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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 has said it will not go back on its decision to increase uranium enrichment beyond the limits set by the 2015 nuclear deal until it achieves its “full rights” under the deal, which U.S. President Trump withdrew from last year. Senior Security official Ali Shamkhani was quoted as saying to top French diplomatic adviser Emmanuel Bonne – visiting Tehran – that the decision to increase enrichment is an “unchangeable strategy,” also criticizing European countries for their “lack of will” in providing relief from U.S. sanctions. Updates at the AP.
Bonne had reportedly hoped to try to “obtain gestures” from Iran to show the country is serious about staying in the deal, according to a French official, David Rising reports at the AP.
European powers yesterday urged Iran to reverse its move to increase uranium enrichment, as a French envoy arrived in Tehran to boost efforts to save the deal. A joint statement issued by the European Union (E.U.) along with the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Britain stated that Tehran “must act accordingly by reversing these activities and returning to full J.C.P.O.A. [Iran nuclear deal] compliance without delay,” AFP reports.
The statement expressed “deep concern that Iran is pursuing activities inconsistent with its commitments” under the accord, marking Europe’s strongest response to date to at least two Iranian violations of the agreement in recent days: exceeding the stockpile of uranium it is allowed to keep, and raising the enrichment level of some of that stockpile above the purity required for civilian use. Rick Gladstone reports at the New York Times.
Iran is enriching uranium to 4.5% fissile purity, above the 3.67% limit set by its deal with major powers, the U.N. nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) told member states in a closed-door meeting today, according to diplomats familiar with the figures. Reuters reports.
The U.S. will use an emergency meeting of the I.A.E.A.’s board today in an attempt to raise pressure on Iran over the breaches, but diplomats reportedly expect no concrete action as the parties to the deal consider next steps. “The international community must hold Iran’s regime accountable,” the U.S. said in a statement explaining its decision to call the Board of Governors meeting, Reuters reports.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said today that U.S. President Trump’s allies had tricked Trump into killing off the nuclear accord. Zarif sent a message on Twitter claiming that that Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had killed an earlier agreement in 2005 by insisting that Iran stop all uranium enrichment: “Now they’ve lured @realdonaldtrump into killing #JCPOA (the 2015 nuclear deal) w/the same delusion,” Zarif added, Reuters reports.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday made a “thinly veiled threat” to Tehran, following news of its increased uranium enrichment. Standing in front of an F-35 stealth fighter during a tour of an Israeli airbase, Netanyahu claimed that Iran had “recently been threatening the destruction of Israel” and “ought to remember that these planes can reach every place in the Middle East, including Iran and, certainly, Syria,” Al Jazeera reports.
Commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards – Hossein Nejat – said yesterday that U.S. regional bases and its aircraft carriers in the Gulf are within the range of Iranian missiles, Tasnim news agency reported. “American bases are within the range of our missiles … Our missiles will destroy their aircraft carriers if they make a mistake,” said Hossein Nejat. “Americans are very well aware of the consequences of a military confrontation with Iran,” Nejat said amongst growing tensions in the region, Reuters reports.
The Iranian military has warned it would retaliate in response to the seizure of one of its tankers by British forces in Gibraltar last week. “This move will not remain without response,” the military’s chief of staff Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri was quoted as saying by state news agency I.R.N.A. yesterday, Aresu Eqbali and Sune Engel Rasmussen report at the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. says it is working to form a military coalition to protect commercial shipping off the coast of Iran and Yemen amid escalating tensions in the region, following attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf. Under the plans a coalition of nations would patrol strategic waters in the Gulf area and the sea between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff – Marine General Joseph Dunford – announced yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lambasted the Trump administration yesterday regarding Iran’s uranium enrichment. “When the Trump administration threatened to pull out of the Iran deal and impose more sanctions last year, it was clear that we’d lose our leverage and Iran would be free to do what it wanted,” Clinton stated in a series of messages on Twitter, adding that “Iran is now exceeding enrichment limits the deal once imposed,” Rachel Frazin reports at the Hill.
President Trump yesterday declared it a “great honor” to host Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani of Qatar, whom he described as a “highly respected man, a real leader,” whose government is “investing very heavily in our country” and buying “tremendous amounts of military equipment.” While Trump emphasized that his private conversations with the Emir would focus on commercial relations, U.S. and Qatari officials said discussions also included Tamim’s offer to mediate between the U.S. and Iran, Karen DeYoung reports at the Washington Post.
The Trump administration yesterday placed new sanctions targeting three senior officials of the Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah militant group – Amin Sherri, Muhammad Hasan Ra’d and Wafiq Safa – claiming the group had engaged in “Mafia-like behavior” in the country, Carol Morello reports at the Washington Post.
Syrian rebels launched an attack yesterday in the mountains of the coastal Latakia province, according to reports from Syrian opposition activists and war monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The group stated that “clashes are underway in several locations in the Turkman Mountains” and that the fighting killed 35 people on both sides in the opening hours, the AP reports.
“The Iranian project in Syria is broad … deep and multifaceted,” Jonathan Spyer comments in an Op-Ed at the Wall Street Journal, arguing that Israel’s aerial bombardments and diplomatic overtures to Russia will not be sufficient to get Iran out of the country.
