The Early Edition: June 27, 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.

G.20 SUMMIT

U.S. President Trump yesterday criticized the military alliance between the U.S. and Japan hours before he departed for the G.20 summit, where foreign leaders will discuss a range of pressing issues. In an interview with Fox Business Network, the president described the post-World War II defense treaty with Japan as imbalanced, commenting “we have a treaty with Japan … if Japan is attacked we will fight World War III … we will go in and we will protect them and we will fight with our lives and with our treasure … but if we’re attacked Japan doesn’t have to help us at all … they can watch [the attack] on a Sony television,” Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

“Almost all countries in this world take tremendous advantage of the United States … it’s unbelievable,” the president commented, criticizing and insulting several world leaders he will meet with at the summit. Trump slated China over stalled trade talks, claiming that it is bearing the full force of U.S. tariffs imposed this year: “don’t let anyone tell you that China’s not paying for it … China’s paying for it … we’re not paying for any of it;” the president also complained that Vietnam is “almost the single worst abuser of everybody,” Anne Gearan, Damian Paletta and John Wagner report at the Washington Post.

The president further claimed that European Union (E.U.) antitrust commissioner Margrethe Vestager “hates” America. Trump remarked that Vestager – who has previously won praise in Europe for her probes of Amazon, Google and Apple over allegedly abusing their market dominance or tax avoidance – “hates the United States perhaps worse than any person I’ve ever met … what she does to our country … she’s suing all our companies,” Demetri Sevastopulo, Kiran Stacey and Rochelle Toplensky report at the Financial Times.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have agreed to strengthen naval defense ties in the Indo-Pacific region and share concerns about escalating tensions in the Middle East, according to Macron. Speaking at a joint news conference, the French president also expressed hope that tensions over the U.S.-China trade dispute will ease during the G.20 summit, Mari Yamaguchi reports at the AP.

Iran is likely to be on the agenda for the upcoming G.20 summit, according to a German government official who explained that Germany is concerned about current tensions over Iran, Reuters reports.

The Kremlin has confirmed that Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet with Trump at the summit in Japan and is “ready for dialogue.” The meeting will take place tomorrow and is expected to touch on arms control and international crises – including the Iranian nuclear deal, Syria, North Korea and Ukraine – according to a statement released yesterday by Putin’s foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov which marks official Kremlin acknowledgement of the meeting, the AP reports.

“Even though [Abe] is playing host – it’s ultimately Trump’s party,” Adam Taylor writes in an analysis at the Washington Post, commenting that for the Japanese prime minister, “the best hope may be to focus on the agenda and hope for the best.”

IRAN

The Senate will vote tomorrow on a measure to block President Trump from taking military action against Iran without congressional approval.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that leadership had negotiated a deal to vote on the proposal from Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and that they would hold the vote open to give 2020 candidates the chance to return from Miami, Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) thanked McConnell, calling the vote on the proposal “only fair and only right” amid escalating tensions with Tehran. “If there is ever a time to rise to our constitutional obligation to debate and approve going to war, it’s now,” Schumer told reporters after the agreement was announced, adding “we’re very pleased with the outcome,” Marianne Levine, Burgess Everett and Connor O’Brien report at POLITICO.

Trump warned yesterday that if fighting did break out Iran it “wouldn’t last very long,” although he maintained that he does not want a war with Tehran. Trump also hinted that any conflict would be waged with air strikes, saying there would be no U.S. boots on the ground, AFP reports.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei yesterday ruled out negotiating with the U.S.,, claiming that only the threat of military force provides protection from American domination. “Negotiation is an effort to deceive into doing what the U.S. desires,” Khamenei said in public comments, adding “it is like you hold a weapon, so the other side does not dare come close … so I can do whatever I want to you,” David D. Kirkpatrick reports at the New York Times.

Khamenei did not address the new U.S. sanctions leveled against him. The U.S. has said it took action earlier this week against the Iranian leader along with his office and associates for their alleged role in destabilizing the Middle East through actions such as promoting terrorism and targeting U.S. vessels, Aresu Eqbali and Sune Engel Rasmussen report at the Wall Street Journal.

