The Early Edition: October 18, 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.

JAMAL KHASHOGGI DISAPPEARANCE

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met yesterday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in an attempt to resolve the diplomatic crisis over the alleged killing of Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2., also conveying that Saudi officials had promised consequences for anyone found responsible. Pompeo arrived in the Turkish capital of Ankara as a glut of new information leaked by unidentified Turkish officials appeared in news outlets suggesting that Khashoggi was assaulted, tortured, killed and dismembered in the consulate, Carlotta Gall reports at the New York Times.

Pompeo claimed that in Tuesday’s meetings in Riyadh with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman he had “stressed the importance of them conducting a complete investigation into the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi … and they made a commitment.” However, he also stated that “I don’t want to talk about any of the fact … they didn’t want to either, in that they want to have the opportunity to complete this investigation in a thorough way,” Megan Keller reports at the Hill.

Pompeo received a firsthand briefing on return to Washington yesterday on Turkey’s claims that Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents, but he apparently did not listen to the audio recording that Turkey alleges offers a graphic account of the journalist’s final moments. Carol Morello, Loveday Morris and Kareem Fahim report at the Washington Post.

President Trump will meet Pompeo today as the White House struggles to contain the fallout surrounding Khashoggi’s death. Pompeo has faced criticism that the U.S. was giving the Saudis “the benefit of the doubt,” while Trump has denied that he is “giving cover” to Saudi Arabia, stressing that he wants to get to the bottom of what happened, Brad Wilkinson reports at CNN.

Trump has pushed back on the suggestion that he order the F.B.I. to investigate Khashoggi’s disappearance, telling reporters of the missing journalist: “he wasn’t a citizen of this country.” David Gauthier-Villars in Istanbul and Rebecca Ballhaus report at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump added that the U.S. has asked Turkey for any audio or video recordings of the alleged murder, commenting to reporters at the White House “yes, we have asked for it… if it exists” – then adding that such evidence “probably does” exist. Jonathan Allen reports at NBC.

A team of Turkish investigators has searched the residence of the Saudi consul general in Istanbul, as part of the investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance and alleged killing. Following meetings yesterday with Erdoğan and Pompeo, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu explained that the search was held off after Saudi authorities told Turkish officials Mohammad al-Otaibi’s family were still in the residence, adding: “we expect the search in the residence and vehicles to be carried out today,” Al Jazeera reports.

The Turkish investigating team was seen leaving the consul’s residence early today following a nine-hour search, Reuters reports.

The U.S. received a payment of $100 million from Saudi Arabia Tuesday, as Pompeo arrived in Riyadh to discuss Khashoggi’s disappearance, a State Department official confirmed yesterday amid mounting global pressure. The kingdom publicly pledged the payment in August – to support U.S. stabilization efforts in northeastern Syria in August – but the timing of the transfer has raised questions about a potential payoff as Riyadh seeks to manage the fallout surrounding Khashoggi, John Hudson reports at the Washington Post.

Senate Democrats are demanding that President Trump and the Trump Organization to disclose any ties to Saudi Arabia, and that the president freeze any potential business relationships in the wake of Khashoggi’s disappearance. Eleven Democrats yesterday sent a letter claiming that public reporting and the president’s own comments suggest decades of “maintained business relationships” with the kingdom and its royal family, adding that: “your recent statements, and public reports of increased spending by the Saudi government at Trump properties, raise significant concerns about financial conflicts of interest,” Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

Top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee Jack Reed (R.I.) yesterday called for an international investigation into Khashoggi’s death, stating “it appears that this was a grotesque and obscene act by the elements within Saudi Arabia … so the first step, I think, is to determine exactly what happened. That, I believe, requires a thorough international investigation, not something that the Saudis will do,” Elen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

U.N. High Commissioner Michele Bachelet said yesterday that she is open to an independent U.N.-led investigation into Khashoggi’s fate, if joint efforts by Turkey and Saudi Arabia fail to uncover the facts. Bachelet said yesterday that Khashoggi’s “family and the world … deserves to know the truth” of what happened to him, adding that the Saudi-Turkish investigation “should be thorough, should be transparent, should be a very serious investigation,” the U.N. News Centre reports.

Jamal Khashoggi’s final column is published at the Washington Post, with a foreword by Global Opinions editor Karen Attiah. Khashoggi argues “the Arab world needs a modern version of the old transnational media so citizens can be informed about global events,” advocating a free press as a remedy for structural problems in Arab nations.

Updates on the Khashoggi case are provided at Al Jazeera.

JAMAL KHASHOGGI DISAPPEARANCE: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

Mike Pompeo’s trip to Saudi Arabi and Turkey “did not go to plan,” with the visit having “seemingly led Saudi Arabia and Turkey to dig further into positions that are starting to seem irreconcilable.” Martin Chulov provides an analysis at the Guardian.

Khashoggi’s killing can be understood in the context of a 3oo-year old Ottoman-Saudi rift over Sunni Islam, Mustafa Akyol explains at Foreign Policy.

The various options open to Congress for punishing Saudi Arabia – should Trump choose to give the kingdom the benefit of the doubt – are explored by Amber Phillips at the Washington Post.

“It is unclear what happens next with [Trump’s son-in-law Jared] Kushner and Mohammed … who has denied any knowledge of Khashoggi’s disappearance.” Ayesha Rascoe provides an analysis of the relationship at NPR.

Khashoggi’s death has inflicted “incalculable damage” on Saudi Arabia’s reputation. The Economist comments.

