The Early Edition: July 3, 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.

IRAN                                                     

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani today issued a warning to Europe that Tehran will “take the next step” in increasing its uranium enrichment by Sunday. “If you want to express regret and issue a statement, you can do it now,” Rouhani said in comments carried by the state broadcaster, increasing pressure on European powers to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal that the U.S. withdrew from last year, AP reports.

Rouhani’s comments came after Iran breached the 300 kilogram (660 pound) limit for low-enriched uranium allowed under the deal Monday. That development did not put Iran significantly closer to holding enough high-enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon, whereas increasing uranium enrichment levels could, Loveday Morris reports at the Washington Post.

“In any amount that we want, any amount that is required … we will take over 3.67,” Rouhani said, in reference to the 3.67% limit set by the 2015 accord – enough for nuclear power plants but far below the 90% needed for weapons. “Our advice to Europe and the United States is to go back to logic and to the negotiating table … go back to understanding, to respecting the law and resolutions of the U.N. Security Council … under those conditions, all of us can abide by the nuclear deal,” Rouhani added. Jon Gambrell and Nasser Karimi report at the AP.

Iranian prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for several individuals accused of spying for the U.S., Iran’s spokesperson for the judiciary Gholamhossein Esmaili announced yesterday. Suspected U.S. spies affiliated with the Iranian military are due to be sentenced to death due to of the “severity of their crimes,” Esmaili said on state television, adding that two other suspects who are also accused of spying for Washington but not affiliated with the military have received “long” jail sentences,  Ali Arouzi and Saphora Smith report at NBC.

Israel is preparing for its possible military involvement in any escalation in the Gulf confrontation between Iran and the U.S., Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz said yesterday. Katz told an international security forum the Herzliya Conference that Iran might accidentally stumble out of what he termed the “gray zone” of contained confrontation, and so “we must be prepared for this, and thus the State of Israel continues to devote itself to building up its military might for the event that it will have to respond to escalation scenarios,” Reuters reports.

“The emotional responses belie the fact that the uranium stockpile limit is a relatively minor detail of the nuclear agreement — some experts would even argue it is an insignificant one” Adam Taylor explains in an analysis at the Washington Post, noting that nonetheless “its potential diplomatic impact should not be underestimated.”

It should not come as a surprise if Iranian leaders step up “their belligerent actions in the region and the nuclear arena if the U.S. continues to asphyxiate their economy and issue military threats,” Gérard Araud and Ali Vaez comment at Foreign Policy, characterizing Tehran’s strategy as a “calculated effort” to rally European leaders around the deal rather than a provocation.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s most urgent priority “is provoking a crisis to imbue European leaders with fear of war and economic disruption,” Michael Doran reports at the Wall Street Journal.

An account of “the complex brinkmanship behind Iran’s nuclear response,” is provided by Andrew England at the Financial Times.

A “factbox” on the likelihood of – and process for – the re-imposition of U.N. sanctions on Iran is provided at Reuters.

LIBYA

At least 40 people were killed and 80 more wounded after an air strike hit a detention center in a Tripoli suburb late yesterday. The center, which is located next to a military camp in the eastern suburb of Tajoura, houses more than 600 people, Reuters reports.

The death toll represents the highest single day casualty from an air strike or shooting since Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled eastern Libyan National Army (L.N.A.) launched an offensive in April, the Guardian reports.

The U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (G.N.A.) has blamed Haftar and the L.N.A. for the airstrike. “This crime came after the statements of the air force commander of Haftar’s Libyan National Army, Muhammad al-Manfour, and therefore it is he who bears its legal and moral responsibility,” Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha told al-Wasat state radio, Al Jazeera reports.

The G.N.A. denounced the “horrific crime” stating that the airstrike on the center had been intentional and amounted to a “war crime.” The statement added “we ask the international community through the African Union, European Union and (other) organizations to take a firm and clear stance against these continued violations,” Chandler Thornton, Mohammed Elshamy and Ben Westcott report at CNN.

Head of the African Union Moussa Faki Mahamat has called for an independent investigation into the airstrike, stating those responsible for the “horrific crime” should be held to account. Mahamat also requested an “immediate cease-fire” in Tripoli, the AP reports.

The U.N. refugee agency (U.N.H.C.R.) has said it is “extremely concerned about the news of the airstrikes targeting the Tajoura detention center … and accounts of refugees and migrants deceased,” in a message sent on its official Twitter, adding “civilians should never be a target.” AFP reports.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) is demanding the State Department investigate reported transfers of U.S. weapons from the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) to militants in Libya. Menendez wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, requesting that the department to open a probe after a New York Times report that U.S. arms – initially sold to the U.A.E. – were found in a Libyan rebel compound, Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) yesterday dismissed reports that it had provided a Libyan army group with American-made missiles, following Menendez’s announcement. In its statement, the U.A.E.’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Abu Dhabi reiterated its commitment to the U.N. Security Council’s arms ban on Libya, adding “the U.A.E. also urges all parties to de-escalate tensions and to re-engage in the U.N.’s political process,” Declan Walsh reports at the New York Times.

