The Early Edition: October 24, 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

Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been battling over their accounts of the killing of the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday delivered a speech accusing the kingdom of planning the “savage murder,” while the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman demonstrated his power and refusal to back down by attending an international investor conference in Riyadh. David D. Kirkpatrick and Carlotta Gall report at the New York Times.

The U.S. has identified 21 Saudi officials for diplomatic action in connection to Khashoggi’s killing, including visa revocations and special screening procedures. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said yesterday that “these penalties will not be the last word” and the Trump administration “will continue to explore additional measures to hold those responsible accountable,” Peter Nicholas, Courtney McBride and Margherita Stancati report at the Wall Street Journal.

Khashoggi’s body parts have been found, according to two sources, with one source suggesting that the remains were found in the garden of the Saudi consul general’s home in Istanbul. Alex Crawford reports at Sky News.

“The cover up was one of the worst in the history of cover ups,” President Trump told reporters in the Oval Office yesterday when discussing Khashoggi’s killing; calling the situation a “total fiasco” and saying that Erdogan was “pretty rough on Saudi Arabia” when they discussed the situation in a phone call. Kaitlan Collins, Kevin Liptak and Elise Labott report at CNN.

Trump suggested that the crown prince could have been involved in Khashoggi’s killing during an interview with the Wall Street Journal, adding that he wants to believe the crown prince’s denials about the episode. Julian Borger and Bethan McKernan report at the Guardian.

The Middle East is a “nasty part of the world,” Trump told reporters at the Oval Office when discussing Khashoggi’s killing and Iran’s human rights abuses, but added that Saudi Arabia remains “a very good ally of ours” and the kingdom has been “helping us a lot with respect to Israel. They’ve been funding a lot of things.” Megan Keller reports at the Hill.

“I don’t think that a country would dare commit such a crime without the protection of America,” the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said today, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (I.R.N.A.), calling on the Turkish government to carry out an impartial investigation into Khashoggi’s “unprecedented” murder. Reuters reports.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur David Kaye has called for an independent international investigation into the “evident murder” of Khashoggi, adding that the journalist’s death is emblematic of the attacks on journalists and freedom of information “encapsulated” by President Trump. The U.N. News Centre reports.

The foreign ministers of the G-7 group of industrialized nations today condemned Khashoggi’s killing “in the strongest possible terms” and said Saudi Arabia must ensure that such an incident is never repeated. Reuters reports.

“I think there needs to be an independent investigation,” the U.S. ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell said yesterday, expressing concern about the “drip drip drip of facts.” Chris Mills Rodrigo reports at the Hill.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is expected to address an investor conference in Riyadh today amid the ongoing furore over Khashoggi’s death. Stephen Kalin and Katie Paul report at Reuters.

JAMAL KHASHOGGI KILLING: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

Arab regional officials and experts are concerned that Khashoggi’s killing could undermine Saudi Arabia’s status and thereby threaten other Arab states’ stability and security, with some fearing that the situation is ripe for Iran to exploit. Karen DeYoung and Souad Mekhennet explain at the Washington Post.

The Turkish President has been using Khashoggi’s killing as a way to challenge Saudi Arabia’s regional power and its close relationship with the Trump administration. There may be many motivations for doing this, but Erdogan’s key objective is furthering Turkey’s claim to be the dominant Sunni Muslim power, the New York Times editorial board writes.

Erdogan’s speech yesterday was an attempt to “drive a wedge” between Saudi’s King Salman and his son, the crown prince, analysts have said, noting Erdogan’s deferential references to the king. Kareem Fahim writes at the Washington Post.

The Washington operative Ali Shihabi has vociferously defended the Saudi government – even as evidence mounts that the kingdom was behind Khashoggi’s killing – and has emerged as the kingdom’s unofficial envoy. Nahal Toosi explains at POLITICO.

NUCLEAR ARMS CONTROL

The U.S. national security adviser John Bolton yesterday rejected Russia’s pleas for the U.S. to remain as a signatory to the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (I.N.F.) treaty, stating that “it is the American position that Russia is in violation” and that “there’s a new strategic reality out there” due to the fact that we now live in a “multipolar ballistice missile world.” Andrew E. Kramer reports at the New York Times.

Bolton said the talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow were “productive,” making the comments despite the fact that the Trump administration remains committed to withdrawing from the I.N.F. treaty. The AFP reports.

A preliminary agreement has been made for President Trump and President Putin to meet in Paris on Nov. 11, officials said yesterday following Bolton’s meeting with the Russian President. Vladimir Soldatkin and Polina Devitt report at Reuters.

Russia’s breaches of the I.N.F. treaty “can’t go on,” the N.A.T.O. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters today, but did not discuss whether he thought it was right for the U.S. to withdraw from the pact. Michael Peel reports at the Financial Times.

Stoltenberg said that he does not expect a nuclear buildup in Europe as a consequence of the U.S. decision to withdraw from the I.N.F. treaty and does not foresee further deployments in response to Russia’s new 9M729 missile system. Lorne Cook reports at the AP.

U.S. withdrawal from the I.N.F. treaty would be a “gift to Putin,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said yesterday, explaining that it would allow the Russian President to be “unfettered in his aggression.” Megan Keller reports at the Hill.

“I think it’s in the interest of every nation to continue to ban the use of nuclear weapons in space,” Vice President Mike Pence said at an event yesterday, but stating that the Trump administration wants to “continue to advance the principle that peace comes through strength.” Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

An explanation of the history and provisions of the I.N.F. treaty is provided by Andrew E. Kramer at the New York Times.

U.S. withdrawal from the I.N.F. treaty and a decision not to extend the new START nuclear arms reduction treaty could open the door “to a return of a terrifying past,” Michael Hirsch warns at Foreign Policy.

The decision to withdraw from the I.N.F. treaty threatens European rallies and “reinforces the signal that the U.S. is no longer interested in negotiated de-escalation,” the Financial Times editorial board writes.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY AND TECHNOLOGY

The U.S. Cyber Command has launched an operation targeting individual Russian operatives to deter them from medling in American elections – including the upcoming November midterm elections – defense officials have said. Julian E. Barnes reports at the New York Times.

The cyberoperation uses digital alerts to warn Russian operatives against election interference. Ellen Nakashima reports at the Washington Post.

A Russian government-owned research institute was behind cyberattacks on a Saudi Arabian petrochemical plant, U.S. researchers have found. Dustin Volz reports at the Wall Street Journal.

YEMEN

The Saudi-led coalition looks set to carry out a fresh assault on the Houthi-rebel held Yemeni port city of Hodeidah, Yemeni officials said today, pointing to reinforcements deployed around the city. Ahmed Al-Haj reports at the AP.

Half of Yemen’s total population is at risk of famine, the U.N. official Mark Lowcock told the Security Council yesterday, explaining that the crisis is being exacerbated by intense fighting in Hodeidah and the collapse of the country’s economy. The U.N. News Centre reports.

SYRIA

French authorities have been working to repatriate children of French Islamist militants held by Syrian Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria, French officials have said. John Irish and Emmanuel Jarry report at Reuters.

The Japanese journalist Jumpei Yasuda has been freed from Syria, the Japanese Foreign Minister said today. Yasuda had been kidnapped by al-Qaeda-linked jihadists three years ago, Mari Yamaguchi reports at the AP.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 70 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between Oct. 14 and Oct. 20. [Central Command]

The KOREAN PENINSULA

South Korean President Moon Jae-in “ratified” deals with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un yesterday after his Cabinet approved them, the presidential office said in a statement. The deals related to the broader agreements made between Moon and Kim when they met for a summit in April, Hyung-Jin Kim reports at the AP.

The international community’s lack of discussion of human rights in North Korea could create a situation similar to Myanmar during its transition from military rule to democracy, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on North Korea – Tomas Ojea Quintana – warned yesterday, adding that the “human rights at the moment has not changed on the ground in North Korea despite this important progress on security, peace and prosperity.” Michelle Nichols reports at Reuters.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The U.S. Treasury Department yesterday announced sanctions against nine Afghan Taliban men and Iranian officials accused of training and assisting the Taliban. The designation was made with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – who are all members of a Riyadh-based antiterror-finance center. Ian Talley and Asa Fitch report at the Wall Street Journal.

“There’s no proof of anything,” President Trump said yesterday when asked whether there was any evidence to back up his assertion that a migrant caravan approaching the U.S. southern border includes “Middle Easterners,” but added “there could very well be” Middle Easterners among them. Elana Schor reports at POLITICO.

Iraq’s top military commander in Mosul accused the Islamic State group of carrying out a car bomb attack yesterday that killed at least six people and injured 30. Al Jazeera reports. 

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