air combat drills. Hyonhee Shin reports at Reuters.

A U.N. monitoring group hopes to enlist the assistance of the world’s most significant oil trading companies to enforce sanctions against North Korea capping the volume of crude oil and other products the nation can import, according to the group’s coordinator Hugh Griffiths. Julia Payne reports at Reuters.

How will President Trump redefine success in his dealings with North Korea now that denuclearization may be off the table? Mokoto Rich provides an analysis in the New York Times.

A photo essay charts the rise of “king of Pyongyang” Kim Jong-un, at the BBC.

Moon, not Trump, should be praised for diplomatic breakthroughs with North Korea, J. Alex Tarquino argues at POLITICO magazine.

South Africa, rather than Libya, provides the example for North Korean denuclearization, Terence McNamee comments at Foreign Policy.

Planning for a summit with North Korea was a high-stakes gamble that now may not materialize, Stephen Collinson explains at CNN.

IRAN

“Iranian armed forces are now, thanks to God, more prepared than ever and will not wait for the permission or approval of any power to develop defense capabilities,” the senior military official Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri was quoted as saying by the I.R.N.A. state news agency today, the statement coming two days after a speech by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that vowed punitive sanctions on Tehran to force it to change its regional behavior and to limit its missile program. Reuters reports.

Pompeo said he was “confident” that shared values and interests would lead European allies to work with the U.S. on its approach to Iran, the Secretary of State told reporters at the State Department yesterday. Reuters reports.

The U.S. approach to Iran and its nuclear program “risks endangering the region more” and “will reinforce the conservatives” within Iran’s domestic politics, the French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said today, speaking after Pompeo outlined the Trump administration’s Iran policy. Reuters reports.

The U.S. imposed sanctions on five Iranian officials linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) yesterday, when announcing the designation, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the actions of the officials had “enabled” Yemen’s Houthi rebels to target Saudi Arabia. Ian Talley reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“The United States will not tolerate Iranian support for Houthi rebels who are attacking our close partner, Saudi Arabia,” Mnuchin said, the comment following other designations on top Iranian officials and the Trump administration’s strategy of putting greater financial pressure on Iran following Trump’s recent decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal. Al Jazeera reports.

There has been increased speculation that Israel may unilaterally strike Iran: there have been recent escalations between Israel and Iran in Syria, increased tensions in the region following Trump’s decision on the 2015 nuclear deal, and Israel’s recent use of stealth F-35 fighters sends a signal about their military capabilities. David Axe provides an analysis at The Daily Beast.

Trump is surrounded by ultra-hawks who advocate for regime change in Iran, the national security adviser John Bolton has been a longtime believer in regime change and Pompeo’s speech on Monday “invited Iran to come out with its hands up and sign up as a vassal state.” David Gardner writes at the Financial Times, arguing that this approach only serves to re-legitimize hardliners in Iran and pours “more fuel on already roaring proxy war fires” in the region.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Only two Republican lawmakers will be allowed to review classified information at a meeting tomorrow regarding a confidential F.B.I. source as part of the investigation into links between the Trump campaign and Russia. These are the House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and House Oversight Committee chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who will meet with F.B.I. Director Christopher A. Wray, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Ed O’Callaghan and others, Karoun Demirjian and Matt Zapotosky report at the Washington Post.

Top Democrats have denounced the White House decision not to invite them to tomorrow’s meeting on the F.B.I. source, the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that, from her “understanding,” Democrats were not invited because “they haven’t been the ones requesting this information.” Kyle Cheney reports at POLITICO.

Some Republicans have expressed concern about the deal struck between President Trump and the Department of Justice (D.O.J.) which resulted in organizing tomorrow’s meeting, with Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) saying that there has been confusion over the specific information that will be shared with Nunes and Gowdy and that a brief on the documents about the F.B.I. source would not suffice. Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

Mueller has been looking into the Israeli firm P.S.Y. Group and its links to Trump’s 2016 campaign. According to sources and documents, P.S.Y. Group pitched social media strategies to help the presidential campaign and one of the firm’s founders, Joel Zamel, met with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower in August 2016 along with the adviser to the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia, George Nader. Michael Riley and Lauren Etter report at Bloomberg.

Zamel signed a memorandum of understanding between P.S.Y. Group and the political research firm Cambridge Analytica after the 2016 election in a joint bid to win government contracts and other clients, according to sources familiar with the matter. Cambridge Analytica has been caught up in a scandal after it was revealed that the firm harvested the data of millions of Facebook users, Byron Tau and Rebecca Ballhaus report at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump’s legal team has been seeking to narrow the scope of a potential interview between Mueller and the president, with one source saying that they want questions to be “limited to Russian collusion.” Gloria Borger, Evan Perez and Dana Bash report at CNN.