SYRIA AND ISLAMIC STATE GROUP

U.S. Navy Seal and Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher was yesterday found not guilty of killing a young Islamic State group prisoner in Iraq, but was convicted of posing with the teenager’s corpse. Gallagher – who was accused of stabbing the injured 17-year-old to death and “randomly shooting Iraqi civilians” – was also acquitted of further murder charges yesterday, the BBC reports.

The jury found Gallagher “not guilty of murder …  not guilty of stabbing … not guilty of shooting … not guilty of all those things … they found him guilty of taking a photograph,” Gallagher’s lawyer Timothy Parlatore told journalists outside the San Diego military court. Gallagher could face a maximum sentence of four months’ imprisonment, but has already served nine months in pre-trial confinement, Al Jazeera reports.

Syria has stated that Israel is committing “state terrorism” after Israeli air strikes killed at least 15 people late Sunday. “Israeli authorities are increasingly practising state terrorism,” the foreign ministry said yesterday in a statement broadcast by the official S.A.N.A. news agency, adding “the latest heinous Israeli aggression falls within the framework of ongoing Israeli attempts to prolong the crisis in Syria,” Al Jazeera reports.

“With the U.S. continuing its drawdown in Syria … the Islamic State could return stronger than ever unless other nations step in,” Lara Seligman writes at Foreign Policy, commenting on recent expert reports.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

South Korea announced today it sacked an army commander and reprimanded other senior officers after a North Korean fishing boat went undetected in South Korean waters for more than two days last month. The incident has raised concerns about potential lapses in Seoul’s security, during fragile talks to end a technical state of war on the Peninsula, Reuters reports.

“A bromance between the dictator and the president may make only for good theatre,” Victor Cha argues in an Op-Ed at NBC, following the third meeting between U.S. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un Sunday at the demilitarized zone (D.M.Z.) dividing the two Koreas.

In both his meeting with Kim and at the G.20 summit Trump “boxed himself in,” Michael J. Green comments at Foreign Policy, writing that all Trump settled at the D.M.Z. was “the same deal Washington and Pyongyang reached in 1994—except that Yongbyon [nuclear facility] is now equipped with nuclear capabilities the North was never supposed to have and the sanctions rollback on the table is more extensive.”

“North Korea experts are divided over whether international acceptance will embolden…  Kim to indulge his worst behaviors … or … lead him in the other direction,” Max Fisher writes at the New York Times in an in-depth exploration of Washington-Pyongyang relations and the North’s domestic politics.

CHINA AND HONG KONG

The Chinese government yesterday condemned the pro-democracy protesters who stormed the legislature Monday – labeling the group as “extreme radicals” who engaged in an illegal act “that tramples on the rule of law and jeopardizes social order.” The comments were made by China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang, Alexandra Stevenson and Javier C. Hernández report at the New York Times.

Geng also dismissed the possibility for any foreign involvement in the protests, commenting that other nations “must not support any violent criminals in any form, and not send any misleading signals or take any erroneous actions,” Chris Mills Rodrigo reports at the Hill.

Chinese state newspaper the Global Times has stated that “zero-tolerance” is the only suitable response to the mass demonstrations in Hong Kong. “Out of blind arrogance and rage, protestors showed a complete disregard for law and order,” the newspaper commented, adding “Chinese society is all too aware that a zero-tolerance policy is the only remedy for such destructive behavior witnessed … otherwise, and without this policy, it would be similar to opening a Pandora’s Box;” the comments were published in an editorial by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily, Chris Mills Rodrigo reports at the Hill.

A Chinese army-connected newspaper posted photos of a week-old military drill in Hong Kong – a move that has been labeled a “warning” to Beijing’s critics following the recent trend of anti-government protests. Analysts explain that the People’s Liberation Army (P.L.A.) normally “keeps a low profile” and the unit’s routine military exercises “have not attracted much attention in the past,” AFP reports.

The U.S. military has confirmed that China test-fired at least one anti-ship missile in past days in the South China Sea. Spokesperson Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn yesterday stated that “the Pentagon was aware of the Chinese missile launch from the man-made structures in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands,” Brad Lendon reports at CNN.

An analysis of Hong Kong’s “evolving protest movement” and the recent protests is provided by Daniel Victor at the New York Times.

A look at how the “leaderless” protestors stormed Hong Kong’s parliament – including using “makeshift shields” and “inventive hand signals” – is provided by AFP.

“China isn’t above using gangs to stir trouble … including violence … to make Hong Kong demonstrators look bad,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board argues, commenting that the country “will use public disorder against the cause of local autonomy.”

