The Early Edition: October 22, 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 KILLING

The killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khsahoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey was a “huge and grave mistake,” the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said yesterday in an interview with Fox News, answering questions following an admission by the kingdom on Saturday that Khashoggi had died during a fist fight in the consulate. The latest comments mark another shift in Saudi Arabia’s narrative, which had initially dismissed reports that Khashoggi – a critic of the Crown Prince and Washington Post columnist – had gone missing inside the consulate, Doina Chiacu and Kylie MacLellan report at Reuters.

Saudi’s foreign ministry said that 18 Saudi nationals suspected of involvement in Khashoggi’s death have been arrested, and four top Saudi intelligence officials and a top royal adviser have also been fired. Nahal Toosi and Brent D. Griffiths report at POLITICO.

The killing of Khashoggi was a “rogue operation,” Jubeir told Fox News, seeking to distance Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from the killing of Khashoggi and stating that the agents involved were not “closely tied” to the Crown Prince and “even the senior leadership of our intelligence service was not aware of this.” Euan McKirdy reports at CNN.

Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdogan vowed yesterday to reveal further details of Khashoggi’s killing in Istanbul. Referring to the Saudi account of Khashoggi’s death, Erdogan asked: “Why did 15 people come here? Why have 18 people been arrested? All of this must be explained with all the details. On Tuesday, I will tell this very differently in my parliamentary group speech.” Carlotta Gall and Ben Hubbard report at the New York Times.

Surveillance footage appears to show a Saudi member of the 15-man team sent to Istanbul wearing Khashoggi’s clothes, a fake beard and glasses on the day of his killing, according to a senior Turkish official, casting doubt on the Saudi account of Khashoggi’s killing and adding that a “body double” is not needed for a “rendition or interrogation.” Gul Tuysuz, Salma Abdelaziz, Ghazi Balkiz, Ingrid Formanek, Clarissa Ward and Henrik Pettersson reveal at CNN.

“Obviously there’s been deception, and there’s been lies,” President Trump said Saturday in a phone interview with the Washington Post, adding that he would “love” if the Crown Prince “wasn’t responsible” for Khashoggi’s killing. Trump also defended the relationship between Mohammed bin Salman and his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and said that the incident should not disrupt U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Josh Dawsey, John Hudson and Anne Gearan report at the Washington Post.

“There remains an urgent need for clarification of exactly what happened,” the U.K., France and Germany said in a joint statement at the weekend, adding that the Saudi account of the killing needs to be “backed by facts to be considered credible.” The BBC reports.

Germany has called for a united European Union position on Khashoggi’s case, with the German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier reiterating that his country would not approve any further arms exports “because we want to know what happened.” The AP reports.

A bodyguard to the Crown Prince transported Khashoggi’s body out of Istanbul to Saudi Arabia, Turkish officials believe. The Middle East Eye reports.

Turkish prosecutors are today taking witness statements from five Turkish employees at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Erin Cunningham and Tamer El-Ghobashy report at the Washington Post.

The U.S. has been trying to uphold the alliance with Saudi Arabia in spite of the outcry about Khashoggi’s killing and pressure from lawmakers to sanction the country, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin heading to the kingdom today and highlighting the Trump administration’s need to focus on important issues – such as countering Iran and combating terrorist financing. Ian Talley reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“It would be premature to comment on sanctions and premature to comment on really any issues until we get further down the investigation,” Mnuchin said yesterday, referring to the possibility of targeted sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act against individuals responsible for Khashoggi’s killing. Mnuchin added that he believes Saudi Arabia would maintain its commitment to increasing global oil supplies when the U.S. imposes sanctions against Iranian oil exports in early November, Lesley Wroughton reports at Reuters.

King Salman and the Crown Prince called Khashoggi’s son to express their condolences, the kingdom announced today via statements to the state-run Saudi Press Agency. Chris Torchia, Zeynep Billingsoy and Jon Gambrell report at the AP.

