The Early Edition: January 23, 2019

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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.

GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN AND BORDER WALL

The Senate will hold rival votes tomorrow on President Trump’s plan to spend $5.7 billion on a wall at the Southern border and on a Democratic bill that would fund the government through Feb. 8 without such a wall. The development – spearheaded by Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) marks the first time that the Senate has intervened to try to end the month-long government shutdown, though the proposals are split down partisan lines and neither is expected to draw the 60 votes required to advance, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Julie Hirschfeld Davis report at the New York Times.

“The opportunity to end all of this is staring us in the face,” McConnell commented yesterday, adding “all that needs to happen is Democrats agree it is time to put the country ahead of politics, take ‘yes’ for an answer and vote to put this standoff behind us.” Stephen Collinson reports at CNN.

Trump is considering delivering a national address next week, despite a request from the House Democratic leadership that he postpone such a move until the shutdown has been concluded. For the State of the Union speech to be delivered before a joint session of Congress each chamber must pass a resolution inviting the president to appear; neither chamber has passed such a resolution, and the White House is researching other potential venues for the address, according to a person familiar with those discussions, Kristina Peterson and Vivian Salama report at the Wall Street Journal.

The F.B.I. Agents Association has cautioned that the ongoing government shutdown is impacting individual agents and hindering the bureau’s law enforcement efforts. The group released a report yesterday sharing first-hand accounts of anonymous F.B.I. agents and the impact the shutdown has had on their work, with one agent stating that “the shutdown has eliminated any ability to operate,” Owen Daugherty reports at the Hill.

The State Department has been forced to cancel an international conference about border security amid the shutdown. A Department spokesperson told reporters that the 16th annual International Export Control and Border Security Conference slated to take place in Scotland next month has been abandoned due to “very limited funding available during the lapse in appropriations,” Emily Birnbaum reports at the Hill.

U.S. MILITARY

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday granted the Trump administration’s request to permit it to prevent most transgender people from serving in the military while legal cases challenging the policy make their way to the appellate court. The Court voted by 5-4 to lift two injunctions issued by lower courts blocking the policy, with the five conservative Supreme Court Justices in the majority, Adam Liptak reports at the New York Times.

The ban imposes a general prohibition on transgender people serving in the military but makes exceptions for those already serving openly and those prepared to serve “in their biological sex.” The policy reverses a 2016 decision by the Obama administration to open the military to transgender service members, Reuters reports.

The court’s determination was praised by administration officials and harshly criticized by transgender service members and allies. “Transgender service members are serving everywhere in the world,” U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Patricia King told reporters, adding “we are capable and deserving of the opportunity to serve,” Julie Moreau reports at NBC.

An update on the challenges to the policy working their way through the lower courts, and the practical effect of the Trump administration’s policy, is provided by Founding Editor Marty Lederman at Just Security.

The transgender military ban “speaks volumes about where we are as a country that the opportunity for many to serve should be denied by the prejudices of a few,” Bryan Tannehill comments in an Op-Ed at the New York Times.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The U.S. Supreme Court announced yesterday that it will continue to keep under wraps a “mysterious” legal dispute that appears to have pitted an unknown foreign company against special counsel Robert Mueller, investigating Russia electoral interference and alleged collusion with President Trump’s 2016 campaign. The litigation, centers on the company’s refusal to comply with an apparent subpoena from the special counsel; although yesterday’s decision maintains much of the secrecy surrounding the case, the justices allowed the public release of a partially-redacted legal filing that disclosed further facts about the dispute. Josh Gerstein explains at POLITICO.

Belarusian model Anastasia Vashukevich has been released from detention pending trial in Russia. Vashukevich became embroiled in the Trump-Russia developments last year when she claimed that she had ­recorded meetings between ­Russian metals magnate Oleg Deripaska and unspecified Americans in 2016 to discuss Russian interference in the U.S. election; she refused to elaborate on her claims regarding the recordings in her court hearing Saturday, the AP reports.

U.S. banker Robert Foresman –linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle – reportedly sought to meet with top officials on President Trump’s transition team in late 2016. Foresman allegedly sought a session with Chairman of Trump’s inauguration fund Thomas Barrack, Matthew Mosk, Katherine Faulders and John Santucci report at ABC News.

Trump is reportedly growing frustrated with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, with the president reportedly “apoplectic” after a pair of weekend media interviews in which Giuliani claimed that the president had been involved in discussions to build a Trump Tower in Moscow through the end of the 2016 campaign. Eliana Johnson and Darren Samuelsohn report at POLITICO.

The president has “repeatedly deceived U.S. voters” by claiming he had no business in Russia, the Washington Post editorial board writes. The board argues: “we know Mr. Trump thought it perfectly acceptable to clandestinely pursue his personal business interest with the government of a prime U.S. adversary while advancing a presidential platform of improving relations with the regime … whether that was illegal, it was a profound betrayal of the voters.”

RUSSIA: OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Russian military today displayed its new missile and released its specifications, in an attempt to dispel the U.S. claim that the armament violates the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (I.N.F.,) which the U.S. has announced its intention to withdraw from. Chief of the Russian military’s missile and artillery forces Lt. Gen. Mikhail Matveevsky claimed at a meeting with foreign military attaches that the new weapon, forming is part of the Iskander-M missile system, has a maximum range 298 miles, Vladimir Isachenkov reports at the AP.

