The Early Edition: June 18, 2019

Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.

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.

IRAN

The U.S. will send 1,000 additional troops and more military resources to the Middle East amid increased tensions with Iran, the Pentagon announced yesterday, Doha Madani reports at NBC.

“In response to a request from the U.S. Central Command for additional forces … and with the advice of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and in consultation with the White House … I have authorized approximately 1,000 additional troops for defensive purposes,” acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said in a statement, explaining the troops will “address air, naval, and ground-based threats in the Middle East,” AFP reports.

“The recent Iranian attacks validate the reliable … credible intelligence we have received on hostile behavior by Iranian forces and their proxy groups that threaten United States personnel and interests across the region,” Shanahan added, Nicole Gaouette reports at CNN.

“The United States does not seek conflict with Iran,” Shanahan said, explaining that “the action … is being taken to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests … we will continue to monitor the situation diligently and make adjustments to force levels as necessary given intelligence reporting and credible threats,” The Hill reports.

The statement did not specify the type of personnel being deployed, however officials told media organization N.P.R. that the troops are “primarily intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance (I.S.R.), force protection and engineers,” Richard Gonzales reports at NPR.

The decision comes after Iran yesterday threatened that its stockpile of enriched uranium will surpass limits set by the 2015 Iran nuclear deal 10 days from now, Karen De Young reports at the Washington Post.

The Pentagon published new photographs shortly before the announcement to support its claims that Tehran was responsible for the attacks on commercial tankers in the Gulf of Oman Thursday. The still-images apparently show Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded limpet mine from a Japanese-owned tanker, Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.

“Iran is responsible for the attack based on video evidence and the resources and proficiency needed to quickly remove the unexploded limpet mine,” the U.S. military’s Central Command said yesterday in a statement accompanying the photographs, Reuters reports.

President Trump described the recent attacks against oil tankers as “very minor” in an exclusive interview with “TIME” yesterday. When asked whether he might take military action to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon or to protect international oil supplies, Trump responded “I would certainly go [to war] over nuclear weapons … and I would keep the other a question mark,” Tessa Berenson reports at TIME.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has stated today that Iran “will not wage war against any nation” after the U.S. announced the deployment of a further 1,000 troops. In a speech broadcast live on state T.V., Rouhani commented “those facing us are a group of politicians with little experience,” adding “despite all of the Americans’ efforts in the region and their desire to cut off our ties with all of the world and their desire to keep Iran secluded, they have been unsuccessful,” David Smith and Julian Borger report at the Guardian.

Russia today told the U.S. to drop its “provocative plans” to deploy more troops to the Middle East and to cease actions that appear to be a “conscious attempt to provoke war” with Iran. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russian news agencies Moscow had repeatedly warned Washington and its regional allies about what he called the “unthinking and reckless pumping up of tensions in an explosive region,” Reuters reports.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is to meet with U.S. military commanders overseeing American forces in the Middle East to provide more proof that Iran was responsible for the tanker attacks. Pompeo will hold talks today with Head of U.S. Central Command Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, who is responsible for forces deployed in the Middle East, and Head of U.S. Special Operations Command Gen. Richard Clarke, “to discuss regional security concerns and ongoing operations,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus told reporters. Yasmin Vossoughian, Courtney Kube, Mosheh Gains and Dan De Luce report at NBC.

Iran’s plan to break the uranium stockpile limit amounts to “nuclear blackmail” and must be met with increased international pressure, White House National Security Council (N.S.C.) spokesperson Garrett Marquis stated yesterday. “Iran’s enrichment plans are only possible because the horrible nuclear deal left their capabilities intact,” Marquis said, adding “President Trump has made it clear that he will never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons … the regime’s nuclear blackmail must be met with increased international pressure,” Reuters reports.

The European Union (E.U.) says it will consider Iran to be fulfilling its obligations under the nuclear deal until scientific evidence emerges that it has breached its commitments. E.U. foreign policy Chief Federica Mogherini told reporters yesterday “as of today, Iran is still compliant … and we still strongly hope, encourage and expect Iran to fulfil its commitments under [the deal],” adding “our objective is to keep the nuclear deal in place … it is not easy” Al Jazeera reports.

Iran announced yesterday that it had exposed a “large cyber espionage network” it claims was run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.), adding that a number of U.S. spies had been arrested in different countries as the result of this action. “One of the most complicated C.I.A. cyber espionage networks that had an important role in the C.I.A.’s operations in different countries was exposed by the Iranian intelligence agencies a while ago and was dismantled,” Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani, stated yesterday, Reuters reports.

