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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.
The KOREAN PENINSULA
Satellite imagery suggests that North Korea is in the process of destroying facilities used for testing its dangerous midrange ballistic Pukguksong-2 missiles, with a “key missile test stand” used for testing missile ejections from canisters demolished at a test site near Kusong in the northwest of the country, according to analysis published on monitoring website 38 North yesterday. Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.
Former State Department official Joel Wit commented that the destruction represents a small step intended to illustrate the North’s seriousness about halting its long-range missile programs, but that the likelihood of more significant steps in the near future remains uncertain. The AP reports.
Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani commented yesterday that Kim “got on his hands and knees and begged” that the summit with the president should go ahead, after Trump canceled the meeting it last month. Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.
“They also said they were going to go to nuclear war with us, they were going to defeat us in a nuclear war,” Giuliani said in comments to reporters in Tel Aviv, adding that “we said we’re not going to have a summit under those circumstances.” John Bowden reports at the Hill.
U.S. national security adviser John Bolton will travel to Singapore as part of President Trump’s entourage for the summit, with senior adviser to the president Kellyanne Conway commenting that “the national security adviser is going. He’s going to Singapore. He’s going to be a part of those talks.” Jordan Fabian reports at the Hill.
Bolton appears to have taken a back seat to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and although Bolton is expected to be in Singapore for the occasion, Pompeo has taken the lead as the administration has adopted a more conciliatory tone towards Pyongyang. Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom report at Reuters.
Former White House aide Sebastian Gorka and news host Sean Hannity will also be present in Singapore, with Fox News confirming that Hannity will host his show live from Singapore for three days next week. Justin Wise reports at the Hill.
Singapore prepares for a significant logistical challenge on June 12. Chun Han Wong, P.R. Venkat and Jonathan Cheng report at the Wall Street Journal at the Wall Street Journal.
U.S. officials have laid the groundwork for a possible second day of meetings in Singapore, should the two leaders indicate that they want to continue discussions following the June 12 summit, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Jeremy Diamond and James Griffiths report at CNN.
Trump is considering making an offer to Kim for a follow-up summit at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, with a Florida summit in the fall only likely if the leaders get on well in Singapore. Luis Sanchez reports at the Hill.
Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan is making a two-day visit to North Korea ahead of next week’s summit, reportedly at the invitation of North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho. Balakrishnan is also set to meet Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the AP reports.
White House official Joseph Hagin, widely credited for having arranged the summit, is reportedly preparing to step down as soon as the meeting is over, despite having served as a driving force in negotiations with Pyongyang. The Daily Beast reports.
Trump has complained to officials about spending two days in Canada for a summit of world leaders, believing the trip to be a distraction from the upcoming summit with Kim, according to three people party to the president’s opinions. Josh Dawsey, Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker report at the Washington Post.
Democrats in Congress are responding to Trump’s diplomatic efforts “in a quite Trumpian way,” argues Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times, commenting that “they seem more concerned with undermining him than supporting a peace process with North Korea.”
Kim Jong-un’s focus on international diplomacy may reap rewards for his generals, given the deep links between the military and all aspects of the North Korean economy, Eric Talmadge comments at the Washington Post.
Russia hopes the status quo remains undisturbed in North Korea, while Pyongyang no longer depends on Russia for economic and political survival. Mansur Mirovalev comments at Al Jazeera.
Friendship with Pyongyang provides the U.S. with a perfect opportunity to form a bloc against China, S. Nathan Park comments at CNN.
“Complete, verifiable, irreversible” denuclearization (C.V.I.) for North Korea is believed by experts to be an almost unachievable goal, David Welna comments at NPR.
A meeting with North Korea is a positive step and worth pursuing, irrespective of whether no deal is reached, Micah Zenko argues at Foreign Policy
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani today announced a weeklong ceasefire with the Taliban that will begin on June 12, which will mark the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. The AP reports.
Ghani said in a televised address that fighting would continue against other armed groups like the Islamic State, adding in a message on Twitter that the ceasefire would be “an opportunity for Taliban to introspect that their violent campaign is not winning them hearts and minds but further alienating.” Al Jazeera reports.
