The Early Edition: December 5, 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.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Former Trump aide Mike Flynn has provided “substantial assistance” to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, federal prosecutors announced yesterday, recommending no jail time for Flynn –  one of the first of the president’s associates to be “ensnared” in the probe. In a sentencing memo filed yesterday – arising from Flynn’s guilty plea late last year to a count of lying to the F.B.I., –  Mueller’s team recommended leniency, Aruna Viswanatha and Byron Tau report at the Wall Street Journal.

“The defendant deserves credit for accepting responsibility in a timely fashion and substantially assisting the government,” Mueller’s team wrote in the seven-page memo that gives few details regarding the more “politically explosive” areas that Flynn may have been able to provide insight on — including those potentially connected to President Trump. The memo did suggest, however, that “some of that benefit may not be fully realized at this time because the investigations in which he has provided assistance are ongoing,” Kyle Cheney, Darren Samuelsohn and Josh Gerstein report at POLTICIO.

“The defendant’s decision to plead guilty and cooperate likely affected the decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming,” Mueller’s prosecutors added, Adam Goldman and Eileen Sullivan report at the New York Times.

Trump associate Roger Stone has said that he will not provide testimony or documents to the Senate Judiciary Committee – with Stone having become entangled in investigations by Congress and Mueller about whether Trump aides had advance knowledge of Democratic emails published by WikiLeaks during the 2016 election. An attorney for Stone said in a letter to the Committee’s top Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) that Stone was invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in refusing to produce documents or appear for an interview, Anna Schecter reports at the AP.

Former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg is slated to meet with the Senate Intelligence Committee in January as the panel continues to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election. Nunberg confirmed that the meeting has been scheduled and said he is “happy to cooperate and appear” – with the meeting looking likely to be a closed session, Robert Costa reports at the Washington Post.

“Roger Stone won’t stop talking,” Darren Samuelsohn notes at POLITICO, detailing Stone’s extensive recent media appearances in spite of advice that he should remain mute.

A “who’s who” of people guilty and charged in the Mueller investigation so far is provided at the Wall Street Journal.

“What already seems clear is that Trump the candidate could not bring himself to part ways from Trump the would-be tycoon,” Mimi Rocah and Harry Litman comment at NBC, following last week’s revelations that Trump’s company had planned to give Russian President Vladimir Putin a $50 million penthouse in Trump Tower Moscow during the 2016 campaign.

JAMAL KHASHOGGI KILLING

Senators have emerged from yesterday’s classified briefing by C.I.A. Director Gina Haspel apparently convinced that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.“If the crown prince went in front of a jury he would be convicted in 30 minutes,” Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told journalists immediately after the Haspel meeting, Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.

“There’s not a smoking gun … there’s a smoking saw,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) commented after the briefing, in a reference to previous Trump administration comments that there is no “smoking gun” linking the crown prince to the order to kill Khashoggi. Graham added: “You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the command of M.B.S. [Mohammed Bin Salman] and that he was intricately involved in the demise of Mr. Khashoggi,” Rebecca Kheel and Jordain Carney report at the Hill.

Istanbul’s chief prosecutor has filed warrants for the arrest of bin Salman’s top aide Saud al-Qahtani  and former Deputy Head of Foreign Intelligence Ahmed Asiri – on suspicion of planning Khashoggi’s killing. The prosecutor’s office concluded that there is “strong suspicion” that the pair – who were both removed from their positions following the murder, were among the planners of the killing, Al Jazeera reports.

An analysis of the myriad reasons why “Uber drivers … the guys at the bagel place … and the folks at my mom’s bridge club recoil at the mere mention of Saudi Arabia and its young crown prince” is provided by Steven A. Prince at Foreign Policy.

N.A.T.O

N.A.T.O. yesterday formally accused Russia of breaching the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (I.N.F.), issuing a statement supporting U.S. accusations of Russian violations. “Allies have concluded that Russia has developed and fielded a missile system, the 9M729, which violates the INF Treaty and poses significant risks to Euro-Atlantic security,” N.A.T.O. foreign ministers said in a statement after the meeting, adding: “we strongly support the finding of the U.S. that Russia is in material breach of its obligations under the I.N.F. Treaty,” Reuters reports.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday publicly questioned whether several pillars of international diplomacy remain relevant. Speaking in Brussels – where he is attending the meeting of N.A.T.O. foreign ministers – Pompeo singled out China, Iran and Russia on for violating treaties, telling an audience of diplomats and foreign military officials that the Trump administration will not accept such transgressions and is acting to reform institutions that have formed the basis of the post-World War II global order.  Matthew Lee reports at the AP.

