The Early Edition: July 5, 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.

SUDAN

Sudan’s ruling Transitional Military Council (T.M.C.) have reached a “breakthrough” agreement with the opposition alliance today to share power until elections can take place. The accord follows two days of negotiations over who should lead the new governing body – a civilian or soldier – and came after failed talks in May, AFP reports.

Both sides agreed to establish a “sovereign council with a rotating military and civilian (presidency) for a period of three years or little more,” African Union (A.U.) mediator Mohamed El Hacen Lebatt told reporters early today, while Deputy Chief of the T.M.C. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo said in a statement “we want to reassure all political forces and armed movements and all those who took part in the change … that this agreement is all inclusive and does not exclude anyone,” Reuters reports.

The leaders of the T.M.C. will remain in charge for the next 21 months – after which a civilian will take control for the following 18 months before elections are held, Max Bearak reports at the Washington Post.

The T.M.C. and the civilian leaders also pledged to launch a “transparent and independent investigation” into the recent violent events that began on Jun. 3, the A.U. stated, Al Jazeera reports.

Leaders of Sudan’s pro-democracy movement applauded the power-sharing accord as a triumph for their “revolution.” “Today, our revolution has won and our victory shines,” the Sudanese Professionals’ Association (S.P.A.) stated in a Facebook post, Fay Abuelgasim and Noha Elhennawy report at the AP.

IRAN

British Royal Marines yesterday seized a giant Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar for allegedly trying to carry crude oil to Syria in violation of European Union (E.U.) sanctions. The Grace 1 ship – suspected to be carrying 2m barrels of oil – was intercepted at the U.S.’s request by a detachment of nearly 30 British troops working with the Gibraltarian police, Dan Sabbagh and Patrick Wintour report at the Guardian.

The Gibraltar government asserts that it has “reasonable grounds” to believe that the Grace 1 was transporting its shipment of oil to the Baniyas refinery in Syria. “That refinery is the property of an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions against Syria,” Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said in a statement, explaining “with my consent, our port and law enforcement agencies sought the assistance of the Royal Marines in carrying out this operation,” Reuters reports.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry denounced the “illegal seizure” of the oil tanker and confirmed that it has summoned British ambassador Robert Macaire to Tehran in protest, AFP reports.

The 28-member crew on board the oil tanker are being interviewed as witnesses in an effort to determine “the nature of the cargo and its ultimate destination,” according to a Gibraltar spokesperson, Reuters reports.

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton yesterday praised the U.K’s seizure of the oil tanker. “Excellent news: U.K. has detained the supertanker Grace I laden with Iranian oil bound for Syria in violation of E.U. sanctions,” Bolton stated in a message sent on Twitter, adding that the U.S. along with its allies will continue to block Syrian and Iranian governments “from profiting off this illicit trade,” Al Jazeera reports.

A look at how Iran’s position on self-defense and ‘intraterritorial’ force has changed is fielded by Rebecca Ingber and Adil Ahmad Haque at Just Security, who comment that “ironically, in collapsing the distinction between uses of force and armed attacks, Iran would align itself with the United States.”

An in-depth analysis of the State Department’s Jun. 28 letter – acknowledging the Trump administration’s concession that the 2001 or 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force (A.U.M.F.s) do not provided for military action against Iran – and what Congress should do now, is provided by Tess Bridgeman and Editor-in-Chief Ryan Goodman at Just Security.

An analysis of whether Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is a “credible negotiator” for Iran is provided by Farnaz Fassihi and David D. Kirkpatrick at the New York Times.

An exclusive interview conducted by email with Zarif – in which the foreign minister discusses the 2015 nuclear deal and recent economic sanctions, is provided by Farnaz Fassihi and David D. Kirkpatrick at the New York Times.