YEMEN AND The KINGDOM
The U.S. needs to act on a U.N. report into the killing of Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi last October, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Agnes Callamard has warned. “Silence is not an option … speaking up is required but not enough … we have to act,” Callamard stated, adding that the U.S. must launch an F.B.I. or civil law investigation, the BBC reports.
Saudi Arabia invited global press-freedom group Reporters without Borders to the kingdom for the first time this spring, according to the group’s secretary general Christophe Deloire. The four-person delegation – who visited in April and met with senior Saudi officials, including the public prosecutor and the minister of justice – requested a thorough investigation of Khashoggi’s murder and urged the “unconditional and immediate release” of at least 30 journalists that Reporters without Borders says are unfairly imprisoned in the kingdom, Kareem Fahim reports at the AP.
The sister of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud – Hassa bint Salman Al Saud– is on trial in Paris following allegations she instructed a bodyguard to attack local craftsman Ashraf Eid who was refurbishing her apartment three years ago. Al Saud, who is being tried in absentia on charges of armed violence and complicity to hold someone against their will, “firmly denies” the accusations and is seeking to be acquitted, Saskya Vandoorne, Celia Heudebourg and Schams Elwazer report at CNN.
At least seven civilians were killed in an air strike yesterday in Afghanistan’s northern province of Baghlan, according to Afghan officials. The air strike was carried out for “the elimination of the enemy” in the KutobKhel district of the city of Pul-e-Khumri, the defense ministry said in a statement, Al Jazeera reports.
The seventh round of peace talks between the U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban wound up yesterday after “signs of progress.” “Khalilzad will now brief his bosses and they will make an announcement … the seventh round has ended,” a senior official told Reuters; Khalilzad met with Taliban officials after a delegation of Afghan citizens and the militant group reached an agreement on a “roadmap for peace” Monday, Rupam Jain reports at Reuters.
An analysis of the “long and winding road to peace” in Afghanistan, is provided by Siobhán O’Grady at the Washington Post, who comments on the recent Taliban attacks in the country that have left dozens dead and hundreds injured.
Afghan peace talks are actually going somewhere, Nick Paton Walsh writes in an analysis at CNN, commenting that “it appears highly likely now we will see a peace deal in Doha, and the unprecedented hope of no war in Afghanistan.”
A collection of powerful U.S. missiles was sold to France before ending up in the hands of rebel fighters loyal to Gen. Khalifa Hafter, seeking to overthrow the U.N.-backed government in the Libyan capital of Tripoli. The four Javelin anti-tank missiles, which cost more than $170,000 each and are typically sold only to close U.S. allies, were recovered last month by Libyan government forces during a raid on a rebel camp in the mountain town of Gheryan, Eric Schmitt and Declan Walsh report at the New York Times.
The battle between Haftar’s self-styled Eastern Libyan National Army (L.N.A.) and government-aligned fighters has killed more than 1,000 people since it began in April, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) announced in a brief statement yesterday. The 1,048 casualties include 106 civilians, with a total of 5,558 people wounded, Al Jazeera reports.
CHINA AND HONG KONG
Antigovernment protestors in Hong Kong are preparing for more demonstrationsfollowing the city’s C.E.O. Carrie Lam’s announcement yesterday that the controversial extradition bill was “dead.” “All the things she said do not mean anything, as far as we can see,” vice convener of the Civil Human Rights Front – a collation organizing opposition to the legislation – Bonnie Leung commented, adding “two million people have already come out on the streets … this figure will not go away … does the government hear the people’s voice?” Chuin-Wei Yap and Joyu Wang report at the Wall Street Journal.
The Department of Commerce plans to issue licenses to U.S. companies to trade with Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei in cases “where there is no national security risk,” according to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Maggie Miller and Niv Elis report at the Hill.
The move will implement President Trump’s G.20 summit directive two weeks ago and represents a “significant relaxation” of the administration’s restrictions on American companies selling to Huawei, Kiran Stacey reports at the Financial Times.
TRUMP-RUSSIA AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS
The House Judiciary Committee will tomorrow consider authorizing subpoenas to compel testimony from a dozen of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s witnesses – including President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, former attorney general Jeff Sessions and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The witnesses all gave key testimony to Mueller about the president’s attempts to stop the investigation into Russian electoral inference and collusion with the Trump campaign, Kyle Cheney and Andrew Desiderio report at POLITICO.
The Department of Justice (D.O.J.) does not want either of Mueller’s deputies – Aaron Zebley or James L. Quarles III – to testify before Congress, according to two government officials with knowledge of the matter. The D.O.J. told the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees last week that it was against the testimony and had informed Zebley and Quarles III of this, Nicholas Fandos and Katie Benner report at the New York Times.
“I don’t know anything about it,” Trump told reporters in response to questions about the subpoenas following a meeting with Qatar’s emir, Reuters reports.