“If there is conflict … if there is war … if there is a kinetic activity … it will be because the Iranians made that choice,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview with local media in India yesterday, claiming that the U.S. had done everything it could to de-escalate tensions with Iran. Reuters reports.

Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) are demanding the State Department’s legal analysis of a potential military strike against Iran. In a letter sent yesterday to State Department acting legal adviser Marik String – the two lawmakers asked for any and all documents on whether the 2001 or 2002 war authorizations are applicable to military action against Iran, writing that “given the life-and-death stakes of the current situation between the United States and Iran, we can think of no issue where it is more imperative for the department to explain its rationale,” Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

Iran will exceed limits on low-enriched uranium set by the 2015 nuclear deal unless the U.K., France and Germany take timely, practical steps to preserve the agreement that is “now in critical condition,” Iranian Ambassador to the U.N. Majid Takht Ravanchi told a Security Council meeting yesterday. Ravanchi told the meeting that the three European countries, which support the deal, and the U.S., which withdrew last year, will have to “accept the full responsibility for any possible consequences” if serious steps are not taken, Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

“Iran alone cannot… shall not and will not take all of the burdens anymore to preserve” the 2015 agreement, Ravanchi said, describing the accord as being in a “critical condition,” Reuters reports.

The nuclear deal must “continue to work for all”, despite moves by both the U.S. and Iran which have destabilized the “hard-won” 2015 agreement, U.N. Political Affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo told Security Council members yesterday. DiCarlo described the deal as the result of “12 years of intense diplomatic efforts and technical negotiations,” The U.N. News Centre reports.

Iran is still short of the maximum amount of enriched uranium it is allowed to have under the deal, the latest data from U.N. nuclear inspectors shows, meaning that it is unlikely Iran will follow through on its threat to violate one of the nuclear deal’s central restrictions today. Reuters reports.

European nations will reportedly announce a multimillion-euro credit line to ease trade between the European Union (E.U.) and Iran in a “last-minute and probably doomed” attempt to persuade Tehran not to take the first step to quit the deal. The credit line will be announced in Vienna at a meeting of the joint commission for the Iran deal – the grouping of all the remaining parties including Russia and China, Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.

“An American war with Iran will drive the country even further into the hands of China,” Robert D. Kaplan comments at the New York Times, arguing that the administration must wake up to the fact that the current fallout “is about something much bigger than the Gulf.”

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Agnes Callamard yesterday called for an international investigation into the murder of Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, criticizing the U.N. for its “paralysis” and Saudi Arabia for its handling of the case. Callamard stated that “a U.N. criminal investigation is essential in order for these central questions to be addressed,” referring to the possible role of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who American intelligence officials have concluded ordered the killing, Nick Cumming-Bruce reports at the New York Times.

Callamard also said that leaders attending this weekend’s G.20 summit should urge Saudi Arabia to take “full responsibility” for Khashoggi’s death. “I have insisted that the killing of Khashoggi is a state killing … it is not a killing by rogue officials as the government continued to pretend,” Callamard said in Geneva, adding “it is therefore important that the countries that will be present in the G.20 insist that the state of Saudi Arabia do take its full responsibility for the killing,” Reuters reports.

Top Saudi diplomat Abdulaziz Alwasil has slammed Callamard’s report – insisting it was based on “prejudice and pre-fabricated ideas.” Alwasil claimed that Callamard had failed to follow proper procedures and used “flawed” sourcing in her 101-page report released last week; “accusations have been launched, and fingers have been pointed – [she is] supporting herself on non-credible articles or sources,” Alwasil told the Human Rights Council Tuesday, Jamey Keaten reports at the AP.

The U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition yesterday announced it intercepted a suspected Houthi drone launched toward the kingdom, the state-run Saudi Press Agency (S.P.A.) reported. The drone was intercepted in Yemeni airspace after Iran-aligned Shi’ite Houthi rebels launched it from northern Sanaa toward the kingdom, the coalition added, Reuters reports.

The U.N. envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths met with Yemen Vice President Ali Mohsen and other government officials yesterday to discuss the implementation of peace deals with the Houthi rebels. Griffiths described the meetings – which took place in Saudi Arabia’s capital of Riyadh – as “very productive” and stated he is “determined to … restart soonest possible consultations with the parties,” the AP reports.

