The Early Edition: July 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.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

U.S. President Trump became the first sitting commander-in-chief to visit North Korea yesterday, after crossing from the demilitarized zone (D.M.Z.) dividing the two Koreas for his third meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Trump stepped over the border and posed for photographs with Kim before the pair crossed back to the South Korean side of the D.M.Z. minutes later, for talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Edward White, Demetri Sevastopulo and Song Jung-a report at the Financial Times.

“It is good to see you again,” Kim told the president through an interpreter, adding “I never expected to meet you in this place.” “Big moment, big moment,” Trump replied. Peter Baker and Michael Crowley report at the New York Times.

Trump announced that the two nations have agreed to appoint nuclear negotiating teams that will begin work over the next several weeks. “We’re not looking for speed … we’re looking to get it right,” Trump stated, adding “we’re on a very good path … this was a terrific day,” Timothy W. Martin, Alex Leary and Andrew Jeong report at the Wall Street Journal.

“I would invite [Kim] right now … to the White House,” Trump said. Kim told Trump he would be welcomed in Pyongyang. Reuters reports.

Kim stated that he was “willing to put an end to the unfortunate past,” adding that he was “surprised” when Trump made the invitation in a message on Twitter Saturday but nonetheless hailing the importance of the meeting as a sign of the “excellent relations between the two of us.” Jordan Fabian and Kyle Balluck report at the Hill.

 “The flower of peace is blossoming on the Korean peninsula,” Moon commented following the talks at “Freedom House” on the southern side of the border. The Economist reports.

“The top leaders of the D.P.R.K. [North Korea] and the U.S. exchanging historic handshakes at Panmunjom” was an “amazing event,” the North’s state media K.C.N.A. reported, describing the truce village as a “place that had been known as the symbol of division” and referring to former “inglorious relations” between the countries, AFP reports.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said today that Japan supported the U.S. and North Korea’s “process” and wished for the latest Trump-Kim talks to result in positive developments, Japanese media reported. “I hope that this summit will lead to progress,” Abe was quoted by Kyodo News and Jiji Press as telling reporters at the prime minister’s official residence, Reuters reports.

Former acting C.I.A. director Michael Morell warned yesterday that “we’re paying a price” for Trump’s diplomatic outreach to Kim. “This comes at a very high cost … this gives Kim Jong-un a lot of legitimacy … this is gold for him politically at home and in the world,” Morell commented during an appearance on C.B.S.’s “Face the Nation,” Alexander Bolton reports at the Hill.

An account of the third Trump-Kim meeting is provided by Donald Kirk at The Daily Beast.

“Afterward … it was unclear whether the meeting was more show than substance,” Zeke Miller and Jonathan Lemire write in an analysis at the AP, commenting that “other than the headline-grabbing moment and the unprecedented images, Trump’s only accomplishment appeared to be securing an agreement to restart nuclear talks that he himself had walked out on in February during his last summit with Kim in Vietnam.”

Trump’s D.M.Z. meeting with Kim provides the U.S. president with a valuable political win, illustrating how “his foreign policy is often directed by his electoral priorities,” Stepen Collinson comments at CNN.

Trump has given Kim “a degree of global recognition and acceptance that Kim’s father and grandfather could not have imagined,” and the question is now what Trump will get in return, Michael Hirsh comments at Foreign Policy,

A flying unidentified object reported by South Korean outlets this morning turned out to be a flock of birds, after the initial announcement led to the launch of fighter jets and a media frenzy, Hyung-Jin Kim and Kim Tong-Hyung report at the AP.

CHINA AND HUAWEI

Anti-government protesters have gathered today in Hong Kong – marking the anniversary of the city’s handover from UK to Chinese rule in 1997. The group assembled around the territory’s Central Government Offices (C.G.O.) and tore down part of glass and metal exterior wall of the Legislative Council building, smashing windows and pushing a metal cart through the glass doors, the AP reports.

The protests have provoked a police response; riot police responded by using pepper spray and batons to contain protesters outside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre – the venue hosting an annual flag-raising ceremony to mark the 1997 handover, the BBC reports.

“This is the culmination of a whole series of actions that the government has taken in recent years that increasingly restrict our political space … cut to the heart of ‘one country … two systems’ and restrict the sense of freedom and civil liberties we thought we could enjoy under the Basic Law,” former Chief Secretary Anson Chan told reporters, Euan Mckirdy reports at Al Jazeera.

U.S. President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping have reached an agreement on trade that will remove certain restrictions on Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei purchasing high-tech equipment from the U.S.. Under the truce, the U.S. pledged to avoid putting additional tariffs on Chinese goods for the indefinite future, while China will begin buying a “tremendous amount” of American farm products, according to Trump, Bob Davis, William Mauldin and Lingling Wei report at the New York Times.

