The Early Edition: July 13, 2018

Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.

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.

N.A.T.O. SUMMIT

N.A.T.O emerged from a two-day showdown with President Trump yesterday intact but shaken, with the 29-nation transatlantic alliance facing challenges from an aggressive Russian administration as well as increasing authoritarianism among some of its membership. Trump concluded talks with fellow leaders by reaffirming support for the organization but only after he had sown discord with threats that the U.S. could go its own way if allies ignored his demands for increased military spending, Steven ErlangerJulie Hirschfeld Davis and Katie Rogers report at the New York Times.

N.A.T.O. leaders yesterday signed a summit communique agreed to by ambassadors last weekend, with the text reportedly left unchanged. The 23-page document contained a reference to a previous spending pledge the leaders made in 2014 after the Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, with those allies not spending 2 percent of G.D.P. on their national military budgets pledging to move toward that goal by 2024, Lorne Cook and Jamey Keaten report at the  AP.

“I’ve taken over a lot of bad hands and I’m fixing each one of them, and I’m fixing them well,” Trump said during a press conference yesterday, adding “what they’re doing is spending at a much faster clip. They’re going up to the 2 percent level.” N.A.T.O. allies were fast to play down Trump’s reports of victory, with French President Emmanuel Macron denying there were any fresh spending commitments, Zeke Miller, Jill Colvin and Jonathan Lemire report at the AP.

“There is a communique that was published yesterday. It’s very detailed,” Macron said, adding “it confirms the goal of 2% by 2024. That’s all.” Macron also denied that Trump’s comments about the U.S. going its own way should be interpreted as a threat to quit, claiming that “Trump never at any moment, either in public or in private, threatened to withdraw from Nato,” Ewen MacAskill reports a the Guardian.

Trump made comments yesterday suggesting the U.S. could help smaller N.A.T.O. nations buy military equipment, telling reporters “we have many wealthy countries with us today but we have some that aren’t so wealthy and they did ask me if they could buy the military equipment, and could I help them out, and we will help them out a little bit.” Reuters reports.

President Trump’s demand at yesterday’s N.A.T.O. summit for members to double military-spending commitments has rekindled a discussion among the allies about what constitutes appropriate contributions, with some German commentators defending the country’s military commitment in the wake of Trump’s criticisms. Robert Wall reports at the Wall Street Journal.

While Trump’s badgering at the summit distressed many in the West – his complaints were predominantly embraced yesterday by eastern European nations threatened by Putin’s Russia – with Polish, Romanian and Baltic leaders welcoming Trump’s call for increased defense spending. Vanessa Gera reports at the AP.

A collection of quotations illustrating leaders’ varying interpretations of Trump’s threats at the N.A.T.O summit is provided by the AP.

Trump’s threats to break with N.A.T.O. are doing considerable damage to the U.S.’ most important military alliance, according to former defense and diplomatic officials, with retired Army Lt. Gen. Doug Lute claiming that “words still count … especially when those words come from the leader of the United States … when the president says things that are untrue, uninformed and appear designed to be disruptive, they have an impact.” Connor O’Brien reports at POLITICO.

“Do you really want to say we’re going to make everybody have a big military but we’re not going to help anybody build their own future and change their own lives?” former President Bill Clinton said yesterday, speaking alongside former President George W. Bush at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock. Clinton pushed back directly on the idea that the U.S. is being ripped off by its international allies, Matthew Nussbaum reports at POLITICO.

Trump yesterday managed to advance former President Barack Obama’s initiative to persuade allies to take on a fairer share of N.A.T.O.’s costs, although it is unknown whether Trump himself understands the strategy he is pursuing, the New York Times Editorial Board comments.

For Trump, the disruption of N.A.T.O. is not a means to an end but an end in itself, Paul Krugman argues at the New York Times.

Trump gained little from the N.A.T.O summit other than headlines, Jonathan Allen comments at NBC.

As a result of this week’s summit N.A.T.O member states can point to a raft of policy decisions strengthening the alliance and undercutting Russia, despite Trump’s machinations, Robbie Gramer and Lara Seligman comment at Foreign Policy.

A background to N.A.T.O. detailing its past and former role is provided by David Rising at the AP.

An explainer on the U.S.’ role in pushing for N.A.T.O defense spending targets is provided by Nancy A. Youssef and Michael R. Gordon at the Wall Street Journal.

A breakdown on the mechanics and consequences of a U.S. departure from N.A.T.O is provided by Luke Harding at the Guardian.

TRUMP’S U.K. VISIT

President Trump attacked British Prime Minister Theresa May on her plan to take the U.K. out of the European Union (E.U.) in an interview with The Sun newspaper published yesterday, adding that he had told May how to negotiate with the E.U., “but she didn’t agree, she didn’t listen to me.” The interview was published ahead of today’s planned meeting between the two leaders, Phil McCausland reports at NBC News.

