The Early Edition: June 28, 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 and Russian President Vladimir Putin today met for the first time since the conclusion of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian electoral interference and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign. Speaking at the G.20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Trump appeared to make light of Russian election interference, advising Putin to stay out of the 2020 presidential election: “don’t meddle in the election, president … don’t meddle in the election,” Trump told his Russian counterpart with a smile, pointing his finger at Putin, Alex Leary reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Putin grinned in response to the comment without saying anything, while Trump enjoyed the attention of reporters and camera crews, commenting “it’s like the Academy Awards.” Trump stated it was “great honor” to be with Putin, praising their “very, very good relationship” and predicting “a lot of very positive things” would come out of it, Josh Lederman, Kristen Welker and Hans Nichols report at NBC.

The Russian president praised Trump for trying to stop the flow of migrants and drugs from Mexico in an interview with the Financial Times released yesterday. Putin commented “every crime must have its punishment,” adding “the liberal idea has become obsolete … it has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population,” Lionel Barber, Henry Foy and Alex Barker report.

In the interview Putin stated he does not expect “any breakthroughs” at the summit, but expressed hope that G.20 leaders will commit to “strengthening” economies and financial institutions. Referring to the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (I.N.F.,) Putin said “I hope that I will be able to talk about it with Donald,” adding “we said that we are ready to extend this treaty between the United States and Russia, but we have not seen any relevant initiative from our American partners,” the AP reports.

“With your help … I hope we will realize beautiful harmony in Osaka … rather than highlight our confrontations … let us seek out what unites us,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated, in an appeal for unity among the divisive world leaders as he opened the talks today in Japan, AFP reports.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has blamed developed countries for engaging in “protectionist behavior” that he claims is “destroying” the global trade system. “All this is destroying the global trade order,” Xi commented, adding “this also impacts common interests of our countries, overshadows the peace and stability worldwide;” Xi’s remarks – which appeared to be directed at Trump – came as he prepares to meet the U.S. president at the G.20 summit, Demetri Sevastopulo, Robin Harding and Alex Barker report at the Financial Times.

Trump yesterday declared that the U.S. has been “very good” to its allies during his presidency.  The president, when asked by a member of the Australian media whether he was aware that his “America First” agenda has had a negative effect on some allies, asserted “I think I can say very easily that we’ve been very good to our allies … we work with our allies … we take care of our allies … generally speaking, I’ve inherited massive trade deficits with our allies … and we even help our allies militarily,” Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

Trump retreated from his previously heated comments against U.S. allies, using a chain of meetings at the summit to compliment his fellow leaders and boast about improving relations. Trump thanked Abe for investing in auto plants in the U.S. and greeted German Chancellor Angela Merkel as “a fantastic person, a fantastic woman,” adding, “I’m glad to have her as a friend,” Scott Horsley reports at NPR.

Trump and Abe are in agreement that the U.S.-Japan security alliance “is stronger than ever,” according to a senior Japanese government spokesperson, Reuters reports.

The latest updates from the G.20 summit are provided by Jessie Yeung, Ben Westcott, Kevin Liptak and Steve George at CNN.

An explainer of the G.20 summit and this year’s agenda is provided by Michael Crowley at the New York Times.

CHINA AND HUAWEI

Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei claimed yesterday that it does not have any company-sanctioned projects cooperating with China’s military and does not customize products for use by the country’s armed forces, Chief Legal Officer Song Liuping told reporters yesterday. The remarks follow a Bloomberg article earlier in the day reporting that Huawei’s workers had cooperated with various parts of China’s People’s Liberation Army on research including on artificial intelligence and radio communications; “as far as I know, we don’t have military cooperation projects because we are a company dedicated to provide communications systems and …solutions for civil use,” Liuping responded. Arjun Kharpal reports at NBC.