IRAN: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

By threatening to stockpile uranium and violate key parts of the 2015 nuclear deal Iran risks frustrating its few remaining defenders, Keith Johnson and Colum Lynch comment at Foreign Policy, arguing that Tehran hopes its announcement will force Europe to take drastic action to keep the agreement alive.

“Iran’s announcement opens a new and perilous phase of its confrontation with the West,” David E. Sanger writes at the New York Times, warning that a miscalculation on either side could easily provoke a conflict.

“Both Iran and the U.S. would benefit enormously from even a cold peace,” Walter Russel Mead at the Wall Street Journal argues the case for restraint in the Gulf, commenting that the potential for U.S.-Iranian peace “may be higher now than in the past.”

President Trump may not want war – but he will get one unless he balances coercion with diplomacy, Vali R. Nasr cautions at the New York Times, suggesting that Trump has to change tack if he does not want war.

New commander of U.S. Central Command Gen. Kenneth McKenzie “must strike a balance” between sending a strong deterrent signal and provoking a war in the Middle East, Lara Seligman and Robbie Gramer comment at Foreign Policy.

An explainer of the current “Iran crisis” is provided by Michael Crowley at the New York Times.

CHINA AND HONG KONG

Hong Kong C.E.O. Carrie Lam today signaled the end of the controversial extradition bill that she promoted and then postponed after mass protests. In a press conference, Lam apologized for the turmoil but refused to say the bill would be “withdrawn,” stating only that it would not be re-introduced during her time in office should public fears persist, also refusing to quit as leader, Reuters reports.

Activists and pro-democracy lawmakers have reportedly rejected Lam’s apology. Members of the Civil Human Rights Front, which helped organize Sunday’s two-million strong protest, said members were discussing next steps in the standoff; pro-democracy lawmakers also demanded that the legislation be scrapped and that an independent commission be set up to look into the police use of force during clashes with protesters. Updates at the AP.

The recent demonstrations in Hong Kong over the planned extradition bill have apparently strengthened Taiwan’s resolve against the Beijing administration. In an “unusual” display of solidarity, thousands of people gathered in central Taipei Sunday at a rally in support of the Hong Kong protesters, Kathrin Hille explains at the Financial Times.

The Trump administration is reportedly split over the potential repercussions a $2 billion arms deal with Taiwan may have on efforts to reignite trade talks with Beijing. Concerns are growing that Chinese President Xi Jinping may use the weapons deal as a further excuse not to meet with U.S. President Trump later this month on the sidelines of the G.20 summit in Japan, according to three White House and administration officials, Vivian Salama reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei has been impacted more profoundly than expected by a U.S. ban, Huawei founder and C.E.O. Ren Zhengfei announced yesterday, slashing revenue expectations for the year. Ren’s assessment that the ban will cost revenue by $30 billion, the first time Huawei has quantified the impact of the U.S. action, comes as a surprise after weeks of defiant comments from company officials who maintained Huawei was technologically self-sufficient, Dan Strumpf reports at the Wall Street Journal

The KOREAN PENINSULA

Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit North Korea for two days from Thursday, state media in both countries reported yesterday, making Xi the first Chinese leader to visit the North in 14 years. “Both sides will exchange views on the [Korean] peninsula situation, and push for new progress in the political resolution of the peninsula issue,” China’s official broadcaster C.C.T.V. said in a report, Al Jazeera reports.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “can feel fairly confident that China and Russia’s interest in peninsular stability … tensions with the United States and desire to remain a part of the diplomatic process will keep those countries acting largely in line with North Korean interests,” former State Department diplomat Mintaro Oba commented on news of Xi’s trip. Gerry Shih and Simon Denyer report at the Washington Post.

“By going to Pyongyang, the North’s capital …Mr. Xi is injecting himself into the middle of [U.S. President] Trump’s negotiating efforts … which have languished since February when he and Mr. Kim failed to agree on a disarmament deal,” Jane Perlez and Mark Landler write at the New York Times.

An explainer on what China and North Korea hope to achieve at this week’s summit is provided by Hyung-Jin Kim and Kim Tong-Hyung at the AP.

