The Early Edition: June 6, 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.

CHINA AND HUAWEI

Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping in Moscow for talks at the Kremlin, on a visit aimed at cementing political, economic and military ties between the two countries. Xi is leading an entourage of over 1,000 Chinese officials and businessmen to the three-day official state visit, which coincides with the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum starting today, Thomas Grove and Georgi Kantchev report at the Wall Street Journal.

Xi described Putin as his “best friend,” telling reporters at a news conference that “in the past six years, we have met nearly 30 times … Russia is the country that I have visited the most times, and President Putin is my best friend and colleague,” Scott Neuman reports at NPR.

“We will strengthen our mutual support on key issues,” Xi said, with Putin emphasizing that Moscow and Beijing share views on several global issues, in particular noting their common opposition to Washington’s withdrawal from a key Cold War-era arms control pact – the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (I.N.F.), Vladimir Isachenkov reports at the AP.

Russian-Chinese relations have reached an “unprecedented level,” according to Putin, who yesterday thanked Xi for helping their countries achieve a trade turnover of more than $100 billion a year. The Russian leader also commented that destroying arms control treaties is “unacceptable,” Ben Westcott reports at CNN.

Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei has signed a deal with Russian company MTS to develop a 5G network in the country set to be launched over the next year. Huawei Chair Guo Ping said he was “very happy” with the agreement “in an area of strategic importance like 5G,” the Guardian reports.

China yesterday launched its first rocket at sea, sending five commercial satellites and two others containing experimental technology into space. The Long March 11 rocket blasted off from a mobile platform aboard a commercial ship in the Yellow Sea off the coast of Shandong province, with experts commenting that such seaborne launch technology will meet the growing demand for launches of low inclination satellites. The AP reports.

Taiwan has asked to buy over 100 tanks from the U.S. along with air defense and anti-tank missile systems in a “major” potential arms sale that sparked immediate protest from China. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang commented at the ministry’s daily briefing that China firmly opposes U.S. arms sales to Taiwan: “this position is consistent and clear …we urge the U.S. to fully understand the high sensitivity and serious harm of the issue of arms sales to Taiwan and abide by the one-China principle,” the AP reports.

The U.S. is reportedly pursuing the sale of tanks and weapons to Taiwan, in a transaction that will be worth more than $2 billion, according to four anonymous sources familiar with the negotiations, Mike Stone and Patricia Zengerle report at Reuters.

Huawei has denied claims that it has cut or canceled orders to major suppliers of components for its smartphones and telecom equipment following its U.S. blacklisting. A company spokesperson told reporters today that “our global production levels are normal, with no notable adjustments in either direction,” adding there was “no change” to its smartphone sales target, Reuters reports.

Senators marked the anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square protests at a hearing yesterday, taking the opportunity to slam China’s human rights abuses.  Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Jim Risch (R-Idaho) opened the hearing by describing China’s rights record since 1989 as “pernicious and increasingly brazen,” commenting that the U.S. should make human rights a “more central part” of its approach to China, Josh Aaron Siegel reports at the Hill.

China’s overbroad national-security restrictions are “ironic,” Jeff Moon comments at the Wall Street Journal, arguing that the time is ripe to discuss “competing notions of national security” and how best to address “genuine, specific national-security concerns.”

A useful “factbox” of the U.S. arms sales to Taiwan over the past decade is provided by Reuters.

TRUMP-RUSSIA AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told top Democrats that she would like to see President Trump “in prison,” making the comments during a meeting Tuesday night. House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) reportedly pressed Pelosi to permit his committee to move forward with an impeachment inquiry against Trump; Pelosi reportedly answered that she’s not willing to entertain the idea of impeaching the president at this time, Heather Caygle reports at POLITICO.

“I don’t want to see him impeached … I want to see him in prison,” Pelosi was quoted as saying, noting that she would prefer to see Trump defeated at the polls and only then prosecuted for his alleged crimes. The Democratic meeting comes amid a weeks-long internal rift over impeachment, The Daily Beast reports.

“[Impeachment] is not the means to the end that people think – all you do is vote to impeach … bye bye birdie … it isn’t that,” Pelosi had told journalists earlier on yesterday. An explainer on what she might have meant is provided at Reuters.

“There does not appear to be support for [impeachment] now” Nadler told journalists after the meeting, adding “and we will see … the support may develop.” Reuters reports.

