The Early Edition: July 8, 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

Tehran announced yesterday that it was on course to breach the uranium enrichment limit set by the 2015 nuclear deal within hours, also threatening to abandon further commitments unless a solution is found with the remaining parties to the accord, following Washington’s unilateral withdrawal last year. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded in a message sent on Twitter, claiming that Iran would face “further isolation and sanctions,” AFP reports.

“Iran better be careful,” U.S. President Trump told reporters when asked about the development yesterday, adding “because you enrich for one reason, and I won’t tell you what that reason is, but it’s no good.” He did not elaborate on what actions Washington might consider, but told reporters that Tehran “will never have a nuclear weapon,” Al Jazeera reports.

International monitors would be able to confirm the breach today, a spokesperson for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran stated, without elaborating further. The nuclear accord capped Tehran’s uranium enrichment at 3.67%, a rate far below the 90% needed to produce a nuclear weapon, Erin Cunningham reports at the Washington Post.

Iran began enriching uranium today to 4.5%, according to semi-official news agencies in the country. Jon Gambrell reports at the AP.

Tehran today also threatened to restart deactivated centrifuges and sharply step up its enrichment of uranium to 20% purity as its next potential significant moves, Reuters reports.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi yesterday gave Europe a 60-day deadline to formulate proposals for saving the deal. That deadline will come Sept. 5, although the country’s senior Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri today described the deadline as being Sept. 7 – the two dates could not be reconciled, Jon Gambrell reports at the AP.

The steps taken by Iran to scale back its commitments the deal are “reversible” should the European signatories of the pact fulfill their obligations, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stated in a message sent on Twitter yesterday.  “Today, Iran is taking its second round of remedial steps under Para 36 of the J.C.P.O.A. [2015 nuclear deal] …  we reserve the right to continue to exercise legal remedies within J.C.P.O.A. to protect our interests in the face of US #EconomicTerrorism … all such steps are reversible only through E3 compliance,”  Reuters reports.

Iran is not looking for war with any country, Iranian army chief Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi said today, according to the semi-official Mehr news agency. Reuters reports.

French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday condemned the Iranian decision that described a “violation” of the agreement, an official of the presidency told Reuters. Macron reiterated the deadline of Jul. 15 to resume dialogue between the parties, the official said, without elaborating on what would happen after that date, Reuters reports.

Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz yesterday described Iran’s increase in uranium enrichment as moderate while also accusing Tehran of moving toward a nuclear weapon.  “Iran has begun – while it is a moderate rise right now – but it has begun to raise, to break out of the uranium enrichment curbs that were imposed on it,” Steinitz said on Israeli T.V., Chris Mills Rodrigo reports at the Hill.

Iran must be persuaded to stick to its commitments set by the 2015 deal, a spokesperson for the German Foreign Ministry said today, adding “the ball is clearly in Iran’s court … we want to preserve the deal … f or this, parties must stick to it.”  The spokesperson added that ‘Tehran must reverse all steps that contradict the landmark accord,” Reuters reports.

Japan is expressing concern over the uranium enrichment increase, urging Tehran to return to its earlier commitment. Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura said today that Japan is “seriously concerned and closely watching” the development on the nuclear deal and increased tension in the Middle East, the AP reports.

An Iranian official has said a British oil tanker should be seized if a detained Iranian ship is not released. British Royal Marines assisted officials in Gibraltar to seize the super-tanker Grace 1 Thursday, after it was suspected of carrying oil from Iran to Syria, in breach of European Union (E.U.) sanctions –Iran later summoned the British ambassador in Tehran to complain about what described as a “form of piracy,” the BBC reports.

Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami said the tanker’s seizure “will not be tolerated by us and will not go without a response,” making the remarks during a speech broadcast live on state television today.  Describing the act as “threatening,” Hatami added: “this is an incorrect and wrong action, an action similar to maritime robbery,” Al Jazeera reports.

“Despite what the government of England is claiming … the target and destination of this tanker wasn’t Syria,” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said yesterday in a press conference broadcast live on state T.V. “The port that they have named in Syria essentially does not have the capacity for such a supertanker … it was passing through international waters through the Strait of Gibraltar and there is no law that allows England to stop this tanker  … in our view the stopping of this ship was maritime robbery and we want this tanker to be freed,” Araqchi added, Reuters reports

President Trump “wants to sit down with Iranian leaders — but they don’t share his eagerness to talk … revealing the limits of the president’s personal diplomatic overtures,” Nahal Toosi writes in an analysis at POLITICO.