There has been no immediate reaction from the Taliban and the announcement follows a meeting of Islamic clerics this week who declared a fatwa on Taliban attacks and recommended a ceasefire. The meeting was hit by a suicide bombing which was claimed by the Islamic State group and killed 14 people, Hamid Shalizi reports at Reuters.
Up to 30,000 Afghan police forces on the front line against the Taliban have been denied pay for months, according to officials, which is due to the U.S.-led coalition decision to withhold funding to prompt the forces’ leaders to engage in proper accounting and to clamp down on corruption. Mujib Mashal, Taimoor Shah and Najim Rahim report at the New York Times.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has discussed Afghanistan and other issues with Pakistan’s army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, according to a statement released by State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert. The AP reports.
The State Department evacuated at least two more Americans from China yesterday amid concerns about mysterious health symptoms suffered by employees at the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou. The incident contains parallels with the ailments suffered by diplomats and their families at the U.S. embassy in Cuba and there are various theories as to the cause of the symptoms, Steven Lee Myers and Jane Perlez report at the New York Times.
The State Department announced yesterday that it has sent a medical team to Guangzhou. Eli Watkins and Ben Westcott report at CNN.
Taiwan today carried out military exercises simulating the countering of a Chinese air assault on a major base, amid increased tensions in the Taiwan Strait and vocal U.S. support for Taiwan in the face of pressure from China. The AP reports.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to fly to China for a state visit with meetings set to begin tomorrow. The trip takes place as the two countries have grown increasingly close due to U.S. pressure and the personal chemistry between Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Vladimir Isachenkov reports at the AP.
Iran opened a new uranium enrichment facility at its Natanz site yesterday, the move coming after the U.S. withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal. Amir Vahdat reports at the AP.
Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) Reza Najafi said yesterday that France, Britain and Germany had a few weeks to save the deal, adding that “no one should expect Iran to go to implement more voluntary measures” but emphasizing that this “does not mean that right now Iran will restart any activities contrary to the [deal].” Francois Murphy and Sudip Kar-Gupta report at Reuters.
“We won’t allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon,” U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a message on Twitter yesterday, saying that the U.S. is “watching reports” of Iran’s plans to increase uranium enrichment. Reuters reports.
The U.S. plans to return a U.S. citizen accused of supporting the Islamic State group back to Syria against his will. The unidentified man was captured on the battlefield and has been detained overseas by U.S. forces while the Trump administration and the American Civil Liberties Union (A.C.L.U.) have been engaged in a court battle over his fate, Tracy Connor reports at NBC News.
The A.C.L.U. condemned the U.S. plan as “disgraceful” and a de facto “death warrant,” with the A.C.L.U. attorney Jonathan Hafetz saying that the Trump administration “want[s] to dump an American citizen onto the other side of the road in a war-torn country without any assurances of protection and no identification.” Spencer S. Hsu reports at the Washington Post.
The demographics of the northern Syrian region of Afrin has changed following the Turkish assault on Syrian Kurds and there are fears that this will threaten relations between Arabs and Kurds and lead to conflict. Martin Chulov and Kareem Shaheen report at the Guardian.
Iran and the Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah group will not leave Syria until it is “fully liberated from terrorists,” the Lebanese parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri said yesterday, adding that Russia and Iran are present in Syria on request of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and that the crisis would only be solved through negotiations with all interested parties. Al Jazeera 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]
The U.N. Security Council yesterday adopted a France-drafted presidential statement and gave strong backing to holding elections in Libya, which rival Libyan factions would like to hold in December. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.
The U.S. Africa Command stated yesterday that it had killed four Islamic State militants in a precision strike. Reuters reports.
