The Early Edition: June 6, 2018

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

TRUMP-KIM SUMMIT

Republican and Democratic senators have questioned the White House approach to the planned June 12 summit meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, expressing concern about Kim’s sincerity on the issue of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and as to whether the U.S. would prematurely ease pressure and sanctions on Pyongyang. Jessica Donati reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is scheduled to meet with Trump at the White House tomorrow to discuss the upcoming summit and ensure the U.S. president advocates for Japanese interests at the talks in Singapore, including Pyongyang’s shorter-range missile capability and the fate of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea decades ago. Mari Yamaguchi reports at the AP.

“I want to make the U.S.-North Korea summit a success,” Abe told reporters before departing for Washington, explaining the issues that he would raise with Trump and making the comments amid fears that the U.S. president could agree to reducing U.S. military presence in South Korea, thereby exposing Japan to threats from the North Korea and increased Chinese influence in the region. Tim Kelly and Linda Sieg report at Reuters.

The White House national security adviser John Bolton made controversial comments in May about the “Libya model” for denuclearizing North Korea in order to derail the summit, according to State Department officials, with the comments being interpreted as supporting an end to the North Korean regime. CNN reports.

Trump’s decision to set up a meeting with Kim was “brave and mature,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday, adding that he expects a “positive outcome.” Reuters reports.

“The President, the Vice President and the Secretary of State have all told me separately that their intent is to put together a treaty that will be submitted to the United States Senate under the Constitution for certification,” Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) said yesterday, speaking to reporters after a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing and contrasting the Trump administration’s approach to North Korea denuclearization with the Obama administration’s approach to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Ken Dilanian reports at NBC News.

The summit will take place at the Capella hotel on the Singaporean island of Sentosa, the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed yesterday. The BBC reports.

The California-based FireEye internet security group warned that South Korea is likely to face an increase in cyberattacks ahead of the Trump-Kim summit, explaining that it has found evidence of advanced China and Russia-linked groups targeting South Korean entities. Bryan Harris reports at the Financial Times.

The U.S. basketball player Dennis Rodman has been considering meeting with Kim in Singapore during the June 12 summit. There is speculation that the N.B.A. star may play a role in the negotiations, Des Bieler reports at the Washington Post.

An analysis of the role Rodman could play in the Trump-Kim summit is provided by the BBC.

A peace deal declaring the formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War may be achieved at the summit. While this would be historic, it would not address the key issue of North Korea’s nuclear and missile program and a declaration or treaty could undermine Washington’s position in future negotiations with Pyongyang, Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom provide an analysis at Reuters.

Foreign leaders have been jockeying to influence the upcoming summit and to advance their own interests ahead of the meeting. Nahal Toosi provides an analysis at POLITICO, noting the role of Putin, Abe, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Chinese President Xi Jinping and, surprisingly, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

An explanation of the key issues to be discussed at the summit and an analysis of the possible outcomes is provided by Julian Borger at the Guardian.

IRAN

The Iranian Vice President and head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi announced yesterday that Iran has launched a plan to boost uranium enrichment, explaining that a center for production of new centrifuges at the Natanz site would open soon and that this would not violate the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (J.C.P.O.A.), as it constituted the beginning of the production process and did not mean that Iran will start assembling the centrifuges. The AFP reports.

“If the J.C.P.O.A. collapses … we will assemble new-generation of centrifuges. However, for the time being, we move within the framework of the J.C.P.O.A.,” Salehi said, making the comments as a spokesperson from the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) said yesterday that the agency had received a letter from Iran informing it of a “tentative schedule” to increase uranium enrichment. The BBC reports.

“It is always dangerous to flirt with the red lines, but the initiative taken … remains totally within the framework of the Vienna [nuclear] deal,” the French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said yesterday in response to Iranian announcements on increased uranium enrichment. Reuters reports.

“In their current state, U.S. secondary sanctions could prevent the European Union from continuing meaningful sanctions relief to Iran,” the finance and foreign ministers of France, Germany, the U.K. and the European Union said in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday, warning that U.S. economic pressure was undermining attempts to preserve the 2015 agreement. William Horobin and Laurence Norman report at the Wall Street Journal.

