The Early Edition: April 1, 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-RUSSIA

Attorney General William P. Barr said Friday that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report will be delivered to Congress “by mid-April, if not sooner,” explaining in a letter that there are no plans to submit the report – which relates to the investigation into President Trump and Russian election interference, and is nearly 400 pages long – to the White House for a “privilege review.” Devlin Barrett and Karoun Demirjian report at the Washington Post.

Mueller intended Barr to make the “call” on whether Trump committed an obstruction of justice offense, the acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said yesterday, adding that the White House is “very happy to let the system play out the way the law intended.” Quint Forgey reports at POLITICO.

Democratic lawmakers have expressed concern about Mueller’s decision not to make a judgment on whether Trump obstructed justice, claiming that the lack of judgment will lead to expanded executive powers. Mike Lillis reports at the Hill.

President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani attacked current and former F.B.I. and Department of Justice officials at the weekend for their handling of the Trump-Russia investigation, saying that he believes that evidence of criminality will be uncovered over the next six months and that it’s important to find out “who’s the brains behind this.” John Bowden reports at the Hill.

BORDER WALL

Senior White House aides yesterday reiterated President Trump’s threat to close the U.S. border with Mexico. Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney stated that it would take “something dramatic” to dissuade the president from taking the action and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway insisted that the president’s threat “certainly isn’t a bluff.” David J. Lynch, Maria Sacchetti and Joel Achenbach report at the Washington Post.

The Trump administration has decided to cut off aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in retaliation for their apparent lack of efforts to reduce the flow of migrants to the U.S. border. Mary Beth Sheridan and Kevin Sieff report at the Washington Post.

The decision to cut aid to three Central American countries has upended years of conventional wisdom in Washington about migration flows and tackling the root causes that lead people to move across borders. Elisabeth Malkin explains at the New York Times.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Gaza’s health ministry reported that 4 Palestinians were killed on Saturday at the border fence between Israel and Gaza during protests marking the first anniversary of the “Great March of Return” demonstration – which have been held weekly to protest against the Israeli blockade of the territory and to highlight the Palestinian call for the right of return to homes lost in 1948 when the state of Israel was created. Daniel Estrin and Rebecca Ellis report at NPR.

A ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas-ruled Gaza appeared to take hold yesterday, with Israeli and Hamas officials confirming that the Erez and Kerem Shalom border crossings were re-opened yesterday following a week of increased violence. The BBC reports.

SYRIA

The Arab League yesterday rejected the U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, a territory which was seized by Israeli from Syria during the 1967 war. Leaders at the summit also reiterated their support for the Palestinian cause, Linah Alsaafin reports at Al Jazeera.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman said yesterday that he “absolutely rejects” any measures that undermine Syria’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Reuters reports.

“Any resolution of the Syrian conflict must guarantee the unity, the territorial integrity of Syria, including the occupied Golan,” the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said yesterday at the Arab League summit, also calling for Arab countries to unite to ensure regional stability and urging for a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine. The U.N. News Centre reports.

Arab leaders said they would present a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council resolution against the U.S. decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and would seek a legal opinion from the International Court of Justice on the U.S. decision. Ulf Laessing reports at Reuters.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 250 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between March 10 and March 23 [Central Command]

AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan’s Vice President Aburrashid Dostum emerged unscathed from a Taliban assassination attempt which took place on Saturday evening. The ambush on Dostum’s convoy comes amid ongoing negotiations between the Taliban and the U.S. to end the nearly 18-year war, and parallel talks between the Taliban and Afghan power brokers. Sharif Hassan, Sayed Salahuddin and Amie Ferris-Rotman report at the Washington Post.

Dostum is the leader of the Uzbek ethnic minority in Afghanistan and has survived at least two previous Taliban attacks. Rod Nordland and Najim Rahid report at the New York Times, providing an overview of the attack and Dostum’s role in Afghanistan.

The Taliban killed at least five members of Afghanistan’s security forces in a raid, which began last night and continued this morning, on two checkpoints in northern Sari Pul province. Separately, the Taliban overran a checkpoint in western Baghdis province, killing three soldiers, Rahim Faiez reports at the AP.

The Afghan President’s most senior war adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, has been sidelined by U.S. officials after Mohib expressed frustration about the U.S. approach to peace talks with the Taliban and accused the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, of seeking to lead an interim government in Afghanistan himself. Rod Nordland and Mujib Mashal report at the New York Times.

VENEZUELA

“We strongly caution actors external to the Western Hemisphere against deploying military assets to Venezuela,” the U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said in a statement Friday, making the comments following reports that two Russian planes carrying military advisers and troops landed in Venezuela last week. John Bowden reports at the Hill.

The Venezuelan opposition leader and self-declared interim leader Juan Guaidó said yesterday that President Nicolás Maduro cannot be removed unless the military switches its allegiance, adding that reports of Russian troops arriving in Venezuela were a “provocation” by Maduro to “try and show some sort of support that he doesn’t really have.” The BBC reports.

RUSSIA

Experts have warned that the U.S. is similarly exposed to Russian interference in the 2020 presidential election as it was during the 2016 election. Courtney Wraver and Kiran Stacey report at the Financial Times.

Russia has been expanding its military influence across Africa, raising concerns among Western officials; particularly in relation to the links between Moscow and the Central African Republic. Eric Schmitt reports at the New York Times.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

North Korea described a break-in at its embassy in Spain a “grave terrorist attack” and an “act of extortion,” calling on Spanish authorities to investigate the break-in on Feb. 22 during which dissidents held staff embassy staff hostage. Timothy W. Martin reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“I hope North Korea will respond positively to the efforts of Seoul and Washington,” the South Korean President Moon Jae-in told his cabinet today, referring to an upcoming April 11 summit between U.S. and South Korea. Josh Smith reports at Reuters.

A feature on the assassination of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, at Kuala Lumpur airport is provided by Hannah Ellis-Petersen and Benjamin Haas at the Guardian.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

There are signs that a rapprochement is possible between the two rival Libyan factions in their dispute over control of the army, the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said Saturday. Reuters reports.

U.S. Marine Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. has assumed command of U.S. Central Command from Gen. Joseph L. Votel. Central Command reports.

Taiwan’s President today protested the flying of Chinese military aircraft beyond the center line in the Taiwan Strait, describing the incident as a provocation and a violation of their tacit agreement. Johnson Lai reports at the AP.

There are reasonable legal bases for a U.S. federal investigation and prosecution of the men who killed the Washington Post columnist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Lee C. Bollinger argues at the Washington Post. 

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About the Author(s)

Pouneh Ahari

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK