The Early Edition: June 27, 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.

The TRAVEL BAN

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the third version of President Trump’s travel ban in a 5-4 ruling along partisan lines yesterday. The presidential executive order was issued in September and imposed travel restrictions to varying degrees on Iran, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, North Korea and Venezuela, and the challengers argued that the ban exceeded the President’s authority under immigration law and the Constitution. Ariane de Vogue and Veronica Stracqualursi report at CNN.

The conservative majority noted the president’s negative statements about Muslims, including on Twitter, but Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote for the majority, said: “the issue before us is not whether to denounce the statements … [the court] must consider not only the statements of a particular president, but also the authority of the presidency itself.” Brent Kendall and Jess Bravin report at the Wall Street Journal.

“The president of the United States possesses an extraordinary power to speak to his fellow citizens and on their behalf,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote, rebuking the president for his discriminatory comments, despite upholding the ban that targets travelers from five Muslim-majority countries and imposes limited sanctions against North Korea and Venezuela. Tom McCarthy and Sabrina Siddiqui report at the Guardian.

The Supreme Court failed to safeguard “the principle of religious neutrality in the First Amendment,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in a blistering dissent, condemning the ban as being “motivated by hostility and animus toward the Muslim faith” and drawing comparisons with the 1944 Supreme Court Korematsu v. United States ruling that upheld the forcible internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Catie Edmondson reports at the New York Times.

Trump lauded the Supreme Court decision as “a tremendous success” and a “great victory” for the nation and the Constitution, adding “we have to be tough and we have to be safe and we have to be secure.” The BBC reports.

Critics have expressed concern that the Supreme Court ruling would embolden Trump to further his hardline immigration agenda. David Nakamura explains at the Washington Post.

The key message from the decision is that “we cannot count on the courts to save us” when a real threat to the American constitutional order comes, Richard Primus writes at POLITICO Magazine.

The decision could have significant implications for the president’s Twitter account, with the justice adopting the perspective, in both the opinion and the dissents, that Trump’s messages on social media reflect the views of the White House. Brian Fung provides an analysis at the Washington Post.

A breakdown of the impact of the ruling on the affected countries is provided by Rick Gladstone at the New York Times.

The ruling raises uncomfortable questions for foreign leaders: do they have any power to influence the Trump administration’s policies? Can the U.S. political system contain the president’s worst impulses? Adam Taylor writes at the Washington Post.

“Five Supreme Court Justices did the country a service on Tuesday by sticking to the Constitution and rule of law on executive power rather than succumb to the temptation to rebuke an unpopular President’s dubious policy,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

The Supreme Court decision has implicitly blessed Trump’s worldview and sanctioned his use of white racial fear “as a political organizing tool and as a governing philosophy.” The New York Times editorial board writes.

CHINA

China today reiterated threats against Taiwan, warning that it had the capability and will to “defeat any form of Taiwan independence separatist plots.” The comments came as U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis arrived in Beijing for talks with senior officials, the AP reports.

“China and the United States can only develop together if we maintain no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation,” the Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe told Mattis today, making the comments amid tensions over Chinese militarization in the disputed South China Sea and U.S. support for Taiwan. Phil Stewart and Ben Blanchard report at Reuters.

Mattis said he and Wei opened discussions in Beijing with a “very open and honest dialogue,” the AP reports.

Mattis will send a message to China about its military expansionism during his visit to Beijing but will prioritize attempts to progress the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, according to a senior Pentagon official. Katrina Manson reports at the Financial Times.

RUSSIA

The White House national security adviser John Bolton is scheduled to arrive in Moscow today to lay the groundwork for a possible summit between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the AP reports.

The Trump-Putin summit could take place in mid-July and in the Finnish capital of Helsinki, according to a source familiar with the planning. Annie Karni and Andrew Restuccia report at POLITICO.

Russia and Syria fiercely opposed British and U.S.-led calls for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (O.P.C.W.) to be mandated to identify responsibility for chemical weapons attacks at a special meeting of the body yesterday. The AFP reports.