U.K.-listed bank H.S.B.C. has started petitioning to persuade the Chinese government that it is not responsible for the arrest of Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou. H.S.B.C. supplied U.S. prosecutors with information that helped build the case against Meng and Huawei – a move that has apparently frustrated executives at the telecoms company, David Crow, Henny Sender and James Kynge report at the Financial Times.

An explainer on China’s “one country – two systems” policy is fielded by A.K. at the Economist.

An explainer on Hong Kong’s extradition bill including the opposition to it is provided by Reuters.

Live updates to the Hong Kong protests are available at CNN.

G.20 SUMMIT

The U.S. – along with other major nations – has urged social-media companies such as Facebook and Twitter to increase efforts against violent terrorist content online. A statement released Saturday and signed by all members of the G.20 at last week’s summit in Osaka, Japan, stated: “we urge online platforms to meet our citizens’ expectations that they must not allow use of their platforms to facilitate terrorism and violent extremism conducive to terrorism,” Alastair Gale reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Saturday he had updated U.S. President Trump on Russia’s actions in Syria. Putin added that the U.S. and Russia had “maintained contacts” over the Middle East nation, Reuters reports.

The G.20 “constitutes a depressingly low bar for celebration,” the Financial Times editorial board argues, commenting on the cease-fires and agreements reached at the summit.

“The G.20 has become a display of the tantrum diplomacy leaders have embraced – whoever screams the loudest or bullies the hardest is permitted to get their way,” Michael Bociurkiw argues at CNN, questioning whether “such multilateral meetings are becoming an anachronism.”

President Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner seek foreign affairs roles — “with mixed success,” Edward Luce argues at the Financial Times, commenting that “Trump often treats politics as an extension of his business.”

A set of five key “takeaways” from the G.20 summit and Trump’s efforts at international diplomacy, are provided by the New York Times.

U.S.-TURKEY RELATIONS

President Trump said Saturday the U.S. is faced with a “complicated” situation in responding to Turkey’s deal to procure Russia’s S-400 missile defense system. Trump expressed sympathy with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, blaming former U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration for placing conditions on the purchase, stating that “we’re looking at different solutions” at the outset of a bilateral meeting with Erdogan on the fringes of the G.20 summit, David Gauthier-Villars and Alex Leary report at the Wall Street Journal.

Erdoğan claimed after the meeting that Trump had said there will be no U.S. sanctions imposed on Turkey over the purchase, adding at a news conference that Turkey expected the delivery of F-35 stealth fighter jets from the U.S. despite the dispute over the S-400 deal. He added that the Russian systems would be delivered in the first half of July, Reuters reports.

“Within 10 days … maybe within one week … the first shipment will have arrived … I told Trump this openly,” Erdoğan was cited as saying yesterday by Hurriyet newspaper after his meeting with Trump. Reuters reports.

IRAN

Senators blocked an effort Friday to restrict President Trump’s ability to go to war with Iran, marking a victory for the White House.  Senators voted 50-40 on the proposal from Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine (Va.) and Tom Udall (N.M.) to prevent the president from using funding to carry out military action without Congressional authorization – sixty yes votes would have been required to get the amendment added to the National Defense Authorization Act (N.D.A.A.,) Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

Iran has reportedly breached the limit of its enriched uranium stockpile set by the 2015 nuclear deal, according to two sources today. “As we announced when we said our steps would continue, the stockpile has passed 300 kg,” one of the sources said, Reuters reports.

A last-minute effort by European nations to persuade Iran not to breach limits on its nuclear fuel stockpile ended without resolution Friday, with Iranians saying that the U.K., France and Germany had made only modest progress in developing a system to get around tight U.S. sanctions on Tehran, with fresh measures having been re-imposed last Monday. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi left talks in Vienna stating that he expected Iran would push forward with its plan to break the ceiling on how much low-enriched uranium it was allowed to possess under the 2015 nuclear deal, David E. Sanger reports at the New York Times.

Europe has no immediate plans to follow the U.S. and impose sanctions on Iran, even if Tehran follows through on its threat, French President Emmanuel Macron said. U.S. officials in recent days have appealed to Europeans to toughen their position on Iran, after the fresh U.S. sanctions were imposed as a response to recent oil-tanker attacks, rocket launches and the downing of a U.S. drone, Valentina Pop reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin claimed last Monday that the U.S. administration would levy penalties by the end of the week against Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. However, U.S. officials by week’s end had not taken action against Zarif, and Treasury officials Friday would not comment on whether action remained imminent and what it might entail, Vivian Salama and Michael R. Gordon report at the Wall Street Journal.

