The Early Edition: June 25, 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.

SYRIA

Russia yesterday carried out airstrikes on rebel-held positions in the southwestern Syrian province of Deraa in contravention of the “de-escalation” agreement reached by the Russia, U.S. and Jordan. The Russian strikes in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad took place as pro-Assad forces have threatened a ground offensive against rebels in the province, Raja Abdulrahim and Michael R. Gordon report at the Wall Street Journal.

Free Syrian Army (F.S.A.) rebel factions should not base their decisions in Deraa “on the assumption or expectation of a military intervention” by the United States, the U.S. has said according to a copy of a message sent to heads of the F.S.A., with the U.S. also calling on Russia and the Assad regime “not to undertake a military measure that violates the [de-escalation] zone.” Suleiman Al-Khalidi reports at Reuters.

The Syrian army and its Russian allies have repelled a rebel attack in Deraa, killing around 70 rebels, the Russian defense ministry said today, according to Russian news agencies. Reuters reports.

“To the Americans we say … we will not be quiet about this attack,” a senior commander of the Iran-backed Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.) militia said yesterday, referring to the alleged U.S. airstrike near the Syrian town of Albu Kamal which the P.M.F. says killed 22 of its members. Raya Jalabi reports at Reuters.

The Iraqi military said Saturday that it had killed around 45 members of the Islamic State group, including high-profile targets who were at a gathering in eastern Syria. The BBC reports.

Syrian government forces will regain control of the northern part of the country by force if rebels “don’t surrender and refuse to make peace,” Assad said in an interview with Russian television channel N.T.V. yesterday. Reuters reports.

U.S.-backed forces in the Syrian city of Raqqa yesterday declared a state of emergency and imposed a three-day curfew, saying that the measures were being taken due to information it had received that terrorist groups tied to the Islamic State group had infiltrated the city and planned to carry out attacks. Reuters reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 26 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between June 11 and June 17. [Central Command]

TURKEY

Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan was re-elected as president of Turkey yesterday, with the result having implications for the N.A.T.O. military alliance, the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey, immigration flows to Europe, and the future of the Syrian war. David Gauthier-Villars and Yeliz Candemir report at the Wall Street Journal.

Turkey will continue to “liberate Syrian lands,” Erdoğan said in his victory speech today. Reuters reports.

Turkey under Erdoğan is increasingly seen as a threat rather than an ally, Simon Tisdall explains at The Observer, highlighting the recent attempt by Congress to block the sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey and the challenges posed to the West by Erdoğan’s strategy in Syria and the Middle East.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has “indefinitely suspended” two training exercise with South Korea to “support implementing the outcomes of the Singapore Summit” which was held between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on June 12, the Pentagon announced Friday; the move coming days after the Pentagon announced it would suspend the U.S.-South Korea largescale “Ulchi Freedom Guardian” joint military drills which were scheduled to take place in August. John Bowden reports at the Hill.

The U.S. will soon present North Korea with “specific asks” and a “specific timeline” for implementation of the Singapore summit agreement, a senior U.S. defense official said today, adding “we’ll know pretty soon if they’re going to operate in good faith or not.” Phil Stewart reports at Reuters.

North and South Korean officials are discussing the possible relocation of the North’s long-range artillery guns from the Korean border, the South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nay-yon said today. Hyung-Jin Kim reports at the AP.

The U.S. military is preparing to receive the remains of around 200-250 soldiers killed in the 1950-53 Korean War. The transfer is taking place following the Singapore summit and Kim’s pledge to return the remains, Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.

North Korea has decided to drop an anti-American rally it usually holds on June 25 to mark the beginning of the Korean War. The change in tone follows the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore, Cha Song Ho and Eric Talmadge report at the AP.

The U.S. and South Korea should not insist on total denuclearization and rather help North Korea convert its nuclear and missile programs for civilian use. Siegfried S. Hecker, Elliot A. Serbin and Robert L. Carlin write at Foreign Policy, arguing that cooperation would be seen as a sign of goodwill and serious policy change in Washington.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

The Trump administration will present its plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace soon, with or without input from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner said in an interview with the Arabic language Al-Quds newspaper, which was published yesterday. Ilan Ben Zion reports at the AP.