Pyongyang extends control over an army of thousands of hackers who bring in hundreds of millions of dollars each year, according to experts’ estimates. With the reclusive country syphoned off from most trade with the outside world, the money generated from illicit cyber-based activities is thought to have become a key revenue stream for Pyongyang and has now probably overtaken the value of sales of weapons and military services, Edward White and Kang Buseong write in an analysis at the Financial Times.

SUDAN

Opposition leaders in Sudan have called for night-time demonstrations and marches in Khartoum and elsewhere in the country, amid a standoff with the Transitional Military Council (T.M.C.) over who should lead the transition after the ouster of former President Omar al-Bashir. Protest leaders yesterday claimed to have begun a “revolutionary escalation” to pressure the T.M.C. to hand over power to civilians and condemn the vioent crackdown on a sit-in camp earlier this month, Al Jazeera reports.

“The junta that replaced Bashir has cracked down on the protest movement and political opposition with brutality reminiscent of the horrors unleashed in Darfur,” Ishaan Tharoor comments at Washington Post, focusing on the role of T.M.C. leader Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (“Hameti.”)

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

Saudi air defenses intercepted two drones launched by Iran-aligned Shi’ite Houthi rebels, one of which targeted a residential area in the southern city of Abha, the Saudi press agency reported today, citing the U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition. The Houthis have launched several strikes at Abha since last week, when a missile attack on the airport wounded 26 people, Reuters reports.

Iran yesterday accused its main regional rival Saudi Arabia of adopting a “militaristic … crisis-based approach,” by accusing Tehran of carrying out last week’s oil tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman. Saudi Crown Prince and de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman Sunday urged the international community to take a “decisive stand” over the attacks; “Salman’s charges against Iran in various situations are a continuation of Riyadh’s misguided approach and attempts to escape the problems brought on by their own policies,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi hit back, according to state T.V., Reuters reports.

TRUMP-RUSSIA AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) yesterday said the White House is blocking election security legislation from moving through the Senate. During an event at the Council on Foreign Relations, Warner claimed that several measures he has introduced to secure U.S. elections against foreign interference are not receiving a floor vote in the Senate because of objections from the White House, Maggie Miller reports at the Hill.

Congress “must not get distracted from its obligation to lay out the president’s conduct for the American public and hold him responsible,” Kate Martin writes in an Op-Ed at Just Security, arguing that focusing on enacting new legislation imposing reporting  duties to the F.B.I. is a “distraction from what can and needs to be done to prevent Trump from welcoming foreign interference again in 2020.”

“Executive privilege has a legitimate core,” Neal K. Katyal comments at the New York Times, arguing nonetheless that “Trump’s attempts are going to wind up undermining that core, and make it harder for future presidents to govern.”

A “factbox” detailing “a few” of the 183 mentions of ex-Trump aide Hope Hicks in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian electoral interference is provided at Reuters.

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].

Former Egyptian President Muhammed Morsi died yesterday, suffering a heart attack during a court session. The Economist reports.

The White House announced yesterday that it will not invite the Israeli government to the unveiling of the economic element of its long-awaited Middle East peace plan at a Bahrain conference next week. Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.

U.S. Acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan and his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar remain in contact about Ankara’s plans to buy a Russian S-400 air defense system, and may meet during N.A.T.O. meetings in Brussels next week, according to U.S. General Tod Wolters. Wolters claimed the military-to-military relationship between the United States and N.A.T.O remains “absolutely, positively solid,” despite Washington’s decision to cancel Turkey’s purchase of F-35 stealth fighters if it proceeds with its purchase of the Russian system, Reuters reports.

The Kremlin yesterday said it is possible the U.S. put implants into Russian power grids. A New York Times report last weekend suggested that the U.S. was allegedly gearing up for a cyberattack last week; Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov yesterday commented “undoubtedly this information shows the hypothetical possibility … all signs of cyber war and military cyber action against the Russian Federation,” Rebecca Klar reports at the Hill.

The U.S. will start removing “millions” of illegal migrants next week, President Trump claimed in a message on Twitter yesterday, adding that Guatemala is preparing to sign a safe third country deal. AFP reports.

Justice Clarence Thomas yesterday urged the U.S. Supreme Court to feel less bound to upholding precedent. Thomas said the nine justices should not uphold precedents that are “demonstrably erroneous,” regardless of whether other factors supported letting them stand, Reuters reports. 

Filed under:
About the Author(s)

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).

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).