The Early Edition: June 13, 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-KIM SUMMIT

A jubilant President Trump flew home yesterday with what he described as  “very, very comprehensive” agreement with North Korea, although lawmakers, analysts and even Trump’s allies have questioned the substance of what had been achieved. Karen DeYoung and David Nakamura report at the Washington Post.

Trump claimed today that there is no longer a nuclear threat from Pyongyang, sending a message on Twitter stating: “just landed – a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office…There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!” Adam Schreck and Foster Klug report at the Washington Post.

“The World has taken a big step back from potential Nuclear catastrophe!” Trump said in a message on Twitter yesterday night, adding “No more rocket launches, nuclear testing or research! The hostages are back home with their families. Thank you to Chairman Kim, our day together was historic!” Luis Sanchez reports at the Hill.

During his return to the U.S., Trump thanked Kim for “taking the first bold step toward a bright new future for his people,” claiming that yesterday’s summit “proves that real change is possible!” Trump also allegedly spoke with South Korean Prime Minister Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the AP reports.

Trump has accelerated diplomatic efforts for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula following yesterday’s summit with Kim in Singapore. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to travel to Seoul tomorrow for talks with South Korean and Japanese officials, followed by a trip to China, Michael R. Gordon, Jonathan Cheng and Michael C. Bender report at the Wall Street Journal.

Lawmakers from both U.S. parties greeted Trump and Kim’s joint agreement coolly yesterday, with top Republicans warning President Trump that any final deal on Kim’s nuclear program should be submitted to the Senate for ratification. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) commented that “while I am glad the president and Kim Jong-un were able to meet, it is difficult to determine what of concrete nature has occurred,” Nicholas Fandos reports at the New York Times.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) remarked that the two nations are “early in the process,” and that if the Trump administration is able to lock in a deal it should be sent to Congress, adding “I think when you’re talking about something as profound as maybe ending a war that we’ve been in for about 70 years … I think it should take congressional action to solidify it.” Tillis’s comments were echoed by Senate’s No. 2 Republican John Cornyn (R-Tex.) as well  Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who told NBC’s “Today” that he not only wanted “to see the details, I want to vote on them,” Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

“It’s important that we don’t lose sight of the fact that Kim Jong-un is a butcher and he’s a butcher of his own people,”  Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) told reporters, adding that “trying to reason with someone like that is like trying to hand-feed a shark. It doesn’t mean that you can’t do it, but you’ve got to do it very, very carefully.” Patricia Zengerle and James Oliphant report at Reuters.

Democrats accused Trump of giving away too many concessions to Kim without receiving anything in return, claiming that the president sacrificed Washington’s leverage over Pyongyang for an “anaemic” agreement, with the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Commmitte Mark Warner (Va.) commenting that it was “clear that Kim…walked away from Singapore with exactly what he wanted — the pomp, circumstance and prestige of a meeting with the President of the United States — while making no specific commitments in return”. Katrina Manson reports at the Financial Times.

“In his haste to reach an agreement, President Trump elevated North Korea to the level of the United States while preserving the regime’s status quo,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) remarked in a scathing statement while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y) said on the Senate Floor that the U.S. has “legitimized a brutal dictator.” Schumer added that “It is worrisome, very worrisome that this joint statement is so imprecise…what the U.S. has gained is vague and unverifiable at best. What North Korea has gained, however, is tangible and lasting,” Julia Manchester reports at the Hill.

The agreement between the two nations has raised complex questions for Washington’s regional allies. South Korea’s defense ministry appeared unaware of Trump’s apparent decision to cancel joint military exercises, while Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera today cautioned that “U.S.-South Korea exercises and the U.S. military presence in South Korea have an important role in the peace and security of East Asia,” Niharika Mandhana reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Japan’s Minister of Defence Itsunori Onodera said today that the U.S. military’s presence in South Korea and joint military exercises were “vital” for East Asian security, adding that “we would like to seek an understanding of this between Japan, the U.S. and South Korea” and pledging that Japan would continue joint military exercises with the United States and would stick to plans to strengthen its defences against a possible ballistic missile strike from the North. Nobuhiro Kubo reports at Reuters.

Trump today defended his calls yesterday to end military exercises with South Korea, sending a message on Twitter claiming that “we save a fortune by not doing war games, as long as we are negotiating in good faith.” The AP reports.