President Trump risks a “furious” political backlash if he agrees to soften U.S. penalties for Huawei in order to accelerate speed trade talks with China, according to former administration officials and trade analysts. Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to ask Trump to lift a ban on U.S. companies selling components to Huawei when the two leaders meet today at the G.20 summit in Japan; lawmakers including Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.,) Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Vir.) have already warned the president not to ease up on Huawei, David J. Lynch reports at the Washington Post.

Beijing today criticized “negative content” about China in legislation before the U.S. Congress, claiming it would further damage relations already roiled by disputes over trade and technology. Foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said the draft National Defense Authorization Act (N.D.A.A.), if passed, would undermine efforts to mutually overcome obstacles: “we express firm opposition to the U.S. Senate’s approval of the act containing negative content related to China … it will damage China-U.S. relations and disrupt bilateral cooperation in some important areas,” Geng told reporters at a daily briefing, the AP reports.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

U.S. special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun today reaffirmed that Washington is ready to hold talks with the North, South Korea’s government announced, as Pyongyang intensifies its calls for Washington to formulate fresh proposals to resolve the nuclear stalemate. Biegun’s reported comments came a day before President Trump is to visit South Korea for two days, Hyung-Jin Kim reports at the AP.

Congress is moving toward imposing harsher sanctions on the North. The sanctions were added as an amendment to the annual National Defense Authorization Act (N.D.A.A.) that passed the Senate yesterday; the House version of the N.D.A.A. does not contain the sanctions, but sponsors of the provision are confident it will survive bicameral negotiations, based on conversations with House members, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

IRAN

Iran yesterday warned that if the 2015 nuclear agreement unravels it would follow the example of North Korea and quit the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (N.P.T.) – a treaty aimed at stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. The threat, voiced by an Iranian official to reporters, marked the first time Tehran has explicitly used its participation in the N.P.T., which it ratified in 1970, as leverage in its talks with European officials over keeping its commitments in the separate 2015 deal, Laurence Norman and Stacy Meichtry report at the Wall Street Journal.

Senior officials from Iran and the remaining signatories to its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers are gathering today amidst rising tensions in the Gulf. Iran is insisting that it wants to save the 2015 nuclear deal and has urged the Europeans to start buying Iranian oil or give Iran a credit line to keep the accord alive, Philipp Jenne and Geir Moulson report at the AP.

Diplomats have said that Iran is on course to breach a threshold in its nuclear agreement within days but President Trump said today there was “absolutely no time pressure” on the issue. The diplomats, citing U.N. inspectors’ data, said the Islamic Republic was on course to exceed the limits soon by accumulating more enriched uranium than permitted, although it had not done so by yesterday; Trump commented today “we have a lot of time … there’s no rush … they can take their time … I think in the end, hopefully, it’s going to work out.” Reuters reports.

“‘Short war’ with Iran is an illusion,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote in a message on Twitter yesterday, a day after President Trump said he did not want a war with Iran but warned that if fighting did break out, it “wouldn’t last very long.” Al Jazeera reports.

An emerging U.S. plan for deterring alleged Iranian attacks on tankers involves ships from regional allies to stand watch in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman while maritime patrol planes fly overhead, U.S. officials said yesterday. While the operation would be commanded by overseas nations, the U.S. military likely would contribute aircraft as well as ships and would organize the communications to coordinate the multinational force, officials added, Michael R. Gordon reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S.’ N.A.T.O. allies have given no firm commitments that they will participate in a combined effort to secure international waterways against threats from Iran, acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced yesterday. Esper said the U.S. will come back next month and provide unwilling allies with further details on exactly how the Iranian threat has escalated in recent months, and how nations can collaborate to deter further aggression, Lolita C. Baldor reports at the AP.

French President Emmanuel Macron said yesterday that he will ask Trump to ease some sanctions against Iran in order to to aid negotiations. “I want to convince Trump that it is in his interest to re-open a negotiation process [and] go back on certain sanctions to give negotiations a chance,” Macron told reporters while traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto, Zack Budryk reports at the Hill.