An explainer on how exactly Iran’s uranium enrichment breaks the 2015 nuclear deal is provided by Geoff Brumfiel and Shannon van Sant at NPR.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION                             

The U.K.’s ambassador to Washington Kim Darroch has described U.S. President Trump as “insecure” and “incompetent,” according to diplomatic cables leaked to the Daily Mail. The report, published late Saturday, states that Darroch made the “highly critical” comments about Trump and his administration in a series of memos to London, Ellen Barry reports at the New York Times.

“We don’t really believe this administration is going to become substantially more normal … less dysfunctional … less unpredictable … less faction riven … less diplomatically clumsy and inept,” Darroch allegedly wrote in one memo. AFP reports.

Trump condemned Darroch – telling reporters in New Jersey that “the ambassador has not served the U.K. well … I can tell you that.” The president added that he and his administration are “not big fans” of the envoy, Emma Anderson reports at POLITICO.

U.K. Trade secretary Liam Fox told reporters the leak was “unprofessional … unethical and unpatriotic,” adding that whoever disclosed the emails had “maliciously” undermined the defense and security relationship with the U.S., “the most important global relationship that we have,” the BBC reports.

The U.K. Foreign Office has defended Darroch – asserting the U.K. government pays its ambassadors to be frank – without confirming the cables’ validity, saying the ministry never comments on alleged leaks. “The British public would expect our ambassadors to provide ministers with an honest, unvarnished assessment of the politics in their country,” a Foreign Office spokesperson commented, adding that the U.K. has “strong relations” with the White House, which “will withstand such mischievous behavior,” Jason Douglas reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“Contact has been made with the Trump administration setting out our view that we believe the leak in unacceptable,” U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesperson told reporters, adding “it is, of course, a matter of regret that this has happened,” Reuters reports.

A spokesperson for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has confirmed that “a formal leak investigation will now be initiated,” Linda Givetash and Andrea Mitchell report at NBC.

A look at Darroch’s reported comments and what they mean is fielded by Andrew Sparrow at the Guardian.

The Trump administration is reportedly planning to swap in-court interpreters at initial immigration court hearings for videos advising asylum seekers – and other immigrants facing deportation – of their rights. The change, which could be introduced by mid-July, is a “cost-saving measure for an immigration court system bogged down under a growing backlog,” according to the administration, Tal Kopan reports at the San Francisco Chronicle.

“The parade of acting officials [in the Trump administration] leaves major agencies in administrative limbo … unable to move forward on major initiatives and under a cloud of uncertainty,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board argues, commenting that “this is no way to run a government.”

AFGHANISTAN

Afghan peace negotiations are showing signs of progress as rival Afghan groups met the Taliban in Doha yesterday for an “ice-breaking” summit, discussing the prospects of a peace deal that would end 18 years of conflict. The summit, which is expected to run for two days, featured Afghan leaders, Taliban representatives as well as activists and journalists, and was opened by Germany’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Markus Potzel, who declared that “gathered around the table today are some of the brightest minds representing a cross-section of Afghan society,” AFP reports.

The second day of talks resumes today, with an unnamed senior Afghan government official involved commenting “it is very hard to sit across from those men who are waging a war against innocent Afghans, but it is also a test of our commitment to peace,” Reuters reports.

At least 14 people were killed and more than 180 others were wounded yesterday in a Taliban suicide attack on a government security compound in Ghazni, central Afghanistan, just hours before the meeting kicked off in Qatar, which is aimed at preparing the ground for peace talks. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, Al Jazeera reports.

U.S. special envoy to the Afghan peace process Zalmay Khalilzad declared that the latest round of peace talks in Qatar “have been the most productive of the rounds we’ve had with the Talibs.” Khalilzad said Saturday that he anticipates an agreement will be reached by Sept. 1; the U.S.-Taliban talks are set to continue tomorrow, Craig Nelson reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“When the Taliban met Sunday for the first time with Afghan officials … the delegates they faced formed a moving tableau of a new Afghanistan,” Mujib Masahl writes at the New York Times, commenting on how Afghanistan has “changed” since the movement was “toppled” 18 years ago.

