The Early Edition: July 15, 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

Former U.K. Ambassador Kim Darroch believed U.S. President Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal because it was associated with his predecessor Barack Obama, according to leaked documents published Saturday. “The administration is set upon an act of diplomatic vandalism, seemingly for ideological and personality reasons – it was Obama’s deal,” Darroch wrote in a diplomatic cable in May 2018, AFP reports.

Darroch wrote the memo after then-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson visited Washington in a failed attempt to persuade the U.S. not to abandon the accord. Darroch wrote that the White House had no strategy for what would come after its withdrawal and “no sort of plan for reaching out to partners and allies,” Jill Lawless reports at the AP.

The report on Darroch’s alleged assertion follows his resignation over leaked cables in which he described the Trump administration “clumsy and inept” and wrote that Trump was “radiating insecurity.” Darroch stepped down Wednesday, writing in his resignation letter that “the current situation is making it impossible for me to carry out my role as I would like,” Rachel Frazin reports at the Hill.

Iran is ready to hold talks with the U.S. if Washington lifts sanctions and returns to the 2015 nuclear deal, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said during a televised speech yesterday. “We have always believed in talks … if they lift sanctions, end the imposed economic pressure and return to the deal, we are ready to hold talks with America today, right now and anywhere,” Rouhani remarked, Reuters reports.

European Union (E.U.) nations today were looking to deescalate tensions in the Persian Gulf area and called on Iran to stick to the nuclear deal, despite the U.S.’ withdrawal and reimposition of sanctions on Tehran. Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok said that “it is still not too late, but Iran really has to stick to its obligations,” while U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt commented that it was essential to keep all diplomatic channels open, Raf Casert reports at the AP.

Hunt said ahead of a regular meeting of E.U. foreign ministers in Brussels today that Iran would still be “a good year away” from developing a nuclear weapon, allowing for more time to make sure the deal can be preserved. Hunt added that the deal “isn’t dead yet and we are totally committed” to keeping the region denuclearized. Updates at the AP.

Iran will make a return to the position predating the nuclear deal unless European countries fulfil their obligations, spokesperson for Iran’s nuclear agency Behrouz Kamalvandi said today, according to I.R.N.A. news agency. Reuters reports

The U.K. and Iran sought over the weekend to defuse tensions over a detained Iranian oil tanker in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar. The U.K. had alleged the Iranian tanker was carrying two million barrels of oil to Syria in violation of European Union (E.U.) sanctions prohibiting crude sales to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, Benoit Faucon and Aresu Eqbali report at the Wall Street Journal.

Hunt claimed Saturday that he had spoken with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and had “reassured him our concern was destination not origin of the oil on Grace One &that UK would facilitate release if we received guarantees that it would not be going to Syria, following due process in Gib courts,” making the remarks in a pair of messages on Twitter, AFP reports.

Hunt elaborated in a statement from the Foreign Office, saying: “this was about the enforcement of EU Syria sanctions: action was taken because of where the oil was going — a sanctioned Syrian entity — not because it was from Iran,” Chris Mills Rodrigo reports at the Hill.

Police in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar released the four-member crew of a detained Iranian oil tanker, authorities reported Saturday. The captain and three crew members of the Grace 1 tanker were released after investigators concluded they would not be charged within the maximum detention limit of 72 hours, according to a person familiar with the investigation, Benoit Faucon reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The House Friday voted 251-170 to approve an amendment intended to prevent President Trump from taking military action against Iran. The amendment would prohibit funding U.S. military action against Iran unless Congress has declared war or enacted another specific statutory authorization; several Republicans broke rank to back the provision, including co-sponsor Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.,) Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

Several State Department officials say they are being told the drawdown in staff from the U.S. Embassy in Iraq will effectively become permanent, following the partial evacuation in May amidst escalating tensions with Iran. Robbie Gramer reports at Foreign Policy.

TURKEY

Turkey continued to receive components of Russia’s S-400 air-defense system Saturday. “Delivery of S-400 Long Range Air and Missile Defense Systems resumed today,” a defense ministry statement said, adding “the fourth Russian plane carrying S-400 parts landed at Murted Airport outside Ankara,” AFP reports.