The kingdom has enjoyed the protection of the Atlantic powers throughout the near century of its existence – but the country is losing international allies, David Wearing argues at the New York Times, commenting that Anglo-American ties with the House of Saud may become “politically unsustainable.”

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

The U.S.-led economic workshop in Bahrain closed yesterday amid “derision and rejection” from Palestinian officials, claiming that its framework for a trade and investment boost ignored their political aspirations for statehood. The two-day workshop, led by President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, opened Tuesday in Manama and showcased the economic plank of the Trump administration’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan, Al Jazeera reports.

“In the end … the ‘deal of the century’ was little more than a failed clearance sale,” Martin Chulov writes in an account of the conference at the Guardian, commenting that “its central premise of prosperity as a precursor to a lasting solution barely appeared to register on either side of the separation wall.”

AFGHANISTAN

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani today arrived in the Pakistani capital Islamabad to hold talks with the country’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, less than a week after Pakistan hosted opposition leaders for a conference to discuss ending the 18-year conflict in Afghanistan, Al Jazeera reports.

Ghani praised Pakistan’s efforts to advance the peace process in the region, according to Pakistani officials. Ghani will look to Islamabad to assist in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table with the Kabul government, with the visit also regarded as an attempt to “reset” the strained relationship between the two countries, Munir Ahmed reports at the AP.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

North Korea said today that South Korea must stop trying to mediate between Pyongyang and Washington, increasing pressure on the U.S. to formulate new proposals to salvage stalled nuclear talks. Chief of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s U.S. affairs department Kwon Jong Gun said today “there will be no such a happening where anything will go through the South Korean authorities,” dismissing comments by South Korean President  Moon Jae-in and other South Korean officials that there are various exchanges and unofficial talks between the two Koreas as false, Joshua Berlinger reports at CNN.

“It’s better for the South Korean authorities to mind their own business at home,” Kwon added. Hyung-Jin Kim reports at the AP.

“The dialogue would not open by itself though the United States repeatedly talks about resumption of dialogue like a parrot without considering any realistic proposal that would fully conform with the interests of both sides,” Kwon said in a statement carried by Pyongyang’s official K.C.N.A. news agency, adding that “if the U.S. is to move towards producing a result, time will not be enough,” Reuters reports.

The South’s Unification Ministry hit back that the South’s push for peace on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue remains unchanged. Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul told reporters in Seoul that Pyongyang and Washington need to continue building up trust following the failed Hanoi talks between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in February, Adam Schreck and Hyung-Jin Kim report at the AP.

CHINA AND HUAWEI

Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei has cautioned that a U.S. proposal –to prohibit the company from pursuing damages in the country’s patent courts – would be a “catastrophe for global innovation.” Speaking at a news conference today, Huawei’s chief legal officer Song Liping warned the proposal would threaten the global intellectual property system that supports technology development, commenting “if such a legislative proposal were to be passed, it would be a catastrophe for global innovation … it would have terrible consequences,” the AP reports.

China’s ‘International Forum on Counterterrorism’ held last week in Beijing was a “success,” according to a defense ministry spokesperson Ren Guoqiang. The four-day forum, themed “special force sniping,” attracted representatives from the military and police forces of 31 nations – including France, Pakistan and Israel – and allowed participants to share strategies and experiences, the AP reports.

“China hopes to beat America’s armed forces by copying them,” the Economist argues, commenting on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s organizational reforms.

“[Mayor of Kaohsiung and Taiwan’s presidential candidate] Han Kuo-yu came out of nowhere to win a critical election – but he had help from mainland China,” Paul Huang argues at Foreign Policy commenting on Han’s “rise from obscurity to superstardom.”

VENEZUELA

Venezuela’s socialist government announced it had stopped a “coup” plot to assassinate the country’s President Nicolás Maduro, claiming the U.S., Colombia and Chile all colluded in the plot. The alleged coup involved active duty and retired military officers, and was supposed to be carried out last weekend, according to Venezuelan Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez, the AFP reports.

