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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.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro went on the offensive against opposition leader Juan Guaidó yesterday, with Maduro apparently still commanding the support of the country’s military, a day after after Guaidó declared himself interim president with support from the U.S. Defense Minister and key Maduro ally Vladimir Padrino Lopez dismissed efforts to install a “de-facto parallel government” as tantamount to a coup, stating in a televised address: “it’s not a war between Venezuelans that will solve our problems … it’s dialogue,” Scott Smith and Christine Armario report at the AP.
“We’re here to avoid a clash between Venezuelans,” Padrino said while flanked by high-ranking officers. Padrino called Guaidó’s claim to power “laughable” and described him as a pawn of right-wing elements subservient to the U.S. “It makes you want to laugh … but I must alert the people of the danger this represents,” López added, Ana Vanessa Herrero and Neil MaxFarquhar report at the New York Times.
Padrino ended his speech with shouts of “Chávez vive,” in a reference to the late socialist strongman Hugo Chávez. David Luhnow, José de Córdoba and John Otis report at the Wall Street Journal.
Maduro announced yesterday that Venezuela will close its embassy and all consulates in the U.S., a day after he broke off diplomatic relations in response to the Trump administrations recognition of Guaidó. In a speech, Maduro added that he agreed with a call by Mexico and Uruguay for dialogue between Venezuela’s government and opposition for a resolution to the Latin American country’s political crisis, Reuters reports.
The U.S. State Department has ordered “non-emergency U.S. government employees to depart Venezuela,” according to a security alert issued yesterday evening, although the U.S. Embassy in Caracas will remain open. “The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Venezuela … U.S. citizens should contact U.S. Embassy Caracas for consular assistance … U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Venezuela should strongly consider departing Venezuela … commercial flights remain available,” the statement read, Laurel Wamsley and Richard Gonzalez report at NPR.
The U.S. is seeking to ensure that Venezuelan oil revenue is directed to Guaidó while cutting off money from Maduro, a top U.S. official said yesterday. “What we’re focusing on today is disconnecting the illegitimate Maduro regime from the sources of his revenues,” national security advisor John Bolton told reporters at the White House, Reuters reports.
“The fact is Venezuela is in our hemisphere,” Bolton commented, adding: “I think we have a special responsibility here, and I think the president feels very strongly about it.” Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.
The U.S. yesterday requested a meeting of the U.N. Security Council this weekend to discuss the fallout. The U.S. Mission to the U.N. claimed in a message on Twitter that “the United States has officially requested an open meeting of the U.N. Security Council for Saturday at 9am to discuss the ongoing crisis in Venezuela,” Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.
An analysis on how the Trump administration came to recognize Guaidó over Maduro is provided by Carol E. Lee and Josh Lederman at NBC.
“In Maduro … Trump finally seems to have found a tyrant he doesn’t like,” Ingrid Arnesen comments in an analysis of the developments at The Daily Beast, writing that the Trump administration “has made no secret of its desire to see Maduro toppled, and a rightward shift among newly elected leaders in Latin America has helped pave the way.”
“American intervention also carries risk,” the New York Times editorial board warns, arguing that “the Trump administration is right to support … Guaidó … but given the history of American support for right-wing dictatorships in Latin America, the U.S. must be seen as participating in a broad coalition of South American and other democratic nations seeking to help Venezuelans achieve a peaceful end to a destructive dictatorship.
A “short … simple primer” on the situation in Venezuela is provided by Max Fisher at the New York Times.
GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN AND BORDER WALL
The White House is preparing a draft proclamation for President Trump to declare a national emergency along the southern border and has identified more than $7 billion in potential funds for his promised border wall should he opt for that strategy, according to internal documents. With Congress and the White House still rowing over a deal to end the government shutdown, Trump has not ruled out using his authority to declare a national emergency; the White House reportedly has been moving forward with alternative plans that would bypass Congress, Priscilla Alvarez and Tammy Kupperman report at CNN.
An account of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) ongoing attempts to resolve the shutdown is provided by Burgess Everett at POLITICO.
Trump’s decision to stymie House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) scheduled trip to Afghanistan last week “must be understood in its historical context and for its constitutional significance,” Senior Fellow and Founding Editor Andy Wright comments in an analysis at Just Security, arguing that “while this dispute has largely been covered as another twist in a tit-for-tat cycle of retribution, it represents a far graver abuse of power.”
The fallout over the government shutdown underscores the need for lawmakers to revisit the National Emergencies Act, Just Security Editor-in-Chief Steve Vladeck writes at NBC.