“To make a deal, both sides will have to take a leap and meet somewhere between their states positions. I am not sure President Abbas has the ability to do that,” Kushner said in the interview, criticizing Abbas for railing against the Trump administration but not coming up with “ideas or efforts with prospects of success.” David M. Halbfinger reports at the New York Times.

“Mr. Kushner’s interview further clarified that the … [Trump] administration has actually moved from the squares of negotiations to the squares of dictations,” the chief Palestine Liberation Organization (P.L.O.) negotiator Saeb Erekat said yesterday, adding that the U.S. is working to depose Abbas because the Palestinian leader “wants genuine, lasting, comprehensive peace, based on international law.” Al Jazeera reports.

YEMEN

Saudi Arabia yesterday intercepted missiles fired by the Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels, the spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition said in a statement, with Houthi-run media saying the missiles were targeted at the Saudi defense ministry and other positions in Riyadh. The attack was the first aimed at the Saudi capital since the Saudi-led coalition began its offensive to capture the strategic port city of Hodeidah on June 12. Al Jazeera reports.

Fighting in Hodeidah has moved closer to the city center, raising concerns from the the U.N. and aid groups who warn of the humanitarian implications of the military offensive. Mohammed Ghobari reports at Reuters.

AFGHANISTAN

The recent three-day ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban could mark a turning point in the 17-year war, Pamela Constable provides an analysis at the Washington Post, pointing to the wider significance of the truce and of recent positive developments involving the Taliban, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other foreign powers.

Numerous strategic and operational errors have produced failure in Afghanistan. Retired Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc sets out the missteps at The Daily Beast.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Special counsel Robert Mueller added four assistant U.S. attorneys to the case against Russian entities and individuals on Friday, suggesting that outside prosecutors may eventually take responsibility for the cases linked to the Moscow-based Internet Research Agency after Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election wraps up. Devlin Barrett reports at the Washington Post.

Mueller wants to interview the comedian Randy Credico, Credico said yesterday, adding that he would not talk to the special counsel unless he gets subpoenaed. The comedian has been an object on interest in the Russia investigation due to his relationship with Trump’s longtime adviser Roger Stone and his connections to the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Betsy Woodruff reports at The Daily Beast.

Additional classified documents related to the Russia investigation were given to House Republicans by the Department of Justice at the weekend, the delivery of the information comes amid strong criticism of the Russia probe by conservatives and Trump allies and the president’s unsubstantiated claim that the FB.I. spied on the Trump campaign. Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have expressed concern about Russian meddling in the upcoming midterm elections and the lack of transparency about efforts to combat attempts to interfere. Martin Matishak reports at POLITICO.

RUSSIA

“I think it’s likely that President Trump will be meeting with his [Russian] counterpart in the not-too-distant future,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview on Saturday, explaining that it would likely be scheduled following national security adviser John Bolton’s forthcoming trip to Moscow. John Bowdern reports at the Hill.

Repelling a Russian attack on N.A.T.O. territories in Eastern Europe could be hindered by traffic jams, with U.S. Army planners expressing concern that bureaucracy and poor infrastructure would undermine the ability to deter Russian aggression. Michael Birnbaum reports at the Washington Post.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

President Trump yesterday called for the country to ignore due process when dealing with unauthorized immigrants, taking a hardline approach to the justice system and migrant families in messages on Twitter yesterday. Katie Rogers and Sheryl Gay Stolberg report at the New York Times.

The U.S. Supreme Court will issue a series of rulings this week, including on Trump’s ban on most people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen from entering the United States. Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung report at Reuters.

The Pakistani Taliban have named Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud as its new leader after a U.S. drone strike killed the previous leader, Mullah Fazlullah, earlier this month. Zia ur-Rehman and Maria Abi Habib report at the New York Times.

Human rights groups have hit back at U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley for her assertion that nongovernmental organizations were undermining U.S.-led efforts to reform the U.N. Human Rights Council, from which the U.S. withdrew last week. Brent D. Griffiths reports at POLITICO. 

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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