CHINA AND HONG KONG

Anti-government protesters in Hong Kong began circulating plans today to “stress test” the Bank of China, which would involve collectively withdrawing funds from the Bank of China Saturday to test its liquidity.  The development comes after fresh political violence last night in the district of Mongkok as police baton-charged small groups of masked, predominantly young protesters who were walking along roads and refused to disperse following another large-scale peaceful rally earlier in the day, AFP reports.

Yesterday’s demonstrations marked the latest in a series of protests following an attempt by the city’s leaders tried to push through a controversial bill that would allow extradition to mainland China. Organizers said about 230,000 turned out for yesterday’s protests, while police claimed the turnout was 56,000 at its peak. Amy Qin reports at the New York Times.

The protestors’ “target is expanding beyond the city’s government to the more distant power they blame for their eroding freedoms,” Chuin-Wei Yap, Lucy Craymer and Eli Binder write in an account at the Wall Street Journal, explaining that the demonstrators are attempting to garner support from visitors from the Chinese mainland.

A study of the employment information of thousands of staff from Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei has revealed more extensive links with the Chinese military and intelligence than those previously acknowledged by the firm. Researchers in the U.K. and Vietnam discovered C.V.’s of Huawei employees who appeared to be simultaneously employed by institutions affiliated with the Chinese military and others who described their work at Huawei as linked to the Ministry of State Security (M.S.S.) – a body involved in cyber warfare and network penetration, Kathrin Hille reports at the Financial Times.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Jordan is in an “awkward position” as the Trump administration sets the basis for an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, Felicia Schwartz and Suha Ma’ayeh write at the Wall Street Journal, commenting that whilst the nation opposes many of Washington’s policies, it also relies on the U.S. for economic support.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) “need each other to survive,” Dalia Hatuqa argues at Foreign Policy, commenting that “Israel needs the P.A.’s security cooperation to avoid another intifada – and without security ties to Israel and the funding that comes with it, the P.A. could cease to exist.”

SYRIA

At least 20 people – including seven children – were killed in an airstrike Saturday in the northwestern Syria province of Idlib, according to the U.N. Children’s Fund (U.N.I.C.E.F..) “This latest outrage adds to the mounting child casualties caused by intensifying violence over the past few weeks, including in Al Wadihi, southern Idlib, northern Aleppo and northern Hama,” UNICEF chief Henrietta Fore said in a statement released yesterday, The U.N. News Centre reports.

Germany today dismissed calls from the U.S. to send ground troops to Syria. “When I say the government envisages sticking to the current measures in the anti-Islamic State [military] coalition, this includes no ground troops, as is well known,” government spokesperson Steffen Seibert told a news conference, Reuters reports.

SUDAN

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres announced Friday that he was “encouraged” by reports of a fresh power-sharing deal between a Sudanese opposition coalition Forces for Freedom and Change and the country’s ruling Transitional Military Council (T.M.C..) Guterres welcomed the decision to establish transitional governing bodies, and congratulated the African Union, Ethiopia and the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (I.G.A.D.,) for their role in mediating the talks between the parties, the U.N. News Centre reports.

Head of the T.M.C. Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan has announced that the governing body will be dissolved after the formation of a new power-sharing body that will rule the country. The military and pro-democracy leaders agreed last week on a joint sovereign council that will rule for a little over three years while elections are organized: a military leader will head the council for the first 21 months followed by a civilian leader for the next 18, the AP reports.

The power-sharing agreement came after the U.S. and its Arab allies applied “intense” pressure on both sides amid fears a prolonged crisis could push the country into civil war, according to activists and officials. The main breakthrough reportedly came at a secret meeting the day before mass protests in Khartoum, when diplomats from the U.S., Britain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) pressed the two sides to accept proposals from the African Union and Ethiopia, Samy Magdy reports at the AP.

2020 CENSUS CITIZENSHIP QUESTION

The Department of Justice (D.O.J.) yesterday announced a major shakeup in its team of attorneys involved in the ongoing legal fight over the citizenship question the Trump administration hopes to add to the 2020 census forms. “The Department of Justice is shifting these matters to a new team of Civil Division lawyers going forward,” D.O.J. spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a written statement, Hansi Lo Wang reports at NPR.