Longtime President Trump associate Roger Stone has been arrested following an indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russia electoral interference and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign. Stone is charged with seven counts in the Mueller probe, including obstruction and witness-tampering – with the indictment directly accusing Stone of speaking to the Trump campaign about WikiLeaks. The Daily Beast reports.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has issued a subpoena to compel President Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen to appear before the panel next month to formally correct false testimony Cohen delivered last year regarding a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow, one of Cohen’s lawyers confirmed yesterday. The subpoena was disclosed a day after Cohen withdrew from public hearing scheduled for Feb. 7 before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, citing verbal attacks by Trump and fears for his family, Maggie Haberman, Nicholas Fandos and Eileen Sullivan report at the New York Times
Co-founder of the Taliban Abdul Ghani Baradar has been appointed head of the group’s political office in Qatar as it negotiates with the U.S. over ending the 17-year-old conflict in Afghanistan, the insurgent group announced today. Baradar – a senior Taliban military commander – was arrested in Pakistan in 2010 and was only released in October – his release is believed to have been arranged by the U.S. as part of the negotiations, Amir Shah and Munir Ahmed report at the AP.
The current talks between U.S. and Taliban officials in Qatar have gone on for four days with both sides trying to establish a mechanism for a ceasefire and open dialogue with the Afghan government. U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s meeting with Taliban representatives was originally slated to run over two days and the unexpected extension is a positive sign, according to two senior Taliban leaders in Afghanistan who have been kept informed of the progress made in Qatar, Al Jazeera reports.
Military operations against Islamic State group in Syria are coming to their final stages, and the group will lose the last pocket of its “caliphate” within a month, chief of the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led rebel Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) – Mazloum Kobani – told reporters today. “The operation of our forces against I.S.I.L. in its last pocket has reached its end and I.S.I.L. fighters are now surrounded in one area,” Kobani, commented, using an acronym for the militant group, and adding “we need a month to eliminate I.S.I.L. remnants still in the area.” Al Jazeera reports.
Any deal between Syria’s Kurds and the Damascus administration should respect the “special status” of Kurdish-led forces who fought Islamic State group “on behalf of all humanity and even the Syrian army,” Kobani added. AFP 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]
The KOREAN PENINSULA
North Korea must make concrete pledges toward denuclearization when leader Kim Jong-un meets U.S. President Trump – such as dismantling its main nuclear complex and allowing international inspections to confirm the process –South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told reporters yesterday. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Kang said that she is optimistic that North Korea will agree to concrete steps toward abandoning its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs: “[Kim] has promised to his people many times that ‘I’m going to take this country toward economic development’ … he has to deliver that, and he’s not going to get the kind of significant assistance unless he takes concrete steps toward denuclearization and somehow eases the sanctions regime,” Reuters reports.
President Trump yesterday lambasted the “Fake News Media” over its coverage of his Singapore summit last year with Kim, accusing reporters of underplaying his administration’s success on the Peninsula. In a pair of messages sent on Twitter, the president cited an end to North Korean missile launches that had entered Japanese airspace, as well as the return of remains of American war dead from the Korean War last year, adding “the Fake News Media loves saying “so little happened at my first summit with Kim Jong-un …Wrong!” John Bowden reports at the Hill.
A foreign ministry spokesperson in Vietnam yesterday said that the country is confident in its ability to host a second Trump-Kim summit. “We are very confident in our ability to host international events in Vietnam, as we successfully held the A.P.E.C. summit in 2017 and, other international events,” foreign ministry spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang said during a news conference, Michael Burke reports at the Hill.
CYBERSECURITY, TECHNOLOGY AND PRIVACY
“We don’t sell people’s data … even though it’s often reported that we do,” Facebook C.E.O. and Founder Mark Zuckerberg writes in an Op-Ed at the Wall Street Journal, in an effort to “explain the principles” of how the tech giant operates.
“We did not anticipate all of the risks from connecting so many people … we need to earn back trust,” Facebook’s operations chief Sheryl Sandberg said during an interview at the Davos World Economic Forum Wednesday, Reuters reports.
Undersecretary of State for arms control and international security Andrea Thompson indicated yesterday that the Trump administration does not expect Russia to meet a deadline to destroy a disputed missile, adding the U.S. will pull out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (I.N.F.) if Moscow fails to meet the deadline. The U.S. has demanded that Russia destroy a disputed missile by Feb. 2 in order to remain in compliance with the pact, which bans all land-based missiles with ranges of 310 to 3,106 miles – Thompson told reporters that she is “not particularly optimistic” that Russia will comply, Ellen Mitchel reports at the Hill.
The U.S. sent two warships through the Taiwan Strait yesterday, marking the first such operation this year, the Taiwan government has announced. The passage by the U.S. ships will likely be viewed in Taiwan as a sign of support from the Trump administration amid growing friction between the self-ruled island and Beijing, which considers Taiwan its own, Reuters reports.
A new report that White House official and Trump appointee Carl Kline overruled the advice of two specialist adjudicators to award top security clearance to the president’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner has raised fresh questions about the way the White House is conducting top security matters. Ed Pilkington explains at the Guardian.
A military judge has set a year-long timetable toward a February 2020 trial in Guantánamo’s case against an Iraqi man accused of commanding insurgents in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks. Carl Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.