Evgeny A. Friedman, the business partner of Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen, has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors which could increase pressure on Cohen to cooperate with Mueller’s Russia investigation. Danny Hakim, William K. Rashbaum and Vivian Wang report at the New York Times.

A feature on the links between Cohen and businessman Andrew Intrater is provided by Ben Protess, William K. Rashbaum and Mike McIntire at the New York Times, explaining why their relationship may have drawn the attention of Mueller.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein may regret striking a deal with President Trump to expand the D.O.J. internal watchdog’s investigation to look at the use of an F.B.I. source during Trump’s campaign. William Yeomans writes at POLITICO Magazine, explaining that while Rosenstein may have mollified the president for now, he has established a disturbing precedent on politically motivated investigations.

Details regarding the interaction between the F.B.I. source Stefan Halper and the Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page remain hazy, the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes, arguing that the timeline of the D.O.J. and F.B.I. contradicts news reports and Page’s recollections.

SYRIA

Withdrawal of Iranian troops and Lebanese Hezbollah group militants from Syria “is not even on the agenda of discussion,” the Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad said today, dismissing U.S. demands for Iran to pull out of the country and commenting that Syria “highly appreciates” support from its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies. Vladimir Isachenkov reports at the AP.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 66 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between May 11 and May 17. [Central Command]

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

The Israeli military struck Palestinian Hamas group infrastructure yesterday, with the Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman saying that the strikes destroyed another Hamas tunnel. The AP reports.

The Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki submitted a referral to the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) yesterday to investigate “all crimes” committed in occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since June 2014. The BBC reports.

The European Union (E.U.) can “go to a thousand thousand hells” for calling for an investigation into police brutality against Israeli Arabs, the Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said today, also denouncing the E.U. for “sucking up to Iran” and for helping Tehran against U.S. sanctions. Noa Landau reports at Haaretz.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY AND TECHNOLOGY

Facebook C.E.O. Mark Zuckerberg was questioned yesterday at the European Parliament in Brussels in a meeting where he apologized for the company’s mistakes but angered European lawmakers by evading questions. Ivana Kottasová and Seth Fiegerman report at CNN.

“I asked you six yes-or-no answers and I got no answers. You asked for this format for a reason,” remarked Philippe Lamberts, the co-head of the Parliament’s Green party towards the close of the session, adding that “this can’t be the end of the story. We will insist on a follow-up and, if needed, additional regulation.” Mehreen Khan and Hannah Kuchler report at the Financial Times.

AFGHANISTAN

Insurgent attacks in Afghanistan’s western Baghdis and central Ghor provinces have killed five people over the past 24 hours, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in Ghor but it is not clear who was responsible for the attack in Baghdis. The AP reports.

Lt. Gen. Scott Miller has been chosen to replace Gen. John Nicholson to lead sensitive U.S. missions in Afghanistan, according to five U.S. officials. Reuters reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Trump administration’s approach to a deal with China on telecommunications has been met with opposition by lawmakers who have expressed concern that a deal would compromise U.S. national security. Kate O’Keeffe and Bob Davis report at the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has canceled an inquiry into monitoring of attorney-client meetings at Guantánamo, instead giving a Pentagon review panel the opportunity to review the issue. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers have been pushing for a vote on a new authorization for the use of military force (A.U.M.F.) as part of this week’s debate on the National Defense Authorization Act (N.D.A.A.). Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced yesterday the expulsion of top U.S. diplomat Todd Robinson and his deputy for allegedly attempting to sabotage the country’s recent presidential election, saying in a televised address that “The empire doesn’t dominate us here… we’ve had enough of your conspiring.” The AP reports.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a car bombing in eastern Libya yesterday, which killed two members of the self-styled Libyan National Army, led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar. The AP reports.

The Saud-led coalition destroyed two boats deployed by the Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels today, according to state media. Reuters reporting.

A U.S. employee in southern China has reported “subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure,” the State Department said today, which recalls similar the experiences of dozens U.S. diplomats in Cuba, who suffered mysterious health symptoms. Christopher Bodeen reports at the AP.

Ukraine has tested U.S.-made Javelin missile systems for the first time yesterday, the U.S. sent the anti-tank defense systems to Ukraine to strengthen the country against Russian aggression and pro-Russian separatists in the Crimea. Reuters reports. 

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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).