Trump’s pledge to cancel joint military exercises with South Korea appeared to surprise the Pentagon, with U.S. military spokesperson in South Korea Lt. Col. Jennifer Lovett commenting that U.S. command in the South “has received no updated guidance on execution or cessation of training exercises — to include this fall’s schedule Ulchi Freedom Guardian…we will continue with our current military posture until we receive updated guidance from the Department of Defense.” Eric Schmitt reports at the New York Times.

The White House announced yesterday that the U.S. military would continue to train with its South Korean counterparts and conduct military drills but would halt large-scale joint exercises, seeking to clarify Trump’s offer to Kim yesterday. Ben Kesling and Michael R. Gordon report at the Wall Street Journal.

North Korea said today that Trump had told Kim that he intended to halt joint military exercises with the South and lift sanctions against the North, with reports by state agency Rodong Sinmun suggesting that in doing so, the president had explicitly acceded to two longstanding North Korean demands. The report quoted Kim as saying that, if the U.S. were to take “genuine measures for building trust,” the North could reciprocate in a “commensurate” fashion. Jonathan Cheng reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The report – which dubbed the summit “the meeting of the century” – gave no further detail of what it described as “step-by-step” process on denuclearization and improved relations. Trump had said after yesterday’s talks that no sanctions would be lifted until the rollback of the North’s nuclear capabilities reached “a certain point,” Brian Murphy reports at the Washington Post.

“President Trump appreciated that an atmosphere of peace and stability was created on the Korean Peninsula and in the region, although distressed with the extreme danger of armed clash only a few months ago, thanks to the proactive peace-loving measures taken by the respected Supreme Leader from the outset of this year,” said the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (K.C.N.A.) in its English language summary of the summit. Eric Talmadge reports at the Washington Post.

“Kim Jong-un and Trump had the shared recognition to the effect that it is important to abide by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action in achieving peace, stability and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the K.C.N.A. report remarked. Christine Kim reports at Reuters.

“The two top leaders gladly accepted each other’s invitation, convinced that it would serve as another important occasion for improved DPRK [North Korea]-US relations,” the K.C.N.A. report added, referencing each leaders’ extension of an invitation to their respective nations. Justin McCurry reports at the Guardian.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said today that Trump’s drills suspension announcement served as “another proof that China’s proposal is legitimate, is reasonable [and] it addresses the concerns of the two sides.” Beijing dislikes the U.S. military presence in South Korea and Japan but may be wary about improved U.S.-North Korean relations, Gillian Wong and Christopher Bodeen report at the Washington Post.

The warming of relations between the United States and North Korea does not imply that China will reach out to Taiwan for a similar summit, the Chinese government said today, with China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Ma Xiaoguang commenting that “the Taiwan issue is purely an internal Chinese affair. Its nature is entirely different to North Korea-U.S. relations.” Ben Blanchard reports at Reuters.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the summit as “historic”, commenting in a statement that “this is an important step in the effort to strip the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weaponry…President Trump is also taking a firm stance against Iran’s attempt to obtain nuclear weaponry, as well as its belligerence in the Middle East.” Dan Williams reports at Reuters.

Some European and Middle Eastern countries cautioned yesterday that it was premature to judge the summit as a success, with German Social Democrat leader Andrea Nahles commenting that “we know that crisis management and international policy are a marathon…To be honest, I can’t judge how far what was agreed today will translate into reality.” The AP reports.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres yesterday described the summit between Trump and Kim as “an important milestone,” urging the parties in a statement “to seize this momentous opportunity”. U.N. News Centre reports.

Trump reportedly showed Kim a faux movie trailer that he had specially made for the summit, reportedly showing Kim the 4-minute video on an iPad and later paying it for reporters on a pair of large screens. Peter Baker reports at the New York Times.

“I think he loved it,” Trump said of Kim’s response to the video, adding that he gave the North Korean delegation their own copy. The video was provided in both English and Korean, although the Korean narration is reportedly in a South Korean accent. Kevin Krolicki reports at Reuters.

The National Security Council has admitted that it made the video, despite the video appearing to credit “Destiny Pictures Productions,” a film production in California that has received a flurry of press inquiries since yesterday and has remarked that it had “no involvement in the video.” Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.

Trump told reporters at his press conference yesterday that U.S. college student Otto Warmbier did not die in vain days after he was released from North Korean custody in 2017, commenting that “without Otto this would not have happened…something happened from that day. It was a terrible thing, it was brutal, but a lot of people started to focus on what was going on, including North Korea.” Robert Birsel reports at Reuters.