CHINA AND HONG KONG

Hong Kong police have arrested and charged a dozen protesters believed to be involved in recent antigovernment protests over a controversial extradition bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China. The arrests indicate that the government may be pushing a “newfound advantage,” after being “caught off-guard” by the demonstrations, Chuin-Wei Yap reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Student unions from two Hong Kong universities have rejected invitations from the city’s leader Carrie Lam to discuss the recent protests. Lam’s invitations came after her pledge to “do a better job of listening to the voices of young people,” however student leaders told reporters they do not consider that she is being sincere; “a closed-door meeting does not have any witnesses to prove what was discussed, the public does not know what the dialogue was about,” Jordan Pang from the University of Hong Kong Students’ Union said at a news conference, adding “the public has the right to know,” Ken Moritsugu reports at the AP.

“Hong Kong’s protests threaten to divide the pro-democracy movement and bring on a backlash from Beijing,” the New York Times editorial board argues, commenting that the storming of the Legislative Council “put the movement’s fragile gains at risk.”

When it comes to Hong Kong – “the international community should make clear on whose side they stand,” Benedict Rogers comments at the Wall Street Journal, writing that “condemning violence isn’t enough.”

LIBYA

The U.N. has received reports that guards shot at detainees who tried to escape the airstrike on a detention center near Libya’s capital Tripol late Tuesday. The attack killed 53 people and injured another 130, the BBC reports.

Libya’s U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (G.N.A.) has accused the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) of conducting Tuesday’s airstrike in Tripoli. “The U.A.E. used an American-made F-16 jet fighter in the strike,” Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha told reporters yesterday, adding “the plane may have used an Egyptian air base on the Mediterranean coast” – hinting that Egypt could have played a role, Jared Malsin and Amira El-Fekki report at the Wall Street Journal.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has said that more than 80 people trying to reach Europe from Libya are feared dead after their boat capsized off the coast of Tunisia. “The status quo cannot continue,” the agency’s special envoy for the Mediterranean Vincent Cochetel said in a statement, adding “nobody puts their lives and the lives of their families at risk on these desperate boat journeys unless they feel they have no other choice,” Reuters reports.

TURKEY

At least two people have been killed and two others injured after a vehicle explosion today near Turkey’s border with Syria, according to Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu Agency. The blast took place inside a car around 750 meters from a local government office in the border town of Reyhanli, in the Hatay province, the AP reports.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has commented that it would be “robbery” for the U.S. to deny Turkey the F-35 fighter jets it has purchased and already paid $1.4bn for. “If you have a customer and that customer is making payments like clockwork, how can you not give that customer their goods? The name of that would be robbery,” Erdogan was quoted as saying yesterday by the national newspaper Hurriyet, as Turkey faces potential U.S. sanctions over its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system, Al Jazeera reports.

AFGHANISTAN

Taliban and U.S. negotiators are anxious to conclude a draft agreement that will set out the withdrawal of American and N.A.T.O. troops from Afghanistan and include a “verifiable Taliban guarantee” to combat terrorism, ahead of Sunday’s all-Afghan peace conference. Spokesperson for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar Suhail Shaheen told The Associated Press (the A.P.) today he wished to make clear that the draft agreement was being “worked upon” in an attempt to finalize and “was not being rewritten,” Kathy Gannon reports at the AP.

Despite optimistic signs from U.S.-led peace talks in Qatar … Afghanistan’s future looks bleak,” Ashley Jackson argues at Foreign Policy as the current round of talks continues, commenting that “the fate of Afghanistan is up to political leaders in Washington, Kabul, and Doha to decide.”

RUSSIA

Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday confirmed for the first time that the Russian military submersible – that suffered a fire in the Arctic and killed 14 seamen Monday – had a nuclear-powered engine, Ivan Nechepurenko reports at the New York Times.

The disclosure was made during a meeting between Putin and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu about the incident, in which Shoigu told the Russian president that “the nuclear-power unit has been sealed off and all personnel have been removed,” adding “plus, the crew has taken the necessary measures to save the unit, which is in working order,” Andrew Roth reports at the Guardian.

