The Early Edition: July 2, 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

The Trump administration is faced with the “daunting” challenge of continuing stalled denuclearization talks with North Korea following U.S. President Trump’s weekend visit to the north; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. special envoy for North Korea Steve Biegun have been given two to three weeks to begin negotiations with their North Korean counterparts. “The president, by getting together with [North Korean leader Kim Jong-un] today, broke through and was able to get us the opportunity to get back to the negotiating table, which I’m excited about,” Pompeo told reporters before returning to Washington, John Hudson reports at the Washington Post.

Administration officials yesterday appeared divided as they prepare for new negotiations on a nuclear accord with Kim. While senior administration officials discuss possible plans, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton denied a report in The New York Times – about a potential deal that would effectively “freeze” North Korea’s nuclear activity in exchange for U.S. concessions – commenting in a message sent on Twitter that “this was a reprehensible attempt by someone to box in the president … there should be consequences,” Edward Wong reports at the New York Times.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in today commended the third meeting between Trump and Kim in the demilitarized zone (D.M.Z.) in Korea as the product of an “astounding imagination.” “That extraordinary proposal and bold response is the result of an astounding imagination that goes beyond common sense,” Moon stated, adding “this is unthinkable in the existing diplomatic grammar;” the three leaders held an “impromptu” encounter at the village of Panmunjom Sunday, the AFP reports.

Moon further commented that the meeting was a “de-facto declaration of an end to hostile relations and the beginning of a full-fledged era of peace” for the two countries. The South Korean president made the remarks in a cabinet meeting today, Hyung-Jin Kim reports at the Washington Post.

The U.N. Chief António Guterres “welcomes the meetings in Panmunjom involving the leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (D.P.R.K.) … the Republic of Korea and the United States … particularly the announcement that the D.P.R.K. and the United States will resume working-level dialogue,” according to a statement made by his spokesperson. The statement added “the Secretary-General fully supports the continued efforts of the parties to establish new relations towards sustainable peace, security and complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” The U.N. News Centre reports.

Trump yesterday declared he had a “great meeting” with Kim this weekend and he looks “forward to seeing him again soon.” In a message sent on Twitter, the president added “in the meantime, our teams will be meeting to work on some solutions to very long term and persistent problems … no rush, but I am sure we will ultimately get there!” Reuters reports.

Former Vice President Joe Biden yesterday slated Trump over his recent foreign policy decisions, condemning the president’s visit to North Korean territory over the weekend as a “photo-op” and asserting that Trump is responsible for the deterioration of relations with Iran. Biden claimed that Trump had “rushed to legitimize a dictator” in his talks with Kim, commenting that “diplomacy is important, but diplomacy requires a strategy, a process and competent leadership to develop,” Caitlin Oprysko reports at POLITICO.

The KOREAN PENINSULA: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

It still remains unclear whether the meeting was “more show than substance,” Zeke Miller and Jonathan Lemire write in an analysis at the AP, commenting that “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.”

“President Trump’s courtship of North Korea and his casualness towards the U.S. relationship with South Korea … is dangerous,” Bronwen Maddox argues at the Financial Times, commenting that Trump has “injected a chill and a wariness into a relationship that was an unquestioned pillar of US foreign policy for decades.”

In order to make progress in denuclearization talk – Trump and Kim need to show compromise, Michael R. Gordon writes at the Wall Street Journal, commenting that “the two sides need to demonstrate a flexibility that wasn’t evident at the summit meetings they held in Singapore and Hanoi.”

“Trump’s many bad qualities shouldn’t blind us to this good achievement,” David Ignatius writes in an analysis at the Washington Post, commenting that the president “reopened a path to denuclearization and normalization of relations.”

“Trump is opening the door for real negotiations with his visit to the Demilitarized Zone,” Joel S. Wit argues at the New York Times.

CHINA AND HONG KONG

Police in Hong Kong – equipped with gas masks and shields – fired tear gas early today in an operation to seize back the city’s parliament following yesterday’s protests from thousands of activists, the AFP reports.

Riot police used force to remove pro-democracy protesters from in and around the region’s legislative building after some members of the group broke in yesterday; officials reportedly undertook to “sweep” the building using “reasonable force,” Chris Mills Rodrigo reports at the Hill.

Legislative Council (LegCo) President Andrew Leung declared police have regained control of the building and are conducting investigative work. “Right now, LegCo is a big crime scene … the priority of LegCo is to get in shape to have meetings … it will be very difficult to use this venue,” Leung stated at a press conference, Julia Hollingsworth and James Griffiths report at CNN.

Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam has criticized the “extreme use of violence” by the protesters and described the group’s occupation and vandalization of Hong Kong’s legislature as “heartbreaking and shocking”. Lam made the comments in an early morning press conference today, James Griffiths, Julia Hollingsworth, Ben Westcott and Eliza Mackintosh report at CNN.

China’s foreign ministry also condemned the protests as “serious illegal acts that trample on the rule of law and endanger social order,” according to a statement made today by spokesperson Geng Shuang. Geng added that “China’s central government strongly supports Hong Kong’s government and its police force in dealing with the incident in accordance with law,” the AP reports.

The European Union (E.U.) yesterday pushed for restraint as protesters vandalized the legislature in a “direct challenge” to China.  “In the wake of these latest incidents, it is all the more important to exercise restraint, avoiding escalatory responses, and to engage in dialogue and consultation to find a way forward,” spokesperson for E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement, Reuters reports.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt today stated that authorities in Hong Kong should not use acts of vandalism during protests as a “pretext for repression.” While asserting that Britain condemns “violence on all sides,” Hunt also commented that the authorities need to “understand the root causes of what happened, which is a deep-seated concern by people in Hong Kong that their basic freedoms are under attack,” the AP reports.

The protests in Hong Kong “pose a personal challenge to the autocratic rule of [Chinese President] Xi Jinping,” Simon Tisdall argues at the Guardian, commenting that although “Xi has distanced himself from the turmoil so far …the scale and persistence of the unrest may force him to get involved – or risk losing his ‘strongman’ image.”

“In the absence of any real solution to address Hong Kong people’s plights for democracy and more freedoms … [the protests] will only deepen Hong Kong’s political crisis,” Verna Yu comments at the Guardian, writing that “more angry outbursts of discontent are expected on the streets.”

A look at “why Hong Kong has grown increasingly fearful of Chinese control” is fielded by Adam Taylor at the Washington Post.

An analysis of the latest protests and how they differ from previous demonstrations is provided by Yongshun Cai at the Washington Post.

Live updates to the Hong Kong protests are available at the New York Times.

IRAN

Iran confirmed yesterday that it has breached the limit on its stockpile of low enriched uranium (L.E.U.) – a key provision of the 2015 nuclear deal with foreign powers. The International Atomic Energy Agency – the organization that monitors Iran’s compliance – declared that Iran had “exceeded” a critical cap on the amount of nuclear fuel it can hold under the agreement, David E. Sanger reports at the New York Times.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced yesterday that the country now has over 300 kilograms (661 pounds) of L.E.U., exceeding the deal’s 300-kilogram limit, NPR reports.

Iran insisted the amount was not a violation of the pact, with Zarif asserting that Tehran was exercising its right to respond to the U.S. withdrawal from the accord last year. “We have NOT violated the #JCPOA,” Zarif commented in a message sent on Twitter, adding “para 36 of the accord illustrates why … we triggered & exhausted para 36 after US withdrawal … we gave E3+2 a few weeks while reserving our right … we finally took action after 60 weeks … as soon as E3 abide by their obligations, we’ll reverse,” Reuters reports.

The White House responded yesterday by stating it would continue its “maximum-pressure campaign” until Tehran ends “its nuclear ambitions and its malign behaviour,” Laurence Norman and Aresu Eqbali report at the Wall Street Journal.

“They know what they’re doing, they know what they’re playing with and I think they’re playing with fire,” Trump commented in response to question from reporters about what message he had for Iran, adding “so no message to Iran whatsoever,” Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

The White House yesterday claimed that Iran was long violating the terms of its nuclear deal with world powers. A statement released by White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said “there is little doubt that even before the deal’s existence, Iran was violating its terms,” Julia Arciga reports at The Daily Beast.

Iran today dismissed the claims from the White House: “Seriously?” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif commented in a message sent on Twitter, referring to Grisham’s statement, Reuters reports.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday asserted that Iran’s breach is a “significant step toward making a nuclear weapon.” Netanyahu further declared that Israel would “soon unveil more proof that Iran was lying all the time” about its nuclear program, the AP reports.

French President Emmanuel Macron today cautioned Iran against “carrying out any further measures” that could set back its 2015 nuclear deal, but resisted challenging Tehran over its move to exceed its L.E.U. threshold, Reuters reports.

British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt yesterday warned that “if Iran breaks [the nuclear deal] then [Britain] is out of it as well,” Reuters reports.

Head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency Yossi Cohen yesterday claimed that Iran was behind the recent attacks in the Persian Gulf. Speaking at an annual security conference, Cohen stated “I can tell you, with certainty, from the best sources of Israeli and Western intelligence, that Iran is behind the attacks,” adding that they “were approved by the Iranian leadership, and were carried out, at least mostly, by the Revolutionary Guard and their surrogates,” Shahar Golan reports at the AP.

