The Early Edition: February 26, 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.

TRUMP-KIM SUMMIT

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un arrived today at a red-carpet reception in Vietnam ahead of his second summit meeting with U.S. President Trump, following a 65-hour, 2,500-mile train journey from Pyongyang through China. Kim disembarked from his personal green armored train at 8:22 a.m at Dong Dang station soon after crossing the Chinese border, Simon Denyer and John Hudson report at the Washington Post.

On arrival Kim shook hands with Vietnamese officials and waved to the crowd before stepping into his limousine. A dozen bodyguards flanked the vehicle and ran in formation as it slowly rolled out of the station and headed to Hanoi, where people lined the streets to greet the leader as he approached his hotel. Live updates at the AP.

Trump is due in the capital Hanoi at around 9 p.m. local time. The two leaders will meet for a brief one-on-one conversation tomorrow evening, followed by a dinner, where they will each be accompanied by two guests and interpreters, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Air Force One, Reuters reports.

The White House press corps was today evicted from its workspace in Hanoi as Kim was welcomed into the country. The Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced this morning in a message on Twitter that the reporters who cover Trump would be relocated from their planned staging ground at the Melia Hotel — including a 200-seat ballroom and stand-up spots for broadcast reporters — to an international media center, Jonathan Allen reports at NBC.

TRUMP-KIM SUMMIT: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

“What does a win for North Korea look like in Hanoi?” A roundup of options, including securing a political declaration to end the Korean War, showing up for a modest win and trading a nuclear freeze for sanctions relief, is provided by a series of policy experts at CNN.

The summit between … Trump and … Kim Jong Un is a sideshow to the titanic struggle underway for the Trump administration’s North Korea policy,” Jeffrey Lewis comments at Foreign Policy, contrasting the reconciliatory stance of Trump and special envoy Stephen Biegun with the harsher position of national security adviser John Bolton along with “pretty much the rest of the government bureaucracy.”

Trump has overlooked legislation baring companies from investing in North Korea because of its “abysmal” record on human rights. The impact of the law on what can be achieved at the upcoming summit is explored by Eiliana Johnson and Ruiarí Arrieta-Kenna at POLITICO.

Trump’s “leap into the unknown of personal diplomacy with Kim Jong Un broke all convention … but it has created an opening to reduce the risk of nuclear war,” The Wall Street Journal editorial board comments in an Op-ed, adding that “the question … is whether that mutual bonhomie can translate into tangible measures that actually reduce that risk.”

The simultaneous “split-screen” occurrence of the Hanoi summit and the congressional hearing of Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen will offer “two very different story lines for Mr. Trump,” Annie Karni comments at the New York Times in an analysis of the P.R. implications for the president.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

President Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen reportedly plans to tell U.S. lawmakers this week that Trump asked him several times about a proposed skyscraper project in Moscow long after he secured the Republican presidential nomination In a public session before the Democratic-led House Oversight Committee tomorrow, Cohen also intends to give lawmakers “granular details” about Trump’s hush-money payments to adult film performer Stormy Daniels, information about a “money trail” after Trump became president and information on what Cohen describes as Trump’s use of racist language, Maggie Haberman reports at the New York Times.

The Committee has laid out broad parameters for Cohen’s public testimony tomorrow, which is expected to focus on Trump’s family business. Separately, Cohen will testify behind closed doors to the Senate and House Intelligence committees today and on Thursday in connection with the panels’ parallel investigations into Russia’s election interference, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort yesterday asked a federal judge for leniency as he faces the potential of spending the rest of his life in prison in criminal cases arising from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian electoral interference and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign. In a new court filing, Manafort’s lawyers depicted the 69-year-old as a victim of circumstance, dismissing the prosecutors’ characterization of Manafort as a hardened criminal, claiming he committed “garden variety” crimes by illegally lobbying for Ukrainian interests and hiding substantial sums from the I.R.S., the AP reports.

“Manafort … who over the decades has served four U.S. presidents and has no prior criminal history … is presented to this Court by the government as a hardened criminal who ‘brazenly’ violated the law and deserves no mercy,” the filing reads, “but this case is not about murder, drug cartels, organized crime, the Madoff Ponzi scheme or the collapse of Enron.” Erin Banco reports at The Daily Beast.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein stated yesterday that Attorney General William Barr would make the “right decision” on releasing findings from Mueller’s investigation. “I think Attorney General Barr is going to make the right decision,” Rosenstein said when asked about Mueller’s final report during an appearance at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., adding “we can trust him to do that … he has a lot of experience with this,” Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

An explainer on the role of Michael Cohen in the Trump-Russia fallout and on what to expect in the coming days, is provided by Philip Ewing at NPR.

