The Early Edition: November 1, 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.

JAMAL KHASHOGGI KILLING

Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was strangled as soon as he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2., after which his body was dismembered and destroyed as part of a premeditated plan, according to Istanbul Chief Prosecutor Irfan Fidan. Fidan’s statement yesterday marks the first official confirmation of Khashoggi’s murder, and contrasts starkly with Saudi Arabia’s account that Khashoggi died in a fight during a rogue extradition operation, and that his intact body was wrapped in a rug and disposed of by an unidentified “local collaborator,” Bethan McKernan reports at the Guardian.

Saudi Arabian Chief Prosecutor Saud al-Mujab – who visited Istanbul for talks this week – claimed to Turkish authorities that no such “local collaborator” existed, according to people familiar with the matter, adding that that Mujab did not provide an alternative account of what happened to Khashoggi’s body. David Gauthier-Villars reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Fidan’s office described three days of meetings with Mujab as producing “no concrete results,” despite “our well-intentioned efforts to reveal the truth.” An adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and friend of Khashoggi – Yasin Aktay – has commented that the content of Fidan’s statement is a disappointment for the mutual investigation process, adding: “the agreement between the two sides to cooperate in the case raised expectations to shed light on the details of the killing of Khashoggi and who was behind it … but the Saudi officials seem like they have come to Istanbul to be able to obtain the information Turkey has on the murder, rather than mutual sharing of information on the case,” Al Jazeera reports.

A group of five Republican senators led by Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) has written to the Trump administration to halt civilian nuclear talks with the kingdom in the aftermath of Khashoggi’s death. In a letter to the president, Sens. Rubio, Toby Young (ind.), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Dean Heller (Nev.) write: “the ongoing revelations about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as certain Saudi actions related to Yemen and Lebanon, have raised further serious concerns about the transparency, accountability, and judgment of current decision makers in Saudi Arabia… we therefore request that you suspend any related negotiations for a U.S.-Saudi civil nuclear agreement for the foreseeable future,” Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

Democratic Senators have also written to Trump regarding cessation of nuclear cooperation with the kingdom. Sen. Edward Markey (Mass.) has called for a suspension of discussions on civilian nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia, and for the administration to revoke any approvals for the transfer of nuclear services, technology or assistance to Riyadh, Reuters reports.

The outcry in the U.S. “demonizing” Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi’s murder threatens U.S.-Saudi strategic ties, former Saudi Intelligence Minister and royal family member Prince Turki bin Faisal al Saud warned yesterday, commenting in an address to the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations: “we value our strategic relationship with the United States and hope to sustain it … we hope the United States reciprocates in kind,” Reuters reports.

A report on “the fierce information war” fought online over Khashoggi killing and the influence of fake news network and internet bots amidst the confusion is provided at Reuters.

YEMEN

The U.S. and the U.K. are intensifying pressure for a cease-fire in Yemen’s war, the two countries representing the most significant suppliers of arms to Saudi Arabia, which is leading the coalition fighting against the country’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebel movement. Calls for a halt to the conflict came from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday night and his British counterpart Jeremy Hunt yesterday, with Pompeo releasing a a statement claiming: “it is time to end this conflict, replace conflict with compromise, and allow the Yemeni people to heal through peace and reconstruction,” Gardiner Harris, Eric Schmitt and Rick Gladstone report at the New York Times.

“Subsequently … coalition airstrikes must cease in all populated areas of Yemen,” Pompeo’s statement continued, appearing to place the onus on the Houthi rebels to halt their attacks first before the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition ceases some of its military operations in turn. Coln Dwyer reports at NPR.

“We have come to the assessment that the climate is right at this time to move forward” in efforts to reach a peace settlement, U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino told reporters yesterday. One of the driving factors in the developments is allegedly the progress made by U.N. special envoy for Yemen – Martin Griffiths – during a September visit to the Houthi-held capital of Sanaa, according to a U.S. source familiar with the matter, Reuters reports.

Sweden yesterday offered to host talks between Yemen’s warring parties, with Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom claiming that the U.N. has asked her country if it “could be a place for the U.N. envoy to gather the parties in this conflict.” Jan M. Olsen reports at the AP.

“Claims of the complicity of the autocratic Saudi crown prince … Mohammed bin Salman … in the murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi has weakened the chief architect of the war in Yemen and opened a new space for diplomats in which to operate,” Patrick Wintour explains in an analysis of the interlinked developments at the Guardian.

“If the Trump administration is serious about putting an end to this catastrophic war, it will have to find a way to counter the mendacity as well as the cruelty of Mohammed bin Salman’s regime,” the Washington Post editorial board comments.