SYRIA

At least 45,000 people have fled Syria’s southwestern Deraa province, the U.N. has said, as pro-Syrian government forces advance on rebel-held territory near the Syria-Jordan and Syria-Israel border. The offensive has been taking place despite a U.S., Russia and Jordan ceasefire agreement and there are concerns that fighting in the contentious area could spark a wider conflict between Israel and Iran, Louisa Loveluck and Asma Ajroudi report at the Washington Post.

Airstrikes by the Syrian government and Russian warplanes have forced three hospitals to shut in Deraa province, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said today. The AFP reports.

The Norwegian Refugee Council has called on Jordan to open its border to Syrians fleeing Deraa and has urged the international community to “offer substantial support” to help Jordan with arrivals. The AP reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 35 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between June 18 and June 24. [Central Command]

IRAN

The U.S. said yesterday that it would impose sanctions on countries that don’t cut oil imports from Iran to “zero” by Nov. 4, as part of the Trump administration’s strategy to isolate Tehran, with a senior State Department official saying that waivers would not be considered and taking the action is viewed “as one of our top national-security priorities.” Ian Talley reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The Trump administration’s policy on oil is likely to further alienate U.S. allies and adversaries, but the hardline stance may be an attempt to gain leverage ahead of talks in Vienna next week between the signatories to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, who will meet following Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the accord. Gardiner Harris and Stanley Reed report at the New York Times.

AFGHANISTAN

“I call on them [the Taliban] to respond positively to the peace proposal I extended to them in February, extend the cease-fire, agree on a venue for negotiations and engage in a formal negotiation process in good faith,” the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani writes at the New York Times, lauding the success of the recent three-day ceasefire between the government and the Taliban and imploring the militants to seize the opportunity to end the war.

“We are seeing unprecedent opportunities to make progress to seek peace,” the head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, said at a Security Council meeting yesterday, adding that “President Ghani is taking courageous steps to seek peace through talks.” The U.N. News Centre reports.

The three-day ceasefire provided important momentum but a peace deal “remains a far-off prospect,” Michael Kugelman writes at Foreign Policy, setting out the many obstacles to effective negotiations.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

North Korea has continued infrastructure improvements at its Yongbyon nuclear plant “at a rapid pace” despite negotiations with the U.S. and a commitment to “complete denuclearization,” the monitoring group 38 North has said in analysis. Benjamin Haas reports at the Guardian.

Militants in Gaza launched more than 12 rockets toward Israeli territory this morning, according to the Israeli military, which follows Israel’s targeting of a vehicle belonging to a Palestinian Hamas militant who was involved in launching incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza into Israel. The AP reports.

Federal Judge T.S. Ellis issued opinion yesterday that special counsel Robert Mueller’s was within his authority to charge Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort for financial fraud, but warned the special counsel to be “sensitive to the danger unleashed when political disagreements are transformed into partisan prosecutions” and that he must not overstep his authority. Sharon LaFraniere writes at the New York Times.

U.S. allies have expressed concern about the July 11-12 N.A.T.O. summit and Trump’s commitment to the alliance, which could be undermined if Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in mid-July. Karen DeYoung and John Hudson report at the Washington Post.

The Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels must surrender the port city of Hodeidah before there can be a peace deal, the U.A.E. – which is part of the Saudi-led coalition – said yesterday, adding that it was cooperating with U.N. efforts to end the fighting after the coalition launched a largescale assault on the strategic city this month. Stanley Carvalho and Mohamed Ghobari report at Reuters.

The leader of the self-styled Libyan National Army (L.N.A.) Gen. Khalifa Haftar yesterday handed over oil facilities to a rival oil corporation rather than the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli, potentially escalating the civil war and undermining efforts to reunify the country. Jared Malsin reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Reality Winner yesterday pleaded guilty to charges of leaking classified U.S. National Security Agency (N.S.A.) intelligence to a news outlet. The AP 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