Hackers connected to Iran have increased their cyberspace activity in recent weeks in alleged preparations for potential attacks on U.S. businesses, according to U.S. security firms and government officials. The reports spark fears that “a cyberwar may soon be underway,” Elias Groll writes at Foreign Policy.

The latest updates to the U.S.-tensions are provided by Al Jazeera.

IRAN: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

An analysis of whether Iran has breached its agreement and the possible consequences is provided by Rick Gladstone at the New York Times.

An examination of whether Iran’s nuclear deal can be “saved” is provided by Jonathan Marcus at the BBC, who comments that “what Iran does over the next week or so could well seal its fate.”

“Experts agree that Iran has the capability to eventually build a nuclear bomb – but whether the regime will actually do so is a very different question,” Lara Seligman comments at Foreign Policy, adding that experts say the recent violation “is more of a symbolic move than a concrete step toward obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

“The White House strategy of “maximum pressure” is backfiring in the most dangerous way possible,” John J. Mearsheimer argues at the New York Times, commenting that Trump’s policy is “giving Tehran a powerful incentive to go nuclear, while at the same time making it increasingly difficult for the United States to prevent that.”

“Europe now has to decide whether to tolerate this nuclear breakout or join the U.S. in pressuring Tehran to renegotiate,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes in an analysis of Iran’s nuclear breakout.

A look at the likelihood of Iran developing its own nuclear weapons is fielded by Laurence Norman at the Wall Street Journal.

A helpful summary of the “Iran nuclear crisis” is provided by the BBC.

A “Factbox” on Iran’s breach of the nuclear deal and possible sanctions is provided by Michelle Nicholas at Reuters.

AFGHANISTAN

Security officials confirmed that all of yesterday’s Taliban militant attackers were killed by late afternoon after an eight-hour gun battle that shut down the Afghan capital of Kabul. 40 people were killed yesterday morning by strikes on a security compound, Sayed Salahuddin and Pamela Constable report at the Washington Post.

Head of U.N. Children’s Fund (U.N.I.C.E.F.) Henrietta Fore denounced yesterday’s Kabul bomb attack as “horrific.” Fore commented that schools “should be havens of peace,” and the violence in or around schools is “never acceptable,” adding that the “violence, which keeps blighting futures and claiming young lives, must end,” The U.N. News Centre reports.

Rival Afghans are to meet Sunday in Qatar in a new attempt to make political progress, according to officials, as the U.S. tries to strike a peace deal with the Taliban within three months, AFP reports.

The all-Afghan peace summit appears to “be on Taliban terms,” since no official government representation is expected, Kathy Gannon and Amir Shah report at the AP.

U.S. President Trump revealed he would like to pull American troops out of Afghanistan – but is worried about terrorist attacks on the U.S. in the absence of an American military presence in the country. Trump made the remarks in an interview with “Fox News” broadcast yesterday, Reuters reports.

G.20 SUMMIT

U.S. President Trump has been criticized for displaying “nepotism” after giving his daughter Ivanka a key role in meetings with the G.20 member countries and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Ivanka met with French President Emmanuel Macron, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Osaka, Japan as well as other leaders, David Smith reports at the Guardian.

Whilst Trump’s meetings with the Chinese and North Korean leaders over the weekend were “more showmanship than substance … there’s reason to be grateful for even a temporary easing of tensions,” the Washington Post editorial board argues.

An analysis of the “hugely inappropriate weekend of Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr.” is provided by Chris Cillizza at CNN.

The “top takeaways” from Trump’s recent visit to Asia are provided by Josh Lederman at NBC.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

At least nine people have been injured today in a drone attack by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Shi’ite Houthi rebels on Abha Airport in Saudi Arabia, according to a statement released by the U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition, Al Jazeera reports.

Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled eastern Libyan National Army (L.N.A.) yesterday threatened a “barrage” of new air strikes on Libya’s capital, just one day after five soldiers were killed in air raids on Tripoli. Air Force Commander Mohamed Manfour of the L.N.A. warned that aerial bombardment will be ramped up because “traditional means” to “liberate Tripoli” had been “exhausted,” Al Jazeera reports.

The Trump administration is still considering delaying the 2020 census over clashes about the legality of a citizenship question. President Trump yesterday told reporters “I think it is very important to find out if somebody is a citizen as opposed to an illegal,” adding “it is a big difference to me between being a citizen of the United States and being an illegal,” Matthew Choi reports at POLITICO.

The U.S. Department of Defense needs a Senate-confirmed leader –particularly given tensions between Washington and Tehran, Jim Townsend argues at Foreign Policy.

An analysis of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Trump administration’s plan to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census form is provided by Barry K. Robinson and Edgar Chen at Just Security. 

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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).