NATIONAL EMERGENCY AND BORDER WALL

Congress yesterday appeared set for an unprecedented effort to overturn Trump’s emergency declaration, as Republicans worked to limit defections on the eve of a “critical” House vote while Democrats characterized the issue as a constitutional showdown. Lawmakers on both sides “unleashed sharp new rhetoric” ahead of today’s vote on a Democratic-authored resolution – expected to pass the house easily – that would nullify President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border, marking the first time that Congress has sought to cancel a national emergency declared by the president since passage of the National Emergencies Act in 1976, Erica Werner reports at the Washington Post.

Nearly sixty former U.S. national security officials yesterday wrote to the Trump administration stating that they are aware of “no emergency that remotely justifies” diverting funds to build Trump’s long-promised border wall. The officials who served under administrations of both parties, include former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, former Defense Secretary and C.I.A. Director Leon Panetta, former head of Customs and Border Protection Gil Kerlikowske and former Secretary of State John Kerry, Julia Ainsley reports at NBC.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) yesterday issued an executive order withdrawing the state’s National Guard troops from the southern border. Evers stated in a message on Twitter that “there is simply not ample evidence to support the president’s contention of a national security crisis at our southwestern border … therefore, there is no justification for the ongoing presence of Wisconsin National Guard personnel at the border,” Michael Burke reports at the Hill.

VENEZUELA

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence yesterday announced fresh sanctions against allies of incumbent Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro after meeting with South American leaders including Venezuelan opposition leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaidó in Colombia. The imposition of sanctions follows a weekend of violence that broke out between security forces loyal to Maduro and a U.S.-backed opposition attempt to deliver aid into the country, Al Jazeera reports.

Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourão said yesterday that under no circumstances would his country allow the U.S. to intervene militarily in Venezuela from Brazilian soil. “Nobody is betting on a military solution,” Mourão told reporters in Bogotá, Colombia, Reuters reports.

Russia believes the U.S. is preparing a military intervention in Venezuela, R.I.A news agency cited the Secretary of Russia’s Security Council Nikolai Patrushev as saying today. Patrushev was also cited by the Interfax news agency as saying Russia had agreed to a proposal from Washington to hold consultations on Moscow ally Venezuela, but the U.S had repeatedly postponed the talks on invented pretexts, Reuters reports.

U.S. broadcaster Univision claims its team was briefly detained in the Venezuelan presidential palace where they had been interviewing Maduro. The group claims the incident occurred after journalist Jorge Ramos showed Maduro images of Venezuelans eating from a bin lorry, the BBC reports.

SYRIA

Mass evacuations from the last Islamic State group-controlled patch of land in Syria continue. Sarah El Deeb provides an account at the AP.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad yesterday met Iranian officials in his first visit to the Islamic Republic since the start of the Syrian conflict, according to Syrian state media. Assad met Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani on only his second overseas trip since the start of the Syrian conflict eight years ago; Syrian and Iranian media released photos showing Assadin an embrace with Khamenei and shaking hands with Rouhani, Al Jazeera reports.

IRAN

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has “unexpectedly” tendered his resignation, lambasting what he described as the “deadly poison” of infighting among Iran’s parties and factions. The veteran diplomat – responsible for negotiating the 2015 Iran nuclear deal – made the announcement of his departure in an Instagram post last night, prompting an immediate response from reformists who called on Rouhani to refuse to accept Zarif’s resignation, Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.

“Zarif’s resignation may open the door to a new Iranian radicalism,” Michael Hirsch writes in an analysis at Foreign Policy, suggesting that “for hawks in Washington, Zarif’s seeming departure from the scene is only another sign that the Islamic Republic of Iran can never be trusted.”

AFGHANISTAN

The U.S. and the Taliban have reportedly expressed optimism about the latest round of talks aimed at ending the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan. U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad stated that the discussions, which carried into their second day today, represent a “significant moment,” while the presence of Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar has further raised expectations, the AP reports.

A photo-essay charting 36 hours on the ground with the Tabliban in the run-up to the proposed U.S. military pullout is provided by Clarissa Ward, Najibullah Quraishi and Salma Abdelaziz at CNN.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

White House senior adviser and President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has given a broad outline of the administration’s long-promised Middle East peace plan, claiming that it will address final-status issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including establishing borders. Reuters reports.

Tech giant Microsoft should ignore a petition to drop defense work, the Wall Street Journal editorial board argues.

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres yesterday highlighted several threats to world security, from chemical weapons to lethal autonomous weapons and hypersonic missiles, making the comments in the course of an address to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, the U.N. News Centre reports. 

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About the Author(s)

Robbie Stern

Assistant 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).