“We are aware of reports that Turkey has taken delivery of the S-400 … as the President said at the G-20 ahead of meeting with [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan … ‘it’s a problem … there’s no question about it,’” a senior Trump administration official stated. A N.A.T.O. official revealed that the alliance was “concerned about the potential consequences of Turkey’s decision to acquire the S-400 system,” citing the need for allied weapons systems to function together, David Gauthier-Villars and Ann M. Simmons report at the Wall Street Journal.

Top senators have urged U.S. President Trump to impose Congressional sanctions on Turkey following delivery of the Russian defense system Friday. Erdoğan “has chosen a perilous partnership with [Russian President Vladimir Putin] at the expense of Turkey’s security, economic prosperity and the integrity of the N.A.T.O alliance,” Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a statement, adding “on a strong bipartisan basis, Congress has made it clear that there must be consequences for President Erdoğan’s misguided S-400 acquisition,” Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

Trump “has the authority to waive or postpone” sanctions on Turkey for its purchase of Russian air defense systems, Erdoğan was quoted as saying yesterday by broadcaster Haberturk. The Turkish president added “since this is the case, it is Trump who needs to find the middle ground [in the dispute],” Reuters reports.

Turkey is today marking the third anniversary of the Jul. 15 failed coup attempt against Erdoğan’s government with prayers and other events held in remembrance of its victims, the AP reports.

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

Yemen’s opposing sides met yesterday for the first time in five months to talk over redeployment of forces from the strategic port city of Hodeidah. The meeting, led by head of the U.N. mission in Hodeidah Lt. Gen. Michael Lollesgaard, was reported by Al-Masirah T.V., run by Iran-aligned Shi’ite Houthi rebels who are fighting forces loyal to the country’s government in exile, the AP reports.

Saudi Arabia is trying to entice citizens abroad back to the kingdom in a campaign to prevent critics and dissidents venting their concerns about Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s leadership. “Someone close to the leadership or another mediator would typically contact you and say: ‘I have a personal message from the crown prince,’ promising that there would be no harm or jail time if you decide to take up the offer,” a Saudi in exile, who has been approached stated, Ahmed Al Omran reports at the Financial Times.

AFGHANISTAN

At least three security officials were killed and ten others injured after Taliban militants captured a commercial building in western Afghanistan’s Badghis province Saturday, according to officials. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks, which involved assaults on the building that housed a hotel, several eateries and shops, located near the police headquarters and the governor’s house in Qala-e-Naw, the capital of Badghis, Reuters reports.

U.S. service member Sgt. Maj. James G. “Ryan” Sartor was killed in Afghanistan Saturday, according to a brief announcement by the N.A.T.O.-led Resolute Support mission. The incident took place in Faryab province and is still under investigation, the Pentagon said, Reuters reports.

SUDAN

Paramilitary forces backed by Sudan’s ruling Transitional Military Council (T.M.C.) have fired at protesters in the southeastern state of Sennar with one man killed following a shot to the head, according to medics and witnesses. The incident occurred in El-Souk in the state of Sinnar yesterday when residents rallied outside the office of the National Intelligence and Security Service (N.I.S.S.,) demanding that members of the Rapid Support Forces (R.S.F.) leave the town, according to witnesses, Al Jazeera reports.

Tens of thousands demonstrated in cities across Sudan Saturday to mark 40 days since security forces killed dozens when they stormed a protest camp in Khartoum. The demonstrations marked the first since the T.M.C. and civilian opposition agreed in principle to a power-sharing arrangement ahead of elections – the deal has yet to be finalized and signed, Reuters reports.

An explainer on the current situation in Sudan, exploring how power sharing will work, how the deal will be sequenced and the position for civilians is provided by Richard Danso at the Washington Post.

CHINA, HONG KONG AND TAIWAN

Tens of thousands of people regrouped in Hong Kong yesterday –protesting against “the erosion of Hong Kong’s independence” from Beijing and demanding formal withdrawal of the controversial extradition bill as well as investigations into complaints of police violence. Demonstrators marched in the northern district of Sha Tin – a suburban area near the border that is popular with mainland Chinese shoppers – while the rallies extended from the core of the financial center into nearby neighborhoods, Al Jazeera reports.