Trump said in the interview that current U.K. negotiations with the E.U. would “probably kill” any U.S.-U.K. deal, he also said that former British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson – who recently resigned from government over May’s Brexit plans – “would be a great prime minister” and also renewed his attacks on the London Mayor Sadiq Khan as being soft on crime and terrorism. Henry Mance and Demetri Sevastopulo report at the Financial Times.

“Allowing the immigration to take place in Europe is a shame. I think it changed the fabric of Europe,” the president said in the interview. Rebecca Ballhaus and Jenny Gross report at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump said he felt unwelcome in London because of protests, pointing to plans to inflate a blimp depicting him as an angry baby. Jonathan Lemire and Jill Colvin report at the AP.

“As he said in his interview with the Sun she [May] ‘is a very good person’ and he ‘never said anything about her,’” the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement yesterday, defending the president’s comments and adding that “he is thankful for the wonderful welcome from the Prime Minister here in the U.K.” Jacqueline Thomsen reports at the Hill.  

“The President delivered an astonishing political knifing of the British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday,” Stephen Collinson writes at CNN, explaining her difficulties over Brexit negotiations and that his comments to The Sun “represent a stunning intervention in British domestic politics.”

Trump’s interview could be viewed as “bad manners” or “his latest brazen attempt to undermine an old ally,” with Trump knocking the British Prime Minister and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier this week because he is aware they are vulnerable domestically. David Smith writes at the Guardian.

TRUMP-PUTIN SUMMIT

“Maybe we will get along with Russia. I think we probably will be able to,” President Trump said yesterday of his upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 16 in the Finnish capital of Helsinki, saying that he views Putin as a competitor rather than a foe. Rebecca Ballhaus reports at the Wall Street Journal.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the Finnish Foreign Minister when Trump and Putin meet in Helsinki, according to the State Department. Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

“Singing his praises for no good reason sends a terrifying message to our allies,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said yesterday, criticizing Trump for “flattering” Putin and for underestimating the threat posed by Russia. Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

Iran’s presence in Syria is likely to top the summit agenda, with U.S. seeking to curb Iran’s influence in the country. Zeina Karam provides an analysis at the AP, explaining that Russian and U.S. officials have indicated that a broad framework for a deal may be achieved.

Putin has a number of goals in mind when he meets with Trump and the Russian President has “outfoxed two previous U.S. Presidents,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes, warning that the U.S. “should watch what he [Putin] gains for smiling across the table.”

President Trump’s aggressive tactics make him less effective as a negotiator, while Putin appears to have some of the key skills he lacks, Marty Latz argues at POLTICO Magazine.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The F.B.I. agent Peter Strzok testified before a joint House committee hearing yesterday and was questioned over his anti-Trump texts – which were made while he was the lead agent on the F.B.I. investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and later as lead agent in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Aruna Viswanatha and Del Quentin Wilber report at the Wall Street Journal.

The hearing was often acrimonious, with Strzok offering a passionate defense of the F.B.I. and lawmakers diverging on partisan lines when it came to questioning and comments on the Russia investigation. Nicholas Fandos reports at the New York Times.

The five key takeaways from the Strzok hearing are provided by Katie Bo Williams, Morgan Chalfant and Olivia Beavers at the Hill.

The Strzok hearing “was a fitting coda to the hyperpartisan farce of an investigation that House Republicans have conducted into the F.B.I. and Mr. Mueller’s Russia probe,” the Washington Post editorial board writes, arguing that the hearing was damaging to democracy.

The White House has ordered to that more lawmakers be granted access to classified information about the F.B.I. informant looking into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia in the early stages of the F.B.I.’s Russian investigation. Mark Mazzetti reports at the New York Times.  

The KOREAN PENINSULA

“A very nice note from Chairman Kim [Jong-un] of North Korea. Great progress being made,” Trump said in a message on Twitter, providing a copy of the correspondence dated July 6 in which Kim wrote that he believes that their efforts will mean that a “new future” between North Korea and the U.S. “will surely come to fruition.” Zachary Cohen and Richard Roth report at CNN.

The tone of the letter stands in stark contrast with the frosty reception North Korean officials gave U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he traveled to Pyongyang on July 6 to discuss efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Rick Gladstone report at the New York Times.

The U.S. yesterday requested that the U.N. Security Council “order an immediate halt to all transfers of refined petroleum products” to North Korea after accusing it of violating sanctions by illegally importing fuel. The AFP reports.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in today urged the U.S. and North Korea to advance efforts to end Pyongyang’s nuclear program, saying in a speech that “if Chairman Kim keeps the promised of denuclearization, he will be able to lead his country into prosperity.” Jack Kim reports at Reuters.