Maduro yesterday warned that he would be “ruthless” with the opposition if they attempted a coup, after his government revealed it had foiled a plot to assassinate him. “We would be ruthless in a revolutionary counteroffensive against an attempted fascist coup – ruthless!” Maduro commented in an address broadcast nationwide on radio and television, Al Jazeera reports.

The Norway talks have produced a “chance … albeit very fragile … for political and diplomatic solution,” Head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Latin America department Alexander Shchetinin stated yesterday, making the comments in a wide-ranging interview, Kate De Pury and Vladimir Isachenkov report at the AP.

TRUMP-RUSSIA AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

President Trump yesterday lashed out at former special counsel Robert Mueller, alleging without evidence that Mueller had committed a crime – by deleting text messages of two anti-Trump F.B.I. employees who worked on Mueller’s investigation into Russian electoral interference. Trump’s comments came less than 24 hours after it was revealed that Mueller will testify publicly pursuant to a subpoena from the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees, Matt Zapotosky, Mike DeBonis, Rachel Bade and John Wagner report at the Washington Post.

“Mueller terminated them illegally … he terminated all of the emails. … Robert Mueller terminated their text messages together … he terminated them … they’re gone … and that’s illegal … that’s a crime,” Trump said in an interview with Fox Business Network. The Department of Justice (D.O.J.) declined to comment, Reuters reports.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort –convicted of numerous federal crimes last year – is expected to plead not guilty today to residential mortgage fraud and other New York state charges, setting the stage for a battle over whether those charges amount to double jeopardy. Reuters reports.

“Time is almost up on Trump and [Attorney General William] Barr’s prolonged public campaign of distortion and denial, Elie Honig comments at CNN, arguing that Mueller’s Congressional upcoming appearance will put an end Trump and Barr’s ability to “loudly misrepresent Mueller’s findings” and “count on the American public and Congress not to bother reading the 400-plus page report.”

Democrats struggling to find witnesses to guide their Trump investigations are attempting to rely on Mueller’s former prosecutors, Darren Samuelsohn and Kyle Cheney write in an analysis at POLITICO.

What are the key questions the Congressional committees should ask Mueller? Barbara McQuade provides a guide at The Daily Beast.

CYBERSECURITY, TECHNOLOGY AND PRIVACY

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced yesterday that Congress will receive an election security briefing from administration officials next month, as Democrats put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to permit votes on election security bills. “Next month we will take further steps to harden our democratic institutions against attacks, and on July 10 we will receive the all-member election security briefing we requested from the administration so we can continue to protect the American people,” Pelosi stated during a press conference, Maggie Miller reports at the Hill.

Baltimore and two cities in Florida have fallen victim to ransomware attacks in recent weeks, while Atlanta’s mayor pushed for more federal help in protecting against ransomware in Congress Tuesday. Kate Fazzini reports at NBC.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Ally forces to Libya’s U.N.-recognized government say they have retaken the strategic town of Gharyan – south of the capital Tripoli. Spokesperson for forces loyal to the internationally-recognized Government of National Accord Mustafa al-Mejii told reporters: “Gharyan is under our total control,” Al Jazeera reports.

Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper yesterday warned Turkey that it will face economic sanctions if it continues with the purchase of a Russian missile defense system. Esper made the remarks during a N.A.T.O. meeting with Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, Lolita C. Baldor reports at the AP.

The U.S. should hold Russian President Vladimir Putin accountable for the deaths in connection with the downing of passenger flight MH17, David Satter argues at the Wall Street Journal, commenting that although four men have been charged with murder, “evidence of Russian guilt is powerful.”

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform yesterday authorized a subpoena for the president’s adviser Kellyanne Conway, after she failed to appear at a hearing where she was asked to testify about her alleged repeated violations of the Hatch Act – a federal ethics law that bars government officials from engaging in political activities at work.  The vote passed 25-16, with Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) joining all of the Democrats, Natalie Andrews reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The 2020 candidates need to start talking about foreign policy, Jonathan Tepperman argues at Foreign Policy, commenting that “the group has ignored the rest of the world and focused on domestic issues.”

A series of charts tracking “the weight of foreign policy” in U.S. primary debates are provided by C.K. Hickey and Maya Gandhi at Foreign Policy. 

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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).