The Early Edition: November 2, 2018

JAMAL KHASHOGGI KILLING

Turkey’s Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul yesterday renewed calls for Saudi Arabia to cooperate in the investigation into the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, claiming that “no one can escape responsibility.” Gul alleged that Saudi Arabian Chief Prosecutor Saud al-Mujab  — who spent three days in Istanbul as part of joint Turkish-Saudi efforts to investigate the killing — had failed to answer Turkish investigators’ queries about the location of the writer’s remains as well as who ordered the killing, Suzan Fraser reports at the AP.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has stated that it could be “a handful” of weeks before the U.S. formally responds to Khashoggi’s death, making the comments yesterday in an interview with a St. Louis radio station. Pompeo claimed that the administration is still in the process of gathering evidence, but is “reviewing putting sanctions on the individuals that we have been able to identify to date that … were engaged in that murder,” with Washington already having revoked the visas of the men suspected to have been involved in Khashoggi’s murder inside the consulate, John Bowden reports at the Hill.

Turkish officials are looking into the possibility that Khashoggi’s body was destroyed in acid after he was killed inside the Saudi consulate. A senior Turkish official has stated that “biological evidence” found in a garden outside the consulate supports the proposition that Khashoggi’s body was disposed of near the site of the killing and that his body was “not in need of burying,” Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

The remains of Khashoggi’s body should be located and returned to his family for a burial as soon as possible, U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino told reporters yesterday. Reuters reports.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly told the U.S. he considered murdered Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi to be a dangerous Islamist, according to media reports. Prince Mohammed’s reported phone call with the White House came on Oct 9. – before the kingdom admitted that Khashoggi had been killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, with the Crown Prince also reportedly urging the White House to preserve the U.S.-Saudi alliance, the BBC reports.

“The growing international consensus that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was behind it has done almost nothing to weaken his grip on power over the kingdom,” David D. Kirkpatrick and Ben Hubbard explain in an analysis of the Crown Prince’s position at the New York Times.

“It is now up to the international community to bring the perpetrators to justice,” Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz writes at the Washington Post, arguing that “of all nations, the U.S should be leading the way.”

Saudi Arabia must be held to the same standards as Iran, the Washington Post editorial board comments, pointing out: “if the U.S. does not impose significant punishment on Saudi Arabia, how can it expect other nations to enforce its sanctions against Iran?”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is using the Khashoggi fallout to maintain maximum pressure on the kingdom, the Economist explains in an analysis of Turkish-Saudi relations.

“The ongoing quagmire in Yemen and alleged murder of Khashoggi presents an opportunity to reconsider the repeated patterns … misconceptions … and broken promises of the U.S.-Saudi relationship” Adam Weinstein comments at Foreign Policy, arguing that “a new wave of activist and clerical arrests inside Saudi Arabia, as well as Khashoggi’s disappearance, is a testament to the flaws of this model of expedited and disingenuous reform.”

A month on from Khashoggi’s disappearance in the Istanbul consulate, Al Jazeera provides a timeline of the developments in his case.

SYRIA

The U.S.-led coalition fighting against Islamic State group (I.S.) in Syria announced yesterday that it is working to “de-escalate” fighting between Turkey and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) fighting the Islamist militants, the move coming a day after the U.S.-backed alliance – including a combination of Kurdish and Arab fighters – suspended an offensive against I.S. in the east of the country after Turkey shelled its positions. “We have been in communication [with] both Turkey and the S.D.F. to de-escalate the situation,” U.S. spokesperson Col. Sean Ryan commented in a message on Twitter, AFP reports.

Russia accused rebels in Syria’s Idlib Province yesterday of trying to destroy the Russian-Turkish brokered plan to create a demilitarized zone in the northwestern rebel-held region, according to Interfax news agency. “There are still Nusra militants in Idlib who are not stopping their attempts to wreck the implementation of the memorandum that was agreed between Russia and Turkey,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova was cited as saying, Reuters reports.

Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah militia group is paying former U.S.-backed rebels to switch sides and join a growing force in southern Syria, expanding its presence near the Israel border despite appearing to withdraw to evade Israeli airstrikes, according to activists and a former rebel commander. The militant group has allegedly recruited up to 2,000 fighters, with the Syrian government and its military ally Russia depending on Hezbollah and other Iran-allied militias to battle the remaining armed opposition in the south, Sune Engel Rasmussen and Suha Ma’ayeh report at the Wall Street Journal.

President Trump and his Turkish counterpart President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday highlighted coordination in Syria as a key priority, in a phone conversation that marked an easing in relations between Washington and Ankara. Vivian Salama reports at the Wall Street Journal.

A total of 260,000 Syrian nationals have returned to an area of land in northern Syria where Turkey carried out its cross-border operation dubbed “Euphrates Shield” in 2016-17, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar announced yesterday. Reuters reports.