RUSSIA

New satellite imagery indicates that Russia has upgraded to upgrade four of its military installations in Kaliningrad – the nation’s strategic outpost on N.A.T.O.’s doorstep. Satellite imagery and analysis from commercial satellite firm from ImageSat International appear to confirm a significant modernization throughout the region, including renovation work at the Kaliningrad nuclear weapons storage site and 40 new bunkers under construction at a military storage area near Primorsk, Oren Liebermann, Frederik Pleitgen and Vasco Cotovio report at CNN.

Hackers with alleged ties to Russia have infected three companies in Eastern Europe with sophisticated malware attacks, a cybersecurity firm revealed yesterday. Researchers at E.S.E.T. say they have uncovered new cyber espionage group “GreyEnergy,” which allegedly attacked three unidentified energy and transport companies in Poland and Ukraine, Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

Nineteen people died and dozens more were wounded as a student opened fire at a college in Russian-annexed Crimea in the city of Kerch yesterday. Crimean Leader Sergei Aksyonov commented that the death toll stood at 19 including the killer, who has been named by Russia’s Investigative Committee as 18-year-old Vladislav Roslyakov; 53 people were injured with 12 reportedly in an extremely serious condition, AFP reports.

Roslyakov is alleged to have had an intense interest in serial killers and a professed dream to become famous as the gunman of a Russian version of the Columbine shooting. Anna Nemtsova reports at The Daily Beast.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Twitter yesterday released a “trove” of 10 million tweets the social media giant claims represents the full scope of foreign influence operations on the platform — including Moscow’s consistent efforts to disparage Hillary Clinton and its fluctuating approach to President Trump in the lead up to and during his 2016 campaign. The messages cover the weeks in which Trump was securing his G.O.P. nomination – a period of time that is said to be of interest to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators, who are looking into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Nancy Scola reports at POLITICO.

White House Counsel Don McGahn left his post yesterday, ending a “tumultuous” 21-month tenure. McGahn served as witness in Mueller’s investigation and has told associates that it was he wgi prevented Trump from firing Mueller and from forcing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to retake control of the Russia inquiry after he had recused himself from oversight of it, Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman report at the New York Times.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – overseeing Mueller’s investigation – has defended the probe as “appropriate and independent.” Rosenstein yesterday gave an “expansive interview” with The Wall Street Journal, in which he claimed that “people are entitled to be frustrated, I can accept that … but at the end of the day, the public will have confidence that the cases we brought were warranted by the evidence, and that it was an appropriate use of resources,” Sadie Gurman reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Senior Treasury Department employee Natalie Mayflower Sours Edward was charged yesterday with leaking to a reporter confidential government reports about the financial transactions of Trump associates and others under scrutiny to Mueller’s probe. The case centers on a dozen stories published by BuzzFeed News that described suspicious activity reports (S.A.R.s) – generated by banks when a financial transaction may involve illegal activity – with yesterday’s charges reflecting the latest move by the Trump administration to penalize leakers within the government, Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky and Rachel Weiner report at the Washington Post.

U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III yesterday rejected former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s request to wear a professional suit during a hearing later this week about his sentence, noting that Manafort is now a felon who has lost the right to wear street clothing in all his court proceedings. A target of Mueller’s investigation – Manafort was convicted by a jury on multiple counts for tax and bank fraud, and has also pleaded guilty to other criminal charges, Darren Samuelsohn reports at POLITICO.

“September and October at first glance appear to be quiet periods for the investigation … but the quiet period has seen a persistent murmur of activity … based on near-daily sightings of Mueller’s prosecutors and sources involved in the investigation,” Katelyn Polantz and Evan Perez comment at CNN.

U.S.-TURKEY RELATIONS

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that Washington may lift sanctions imposed on Turkey during the fallout over the detention of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson. Pompeo made the yesterday after his talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara, Al Jazeera reports.

Pompeo met yesterday with the Turkish families of three local U.S. mission employees detained in Turkey in the aftermath of the attempted 2016 coup, according to reporters travelling with him. Reuters reports.

Brunson’s attorney said yesterday that he had appealed to a Turkish court against the jail sentence the pastor received last week for terrorism offences, even though Brunson was ruled to have served his custodial sentence. Reuters reports.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

The European Union (E.U.) yesterday called on Palestinian militants to stop rocket and mortar fire from Gaza towards Israel, stating that attacks targeting civilians were “unacceptable.” “The rocket and mortar fire by Palestinian militants from Gaza towards Israel must stop immediately,” the European Commission said in a statement, adding that “indiscriminate attacks against civilians are completely unacceptable … the first priority now is for de-escalation.” Reuters reports.

The Prosecutor mandated to oversee the Occupied Palestinian Territory for the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) yesterday stated that her office is keeping “a close eye” on the planned demolition of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank, cautioning that according to international law, demolition by Israeli authorities could constitute a “war crime.” The U.N. News Centre reports.

An in-depth analysis of the current mood along the Gaza strip is provided by Mehul Srivastava at the Financial Times.

SYRIA

U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura yesterday told the Security Council that he is stepping down at the end of next month, after four years and four months in the role. The U.N. News Centre reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 137 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between Oct. 7 and Oct. 13 [Central Command]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Two detainees at the Guantánamo prison cleared for release during the Obama administration refused to cooperate with authorities arranging their departures and now are unable to leave as the Trump administration has ceased most prisoner releases. Carol Rosenberg explains at the Miami Herald.

“The election of human-rights abusers to the U.N.’s human-rights body plays into President Trump’s hands” the Economist comments. 

About the Author(s)

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).