The Israeli Prime Minister has been meeting with European leaders and senior officials this week to challenge their approach to the 2015 agreement and to advocate steps to push Iranian forces out of Syria. The AP reports.

“If you have a bad deal you don’t stick to it especially if you see Iran is conquering one country after another and you cannot divorce this from Iran’s aggression in the [Middle East] region,” Netanyahu said yesterday at a joint news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, explaining that he believed the 2015 agreement would fall apart due to “the weight of economic forces.” John Irish and Marine Pennetier report at Reuters.

Iran’s comments on European efforts and its announcement on uranium enrichment suggests that it is considering ditching the deal as it becomes politically unsustainable to demonstrate the agreement’s benefits. Amanda Erickson provides an analysis at the Washington Post.

SYRIA

The Pentagon admitted yesterday that the U.S. military will never know the exact number of civilians it has killed during the fight against the Islamic State group – the admission following an accusation by human rights group Amnesty International that the U.S. and its allies recklessly killed thousands of civilians in the battle to recapture the Syrian city of Raqqa, in a potential breach of international law. Paul Shone reports at the Washington Post.

The Syrian Kurdish Y.P.G militia said yesterday it will leave the Syrian town of Manbij, following an agreement struck Monday between Turkey and the U.S. that the group should withdraw, although Y.P.G. issued a statement affirming that “our forces will heed the call when necessary to offer support and help to the people of Manbij should it be needed.” Elen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said joint work on the plan agreed with the U.S. would begin in 10 days and be complete in six months, adding that the model should also be applied to Raqqa, Kobane, and other Syrian areas controlled by Y.P.G. Al Jazeera reports.

The U.S. said yesterday that Manbij will be governed by “locals” who are “mutually agreeable” to the U.S. and Turkey. Meanwhile, a Russian force deployed on the Syria-Lebanon border has reportedly withdrawn and been replaced by Syrian troops, the AP reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 41 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between May 25 and May 31. [Central Command]

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said today that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is trying to frame the president, telling reporters in Tel Aviv that Mueller’s team includes “13 highly partisan Democrats…trying very very hard to frame him to get him in trouble when he hasn’t done anything wrong.” The AP reports.

“I’m an honest person,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday, declining several times to explain her apparently false assertion last August that President Trump did not dictate a statement about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting held between Donald Trump Jr., Trump campaign officials and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya offering information on Hillary Clinton – adding that “frankly, I think my credibility is probably higher than the media’s.” Matthew Nussbaum reports at POLITICO.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has queried whether Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is able to remain in charge of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 presidential election, remarking that Rosenstein is “conflicted” due to his role in the firing of former-F.B.I. Director James Comey.  Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

Top F.B.I. official Bill Priestap was questioned by lawmakers and congressional staff behind closed doors yesterday. Republicans have been keen to talk to Priestap, who oversees the bureau’s counterintelligence division, about his involvement with its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election as well as its probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

A decision by Trump to pardon himself would provoke a political disaster even if legal, argues Richard A. Epstein at the Wall Street Journal, who comments that “an abuse of the impeachment power would pose a far greater risk to our constitutional order than any misuse of the pardon power”.

Trump’s comments yesterday morning may provide the answer as to why he has taken against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with a message on Twitter referring to Sessions’ failure to shut down the investigation into the Trump campaign. “To critics, that is all but an admission of obstruction of justice,” comments Peter Baker at the New York Times.

Transatlantic cooperation is urgently needed in the face of the threat of Russian election interference, Anders Fogh Ramussen and Michal Chertoff comment at POLITICO Magazine.

CYBSECURITY, PRIVACY AND TECHNOLOGY

Tech giant Google’s decision not to renew its artificial intelligence (A.I.) contract with the Pentagon has re-opened a debate about the role of the tech sector in military and warfare, with Google announcing the decision to employees during a meeting on Friday following sustained internal pressure. Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (E.A.C.) yesterday released a list of 26 states that have requested and received cybersecurity funding, with the money geared toward ensuring that voting systems are properly secured ahead of the upcoming midterm elections. Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

Investors who had backed the rebranding of political research firm Cambridge Analytica are in conflict with former C.E.O. Alexander Nix following allegations that Nix withdrew more than $8m from his company once he learned that the British media was reporting about his company’s role in the massive leak of Facebook user data that surfaced in March. Aliya Ram and Cynthia O’Murchu report at the Financial Times.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

The Israeli military stated yesterday that its soldiers did not intentionally kill the Palestinian medic Razan al-Najjar at a protest on the Israel-Gaza border last week. Thousands of Palestinians attended her funeral at the weekend and her killing has been condemned by international humanitarian and rights groups and a group of U.N. agencies, Rick Gladstone reporting at the New York Times.