The Senate is going to vote on an Iran amendment to the defense bill this morning, following the passing of the National Defense Authorization Act (N.D.A.A.) The amendment from Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine (Va.) and Tom Udall (N.M.) would block Trump from using funding to carry out military action against Iran unless he has congressional approval; Senators say if the amendment passes it will be added to the bill retroactively, Jordain Carney and Rebecca Kheel report at the Hill.

Trump is unlikely to find international support for a new nuclear deal with Iran, Anita Kumar explains in an analysis at POLITICO, commenting that “not only do other countries still support a 2015 nuclear pact, they’re skeptical Trump can strike a better agreement within the time constraints of his fast-approaching reelection campaign.”

“The messages Trump is sending make negotiations with Tehran less and less likely and increase the chance of another ruinous war of choice in the Middle East,” Jarrett Blanc argues in an Op-Ed at POLITICO Magazine.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh criticized the Trump administration’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan yesterday saying the initiative “will not really materialize and it’s not going to go anywhere.” In a reference to this week’s U.S-organized conference, Shtayyeh told reporters: “Bahrain was just simply a terrible exercise … I think it’s an economic workshop that has been fully and totally divorced from reality,” adding that the conference was “no more than an intellectual exercise,” Reuters reports.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes the $50 billion U.S. economic investment plan for the Palestinians is “a brilliant idea.” Speaking late yesterday at a conference in Jerusalem, Netanyahu commented that the Trump administration’s vision of turning “welfare into investment” is what “we did in Israel and it worked,” the AP reports.

The two-day Bahrain workshop led by President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has gone mostly unnoticed by Israelis. The conference, which was held without an official Israeli delegation, took place as Netanyahu faces opponents in an upcoming election and corruption scandals, Reuters reports.

Bahrain yesterday announced it has recalled its envoy to Iraq after protesters stormed its embassy in Baghdad and removed its flag in objection to the U.S.-led workshop. The government of Bahrain said it had “decided to recall its ambassador …  for consultations,” according to a statement from its official news agency, Al Jazeera reports.

Russia has denied Israeli suggestions that it is responsible for disruption of G.P.S. signals at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport. The missing navigational data has had a “significant impact” on airport operations according to Israel’s Airports Authority, but Russia’s ambassador to Israel dismissed the accusation as “fake news,” stating that it could not be “taken seriously,” the BBC reports.

SYRIA

A Turkish soldier was killed and three others were wounded when their observation post in Syria’s northwestern rebel-held province of Idlib was attacked by shelling and mortar fire from troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Attacks were launched from territory controlled by Syrian government forces and were judged to have been deliberate, Turkey’s ministry of national defense announced in a statement late yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.

The heads of 11 global humanitarian organizations warned yesterday that Idlib stands on the brink of disaster, with three million civilian lives at risk, including one million children. The U.N. News Centre reports.

AFGHANISTAN

Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan – Tadamichi Yamamoto – yesterday reiterated his call for journalists’ rights to be protected, following public threats last week by Taliban militants to deliberately target media outlets in Afghanistan. Noting that “words must never be met with violence” Yamamoto called on the threat to be rescinded, adding that “the only acceptable challenge to words is to advance a better argument,” the U.N. News Centre reports

Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden last night said he believes U.S. combat forces should be withdrawn from Afghanistan, making the comments during a primary debate. Philip Ewing reports at NPR.

The Pentagon has identified the two soldiers killed in combat in Afghanistan this week. Master Sgt. Micheal B. Riley, 32, of Heilbronn, Germany, and Sgt. James G. Johnston, 24, of Trumansburg, N.Y., were killed Tuesday in Uruzgan province by “small arms fire while engaged in combat operations,” the Pentagon announced in a statement, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

SUDAN

The U.N. Security Council has postponed its plans to pullout peacekeepers from Sudan’s western province of Darfur after the nation experienced crisis following the ousting of President Omar al-Bashir. Al Jazeera reports.