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]

YEMEN

The U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Iran-aligned Shi’ite Houhi rebel movement says it has bombed Sanaa International Airport and an adjoining airbase, which were allegedly being used to launch drone and ballistic missile attacks, the air raids coming yesterday just hours after Yemen’s internationally recognized government announced that it is ready to re-start peace talks with Houthis. Coalition spokesperson Col. Turki al-Malki said today that aviation at the airport and international aid efforts were not affected, Al Jazeera reports.

“The Yemeni government is ready to immediately discuss all confidence-building measures,” the internationally-recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi claimed in a statement yesterday, indicating a readiness to return to the negotiating table. The development comes following the collapse of U.N.-led consultations collapsed in September when the Houthi delegation failed to show up, Reuters reports.

The Gulf state of Oman yesterday welcomed the calls from the U.S. and the U.K. for a ceasefire in Yemen, according to the Omani state news agency. Oman is a Gulf ally of Saudi Arabia – but not a member of the Saudi-led coalition – and maintains good relations with the Houthi movement, Reuters reports.

Despite new U.S. calls for a cease-fire in Yemen “neither side shows any sign of backing down,” Brian Rohan explains in an account of the present state of the conflict at the AP.

An analysis of the difficulties that lie ahead in the attempt to reach a peace settlement for Yemen is provided by Asa Fitch and Saleh al-Batati at the Wall Street Journal.

IRAN

Iran attempted to assassinate an Arab separatist leader living in Denmark, according to Danish authorities, who have added that that a suspect in the “unusual and very serious” plot has been remanded in custody. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent a message on Twitter congratulating the Danish government on “its arrest of an Iranian regime assassin,” Martin Selsoe Sorensen reports at the New York Times.

Denmark has recalled its ambassador to Iran, and potential joint European action –including the imposition of sanctions – is on the agenda for a meeting of European Union (E.U.) Foreign Ministers on Nov. 19. Laurence Norman reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz today described the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul as “despicable” but said that co-operating with the kingdom against common foe Iran remains Israel’s priority. It is not clear whether Steinitz’s views represent those of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Reuters reports.

AFGHANISTAN

Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai commented yesterday that he welcomes the entry of the five Taliban leaders freed from the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay in 2014 into peace negotiations. Karzai added that he now supports talks between the Taliban and the U.S. — but only as a stepping-stone toward direct talks between the militant group and a negotiating team representing Afghans from across society, Kathy Gannon reports at the AP.

Afghan government control over districts in the country is at the lowest point since a U.S. inspector general began tracking the data in 2015, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (S.I.G.A.R.) watchdog announced yesterday. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

An account of the movement of persecuted Uighur Muslims from China into Afghanistan is provided by Haiyun Ma and I-Wei Jennifer Chang at Foreign Policy, who argue that “the Xinjiang government’s repressive policies, including ‘re-education camps’ can only serve to drive Uighur militancy and complicate Afghanistan’s internal security”

U.S.-CHINA RELATIONS

President Trump yesterday claimed he had a “very good conversation” with Chinese President Xi Jinping of China, signaling progress in the nations’ trade dispute, the comments coming just hours before federal prosecutors produced charges against a Chinese technology firm for alleged espionage against U.S. companies. Vivian Salama, Aruna Viswanatha and Kate O’Keeffe report at the Wall Street Journal.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the charges at a press conference yesterday, with a Chinese state-owned company, a Taiwanese company and three Taiwanese nationals charged for engaging in economic espionage on behalf of the Chinese government – allegedly stealing trade secrets from U.S.-based semiconductor company Micron Technology. “The problem has been growing rapidly, and along with China’s other unfair trade practices, it poses a real and illegal threat to our nation’s economic prosperity and competitiveness,” Sessions said in remarks at the Department of Justice (D.O.J.), also suggesting that the activity had been “overshadowed in the press by threats from Russia or radical Islamic terrorism,” Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro yesterday reiterated that he plans to move Brazil’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, after similar moves made by the U.S. and Guatemala. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly welcomed the plan, the AP reports.

An analysis of the role of Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone – who “sold himself to Trump’s Campaign as a WikiLeaks pipeline” – is provided by Sharon LaFraniere, Michael S. Schmidt, Maggie Haberman and Danny Hakim at the New York Times, in the light of newly released correspondence that sheds light on the connections between the parties.

A press conference intended to publicize sexual assault claims against special counsel Robert Mueller collapsed “in spectacular fashion” yesterday, after pro-Trump operatives Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl “failed to demonstrate a grasp of even basic details” about the alleged accuser. Mueller is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Will Somer reports at The Daily Beast.

President Trump is “screwing up his own foreign policy,” Ivo Daadler and James Lindsay comment at POLITICO Magazine, arguing that the president’s decision to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (I.N.F.) without consulting the U.S.’ international allies “is emblematic of his approach to foreign affairs.” 

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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).