 Nadler said yesterday that he is “confident” that special counsel Robert Mueller will testify before his panel in the near future. “Let’s just say that I’m confident he’ll come in soon,” Nadler told reporters yesterday, also stressing that the committee would subpoena Mueller for testimony “if we have to,” and reiterating Democrats’ demand that his appearance be public, Philip Ewing reports at NPR.

The Senate Intelligence Committee still has not heard from the Trump administration regarding the counterintelligence findings of Mueller’s report on Russian electoral interference and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign, congressional sources said yesterday. The counterintelligence reports produced by Mueller’s office were sent to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice (D.O.J.); since the mid-April release of the redacted Mueller report, the Senate Intelligence Committee – which had hoped that the D.O.J. would provide it with private briefings on those material – has reportedly been stonewalled by the administration, Reuters reports.

Russia’s 2016 campaign to influence public opinion in the U.S. through social media was wider and more sophisticated than previously known, according to a study released by U.S. cybersecurity firm Symantec yesterday. Symantec found that Kremlin-linked troll farm Internet Research Agency implemented “a highly professional campaign … planned months in advance [with] operators [that] had the resources to create and manage a vast disinformation network,” Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

What might impeachment articles against the president look like? Ian Prasad Philbrick provides a draft at the New York Times, constructed through reviewing the articles of impeachment drawn up against former presidents Richard Nixon in 1974 and Bill Clinton in 1998, and then editing them to match Trump’s conduct as described in the Mueller report.

“Even if you believe that Trump is a national emergency … that doesn’t make impeachment the right move,” Rob Goodman argues at POLITICO Magazine, arguing that it would be a “serious mistake” for Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren to support “a step that would effectively center the Democrats’ message on Trump himself.”

A side-by-side comparison of Mueller and Attorney General William Barr’s statements regarding the Mueller Report is provided by Editor-in-Chief Ryan Goodman at Just Security.

CYBERSECURITY, TECHNOLOGY AND PRIVACY

A group of 62 freshmen House Democrats demanded yesterday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) allow a vote on a wide election reform and security bill previously passed by the House. The bill includes provision for reforming the election process, along with language to reinforce voting systems against cyberattacks, Maggie Miller reports at the Hill.

Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez (N.J.) and Cory Booker (N.J.) are seeking answers from blood-testing company Quest Diagnostics in the wake of the recent data breach that revealed the personal information of an estimated 12 million patients. The breach involved an unauthorized user gaining access to Quest’s billing provider American Medical Collection Agency (A.M.C.A.), potentially compromising Social Security numbers, financial information and personal medical data, Maggie Miller reports at the Hill.

Four of the largest technology companies are assembling an army of lobbyists to prepare for “an epic fight over their futures,” with potential antitrust actions and legislation to curb their power on the horizon. Tech giants Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google have rapidly built themselves into some of the largest players in the influence and access industry as they confront threats from the Trump administration and both political parties, spending a combined $55 million on lobbying last year, Cecilia Kang and Kenneth P. Vogel write at the New York Times.

“Substantial entities in the economy deserve scrutiny … and our job is to build the kind of company that passes that scrutiny,” C.E.O. of Amazon’s consumer business Jeff Wilke said at a press conference in Las Vegas yesterday. Amazon’s founder and C.E.O. Jeff Bezos has made similar comments, and Apple C.E.O. Tim Cook said that huge companies deserved oversight, in an interview aired recently by C.B.S. News, Reuters reports.

Video-sharing platform YouTube announced yesterday that it will ban videos promoting or glorifying racism and discrimination as well as those denying commonly accepted violent events such as the Holocaust or the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. “Today, we’re taking another step in our hate speech policy by specifically prohibiting videos alleging that a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation or exclusion based on qualities like age, gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation or veteran status,” the platform said in a statement, AFP reports.

Should Big Tech fear U.S. antitrust enforcers? Jan Wolfe provides an explainer on the issue at Reuters.

MEXICO TARIFFS AND BORDER SECURITY

Mexican officials left the White House yesterday without a deal to prevent President Trump’s promised tariffs on all Mexican goods travelling into the U.S. In a message sent on Twitter from Ireland, Trump claimed announced there had been progress during the talks, “but not nearly enough;” U.S. Vice-President sent a message on Twitter stating that “Mexico must do more to address the urgent humanitarian crisis at our southern border,” with both men adding that the talks would resume today. David Agren reports at the Guardian.

Pence hosted the White House meeting yesterday with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard and other top U.S. and Mexican officials in an attempt to avert a potential economic crisis. Ebrard said the two sides will still spend several hours discussing several topics to see whether they can get even closer in order to reach an agreement, Franco Ordoñez reports at NPR.

