The Early Edition: October 26, 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.

EXPLOSIVE DEVICES SENT TO DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL LEADERS

The F.B.I. has been focusing on postal centers in Florida in the investigation into the sending of pipe bombs to a series of Democratic political leaders and Trump critics. The 10 packages containing the devices bore the return address of Florida Democratic Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz. William K. Rashbaum, Alan Feuer and Adam Goldman report at the New York Times.

The F.B.I. announced yesterday that former Vice President Joe Biden and the actor Robert De Niro were also sent suspected bombs, with the authorities appealing to the public to come forward with any information. Devlin Barrett, Mark Berman and Cleve R. Wooston Jr. report at the Washington Post.

Republicans have blamed the media for using the bomb scare to undermine the president before the midterm elections, and White House officials have pushed back at comments suggesting that the president bore responsibility for inspiring whoever sent the packages. Andrew Restuccia and Gaby Orr report at POLITICO.

The attempted bomb attacks should have been a moment for national unity, Joshua Chaffin writes at the Financial Times, providing an overview of the polarized reaction to the situation.

JAMAL KHASHOGGI KILLING

Evidence shared by Turkey suggests that suspects in the killing of Saudi journalist and critic Jamal Khashoggi had “committed their act with a premeditated intention,” Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor said in a statement yesterday, adding that the investigation into the incident – which took place at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 – would continue in order to “complete the course of justice.” Saphora Smith reports at NBC News.

The Saudi public prosecutor’s statement came after C.I.A. Director Gina Haspel traveled to Turkey and heard an audio recording of the killing. Haspel later briefed President Trump on her fact-finding visit, Reuters reports.

Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdogan said today that Saudi Arabia must disclose the location of Khashoggi’s body and identify the “local collaborator” who disposed of his remains. Bethan McKernan reports at the Guardian.

“What we know is sufficient to suggest very strongly that Mr. Khashoggi was the victim of an extrajudicial execution,” the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, said yesterday. Al Jazeera reports.

Khashoggi’s son has left Saudi Arabia after the kingdom removed travel restrictions on him. The U.S. State Department spokesperson Robert Palladino welcomed the decision and also told reporters that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attended Haspel’s briefing on Khashoggi’s killing, Christopher Torchia and Aya Batrawy report at the AP.

The Saudi intelligence chief Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri – who was recently fired for his role in Khashoggi’s killing – met with the former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and other members of Trump’s transition team to discuss regime change in Iran, Betsy Woodruff and Erin Banco reveal at The Daily Beast, explaining that the meetings were brokered and attended by the Lebanese-American businessman George Nader, who is currently cooperating in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

An overview of the shifting Saudi story on Khashoggi’s killing is provided by Benjamin Mueller at the New York Times.

The latest statement by the Saudi public prosecutor “still leaves fundamental questions unanswered: Who ordered the hit on the journalist, and what role did [Crown Prince] Mohammed bin Salman play?” the Washington Post editorial board writes.

NUCLEAR ARMS CONTROL

Russia is seeking the support of the U.N. General Assembly to adopt a resolution on the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (I.N.F.) Treaty after President Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the pact. The AP reports.

European N.A.T.O. officials have been urging the Trump administration not to quit the I.N.F. treaty and make a final effort to bring Russia back into compliance, according to diplomats. Robin Emmott reports at Reuters.

“With enough political will, any problems of compliance with the existing treaties could be resolved,” the former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev – who signed the 1987 treaty with Ronald Reagan – writes at the New York Times, warning of the risks of an “unrelenting arms race.”

Trump’s withdrawal from the I.N.F. treaty may also be designed to send North Korea a signal that the U.S. can pressure deploy conventional short- and medium-range missiles to bases in Asia now that it is freed from the treaty’s constraints. Marc A. Thiessen writes at the Washington Post.

The U.S. national security adviser John Bolton has been the driving force behind the destruction and weakening of international agreements and withdrawal from the I.N.F. treaty would be the latest in his attempt to achieve his life’s work. Eliana Johnson writes at POLITICO.

IMMIGRATION

President Trump has been considering an executive action to block a migrant caravan from Central America that is approaching the U.S.’ southern border, according to sources familiar with the matter, who say details of the plan are still being finalized. Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Thomas Gibbons-Neff report at the New York Times.  

The White House is preparing to deploy up to 1,000 troops to the southern border to assist in security operations, officials have said, adding that the order could be issued as soon as today. Nick Miroff, Dan Lamothe and Josh Dawsey report at the Washington Post.

TRUMP CONTINUES USING AN UNSECURED PHONE LINE

“If they are very worried about iPhones being tapped, they can use Huawei,” a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday in response to a New York Times report that President Trump has been using his personal cellphone to make calls, and that China and Russia have been eavesdropping on his conversations. Steven Lee Myers reports at the New York Times.

The Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia was “amused” by the report that it was eavesdropping on President Trump’s personal phone calls, adding that the New York Times “thoughtlessly publishes information, which demonstrates the decreasing level of journalistic responsibility.” Chris Mills Rodrigo reports at the Hill.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

The Trump administration has been pushing forward with plans to limit Congress’ access to intelligence relating to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, according to multiple congressional sources, prompting concerns about the ability of Congress to scrutinize the Trump administration’s negotiations with Pyongyang. Kylie Atwood reports at CBS News.

The two Koreas today agreed to “completely destroy” 22 guard posts near the demilitarized zone (D.M.Z.) by the end of November, according to the South Korean defense ministry. South Korea’s military also announced that it would hold two military drills next week after the U.S. and South Korea agreed to halt joint exercises scheduled for December, Hyonhee Shin reports at Reuters.

YEMEN

At least 21 civilians were killed on Wednesday in a Saudi airstrike on a vegetable market in Yemen, 70km south of the Houthi rebel-held port city of Hodeidah, according to local health officials. Al Jazeera reports.

U.N. inspectors are seeking to identify the origin of weapons seized in the Gulf of Aden by the U.S. Navy, with American officials saying it could provide new evidence of Iranian support for the Houthi rebels. Missy Ryan reports at the Washington Post.

SYRIA

The U.S.-led coalition’s monthly report on civilian casualties in Syria and Iraq can be found at CentCom.

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]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The White House has invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to Washington, the U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said today. Reuters reports.

“Not only was there no collusion but there was not even the opportunity for collusion based on his contacts,” the Trump ally Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told reporters yesterday after interviewing the former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos with members of the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees. Papadopoulos was an early focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 U.S. election and was convicted in September of lying to the F.B.I. Karoun Demirjian reports at the Washington Post.

The Taliban deputy Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar has been released, the Taliban said yesterday, with the spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid stating that his release “is the result of the recent contacts with the Americans.” Mujib Mashal and Taimoor Shah report at the New York Times.

China has cut some of its oil imports from Iran despite vowing for months to resist U.S. sanctions, giving the Trump administration the opportunity to exert further pressure on Tehran after the U.S. withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Benoit Faucon reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Russian arms sales to both Azerbaijan and Armenia have undermined efforts to resolve the dispute between the two countries over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, Bolton said yesterday, adding that the U.S. will consider a review on a ban on selling arms to the two countries. The AP reports.

Bolton is behind the rumors about U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ imminent departure from the Trump administration, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Lara Seligman reports at Foreign Policy. 

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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