Zarif said on Saturday that Iran would resist any U.S. sanctions, just as it persevered during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war when the forces of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein launched a chemical attack on an Iranian town. “We persevered then, and will now,” Zarif wrote in a message on Twitter in reference to the chemical attack on Sardasht, adding “we’ll never forget that Western world supported & armed Saddam … Security Council never condemned his gassing of our people,” Reuters reports.

President Trump is reportedly pressing allies to join the U.S. in creating a fleet of warships to protect commercial oil tankers from attack by Iran in the Persian Gulf and nearby waters, despite concern from some within the Pentagon that the mission could escalate into the kind of direct confrontation Trump is seeking to avoid. Helene Cooper provides an analysis at the New York Times.

Trump’s strategy of “maximum pressure” against Iran will only serve to bolster the country’s elite Revolutionary Guard, “which has recast itself as the defender of a new, nationalist narrative,” Narges Bajoghli argues in an Op-Ed at the New York Times.

Significant legal questions arise as to whether the unmanned U.S. Navy RQ-4A Triton surveillance aircraft shot down in the Gulf two weeks ago violated the rules for transit – and what right Iran had to respond, Mark Nevitt explains in a legal analysis at Just Security.

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

Saudi Arabia intercepted two drones Saturday launched by Iran-aligned Shi’ite Houthi rebels targeting the kingdom. The rebels targeted Saudi airports in Abha and Jizan with Qasef-2K drones, according to Houthi’s Al-Masirah satellite news channel; the drones caused no damage or casualties according to a statement by military spokesman Col. Turki al-Maliki that was broadcast on the kingdom’s state-run Saudi Press Agency (S.P.A.), the AP reports.

U.S. President Trump commended Saudi Crown Prince and de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman as “a friend of mine” who has done a “spectacular job,” despite concerns about the leader among U.S. lawmakers and international officials. “It’s an honor to be with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia … a friend of mine … a man who has really done things in the last five years in terms of opening up Saudi Arabia,” Trump stated Friday during a working breakfast with bin Salman at the G.20 summit in Osaka, Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

Trump appeared to ignore evidence of bin Salman’s role in the killing of Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, and declined to address questions from reporters about whether he would discuss Khashoggi’s death with the Crown Prince, commenting “[bin Salman’s] very angry about it … he’s very unhappy about it,” David Herszenhorn reports at POLITICO.

Trump continued to defend bin Salman – stating there was no “finger directly” pointing at him, despite a U.N. report published last week that concluded there was “credible evidence” linking the plot to the royal family, David Nakamura and Seung Min Kim report at the Washington Post.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that Bin Salman needs to uncover Khashoggi’s murderers, adding that certain details of the killing were still being hidden. Speaking at a news conference at the G.20 summit Saturday, Erdogan said a 15-person team that arrived in Istanbul before the killing were responsible and that there was “no point in looking for perpetrators elsewhere;” the president further commented the killers should be prosecuted in Turkey, Reuters reports.

Drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry in May originated in southern Iraq – not Yemen, U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence have concluded, Reuters reports.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Palestinians have condemned the attendance of two U.S. officials at the inauguration of a tunnel at a contested archaeological site in occupied East Jerusalem, organized by an Israeli settler-linked group the City of David Foundation. White House adviser Jason Greenblatt and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman took part in the event yesterday; the Palestinian foreign ministry said it viewed “the American attendance and celebration of the Judaization activities in occupied East Jerusalem as hostile acts against the Palestinians,” Al Jazeera reports.

Yesterday’s event came amid “simmering tensions” in east Jerusalem. Israeli police clashed overnight yesterday with residents of another Palestinian neighborhood, leaving at least 15 Palestinians and two officers wounded, according to officials, Ilan Ben Zion reports at the AP.

The Palestinian Authority (P.A.) released Palestinian businessman Salah Abu Miala yesterday, having detained him upon his return from the U.S.-led economic conference in Bahrain, according to his family and an official. The Palestinian leadership boycotted the conference in protest at a U.S. economic plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace, branding as “collaborators” the handful of Palestinian businessmen who attended the meeting, although Miala was the only participant arrested on return, Reuters reports

Israeli forces yesterday released Palestinian minister for Jerusalem affairs Fadi al-Hadami after detaining him for several hours. Police arrested al-Hadami in the early hours without offering an explanation; after his release later his lawyer was reported as saying that the arrest was in relation to al-Hadami accompanying visiting Chilean President Sebastian Pinera during a visit to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound a few days ago, Al Jazeera reports.

President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner’s plan for the Middle East “is … to be gentle … unrealistic,” the New York Times editorial board comments.

“If the Trump administration wants to help Palestinians and Israelis … it should shelve its fantasy plan …and instead focus on something much more tangible—addressing the ongoing Gaza-Israel conflict,” Hady Amr, Ilan Goldenberg and Natan Sachs write in an Op-Ed at Foreign Policy.