SYRIA

U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria claimed yesterday that they are temporarily suspending their campaign against Islamic State group militants in northeast Syria, pointing the finger at Turkey for stymieing their efforts. Turkey said that its military shelled Kurdish positions across the border in Syria east of the Euphrates River – marking the second time this week Turkish artillery has targeted Kurdish positions in the northeast of the country, where U.S. troops are also stationed, the AP reports.

Berlin-based monitor Syrian Archive announced yesterday that it has documented over 1,400 episodes in which Russian forces indiscriminately targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure during the three years since Moscow intervened in the Syrian civil war. A member of the monitor said its searchable database provides the first visual documentation of alleged Russian airstrikes in Syria and is essential for “advancing justice,” the AP reports.

A year on from Islamic State group’s defeat in their former headquarters of Raqqa, bodies are still being counted as they are exhumed from mass graves and rubble. An account is provided at Reuters.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 188 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between Oct. 21 and Oct. 27. [Central Command]

RUSSIA, N.A.T.O. AND NUCLEAR CONTROLS

N.A.T.O. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is urging Russia to give details about a new 9M729 missile system that the U.S. and other allies claim violates the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (I.N.F.) – the same treaty that President Trump announced the intention of withdrawing from on Oct. 20. At talks between Russian and N.A.T.O. ambassadors yesterday, Stoltenberg stated “we regret that Russia has not heeded our calls [for transparency about the missile system,]” adding that Moscow’s reluctance to discuss the issue underscores N.A.T.O.’s belief that the missile system “poses a serious risk to the strategic stability of the Euro-Atlantic area,” the AP reports.

The U.S. Department of Defense’s top N.A.T.O. policy official Thomas Goffus stepped down last week, the move marking the second departure among the department’s senior civilian leaders in recent weeks. During his tenure, Goffus oversaw a series of training exercises with European allies to deter Russian aggression after Moscow’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine, Robbie Gramer and Lara Seligman report at Foreign Policy.

An end to the I.N.F. “would make the U.S. and its allies … less safe and would undermine the global basis for nuclear restraint and non-proliferation,” Jon Wolfsthal comments at Foreign Policy – positing that the 2010 New START arms reduction treaty with Russia might be next casualty of Trump’s Russia strategy.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

President Trump and his legal team yesterday countered suggestions that he is already locked in a secret subpoena battle with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. “No,” the president told reporters on the White House lawn, swinging back against assertions made in a POLITICO Op-Ed by former federal prosecutor Nelson Cunningham that Trump’s personal lawyer Rudi Giuliani has described as “totally wrong not even a bit of truth,” Darren Samuelsohn reports at POLITICO.

An attorney for former Trump Chief Strategist Steve Bannon announced yesterday that the Senate Intelligence Committee is interested in interviewing Bannon as part of the panel’s investigation into Russian electoral interference. The disclosure came in response to a report from Reuters that the committee is investigating Bannon’s activities before the 2016 election, including his knowledge of links between other campaign officials and Moscow, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

Washington and Seoul will review their joint military exercises and decide whether to suspend next year’s drills by the beginning of December, South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo announced yesterday during a visit to the Pentagon. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is reportedly planning a meeting next week with a North Korean counterpart to push for progress on denuclearization and arrange for a second summit meeting between the two countries’ leaders. Pompeo, acknowledging the meeting in a radio interview yesterday, did not specify who he would meet or where, although Yonhap news agency reported that the meeting would be in New York, Courtney McBride reports at the Wall Street Journal.

A no-fly zone and a ban on military drills near the heavily armed border between the two Koreas came into effect today as the neighbors push to further defuse tensions. Reuters reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Recently retired commander of the U.S. Army in Europe Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges has suggested that conflict with China could come soon. “I think in 15 years—it’s not inevitable—but it is a very strong likelihood that we will be at war with China,” Hodges commented last Wednesday at the Warsaw Security Forum, noting in subsequent remarks to The Daily Beast that a simultaneous Russian assault in Europe represents the “worst case.” Gordon G. Chang reports at The Daily Beast.

“We are more in an offensive mindset and don’t wait for the Taliban to come and hit [us],” new head of U.S. military in Afghanistan Gen. Scott Miller commented Tuesday in an interview with NBC, outlining his strategy for the war-torn nation. Courtney Kube reports at NBC.

President Trump suggested yesterday that he is prepared to deploy as many as 15,000 troops to the border in anticipation of a Central American migrant caravan travelling through Mexico, commenting “we’re going to be prepared … they are not coming into our country.” Earlier in the day, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis defended the deployment and rejected criticisms that the U.S. military’s operation was driven by a desire to assist Republican candidates in the upcoming midterm elections, remarking “we don’t do stunts,” Nancy A. Youssef and Alex Leary report at the Wall Street Journal.

A federal grand jury yesterday indicted Robert Bowers – who authorities allege killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday – on 44 counts including hate crimes. Bowers could face the death penalty if convicted, Jacey Fortin reports at the New York Times. 

Filed under:
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).