“I have spoken to my Russian colleague about it and told him we’re banking on Russia correcting its violations of the treaty and disarming its cruise missiles so that the I.N.F. treaty still has a chance,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said today, weighing in on the U.S.-Russia dispute. Reuters reports.

Vladimir Putin’s diplomatic outreach to Japan over the 70-year Kuril Islands territorial dispute sees the Russian President looking to capitalize on current uncertainty between Washington and Tokyo, Thomas Grove writes in an analysis at the Wall Street Journal.

SYRIA

A car bomb was detonated yesterday in the coastal Syrian city of Latakia, with the explosion at a busy intersection killing one civilian and wounding 14, according to state-run media. Specialized units reportedly dismantled a second bomb before it went off at the same location. Al Jazeera reports.

The blast was the second within Syria’s government-controlled areas in the last two days, breaking a sense of relative calm in these territories following the advances made by the administration by troops against rebel groups in different parts of the country. Reuters reports.

The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) hosted a Syrian trade delegation led by a businessman and lawmaker Mohammed Hamsho who has been on the U.S. Treasury sanctions list since the country’s civil war erupted in 2011, U.A.E. state media reported yesterday. The revelation marks the latest demonstration of a shifting regional policy toward the administration of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which is seen as having largely won the country’s bloody civil war, the AP reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 575 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between Dec. 30 and Jan. 12. [Central Command]

AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan’s principal spy agency the National Directorate of Security (N.D.S.) announced yesterday that it had killed the Taliban commander ‘Noman’ who masterminded the deadly attack on one of its bases earlier this week, and vowed to hunt down and kill all the others who were involved. The N.D.S. said that Noman was killed in a strike last night, Reuters reports.

U.S. service member Sgt. Cameron Meddock was killed yesterday in Afghanistan, becoming the second U.S. service member to die in the country this year, according to officials. The N.A.T.O.-led mission in Afghanistan Resolute Support announced in a statement that the incident is under investigation, adding no further details, Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

The Israeli military (I.D.F.) has shelled Palestinian positions in the Gaza Strip in what it claimed was a response to gunfire from the enclave. The I.D.F. issued a statement yesterday stating that it struck a post belonging to militant Palestinian Hamas group, currently in control of the enclave, Al Jazeera reports.

Israel announced yesterday that it has successfully trialed its advanced missile defense system, capable of defending against long-range ballistic missile threats. “Our enemies who seek to destroy us should know that Israel’s clenched fist will reach all those who wish ill upon us and we will settle accounts with them,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented in a “thinly veiled” warning at Iran, touring an Israeli aerospace facility just days after Israel struck Iranian military targets in neighboring Syria, the AP reports.

U.N. envoy to the Mideast Nikolay Mladenov announced yesterday that peacekeepers in Lebanon have not been given access to tunnels stretching into Israel, which U.N. officials allege violate a case-fire resolution that ended the 2006 war between Israel and Iran-backed Lebanese militant Hezbollah group. Mladenov told the Security Council that the U.N. peacekeeping mission U.N.I.F.I.L. has confirmed that two tunnels crossed the U.N.-drawn Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel but “has not been granted access to the confirmed entry points of a tunnel near Kfar Kila on the Lebanese side,” Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

YEMEN

 Yemen’s warring parties are expected to agree on the terms of a prisoner exchange in around 10 days, a representative of the Saudi-backed Yemeni government in exile announced today. Reuters reports.

Five foreign de-mining experts have been killed in an accidental explosion in Yemen, according to a Saudi-funded charity. The five were in a vehicle that exploded in Marib on Sunday while transporting mines to be destroyed, the BBC reports.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

Talks in Sweden between diplomats from the U.S. and the two Koreas have ended, an official with the independent think tank that co-hosted the meeting said yesterday, describing the talks as “constructive.” The discussions aimed to lay the group for a second summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the AP reports.

With regard to North Korean denuclearization “there remains an awful lot of work to do … but good things have happened already,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Davos World Economic Forum yesterday, referring to a freeze in North Korean nuclear and missile testing since 2017. “If we’re able to achieve that full denuclearisation that I know the entire world wants … the private sector will be an important player in achieving the final elements of the agreement as well,” Pompeo added without elaborating, Reuters reports.

A path to North Korean denuclearization “is not yet visible to the outside world,” The New York Times editorial board cautions, arguing that “even if complete denuclearization is not possible, negotiators should at least seek a permanent end to testing and the production of fissile material.”

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has claimed that Ankara is preparing to take steps to launch an international investigation into the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who disappeared inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last October. Saudi Arabia has indicted 11 people over the killing and is seeking the death penalty against five of them; Turkey has complained of a lack of cooperation by Riyadh to guarantee that all those responsible are held to account and has said it could seek an international probe of the case, the AP reports.

China yesterday issued demands that the U.S. drop its request that Canada extradite Huawei C.F.O. Meng Wanzhou, shifting blame to Washington in a case that has severely damaged China-Canada relations. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Meng’s case was out of the ordinary and Canada’s extradition treaty with the U.S. infringed on the “safety and legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens,” adding that Beijing demands that the U.S. withdraw the arrest warrant against Meng and “not make a formal extradition request to the Canadian side,” Christopher Bodeen reports at the AP.

Activity was halted for several hours yesterday at Newark Liberty International Airport after pilots reported to having seen drones above the runway at nearby Teterboro Airport. The Daily Beast reports 

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About the Author(s)

Robbie Stern

Associate News Editor at Just Security and Senior Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK - Follow him on Twitter (@robbieguystern).