Putin has indicated that he is ready to start new arms control negotiations with the U.S., after both Washington and Moscow declared their withdrawal from the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (I.N.F.) In an interview yesterday with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Putin commented that there had “recently been signs that Washington is beginning to consider resuming bilateral dialogue on a wide-ranging strategic agenda,” adding that “I think that the achievement of concrete agreements in the field of arms control would contribute to strengthening international stability … Russia has the political will to work towards this … now it’s up to the U.S.,” Tal Axelrod reports at the Hill.

VENEZUELA

The U.N. has accused Venezuela of carrying out a “shockingly high” number of extrajudicial killings – asserting that the government registered almost 5,300 killings during security operations last year connected to cases of “resistance to authority.” Jamey Keaten and Scott Smith report at the AP.

The report – which follows U.N. Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet three-day mission to Venezuela last month – also alleges that civil and military forces have been responsible for “arbitrary detentions … ill-treatment and torture” of critics of the Government, as well as sexual and gender-based violence in detention and “excessive use of force during demonstrations,” Tom Phillips reports at the Guardian.

Bachelet yesterday called on Venzuela to “take immediate steps to halt widespread rights violations being perpetrated against the country’s people,” and to “work to resolve ‘this all-consuming crisis,’” The U.N. News Centre reports.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) yesterday declared that he is leaving the G.O.P. after becoming “disenchanted” and “frightened” by party politics. Amash was the first Republican congressman to call for President Trump’s impeachment, Max Burman reports at NBC.

“Modern politics is trapped in a partisan death spiral, but there is an escape,” Amash wrote in an opinion piece published yesterday in the Washington Post. “Today … I am declaring my independence and leaving the Republican Party … I’m asking you to join me in rejecting the partisan loyalties and rhetoric that divide and dehumanize us,” the lawmaker appealed to readers, Craig Howie reports at POLITICO.

Trump responded by calling Amash “one of the dumbest and most disloyal men in Congress.” In a message sent on twitter, the president stated: “[g]reat news for the Republican Party as one of the dumbest & most disloyal men in Congress is “quitting” the Party … no Collusion, No Obstruction! knew he couldn’t get the nomination to run again in the Great State of Michigan;” Trump added that Amash is “already being challenged for his seat. A total loser!” Karen Zraick reports at the New York Times.

2020 CENSUS CITIZENSHIP QUESTION

Government lawyers yesterday appeared determined to find a way to add the controversial citizenship question to the 2020 Census – notwithstanding their conclusions in recent days that no such legal path exists. Census officials and lawyers at the Justice and Commerce departments spent their Independence Day looking for “new legal rationales” for the question, Tara Bahrampour, Josh Dawsey, Matt Zapotosky and William Wan report at the Washington Post.

“The 14th Amendment gives the Trump administration the justification it needs [to put citizenship back in the census],” David B. Rivkin Jr. and Gilson B. Gray argue at the Wall Street Journal, commenting that “with the justification for the citizenship question being clear and compelling, the administration should prevail.”

“Trump should listen to the wiser voices in his administration and finally surrender in his quest to warp the census,” the Washington Post editorial board argues in an analysis of the administration’s real reasons for adding the question.

“Trump’s census tweet shows the U.S. government is led by a madman,” Jay Michaelson argues at The Daily Beast, commenting on the Trump administration’s recent move.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS                                                                                                     

The U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition yesterday intercepted drones launched by Iran-aligned Shi’ite Houthi rebels in an attack targeting Jizan airport, according to a statement broadcast on Saudi state media, Reuters reports.

Prominent international human rights organization Human Rights Watch has condemned the Iraqi government for holding thousands of prisoners – including children – in “degrading” and “inhuman” conditions. In a statement made yesterday, the organization said that three detention centers in northern Iraq’s Nineveh province “have a combined maximum capacity of 2,500 people and are holding about 4,500 detainees,” Qassim Abdul-Zahra reports at the AP.

U.S. President Trump yesterday called for “unity” in his planned Independence Day celebration, which involved America’s military weaponry. Trump used the Lincoln Memorial as the backdrop for his 45-minute speech, which paid tribute to the country’s armed forces, Michael D. Shear reports at the New York Times. 

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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).