SYRIA

An errant missile has landed on Cyprus early today, in what authorities have described as a “spillover” from strikes between Israel and Syria, Reuters reports.

At least four civilians have been killed and another 21 wounded following an attack in Syria today. Israeli warplanes fired missiles targeting Syrian military positions in Homs and the Damascus outskirts, according to Syrian state media, Al Jazeera reports.

AFGHANISTAN

A “complex” attack including a car-bombing and militant assault has killed at least 40 people in the Afghan capital of Kabul today, seriously damaging a private war museum and television station. At least 20 security force members and 63 civilians were also wounded, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Rod Nordland report at the New York Times.

Afghan security forces today “clashed” with Taliban gunmen who stormed a building in Kabul, after a bomb-laden truck exploded near the defense ministry, injuring at least 100 people. “Gunmen have entered a building and they are clashing with the Afghan forces after the powerful blast,” interior ministry spokesperson Nasrat Rahimi has stated, Reuters reports.

Today’s attack comes after Taliban insurgents killed eight election officials and four Afghan security officers late Saturday in a bomb attack in the country’s southern Kandahar province. Taliban detonated four stolen Humvees full of explosives outside the district’s police headquarters, where the election officials were staying, according to defense ministry spokesperson Fawad Aman, the AP reports.

The Taliban claimed yesterday that the latest round of peace talks with the U.S. is “critical” as the two sides “rewrite” a draft agreement in which American forces would withdraw from Afghanistan in exchange for pledges that Taliban leaders would help to combat terrorism, Kathy Gannon reports at the AP.

SUDAN

Ten people were killed yesterday as tens of thousands of Sudanese protesters took to the streets to demand civilian rule in the first mass rally since the ruling Transitional Military Council’s (T.M.C.) violent Jun. 3 crackdown on demonstrators. Police fired tear gas on protesters approaching the presidential palace after organizers called for a march on the building that houses offices of the T.M.C., Fay Abuelgasim and Samy Magdy report at the AP.

There are “many reported critical injuries caused by the gunshots of Transitional Military Council’s militias,” the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors announced, adding that the wounded were being treated in hospitals. Three members of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (R.S.F.) were also shot, according to state news agency S.U.N.A., Yasir Abdullah, Nada AlTaher and Kareem Khadder report at CNN.

Sudan must at all costs avoid tensions between the R.S.F. and the regular army or risk further instability following a military coup in April, leading opposition figure Sadiq al-Mahdi has stated. “The fact that there are tensions between our armed groups must be resolved peacefully,” Mahdi told journalists in an interview, Reuters reports.

“The most important action the Trump administration can take right now is to persuade Saudi Arabia … the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) … and Egypt to allow a civilian government to take hold,” John Hursh comments at Just Security, in the second of two articles on the Sudan security forces’ Jun. 3 attacks on peaceful demonstrators and what may happen next.

“Sudan’s military leaders are increasingly reaching beyond their own borders for help … to shore up their legitimacy and control in the aftermath of a coup,” Justin Lynch and Robbie Gramer report at Foreign Policy.

TRUMP-RUSSIA AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has suggested that U.S. President Trump only won the 2016 election because Russia interfered to help him defeat his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton: “there’s no doubt that the Russians did interfere in the elections and I think the interference, although not yet quantified, if fully investigated would show that Trump didn’t actually win the election in 2016,” Carter commented Friday at an event in Leesburg, adding “he lost the election and he was put into office because the Russians interfered on his behalf,” Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

The forthcoming court battle over a congressional subpoena for former White House counsel Don McGahn is set to test the concept of “immunity” for top presidential advisers, according to legal experts, who claim the result of a court battle between the House Judiciary Committee and the White House over McGahn documents and testimony “could have significant implications for the powers of Congress and the executive branch,” Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

An analysis of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s impending testimony and Trump’s “possible misconduct and repeated attempts to torpedo” Mueller’s investigation is provided by Asawin Suebsaeng, Sam Brodey and Erin Banco at The Daily Beast.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled eastern Libyan National Army (L.N.A.) said they destroyed a Turkish drone at Tripoli’s only working airport yesterday and announced a “general mobilization” as tensions increase between Ankara and the militant group, Reuters reports.

The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s son for his involvement in his father’s regime, Vivian Salama reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Social media giant Facebook has announced its plans to “add a rule against spreading misinformation about the 2020 U.S. census,” increasing scrutiny on such posts amid concerns they could disrupt the count. “We’re going to treat next year’s Census like an election – with people, policies, and technology in place to protect against Census interference,” Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg wrote in a blog post yesterday, David Ingram reports at NBC.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s just-ended term was “notable for a series of unusual lineups,” Pete Williams writes at NBC, noting that the court divided along the typical ideological lines only seven times. 

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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).