Trump and Kim would “face the stern judgment of the international community” if they do not keep their promises on denuclearization, Moon said today. Annabelle Liang and Kim Tong-Hyung report at the AP.

China’s commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula has been “consistent,” the Chinese foreign affairs ministry said yesterday, hitting back at comments by the U.S. President and lawmakers that China had been interfering with the talks due to U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods. Lucy Hornby and Bryan Harris report at the Financial Times.

SYRIA

The Syrian government yesterday raised its flag over the city of Deraa, the events in the city that saw the protests kick-starting the civil war seven years ago replete with symbolism. Philip Issa reports at the AP.

“Units of the Syrian Arab army entered the district of Daraa al-Balad and raised the national flag in the main square … a declaration that Daraa is now clear of terrorism,” said state news agency S.A.N.A., describing opposition groups as terrorists, Kareem Shaheen reports at the Guardian.

Rebels in Deraa city have reportedly agreed to surrender in return for an amnesty or safe passage to the rebel-held north, with the Syrian army having recaptured large portions of the surrounding province since the launch of a major offensive on June 19. The U.N. has claimed that up to 234,000 people remain displaced by fighting in the region, 70% of whom have sought refuge in neighbouring Quneitra province, the BBC reports.

An airstrike in an area held by the Islamic State group in eastern Syria has killed at least 28 civilians last night, according to S.A.N.A, which blamed the U.S.-led coalition for attack. U.K.-based monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that the strike hit an ice factory used by dozens of families as a shelter close to the Iraqi border, the AP reports.

“Iran and Russia’s presence in Syria will continue to protect the country against terrorist groups and America’s aggression,” top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – Ali Akbar Velayati – said during a visit to Moscow today, although he added that  “we will immediately leave if Iraqi and Syrian governments want it, not because of Israel and America’s pressure.” Reuters reports.

Velayati said that Tehran coordinates positions on its military presence in Syria with Moscow and Damascus, also claiming in a news conference that U.S. sanctions against Iran could raise oil prices and harm oil consumers. Reuters reports.

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are maintaining pressure on the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, using arrests, military conscriptions and restricted food supplies months after the recapturing the former rebel stronghold. Raja Abdulrahim reports at the Wall Street Journal.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 31 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between July 2 and July 8. [Central Command]

IRAN

“Iran at some point will call me and ask for a deal, and we’ll make a deal. They are feeling a lot of pain right now,” President Trump said yesterday at the N.A.T.O. summit in Brussels, making the comments after withdrawing the U.S. from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and reinstating sanctions against the country. Haaretz and Reuters report.

“I would say there might be an escalation between us and the Iranians,” Trump also said yesterday, without specifying what he meant. Matthew Lee reports at the AP.

 “We must cut off all funding the regime uses to fund terrorism & proxy wars,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a message on Twitter yesterday, calling on European leaders to increase economic pressure on Iran. Al Jazeera reports.

AFGHANISTAN

Afghan forces killed at least six civilians in ground and air operations yesterday in the eastern province of Nangarhar, according to a spokesperson for the provincial governor’s office. An Afghan military spokesperson has said that an investigation is underway to determine if and how the operation resulted in civilian deaths, Reuters reports.

A U.S. Special Operations soldier was killed yesterday in the eastern Afghanistan province of Paktia following a predawn raid, according to Defense Department officials, the death marking the second U.S. casualty in Afghanistan in a week. An Afghan soldier was also killed in the raid, Thomas Gibbons-Neff reports at the New York Times.

Founder of the Blackwater private security firm, Erik Prince, has renewed his proposal to hand U.S. operations in Afghanistan over to mercenaries, promoting the plan in a video released Tuesday coinciding with the N.A.T.O. summit in Belgium. Justin Wise reports at the Hill.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Islamic State group today claimed responsibility for an attack on a Saudi checkpoint on Sunday. Reuters reports.

The Israeli Supreme Court has suspended the planned demolition of the Bedouin Khan al-Amar village in the West Bank. The village has been thrown into the spotlight due to its strategic location and what its demolition would mean for the Israel-Palestine conflict, the AP reports.

 “U.S. diplomacy will be needed to definitively end the 20-year Ethiopia-Eritrea frozen conflict,” Daniel Runde writes at Foreign Policy, saying that a peace deal would be in the West’s strategic interests.

 “The possibility that Europe could return to its dark past is greater today than at any time during the Cold War,” Robert Kagan writes at the Washington Post, arguing that the liberal world order is at risk – particularly after Trump “took a sledgehammer to it” at the N.A.T.O. summit – and the “world crisis is upon us.” 

Filed under:
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 - Follow him on Twitter (@robbieguystern).