N.A.T.O. defense ministers are meeting in Brussels today. The ministers are expected to unveil new plans on troop levels in Europe and the strengthening of maritime operations in the face of increased Russian presence, Lorne Cook and Robert Burns report at the AP.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said yesterday that he does not believe the ongoing dispute about U.S. import tariffs would damage the N.A.T.O alliance, telling reporters that he believes it is “premature” to call the situation a trade war between the U.S., Canada and Europe. Robert Burns reports at the AP.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) yesterday disputed President Trump’s criticism of the Justice Department and its handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into his 2016 presidential campaign, telling reporters that he has seen “no evidence” to corroborate Trump’s claims that his campaign was spied on by federal government. Susan Davies reports at NPR.
Ryan expressed the view that Trump should not attempt to pardon himself – despite the president’s assertion on Monday that he has the legal authority to do so – remarking that “I don’t know the technical answer to that question, but I think obviously the answer is he shouldn’t … And no one is above the law.” Nicholas Fandos reports at the New York Times.
Ryan sided with Rep. Trey Gowdy’s (R-S.C.) defense of Mueller’s investigation, telling reporters at his weekly news conference that “Chairman Gowdy’s initial assessment is accurate, but we have more digging to do.” Melanie Zanona reports at the Hill.
The Justice Department intends to offer an additional briefing to a select group of senior lawmakers, including Ryan, who have requested details about the F.B.I’s use of an informant to contact associates of the Trump 2016 campaign. The “Gang of Eight”, also including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), will be allowed to review documents not shown to the group during a high-level classified briefing last month, Kyle Cheney and Rachel Bade report at POLITICO.
Ryan’s comments come at a time when House Republicans are debating whether the retiring speaker should remain in post through the election as he hopes to. One former top Trump campaign official has commented that “he needs to go … now,” Rachel Bade reports at POLITICO.
Mueller’s team is making the request that witnesses hand in their personal phones, in a move aiming to enable the team to inspect encrypted messaging programs, including WhatsApp, Confide, Signal and Dust. Brian Schwartz reports at NBC.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday that she does not regret answering a question last August about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting held between Donald Trump Jr., Trump campaign officials and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. Sanders added: “I wish that we spent a lot less time focused on things that the American people don’t care about, I wish we spent a lot less time talking about this witch hunt, and that we talked about things that impacted everyday Americans,” Sophie Tatum reports at CNN.
CYBSECURITY, PRIVACY AND TECHNOLOGY
The Senate’s version of the defense policy bill formally known as the National Defense Authorization Act (N.D.A.A.) was released in full yesterday. The bill, approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee, would authorize the Pentagon to conduct surveillance on individuals conducting hacking or disinformation campaigns on behalf of the Russian government, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.
Cybersecurity experts at threat intelligence organization Talos have cautioned that a sophisticated Russia-linked hacking campaign has infected more devices than previously reported, with malware known as VPNFilter affecting a greater number of small- or office- routers than thought, as well as having more advanced capabilities. Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.
Former Director at political research firm Cambridge Analytica Brittany Kaiser met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London last year to discuss the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, according to embassy visitor logs obtained by The Guardian. Josh Bowden reports at the Hill.
The U.N. has produced a draft peace plan for Yemen in an effort to end the conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. According to the documents and sources, the plan would call on the Houthis to give up their ballistic missiles in exchange for an end to the coalition bombing campaign. Warren Strobel, Yara Bayoumy and Phil Stewart report at Reuters.
At least 16 people have been killed and 35 wounded by an explosion at an arms depot in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad yesterday. According to a senior police source, the blast was caused by heavy weapons belonging to an armed group and stored in a house in the Shi’ite Sadr City district, the AFP reports.
The Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday unveiled the full text of the National Defense Authorization Act (N.D.A.A.) which sets out $716bn for the military and includes provisions aimed at threats from Russia and China. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
The U.S. ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell “does not, and should not, represent the United States,” the New York Times editorial board writes, expressing dismay at the ambassador’s undiplomatic comments about “empowering” far-right and nationalist movements in Europe.
The Gulf crisis has entered its second year and it appears that Iran is the only party that has something to gain, Ishaan Tharoor writes at the Washington Post, providing an overview of the diplomatic isolation and blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain due to Doha’s alleged support for terrorism and its close ties with Iran.