The Crown Prince was “really shocked that there was such a big reaction” to Khashoggi’s killing and “he feels betrayed by the West,” a person close to the royal court said at the weekend, making the remarks as many are pointing the finger at Mohammed bin Salman and casting doubt on the kingdom’s version of events. Summer Said, Margherita Stancati and Justin Scheck report at the Wall Street Journal.

Saudi Arabia does not intend to use its status as the world’s largest crude oil exporter in response to international pressure of Khashoggi’s death, the Saudi Arabia Energy Minister Khalid al Falih has said, adding that Saudi Arabia’s oil policy is a “responsible economic tool and isolated it from politics.” David Sheppard reports at the Financial Times.

JAMAL KHASHOGGI KILLING: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

A breakdown of the events since Khashoggi disappeared on Oct. 2 is provided by Martin Chulov at the Guardian.

Saudi Arabia’s new account of Khashoggi’s death is “utterly devoid of credibility,” the Washington Post editorial board writes, calling for a genuine international investigation and, in the meantime, for all those who “value human rights and free expression” to treat the kingdom and its regime as outlaws.

Khashoggi’s murder is more than the question of press freedom, Christopher Dickey writes at The Daily Beast, arguing that it demonstrates the ongoing issues in the Middle East and Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood political organization.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s rise to power is unlikely to be disrupted by Khashoggi’s killing, but it could have significant implications for the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the West. Jon Gambrell provides an analysis at the AP.

Khashoggi was subjected to a deluge of online attacks by Twitter trolls as part of a broader effort by the Saudi Crown Prince and royal advisers to silence critics of the kingdom. Katie Benner, Mark Mazzetti, Ben Hubbard and Mike Isaac offer an insight into Saudi Arabia’s troll farm and a suspected Saudi mole inside Twitter at the New York Times.

NUCLEAR ARMS CONTROL

President Trump said Saturday that the U.S. would withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (I.N.F.) Treaty, which banned the U.S. and Soviet Union from having “ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 500 and 5,5000 kilometers” and required the desctruction of launchers and supports structures. James Doubek reports at NPR.

“Russia has not, unfortunately, honored the agreement,” Trump said Saturday, prompting the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov to denounce the decision as “very dangerous” and saying it would lead to a “military-technical” retaliation. Reuters reports.

Ryabkov attacked the U.S. for acting “crudely” by untilaterally withdrawing from “all sorts of agreement and mechanisms from the Iran deal to the International Postal treaty,” adding that Russia would be “reduced to taking action in response, including of a military nature. But we don’t want to go that far.” Henry Fox, Max Seddon and Katrina Manson report at the Financial Times.

“Russia continues to produce and field prohibited cruise missiles and has ignored calls for transparency,” a senior administration official has said of the U.S. decision to withdraw from the treaty. Ann M. Simmons, Thomas Grove and Courtney McBride report at the Wall Street Journal.

The former Soviet President Mikhael Gorbachev has criticized Trump’s decision and warned that the move could undermine nuclear disarmament. Gorbachev signed the agreement with President Ronald Reagan near the end of the Cold War, the BBC reports.

The U.S. national security adviser John Bolton is in Moscow for two days of talks following Trump’s announcement about the I.N.F. treaty. Jim Heintz reports at the AP.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) expressed concern about the Trump administration’s approach to nuclear arms control, adding that he had heard that the Trump administration has been considering withdrawing from the New START treaty: a treaty which seeks to limit nuclear stockpiles, the number of deployed nuclear-capable submarines, and the number of long-range missiles and heavy bombers. Karoun Demirjian reports at the Washington Post.

French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to President Trump yesterday and emphasized the importance of the I.N.F. treaty for “European security and our strategic stability,” Macron’s office said in a statement today. Reuters reports.

The British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson has said his country stands “absolutely resolute with the United States” and that Russia has made a “mockery” of the I.N.F. treaty. The Press Association reports.

An explanation of the reasons behind Trump’s decision is provided by Ryan Browne at CNN.