Trump’s failure to focus on North Korea’s human rights abuses during his first meeting with Kim has drawn criticism from activists. Kim Tong-Hyung reports at the Washington Post.

An explainer on yesterday’s summit is provided at the Wall Street Journal.

TRUMP-KIM SUMMIT: OPINION & ANALYSIS

President Trump received little from his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the Singapore summit, the joint statement agreed to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” – which falls for short of the Trump administration’s longstanding demand for the complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program – and the president offered, at least rhetorically, a number of concessions to North Korea, including on joint military exercises with South Korea and the easing of Chinese sanctions on the North. Uri Friedman writes at The Atlantic, stating that, despite the lack of details and skepticism, “Trump may be starting something of great consequence, even if it doesn’t look that way now.”

The Singapore statement “pales dramatically” in comparison to the 2013 interim Iran nuclear deal, Borzou Daraghi writes at The Daily Beast, noting that the 2013 document included specific actions and dates to be undertaken by each party, which the Singapore declaration lacks.

Trump and Kim both benefited from the summit in terms of projecting a win to their domestic audiences and Kim’s image and standing was enhanced by the meeting. However, there is skepticism and uncertainty whether the summit can actually deliver the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and there are concerns about Trump’s offer to end joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, Stephen Collinson provides an analysis at CNN.

An annotated version of the Singapore declaration is provided by Justin McCurry at the Guardian.  

The Singapore summit was a boon for Kim who was able to present himself as a statesman and receive indications that the U.S. would halt its joint military exercises with South Korea in return for vague statements on denuclearization. Eric Talmadge provides an analysis at the AP.

The joint statement “was strikingly spare, with little evidence of any substantial progress,” the New York Times editorial board writes, stating that Trump deserves credit for setting in motion a process of diplomacy, but that does not detract from the lack of substance in the agreement and the concerns about the security alliance between the U.S. and South Korea.

A fact-check of Trump’s claims about the Singapore statement and his talks with Kim is provided by Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post.

The Singapore statement and North Korea’s rhetoric does not suggest that Kim has committed to what President Trump claims on denuclearization of the Peninsula, the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes, warning the Trump may now be committed “to the same open-ended negotiating process that trapped his predecessors.”

The Singapore statement has “potentially far-reaching consequences for Asia’s security landscape,” Niharika Mandhana writes at the Wall Street Journal, noting that Trump’s offer to end U.S.-South Korea military exercises has implications for South Korea and Japan, and the U.S. rivalry with China.

Trump is relying on personal chemistry with Kim to achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, so the specific wording of the Singapore document matters little to him. David E. Sanger provides an analysis at the New York Times, noting that, despite this, the vague statements in the joint declaration could be the beginning of a process and the hard part starts now.

An analysis of the implications of the Trump-Kim summit for China, South Korea, Japan and U.S.-North Korea relations is provided by the AFP.

A breakdown of the various responses from experts to the Singapore summit is provided by Adam Taylor at the Washington Post.

“Experience tells us that this shotgun romance will end in tears,” James Traub writes of the Trump-Kim meeting at Foreign Policy, comparing the summit to the negotiations between the U.N. and former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the late 90s.

The Trump-Kim summit completely ignored the human rights situation in North Korea and the suffering of the American student Otto Warmbier, who was imprisoned in the country. Nahal Toosi writes at POLITICO.

The five key takeaways from the Trump-Kim summit are provided by Rebecca Kheel at the Hill.

The colorful theatrics of the summit in Singapore gave the events an air of surrealism, reports Max Fisher at the New York Times, who identifies 10 major takeaways from the meeting and why they matter.

An overview of the six oddest moments from the Singapore summit is provided by the BBC.

YEMEN

Yemeni government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition today began an assault on the strategic Yemeni port city of Hodeidah in spite of U.N. efforts to avoid an offensive on the city, which constitutes an important entry point for humanitarian and food supplies. Euan McKirdy and Tamara Qiblawi report at CNN.

Yemeni government and Saudi-led coalition forces have massed around Hodeidah to “liberate” the port city from the “grip” of Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels, according to the Emirate state W.A.M. news agency. The AFP reports.

Airstrikes on Hodeidah began after the Houthi rebels ignored a deadline to withdraw from the port city. The Saudi-led coalition has said the rebels have used the port to smuggle in Iranian weapons and ballistic missiles – claims that have been denied by Iran and the Houthis, the BBC reports.