The White House is reportedly asking Mexico to hold Central American asylum seekers in a “safe third country” designation, rather than letting them cross the U.S. border, in order for a deal to be made. Additionally, the White House is also asking Mexico to accept the “Migration Protection Protocols,” requiring migrants to remain in Mexico until their cases are processed, Kristen Welker, Kayla Tausche and Lauren Egan report at NBC.

Ebrard said the talks were “cordial” and that Mexico is “optimistic because we had a good meeting.” He added that both sides agreed that the current migration situation at the border must change, Josh Zumbrun, Louise Radnofsky and Juan Montes report at the Wall Street Journal.

Mexican President López Obrador is left with “few cards to play,” Jorge G. Castañeda comments at the New York Times, writing that he has failed to understand that “relations between Mexico and the United States are a domestic issue.”

SUDAN

Sudanese rebel leader Yasir Arman was arrested yesterday. Arman returned from exile last month after the overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir and joined other opposition groups meeting the military leaders who ousted Bashir, Reuters reports.

Sudan paramilitaries threw dozens of dead protesters into the Nile in an alleged effort to try to hide the number of casualties inflicted in the attack on pro-democracy protesters in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum early this week. At least 100 people are thought to have been killed in the attack, Jason Burke and Zeinab Mohammed Salih report at the Guardian.

Sudanese protest leaders have rejected calls for talks with the military. Leader of the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces – Medani Abbas Medani – stated in a Facebook post today that there was “no room for negotiations,” adding that “there is no way to solve the complexity … except by continue the revolution until we eliminate the military council,” Mohammed Tawfeeq, Kareem Khadder and Jonny Hallam report at CNN.

Sudan’s pro-democracy leaders pledged today to push their campaign of civil disobedience. The Sudanese Professionals Association (S.P.A.) urged people to block main roads and bridges to “paralyze public life” across the country in retaliation for the military’s crackdown, Bassam Hatoum and Noha Elhennawy report at the AP.

“The Sudanese people are not open for talks … [we] are not open to this Transitional Military Council (T.M.C.) that kills people and we need justice and accountability before talks about any political process,” spokesperson for the S.P.A. Amjad Farid told reporters. Farid commented that both the S.P.A. and umbrella protest group the Alliance for Freedom and Change would “continue using all non-violent tools and civil disobedience in resisting the T.M.C.,” AFP reports.

The U.N. announced yesterday that it is temporarily removing some civilian staff from Sudan due to the country’s current security situation, Reuters reports.

Russia announced today that it opposes foreign intervention in Sudan and the authorities in Khartoum must calm “extremists,” according to reports by Russia’s R.I.A. news agency. Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov reportedly commented that Moscow favored a national dialogue about a transition period leading to new elections, Reuters reports.

The U.S. has “effectively” called on Riyadh to end Sudan’s military crackdown: the U.S. State Department revealed that its undersecretary for political affairs David Hale had contacted the Saudi deputy defense minister Khaled bin Salman to request that he use the country’s influence to end the “brutal repression against peaceful protesters” by the T.M.C. in Sudan, Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.

The U.S. “stands by” as Arab states provoke chaos in Sudan, Justin Lynch and Robbie Gramer write at Foreign Policy, explaining that U.S. officials are “unhappy” over the role of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E. but claim their hands are tied.

SYRIA

Autonomous Kurdish authorities in northeast Syria have transferred to the U.S. six Americans from a group of several thousand foreigners captured on the battlefield as Islamic State group was driven out of its last stronghold. The Kurdish administration did not disclose the identities of the two women and four children, stating that the prisoners had been handed over in response to a request from the U.S. government, Naizh Osseiran and Isabel Coles report at the Wall Street Journal.

Armenia has sent a new team of experts to Syria to assist in clearing mines and tp provide medical assistance. The Armenian Defense Ministry said yesterday that the new group replaced a team of 83 de-mining experts, medical personnel and security officers who had served a stint in Syria earlier this year, the AP reports.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Major global financial bodies – including the International Monetary Fund (I.M.F.) and World Bank – plan to attend U.S.-led conference on the Palestinian economy this month in connection to the Trump administration’s peace plan. “The I.M.F. has been invited to the meeting and expects to attend, along with other international financial institutions,” a representative of the body has stated, while a spokesperson for the World Bank confirmed it had an invitation “and expects to participate,” Rami Ayyub reports at Reuters.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei yesterday accused Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries of betraying the Palestinians by cooperating with the U.S. and Israel, in an attempt to rally regional allies and put pressure on the Trump administration’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan. Making the remarks during prayers in Tehran marking the Muslim holy day of Eid al Fitr, Khamenei claimed that the Arab countries were committing “a big treason to the Islamic world” by supporting the deal, Aresu Eqbali and Sune Engel Rasmussen report at the Wall Street Journal.