Palestinians carrying out arson attacks by sending fire-starting kites across the Gaza border should be countered with “targeted assassinations,” the Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said yesterday, saying that the Israeli Defense Forces should handle “these kite-flyers exactly as they would any terrorist.” Dan Williams and Nidal al-Mughrabi report at Reuters.

Argentina’s soccer team has called off a match with the Israeli team in Jerusalem due to Palestinian pressure. Uzi Dann, Noa Landau, Jonathan Lis and agencies report at Haaretz.

U.S.-CHINA RELATIONS

China’s escalating attempts to impose its will on neighbours such as Taiwan through diplomatic, commercial and military pressure have drawn the sternest criticism to date from the Trump administration, with officials in Washington announcing an intention to send an aircraft carrier battlegroup into the Taiwan Strait in response to China’s military “turning up the heat”. Simon Tisdall reports at the Guardian.

China’s Foreign Ministry said today that no military ship or aircraft will scare the nation from protecting its territory, following the reported movement of two U.S. Air Force B-52 bombers near disputed islands in the South China Sea. Reuters reports.

The U.S. will refrain from sending any cabinet-level officials to the June 12 opening of the new offices for the American Institute in Taiwan — the unofficial U.S. embassy in Taipei —  in a decision aiming to placate the Chinese administration. Zhenhua Lu reports at POLITICO.

U.S.-GERMANY RELATIONS

“Don’t we as Americans have the right to free speech?” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said yesterday, defending new U.S. ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell following his controversial interview with right-wing news site Breitbart in which he claimed a desire “empower” conservatives around Europe to rise up against “elites.” Yasmine Salam reports at POLITICO.

“Ambassadors have a right to express their opinion,” Nauert commented, adding “they’re representatives of the White House, whether it’s this administration or other administrations.” Jonathan Landay reports at Reuters.

The leader of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Union bloc in parliament – Volker Kauder – underplayed irritation towards Grenell on the part of the German administration, commenting that “I assume that just as I’ve gotten to know the American president, and now the ambassador, there could be frequent occasion to comment, given what both of them are like…You have to take it how it is.” David Rising reports at the Washington Post.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

“As [Prussian statesman Otto von] Bismarck used to say, if we explained to people how sausages were made, it’s unlikely they’d keep eating them,” French President Emmanuel Macron said yesterday in response to a question about his phone calls with President Trump and a report that their discussion on Monday had been “terrible.” Reuters reports.

The U.S. has warned the United Arab Emirates not to launch an offensive on the Houthi rebel-controlled Yemeni port city of Hodeidah, U.S. officials said yesterday, making the comments as the U.N. has warned that an assault on the city would lead to a humanitarian crisis. Warren Strobel and Phil Stewart report at Reuters.

At least six people have been killed and dozens wounded by three suicide bombing attacks outside a mosque in southeastern Niger, the attackers are suspected to be members of the Boko Haram extremist group who had crossed the border from Nigeria. Dalatou Mamane reports at the AP.

“If we want to protect the freedom of the press, if we want to protect journalists, this is the kind of technique we need to use,” the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in an interview published yesterday, defending the decision to stage the death of the dissident Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. Shaun Walker reports at the Guardian.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement on Ukraine today, calling on all parties to “recommit” to the 2015 Minsk peace agreement relating to eastern Ukraine and the Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

The first step to suspending Venezuela from the 34-member Organization of American States (O.A.S.) was taken yesterday, the action being taken following strong U.S. criticism of the South American nation. Reuters reports.

The State Department announced yesterday that it had set up a task force to address concerns about mysterious health symptoms experienced by U.S. government employees in Cuba and in China. Max Greenwood reports at the Hill. 

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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.