Around 600,000 people live in Hodeidah and the U.N. has warned that “as many as 250,000 may lose everything – even their lives” in the assault, Al Jazeera reporting.

The exiled Yemeni government said their forces and the Saudi-led coalition began their assault on Hodeidah having “exhausted all peaceful and political means,” the AP reports.

The U.N. special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths warned earlier this week that an attack would undermine fledgling international efforts to broker a peace deal for the conflict in Yemen. Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.

The U.S. military yesterday offered to provide its Gulf allies with intelligence with the intent “to minimize the number of civilian casualties and the harm to critical infrastructure,” according to a U.S. military official. Separately, another U.S. official said that Washington had given the U.A.E. a “blinking yellow light” of caution ahead of the assault on Hodeidah, Dion Nissenbaum reporting at the Wall Street Journal.

The Trump administration has stood by while the horror in Yemen multiplies, the New York Times editorial board writes.

SYRIA

A federal grand jury in Washington yesterday indicted five Russian businessmen and three Syrian men on charges of violating U.S. sanctions on Syria and the Crimea. Aruna Viswanatha reports at the Wall Street Journal.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 134 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between June 1 and June 10. [Central Command]

IRAN

European and French efforts “should be combined with actions and tangible measures,” the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a phone call to French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday, referring to initiatives to preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear deal after President Trump decided to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement. Reuters reports.

Iran will not be able to stay in the agreement unless it stands to benefit, Rouhani also said in the call to Macron, stating that Europeans must find a way to compensate Iran if they want to save the accord. The AP reports.

Macron urged Iran to “fulfil its obligations without any ambiguity,” according to the French Presidential office’s readout of the call with Rouhani. Reuters reports.  

RUSSIA

Around 400 additional U.S. Marines are to be deployed to Norway, according to Norway’s Ministry of Defense, which comes amid tensions between the countries in the N.A.T.O. military alliance and Russia. Ryan Browne reports at CNN.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko today warned that N.A.T.O. plans to step up combat readiness in Europe would worsen security on the continent and Russia would take appropriate measures to guarantee its own security. Reuters reports.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Special counsel Robert Mueller made public fresh evidence yesterday that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort headed up an unregistered lobbying campaign on behalf of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, with Mueller’s team releasing two memos from 2013 outlining Manafort’s involvement in attempts to influence U.S. political and media debate in about the imprisonment of Yanukovych’s political rival Yulia Tymoshenko. Josh Gerstein and Theodoric Meyer report at POLITICO.

Robert Mueller’s team is concerned that Russian intelligence services will use a criminal case in Washington to gather information about its investigation and U.S. intelligence-gathering tactics, with prosecutors yesterday requesting that a federal judge imposes limits on the information that can be shared by attorneys, in the first criminal case that directly relates to alleged Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Chad Day reports at the AP.

Yesterday’s court filing indicates the administration’s belief that foreign “individuals and entities” are continuing to “engage in interference operations like those charged in the present indictment,” and seeks to protect evidence requested by Concord Management and Consulting LLC – a company providing food services at the Kremlin and run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who prosecutors allege is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and has had “extensive dealings” with the Russian Defense Ministry. Alex Johnson reports at NBC News.

“Public or unauthorized disclosure of this case’s discovery would result in the release of information that would assist foreign intelligence services, particularly those of the Russian Federation, and other foreign actors in future operations against the United States,” Mueller’s team claimed in the filing. Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Palestinians, Arab and Islamic nations have called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. General Assembly today to adopt a resolution condemning Israel’s “excessive use of force,” particularly the violence following mass protests in Gaza. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley sent a letter to all U.N. member states yesterday and criticized the draft resolution as “ignoring basic truths about the situation in Gaza,” including the role of the militant Palestinian Hamas group, and proposed an amendment condemning Hamas. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

The Taliban yesterday stated that the key to Afghanistan’s future lay in “American and other occupying forces” leaving the country and called on the U.S. to “direct present themselves at the negotiation table” in an announcement marking the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. Reuters reports.

The White House trade adviser Pater Navarro has apologized for saying that “there’s a special place in hell” for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Navarro made the harsh comments following a dispute between President Trump and Trudeau over trade policy at the recent G-7 summit, Veronica Stracqualursi and Lydia DePillis reporting at CNN. 

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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.