“A slow pace of peace process has allowed Israel to dominate Palestinians,” according to a number of analysts, with one commenting that “Israel will make further demands and further diminish Palestinian rights with the obvious goal of liquidating any meaningful Palestinian self-determination or independence or even culture,” Al Jazeera reports.

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

Intelligence indicates that Saudi Arabia considerably expanded its ballistic missile program with the assistance of Beijing, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter. The classified intelligence, previously unreported, indicates the kingdom has made recent purchases from China that allowed it to significantly expand its missile infrastructure and technology, Phil Mattingly, Zachary Cohen and Jeremy Herb report at CNN.

Senators from both U.S. parties announced yesterday that they plan to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab states in a bipartisan rebuke of President Trump, claiming they had to act to safeguard Congress’s right to review weapons deals. The announcement marks the first response from Congress after the Trump administration bypassed lawmakers on May 24 to proceed with more than $8 billion worth of arms deals to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) and Jordan, Dan De Luce and Robert Windrem report at NBC.

The group reportedly plans to flood the Senate with 22 separate resolutions to block the arms sales. Among the senators joining together to introduce the resolutions is Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has split with the president over his support for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; “while I understand that Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behavior of Mohammed bin Salman cannot be ignored,” Graham said in statement yesterday, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

The State Department has forced out senior official and former Raytheon Co. representative Charles Faulkner – who took part in the “unusual” Trump administration move to declare an emergency over tensions with Iran to fast-track $8 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. Dion Nissenbaum and Alex Leary report at the Wall Street Journal.

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Shi’ite Houthi rebel group has claimed that its forces crossed the border into neighboring Saudi Arabia, which is leading the U.S.-backed military coalition fighting against them, taking control of more than 20 positions. Houthi spokesperson Yahya Sarei said yesterday that the military sites in the kingdom’s southwestern Najran province were captured in a “surprise” offensive carried out over the past three days, Al Jazeera reports.

D-DAY COMMEMORATIONS

President Trump today praised the heroism of American and Allied service members who participated in the D-Day invasion stating they “are among the very greatest Americans who will ever live.” Trump, who joined other world leaders at Normandy American Cemetery in France to honor those who died and took part in the battle, described the 130,000 service members who fought as the “citizens of free and independent nations, united by their duty to their compatriots and to millions yet unborn,” Kevin Freking and Jonathan Lemire report at the AP.

Live updates on the D-Day commemorations are provided by Rob Picheta and Eliza Mackintosh at CNN.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 10 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq between April 21 and May 4 [Central Command].

Egyptian security forces killed 14 militants while pursuing attackers behind an assault on a police checkpoint in northern Sinai that authorities claim left eight policemen dead. The Islamic State group had claimed responsibility for yesterday’s attack near the city of el-Arish, the AP reports.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that the U.S. has struggled to keep the opposition to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro united, making the comments during a closed-door meeting, according to newly obtained audio. John Hudson reports at the Washington Post.

President Trump yesterday hesitated to criticize North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s regime amid contested reports that some of the country’s top nuclear representatives had been purged or killed following the collapsed leaders’ summit in February. “I don’t know the reports are correct because one of the gentlemen who we deal with, this is North Korea they’re talking about, is somebody that we know well he’s a strong man, he’s a strong person,” the president told reporters, Caitlin Oprysko reports at POLITICO.

The Trump administration will have to defend a claim in connection to the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 census. A federal judge ruled yesterday that plaintiffs have until Jul. 12 to file briefs explaining why they consider the government should be sanctioned for allegedly concealing evidence, Nick Brown and Brendan Pierson report at Reuters.

Top-ranking military officers will not be disciplined over the flawed Special Forces mission in 2017 in Niger, acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan announced today. “Having examined an independent review by a senior general officer of the investigation into the 2017 ambush in Niger … I am satisfied that all findings, awards, and accountability actions were thorough and appropriate,” Shanahan commented in a statement. Ben Kesling reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“Congress and the public should demand answers about how and why the 2019 State Department Compliance Report deviated from long-established standards,” Alexandra Bell writes at Just Security, arguing that Congress should clarify that the purpose of the report “is not to play a part in a trumped-up case for war.” 

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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).

Nat O'Connell

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