The Early Edition: August 7, 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.

IRAN

“If someone has [a] knife in the hand and seeks talks, he should first put the knife in his pocket,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said yesterday, striking a hard line and refusing Trump’s offer for talks as the U.S. restored sanctions lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal. Rouhani said Iran will be able to rely on China and Russia to its oil and banking sectors as the U.S. sanctions take effect, Nasser Karimi reports at the AP.

“We are always in favour of diplomacy and talks … But talks need honesty,” Rouhani said in a televised address, adding that “Trump’s call for direct talks is only for domestic consumption in America ahead of elections … and to create chaos in Iran.” Reuters reports.

Rouhani described the sanctions as “psychological warfare,” aiming to “sow division among Iranians.” The BBC reports.

President Trump said this morning that the new sanctions are “the most biting sanctions ever imposed,” sending a message on Twitter warning that “in November they ratchet up to yet another level. Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States. I am asking for WORLD PEACE, nothing less!” Reuters reports.

The sanctions are a consequence of President Trump’s decision in May to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and the Trump administration is hoping that its actions will force Iran to shut down its nuclear enrichment efforts; curb its weapons program; and end its support for militant groups including Lebanese Hezbollah, Palestinian Hamas and Houthi rebels in Yemen. Gardiner Harris and Jack Ewing report at the New York Times.

The punitive measures that began to come into force early today hit at Iran’s access to dollars, gold and precious metals. The raft of sanctions also target a range of industries including Iran’s car-making sector, and will be followed by a set of harsher measures by Nov. 4 that include an embargo on the import of Iranian oil and sanctions on its banking sector, Saeed Kamali Dehghan reports at the Guardian.

“We deeply regret the re-imposition of sanctions by the U.S., due to the latter’s withdrawal from the [2015 Iran nuclear deal],” the E.U. foreign service commented in a statement, adding that the nuclear deal is “a key element of the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture, crucial for the security of Europe, the region, and the entire world.” Emily Birnbaum reports at the Hill.

“Our policy is not regime change,” U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said during an interview on Fox News hours before the re-imposition of sanctions, adding that “we want to put unprecedented pressure on the government of Iran to change its behaviour … so far, they’ve shown no indication they’re prepared to do that.” Rebecca Morris reports at POLITICO.

An explainer of the U.S. motivation for the sanctions, the Iranian domestic context and what to expect in the coming weeks is provided Abigail Williams and F. Brinley Bruton at NBC.

An analysis of the short- and long-term impact the sanctions are likely to have on Iran and its population is provided by John Defterios at CNN.

Creative trade-offs should have been offered earlier to restrain ballistic missile development by Iran and North Korea, Michael Elleman and Mark Fitzpatrick comment at Foreign Policy.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

President Trump has been urged by officials to stop sending messages on Twitter about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting held between his top advisers and several Russians, a source familiar with the advice has disclosed. Dana Bash reports at CNN.

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said yesterday that the president’s legal team is planning to send a letter to special counsel Robert Mueller this week that will rebuff Mueller’s latest offer of a presidential interview that would include questions about possible obstruction of justice, telling the Washington Post that “we have a real reluctance about allowing any questions about obstruction.” Mueller is investigating alleged Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential election. Robert Costa reports at the Washington Post.

The trial of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, the first to arise from the Mueller investigation, continued yesterday with the testimony of Manafort’s close associate Rick Gates – who has already pleaded guilty to the investigation. Gates told the court that Manafort helped four Ukrainian oligarchs secure the election of Russia-aligned president Viktor Yanukovych in 2010 and the oligarchs paid Manafort millions through their own shell companies in Ukraine, Sharon LaFraniere and Kenneth P. Vogel report at the New York Times.

Trump’s weekend tweet – admitting that the meeting between his son Donald Trump Jr. and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June 2016 at Trump Tower was “a meeting to get information on an opponent” – is a gift for Mueller and his team of investigators, Barbara McQuade and Mimi Roach comment at The Daily Beast.

Following the revelations surrounding the Trump Tower meeting, an explainer of the various legal troubles facing Trump Jr. is provided by Charlie Savage at the New York Times.

YEMEN

For the last two years the U.S.-backed Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen has agreed to financial deals with al-Qaeda fighters in the country. The AP has found that the coalition made secret arrangements to pay various al-Qaeda fighters to vacate cities, while others have been allowed to retreat with weapons, equipment and cash, Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

The U.S. is working with Arab allies including the U.A.E. to eliminate the branch of extremists known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (A.Q.A.P.,) but the compromise deals in Yemen have allowed A.Q.A.P. militants to survive in the region and risk strengthening the branch. Key participants in the deals said the U.S. was aware of the arrangements and held off on any drone strikes, Maggie Michael, Trish Wilson and Lee Keath report at the AP.