A new nuclear arms race could be the consequence of the decision to withdraw from the I.N.F. treaty, David Axe explains at The Daily Beast.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

The U.S.-led U.N. Command and military officers from North and South Korea met today at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone (D.M.Z.) between the two Koreas to discuss disarmament efforts at the border. The AP reports.

The U.S. and South Korea have canceled another major joint exercise despite lack of progress on negotiations to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. The Pentagon chief spokesperson said in a statement Friday that the decision was made to “give the diplomatic process every opportunity to continue.” Lara Seligman and Robbie Gramer report at Foreign Policy.

North Korea has bought at least $640m worth of goods from China in defiance of international sanctions against the regime, the South Korean opposition lawmaker Yoon Sang-hyun said in a statement today. Hyonhee Shin reports at Reuters.

The diverging U.S. and South Korea approach to dealing with North Korea threatens the 70-year-old alliance between the two countries. Bryan Harris, Demetri Sevastopulo and Emily Feng explain at the Financial Times.

SYRIA

The U.S.-led coalition said yesterday that its airstrikes on a mosque in eastern Syria last week killed Islamic State militants, making the statement after the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (S.O.H.R.) said that the airstrikes on Thursday and Friday killed 41 people, including 10 children, as well as 22 militants. Reuters reports.

Joint U.S.-Turkey patrols in the northern Syrian city of Manbij could begin in a matter of days, according to the head of U.S. Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel. The city has been a source of tension between the two countries as it has been stationed by U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia – whom Turkey consider to be terrorists linked to the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.). Lolita C. Baldor reports at the AP.

An explosion in the last remaining major rebel-held province of Idlib has killed at least three people, according to S.O.H.R. and the Syrian Civil Defense Team, known as the White Helmets. The AP reports.

The Norwegian diplomat Geir Pedersen is favorite to replace Staffan de Mistura as the next U.N. Special Envoy for Syria, Colum Lynch reports at Foreign Policy.

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]

ISRAEL-JORDAN RELATIONS

Jordan will not renew the parts of a 1994 peace agreement that leased two territories to Israel, Jordan’s King Abdullah said yesterday. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the announcement by saying his country intends to negotiate with Jordan to extend the lease, Jack Khoury and Noa Landau report at Haaretz.

King Abdullah’s announcement comes amid public pressure to reprimand the Israeli government for the relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and ongoing violence in Gaza. Ruth Eglash and Taylor Luck report at the Washington Post.

AFGHANISTAN

Senior U.S. commander Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Smiley was wounded in an attack in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province last week. The attack – for which the Taliban claimed responsibility – killed province’s top police general Adbul Raziq and the intelligence chief Abdul Momin. Dan Lamothe reports at the Washington Post.

The killing of Adbul Raziq in Kandahar creates “a dangerous power vacuum” and gives a key advantage to the Taliban, Ashkley Jackson writes at Foreign Policy.

Afghanistan held its first parliamentary elections largely independent of foreign assistance at the weekend. Despite the optimism of President Ashraf Ghani, the weekend was mired by violence and there are deep concerns about the government’s ability to secure the country, Amanda Erickson provides an analysis at Washington Post.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

Lawmakers have been urging Trump to keep Defense Secretary Jim Mattis amid signals that the president has been growing frustrated with the Pentagon chief. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

The speculation that Mattis will leave sometime after the November mid-term elections has raised fears among national security leaders, who view the defense secretary as a force for stability. Connor O’Brien and Wesley Morgan report at POLITICO.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

China has denounced U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comments in Latin America last week, during which Pompeo said that “when China comes calling it’s not always to the good of your citizens.” Adam Jourdan reports at Reuters.

Pompeo claimed yesterday that the thousands of migrants headed to the U.S. from Central America were inciting violence and some organizers of the migrant caravan have apparent political motivations. Alex Johnson reports at NBC News.

The demolition of the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank has been put on hold, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday. Al Jazeera reports.

A feature on the Saudi-led war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen is provided by Declan Walsh and Tyler Hicks at the New York Times.

China’s dominance in the South China Sea is all but certain as it continues to transform the area through artificial island-building and militarization. Hannah Beech explains at the New York Times. 

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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