A conspiracy theory about Democratic National Committee (D.N.C.) data director Seth Rich that was constantly broadcast on Fox News and by Trump associates was planted and endorsed through the internet and social media by Russian intelligence, according to an investigation by Yahoo News. Jason Abbruzzese reports at NBC.
The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
Navy Secretary Richard Spencer is preparing to become the U.S. Defense Department’s fourth leader in just six months, assuming the role on a temporary basis in coming weeks while U.S. President Trump’s most recent nominee Mark Esper enters the confirmation process. Lara Seligman reports at Foreign Policy.
President Trump yesterday launched a broadside against British Ambassador Kim Darroch, sending a trio of messages on Twitter describing Darroch as “wacky,” “a very stupid guy” and “a pompous fool,” continuing the fallout over leaked diplomatic cables in which Darroch described the Trump White House as “inept,” “dysfunctional” and “unpredictable.” Trump also used the occasion to insult outgoing U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May for her “failed Brexit negotiation,” boasting that he told May how to do the deal “but she went her own foolish way — was unable to get it done … a disaster!” William Booth Karla Adam and Josh Dawsey report at the Washington Post.
Darroch today resigned from his post. “Since the leak of official documents from this Embassy there has been a great deal of speculation surrounding my position and the duration of my remaining term as ambassador … I want to put an end to that speculation … the current situation is making it impossible for me to carry out my role as I would like,” Darroch wrote in his resignation letter, Reuters reports.
Trump’s response to Darroch “could make foreign diplomats think twice before offering honest assessments of the Trump administration to their governments,” according to veteran diplomats. Robbie Gramer explains at Foreign Policy.
The Trump administration’s new “Commission on Unalienable Rights” – launched Monday – looks likely to promote a specific brand of conservative arguments, aimed at dialing back gains on L.G.B.T.Q.I. rights and women’s rights, de-prioritizing fundamental economic, social and cultural rights and supporting longstanding U.S. hypocrisy on rights issues in foreign relations. Jayne Huckerby, Sarah Kuckey and Meg Satterthwaite comment at Just Security.
2020 CENSUS CITIZENSHIP QUESTION
A federal judge in New York District Judge Jesse Furman yesterday denied a request by the Trump administration to replace its legal team the 2020 case – challenging the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census. “Measured against those standards, [the government’s] motion is patently deficient,” Judge Furman stated in a three-page order, explaining the administration had provided “no reasons, let alone ‘satisfactory reasons,’ for the substitution of counsel,” Jess Bravin and Sadie Gurman report at the Wall Street Journal.
“Trump’s suggestion that he could get the question inserted via executive order seems to be wishful thinking – the constitution is clear that Congress … not the executive … has authority over the census,” S.M. argues at the Economist, commenting that “the president’s efforts may lead to another confrontation at the Supreme Court.”
CYBERSECURITY, TECHNOLOGY AND PRIVACY
President Trump violated the Constitution by blocking critics from following his Twitter account, a federal appeals court in Manhattan ruled yesterday, in a decision that potential have broader consequences for how the First Amendment applies to the social-media era, Charlie Savage reports at the New York Times.
The court found that barring users from accessing the president’s Twitter feed amounted to “unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination,” since Trump uses his account “to conduct official business and to interact with the public.” “[The] First Amendment does not permit a public official who utilizes a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from an otherwise-open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees,” the judges wrote in a 29-page ruling, Vanessa Romo reports at NPR.
“Getting cybersecurity right is a challenge that’s about far more than understanding code – it’s about understanding human beings,” Jen Easterly and Whitney Kassel comment at Just Security, writing that empathy and emphatic leaders are vital in the field of technology and cybersecurity.
Turkey today urged the U.S. to avoid taking any “wrong steps” that may “harm” bilateral relations after the U.S. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus repeated Ankara would face “real and negative consequences” for purchasing Russian S-400 defense systems. Turkey’s foreign ministry spokesperson said Ortagus’s comments yesterday were “not in line with the spirit and content” of talks between presidents of the two countries at last month’s G.20 summit, Reuters reports.
An explainer on why Turkey’s purchase of a Russian S-400 missile defense system has caused consternation in the U.S. is provided by Laura Pitel and Ian Bott at the Financial Times.
Yesterday marked the 15th anniversary since Israel’s separation wall was deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice (I.C.J.), the U.N. judiciary organ. The wall cuts into occupied West Bank territory and is considered to be “a necessary security precaution against terrorism” by Israeli officials, Al Jazeera reports.
U.S. President Trump’s approach to nuclear arms control looks “hopeless,” The Economist argues, commenting that “arms-control experts doubt that the Trump administration has the bandwidth to conduct serious negotiations with the Russians, Chinese and North Koreans at the same time.”
Federal prosecutors have notified a judge that they no longer plan take evidence from former U.S. national security advisor Michael Flynn when his former business partner Bijan Rafiekian goes on trial in Virginia next week as they now intend to argue that he was a co-conspirator, Pete Williams reports at NBC.
Less predictable threats represented by small-time criminals who have opportunistically embraced terrorism are a source of growing concern, Consultant with the Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (U.N.I.C.R.I.) Tamara Makarenko told the U.N. Security Council yesterday, the U.N. News Centre reports.