“In the finest traditions of our great democracy … we are rallying the noble nations to build a new liberal order that prevents war and achieves greater prosperity,” Pompeo told the audience, adding “we are acting to preserve, protect, and advance an open, just, transparent and free world of sovereign states,” and describing  China’s ability to benefit from the current U.S.-led system of trade and other agreements as an example of “the poisoned fruit of American retreat,” Reuters reports.

U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONS

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced yesterday that the U.S. would suspend its obligations to the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (I.N.F.) in 60 days’ time unless Russia takes steps to return to compliance. The move follows remarks in October from President Trump, who claimed that the U.S. would withdraw from the accord as Russia had been violating the agreement “for many years,” Jessica Donati and Daniel Michaels report at the Wall Street Journal.

The Kremlin said today that the U.S. was manipulating facts in order to falsely accuse Moscow of violating the I.N.F. and thus create a pretext to leave it. When asked about the ultimatum, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said statements from the United States and N.A.T.O. are serving to stir up tensions, Reuters reports.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is reportedly unruffled by the refusal of U.S. President Trump to hold a formal meeting on the sidelines of the weekend G-20 summit, the Kremlin “insisted” yesterday. The two leaders had been scheduled to hold talks during the summit in Buenos Aires but Trump abruptly canceled the encounter following Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian naval vessels and their crews in the Kerch strait; Putin’s Foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov commented: “no, we didn’t feel hurt, but we express our regret,” the AP reports .

YEMEN

Officials from Yemen’s internationally-recognized government in exile are set to hold direct talks with Iran-aligned Shi’ite Houthi rebels in Sweden as early as today in the “most significant” step to end the nation’s conflict in over two years. The U.N.-sponsored talks come in the context of escalating international pressure for a ceasefire as the humanitarian crisis worsens in the country after more than three years of war, Tamara Qiblawi reports at CNN.

U.N. officials say they do not expect rapid progress toward a political settlement, but hope for at least minor steps that would help to address the war-torn country’s humanitarian crisis, Brian Rohan reports at the AP.

“We are hoping these negotiations will help end the war,” Senior Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Ajri commented, expressing the hope that the talks touch on a wide range of topics including the drafting a new constitution and the decentralization of power in the country. “We will be calling for the land, sea and air blockade imposed on Yemen [by the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition] to be lifted, and for restrictions on goods entering the country to be lifted,” al-Ajri added, Al Jazeera reports.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman should be prosecuted for his role in the Yemeni conflict, Alex de Walle argues at the Guardian.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Israeli forces have killed a 22-year old Palestinian man during an early morning raid in Tulkarem in the occupied West Bank. Al Jazeera reports.

Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon is predicting that a U.S.-sponsored resolution condemning militant Palestinian Hamas group for launching rockets into Israel will be approved by the General Assembly, yesterday telling reporters: “we will get a majority no matter what.” The AP reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

President Trump plans to hold a second summit meeting early next year with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said yesterday, despite the fact that the North has fallen short of its promises regarding dismantling its nuclear weapons program. “They have not lived up to the commitments so far … that’s why I think the president thinks another summit is likely to be productive,” Bolton commented, Edward Wong and David E. Sanger report at the New York Times.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has extended the deployment of active-duty troops on the southwestern border into January, Defense Department officials announced yesterday. The military’s border mission was set to end Dec. 15, but the White House and the Department of Homeland Security had requested to continue using the troops as an additional “bulwark” against asylum seekers travelling through Central America, Helene Cooper reports at the New York Times.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 78 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between Sep. 17 and Sep. 23 [Central Command]

Deaths from terrorism declined worldwide in 2017 for the third straight year but far-right extremism was found to be on the rise, according to the 2018 Global Terrorism Index report, out today. The Daily Beast reports. 

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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).