The entire team on the case — both those in political positions and career employees— will be replaced with political and career lawyers from the department’s Civil Division and Consumer Protection Branch, according to a D.O.J. official. Matt Zapotosky reports at the Washington Post.

“Since these cases began … the lawyers representing the U.S. in these cases have given countless hours to defending the Commerce Department and have consistently demonstrated the highest professionalism … integrity … and skill inside and outside the courtroom,” Kupec added. Attorney General William Barr, she continued, “is confident that the new team will carry on in the same exemplary fashion as the cases progress,” Sadie Gurman reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The development “strongly suggested” that the D.O.J.’s career lawyers had decided to quit a case that seemed to lack a legal basis. “There is no reason they would be taken off that case unless they saw what was coming down the road and said, ‘I won’t sign my name to that,’” former senior official in the D.O.J Justin Levitt commented, Michael Wines, Katie Benner and Adam Liptak write at the New York Times.

Acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli yesterday expressed confidence that the administration would succeed in appending the citizenship question to the census, insisting that Trump himself is determined to have the query added.  Cuccinelli’s comments come after Trump told reporters outside the White House Friday that, despite the Supreme Court ruling last month that the administration’s justification for adding a citizenship question was inadequate, he is considering implementing an executive order to add the question. Quint Forgey reports at POLITICO.

U.S. MILITARY

Adm. Bill Moran has declined the appointment to Chief of Naval Operations less than one month before he was scheduled to begin the role. In a statement, Moran said he regretted “any inconvenience” his decision caused U.S. President Trump and Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, and explained that “I made this difficult decision based on an open investigation into the nature of some of my personal email correspondence over the past couple of years and for continuing to maintain a professional relationship with a former staff officer, now retired, who had while in uniform been investigated and held accountable over allegations of inappropriate behavior,” Courtney Kube reports at NBC.

Trump’s “ridiculous” Fourth of July event made it very clear that the president “doesn’t seem very invested in keeping military and state separate,” Col. Jack Jacobs comments at NBC, arguing that  “America is not a tank country” and “should not be a country that politicizes its military.”

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS                                                                                                     

Venezuela’s self-declared interim President Juan Guaidó has announced that talks will resume between the opposition and President Nicolás Maduro’s government. “In response to the mediation of the Kingdom of Norway [the opposition] will attend a meeting with representatives of the usurper regime in Barbados, to establish a negotiation on the end of the dictatorship,” Guaidó said in a statement, without specifying a date for the dialogue, Al Jazeera reports.

The International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) today convicted former Congolese military leader Bosco Ntaganda of 18 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes – including murder, rape and sexual slavery for his part in massacres in an ethnic conflict in a mineral-rich region of Congo in 2002-2003, the AP reports.

Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the supply of Russian S-400 defense systems to Turkey over the phone with his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan Saturday. The first of the defense systems purchased by Ankara is expected arrive in Turkey at some point this week, according to reports Friday from privately-held broadcaster Haberturk, Reuters reports.

Russia today slammed an “obscenity-laden” tirade against Putin by Georgian television presenter Giorgi Gabunia – in which Gabunia used offensive language to graphically insult Putin and the Russian people. In a statement, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the verbal attack as an unacceptable political provocation by radical forces “designed to undermine relations,” Reuters reports.

Independent rep. Justin Amash (Mich) has not ruled out running for president in 2020, stating “I believe that I have to use my skills, my public influence, where it serves the country best … and I believe I have to defend the Constitution in whatever way works best.” Amash also commented that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) stance against launching impeachment proceedings was “a mistake,” Allan Smith reports at NBC.

We are in an ‘Age of Impunity’ – that “corrodes the sense of obligation of the privileged in wealthy nations toward those left behind” and “poses immediate dangers to millions confronting violence far away,”  E.J. Dionne Jr. argues at the Washington Post, reflecting on a recent speech by chief executive of the International Rescue Committee David Miliband.

A look inside Facebook’s “information warfare team” is fielded by Hannah Murphy at the Financial Times, who comments on the “daily jargon” for the staff responsible for detecting and blocking disinformation campaigns, typically originating from Russia, Iran and south-east Asia. 

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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).