An analysis of the Sudan security forces’ Jun. 3 attacks on peaceful demonstrators, including what is likely to happen next, is provided by John Hursh at Just Security.

TRUMP-RUSSIA AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort – convicted of numerous federal crimes last year –pleaded not guilty yesterday in New York to 16 criminal charges, including residential mortgage fraud.  The alleged crimes could result in Manafort remaining in prison even in the event President Trump pardons him for federal crimes uncovered during the investigation of Russian election meddling, Corinne Ramey reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The House yesterday approved “expansive” election security legislation that would prescribe the use of backup paper ballots and postelection vote audits to guard against potential foreign interference, seeking to pressure Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to lift his blockade of election legislation in the upper chamber. The House Bill, which passed 225 to 184 largely along party lines, is the first and most expansive in a raft of new measures that House Democrats say they will pass to address vulnerabilities highlighted by former special counsel Robert Mueller, Nicholas Fandos reports at the New York Times.

Mueller has the opportunity to “fix his mistakes” in his July testimony, Jed Handelsman Shugerman argues at the New York Times, commenting that Mueller can “help Congress and the Federal Election Commission clarify [the U.S.’] vague campaign-finance law.”

A look at the parameters and conditions attached to Mueller’s agreement to testify before the House is fielded by Julia Ainsley at NBC.

U.S. SUPREME COURT

The Supreme Court yesterday froze the Trump administration’s plan to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census form sent to every U.S. household, ruling the government had provided a “contrived” reason for requiring the information. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the opinion, and should the Commerce Department offer a new justification, it will seemingly be up to Roberts whether it stands up to scrutiny, Robert Barnes and Ann E. Marimow report at the Washington Post

President Trump suggested that he wants to delay the 2020 census following the ruling. “Seems totally ridiculous that our government, and indeed Country, cannot ask a basic question of Citizenship in a very expensive, detailed and important Census, in this case for 2020,” the president wrote in a pair of messages on Twitter following the decision, adding: “I have asked the lawyers if they can delay the Census, no matter how long, until the United States Supreme Court is given additional information from which it can make a final and decisive decision on this very critical matter,”  David K. Li reports at NBC.

An account of the census question developments is provided at the Economist.

“There is a limit to how much BS the Court will take,” Jay Michaelson comments at The Daily Beast, adding that “when there are email chains, memos, and meeting notes that directly contradict what government officials are saying, then at the very least, courts will fully inquire into the administrative record.”

A guide to the Supreme Court’s biggest decisions in 2019, in the wake of the departure of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and the arrival of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, is provided at the New York Times.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Russia has claimed it merely rotated a group of weapons specialists in Venezuela and emphasized that it did not intend to increase its military presence in the country.  Thomas Grove and Alan Cullison report at the Wall Street Journal.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner conducted diplomacy behind his back during his tenure. Tillerson described a number of incidents, including a secret dinner with leaders of Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., where Kushner and former Trump strategist Steve Bannon were informed about an upcoming blockade on Qatar – an event that caught Tillerson off-guard when it was imposed on Jun 5, 2017, Al Jazeera reports.

Social network Twitter plans to place a disclaimer on future tweets from world leaders that break its rules but which Twitter decides are nonetheless in the “public interest,” the company announced in a blog post yesterday. President Trump has repeatedly tested Twitter’s community standards and some of the president’s tweets have broken its rules, Donnie O’Sullivan reports at CNN Business.

“Americans care deeply about the protection of civilians,” Charli Carpenter and Alexander H. Montgomery write at Foreign Policy, having replicated a Stanford University/Dartmouth College study – which was reported as showing that “the U.S. public exhibits … a shocking willingness to support the killing of enemy civilians.” The authors argue that “highlighting supposed American readiness to bomb civilians is not just misleading, it’s potentially dangerous … for the laws of war to have power, it matters whether policymakers think Americans believe in these rules. 

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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).