“When it comes to Hong Kong politics … the rules of the game … even the point of the game … are constantly being redrawn,” Louisa Lim writes at the New York Times, commenting on the recent break-in by protestors of the region’s legislative building.

Notwithstanding Trump’s recent calls for a ceasefire – Huawei “continues to fight a rearguard action against long standing suspicions that swirl around its links to China’s security state,” James Kynge, Yuan Yang and Sue-Lin Wong argue at the Financial Times.

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) is aiming to pull most of its forces out of the Saudi-led coalition against Iran-aligned Shi’ite Houthi rebels in Yemen, extricating itself from the four-year war. In recent weeks, Abu Dhabi has reportedly begun pulling tanks and attack helicopters out of the country, also withdrawing hundreds of soldiers from the Red Sea coast including from the strategic port city of Hodeidah, Dion Nissenbaum reports at the Wall Street Journal.

U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Agnes Callamard has called on world powers to reconsider holding the next G.20 summit in Saudi Arabia. In her report published last month, Callamard found “credible evidence” linking the kingdom’s Crown Prince and de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman to the killing of Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi; “political accountability for Mr Khashoggi will mean that [the G.20] doesn’t happen or it’s moved elsewhere,” Callamard said at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. Al Jazeera reports.

RUSSIA

Russia’s defense ministry announced yesterday that fourteen Russian seamen have died in a fire on a research submarine, with local media reporting that the vessel was a secretive nuclear-powered mini-submarine. The ministry said the 14 crew were killed  Monday by inhaling poisonous fumes after a fire broke out on a “scientific research deep-sea submersible” studying sea floor terrain in Russia’s territorial waters in the far north; Russian officials have offered little more information about the ship or the circumstances of the incident, AFP reports.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to support Ukraine in the wake of Russian “aggression,” after meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Toronto yesterday. “In the wake of Russian aggression and attempts to undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty, including the illegal annexation of Crimea, it’s all the more important for countries like Canada to stand alongside its partner,” Trudeau stated during a press conference, Al Jazeera reports.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

House Democrats yesterday sued the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service (I.R.S.) for access to President Trump’s tax returns, marking the start of a legal battle over Trump’s efforts to keep his taxes secret, Brian Faler reports at POLITICO.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) filed the lawsuit in federal court to enforce a subpoena for the records rejected in May by the Trump administration. “In refusing to comply with the statute, Defendants have mounted an extraordinary attack on the authority of Congress to obtain information needed to conduct oversight of Treasury, the I.R.S., and the tax laws on behalf of the American people,” Democrats argued in the suit, Nicholas Fandos and Charlie Savage report at the New York Times.

“We will respond to this latest effort at presidential harassment in court,” Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow commented in response to the suit, Richard Rubin reports at the Wall Street Journal.

IMMIGRATION AND BORDER SECURITY

The Trump administration will move forward with printing the 2020 census without a citizenship question, a Department of Justice (D.O.J.) spokesperson announced yesterday. The Supreme Court last week blocked the administration from adding the question, with Chief Justice Roberts ruling that it had not provided a sufficient rationale for including it in the census, Hallie Jackson and Dartunorro Clark report at NBC.

The decision represents a major defeat for the Trump administration. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross confirmed the development, stating: “I respect the Supreme Court but strongly disagree with its ruling regarding my decision to reinstate a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. … my focus, and that of the bureau and the entire department, is to conduct a complete and accurate census,” Ted Hesson reports at POLITICO.

The Department of Homeland Security’s (D.H.S.) Office of Inspector General is warning about “dangerous overcrowding” in Border Patrol facilities in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. The inspector general found in a report that the prolonged detention of migrants without proper food, hygiene or laundry facilities requires “immediate attention and action,” with the report published amid growing concern over detention conditions for migrants, Joel Rose and John Burnett report at NPR.

The number of unaccompanied migrant children in Border Patrol custody has dropped from 2,350 on May 30 to under 300 as of yesterday, according to an internal D.H.S. document obtained by N.B.C. News. The decrease is largely due to the overall decline in undocumented immigrants crossing the border in June compared to May, Julia Ainsley reports at NBC.

The administration’s attempt to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census was a “disastrous exercise … from start to finish,” Aaron Blake comments at the Washington Post, adding that “throwing in the towel now without trying to get the case back in front of the Supreme Court suggests it knows it either wasn’t worth the prospect of a loss or was a losing case, period.”

“The 5-4 census case and other moves in the recently completed session demonstrated Roberts’ new variability in fraught cases,” Joan Biskupic comments at CNN.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS                                                                                                     

An analysis of why Israel’s generals are “taking on Netanyahu” is provided by Neri Zilber at Foreign Policy, who comments that “almost all of them believe the prime minister is destroying Israel’s democratic values and sacrificing the Zionist dream by avoiding a two-state solution.”

A look at whether U.S. national security adviser John Bolton may be “losing influence” with the president is provided by Dan De Luce and Carol E. Lee at NBC. 

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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).