The coalition is seeking to bolster the optics of its offensive in Yemen amid ongoing U.N.-sponsored mediation efforts. Sarah El Sirgany explains at CNN.

SYRIA

Israeli spy agency Mossad has been held responsible by an intelligence agency in the region for the death of Syrian scientist Aziz Asber in Masyaf Saturday. Asber was the director of the Syrian research center accused by Western countries of being part of a chemical weapons program, David M. Halbfinger and Ronen Bergman report at the New York Times.

The U.S.-led military coalition fighting Islamic State group in Syria has acknowledged findings by human rights group Amnesty International that 77 civilians were killed during airstrikes conducted in Raqqa last summer. The coalition had previously denied the veracity of the reports, Zachary Cohen reports at CNN.

Amnesty is urging the coalition to investigate the airstrikes, describing the coalition’s recent admission as the “tip of the iceberg.” The AP reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 20 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between July 30 and August 5. [Central Command]

U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONS

Sen. Rand Paul (R.-Ky.) has said that U.S. and Russian legislators need closer contact, noting that “our biggest problem right now is no dialogue” and adding that “those who believe in either country that we should not have diplomacy are greatly mistaken.” During meetings yesterday Paul invited members of the foreign affairs committee for Russia’s upper house of parliament to Washington, the AP reports.

Paul said he met with chairman of the Russia Federation Council Committee on Foreign Affairs Konstantin Kosachev, and commented that the two “agreed on the importance of continued dialogue.” Rebecca Morin reports at POLITICO.

VENEZUELA

Venezuelan authorities have identified the perpetrators of the attempted drone assassination attempt on President Nicolas Maduro Saturday, Attorney General Tarek William Saab said yesterday. Saab’s announcement comes a day after Interior Minister Néstor Reverol said that six people had been arrested in connection with the attack, Eliott C. McLaughlin, Joe Sterling and Stefano Pozzebon report at CNN.

Pro-government factions mobilized thousands of Venezuelans dressed in red onto the streets of the capital Caracas yesterday, in a bid to show the country remains united around Maduro. Scott Smith and Christine Armario report at the AP.

An analysis of Maduro’s political position in the wake of the attempted assassination is provided by Nicholas Casey at the New York Times.

N.A.T.O.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev today warned that an attempt by N.A.T.O. to incorporate the former Soviet republic of Georgia could trigger a “horrible” conflict, in a stern message to the West that comes 10 years since the Russia-Georgia war. Medvedev commented in an interview with the Kommersant daily broadcast by Russian state television that the alliance’s plans to eventually offer membership to Georgia are “absolutely irresponsible” and represent a “threat to peace,” Vladimir Isachenkov  reports at the AP.

A delegation of Turkish officials will head to Washington this week to discuss the ongoing diplomatic dispute between the two N.A.T.O allies, regarding the detention of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, broadcaster CNN Turk reported today. Reuters reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Israeli Defense Force (I.D.F.) says it has targeted a military post belonging to Palestinian militant group Hamas in northern Gaza today, after militants opened fire. Hamas has said that two of its fighters were killed in a clash taking place amid Egyptian efforts to broker a cease-fire, the AP reports.

A series of Taliban attacks in western and eastern Afghanistan have killed at least 12 people, including four women who died in crossfire during a shootout between insurgents and the military, Afghan officials said today. Amir Shah reports at the AP.

The U.S. has asked the Saudi government for more details on the detention of activists and urged it to respect due process, a State Department official said yesterday, in comments marking Washington’s first response to a dispute that has erupted between Riyadh and Ottawa over the arrest of rights campaigners. Reuters reports.

Head of the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (U.N.M.I.S.S.) David Shearer commented yesterday that the most recent peace deal in the country is a “big step forward.” President Salva Kiir signed the deal Sunday in neighboring Sudan with his chief rival and former deputy Riek Machar and members of other opposition factions. The U.N. News Centre reports.

The U.K. is poised to ask Russia to extradite two men it suspects of carrying out an attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the English city of Salisbury in early March using the soviet-era nerve agent Novichok, the Guardian Newspaper reported yesterday. Reuters reports.

Cybersecurity firm Cyberreason yesterday announced that it had uncovered some of the methods used by hackers to target critical infrastructure organizations – activity it was able to monitor by creating a website that masquerading as a major electricity provider. Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill. 

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).