Police in the city clashed with the protesters late last night, and made a number of arrests. A statement released by the government said the afternoon march was “peaceful and orderly” but that afterward some protesters “violently assaulted police officers,” adding “society will absolutely not tolerate such violent acts,” Dake Kang and Katie Tam report at the AP.

Hong Kong lawmakers from both sides have today called for action in response to fighting between police and protesters over the weekend. “Both sides have to come out and establish communication channels,” pro-Beijing lawmaker Starry Lee stated, adding “I think [the city’s C.E.O. Carrie Lam] and also the bureau responsible should come out and respond to this issue … otherwise Hong Kong will be the loser and no Hong Kong person wants to see this happen again and again,” Alice Fung and Nadia Lam report at the AP.

Lam labeled yesterday’s protestors as “rioters” and expressed her support for the police in upholding the law and looking for perpetrators. Speaking at a hospital today where she visited three police officers injured in protests over the weekend, Lam stated “we thank the police officers for maintaining social order loyally and professionally, but they have suffered in attacks from those rioters – they can be called rioters,” Reuters reports.

Lam apparently offered to resign a number of times in recent weeks over violent demonstrations in the city – but Beijing rejected her attempts to step down, according to two people familiar with the matter. Beijing reportedly asserted that Lam “has to stay to clean up the mess she created … no one else can clean up the mess and no one else wants the job,” according to one source, Henny Sender, Sue-Lin Wong and Nicolle Liu report at the Financial Times.

China said Friday that it would sanction U.S. companies involved in the planned arms sale to Taiwan worth over $2 billion. “The United States’ arms sales to Taiwan constitute a serious violation of international law and the norms governing international relations,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said Friday, without detailing how and when the U.S. companies would be penalized, Raymond Zhong reports at the New York Times.

China’s Foreign Ministry added that the sanctions were necessary to safeguard its national interests and that the arms sales “harmed China’s sovereignty and national security,” Philip Wen and William Mauldin report at the New York Times.

An analysis of U.S. President Trump’s progress in completing an arms sale with Taiwan is provided by the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

TRUMP-RUSSIA AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony will be postponed until Jul. 24, according to an announcement Friday by the Intelligence and Judiciary committees. “We are pleased to announce that Special Counsel Mueller will provide additional public testimony when he appears before our committees … at his request, we have agreed to postpone the hearing for one week, until July 24,” Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in a statement, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

The delay will allow for extended testimony – Mueller will now face questions for three hours, up from two. “All members — Democrats and Republicans — of both committees will have a meaningful opportunity to question the special counsel in public, and the American people will finally have an opportunity to hear directly from Mr. Mueller about what his investigation uncovered,” Nadler and Schiff added in the statement, Nicholas Fandos reports at the New York Times.

IMMIGRATION

A small number of coordinated federal raids targeting undocumented migrant parents and their children took place over the weekend, marking the start of the Trump administration’s plan to enforce deportation orders rapidly against around 2,000 recently arrived migrants who remain ineligible for residency. The sporadic handful of arrests was in contrast to the nationwide show of force that had been planned, in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) agents were expected to conduct sweeping raids across immigrant communities in major cities, Caitlin Dickerson, Nick Corasanati and Edgar Sandoval report at the New York Times.

I.C.E. Acting Director Matthew Albence would not confirm any operational details but defended the need for the raids. “We are doing targeted enforcement actions against specific individuals who have had their day in immigration court and have been ordered to be removed by an immigration judge,” Albence told “Fox News Sunday,” adding “we are merely executing those judges’ orders,” Al Jazeera reports.

President Trump yesterday claimed a recent tour of two immigrant detention centers “showed vividly … how well run and clean” the facilities are. “Friday’s tour showed vividly, to politicians and the media, how well run and clean the children’s detention centers are; great reviews!” Trump stated in a message on Twitter, adding that the “adult single men areas were clean but crowded — also loaded up with a big percentage of criminals,” Allan Smith reports at NBC.

U.S. ARMS

The U.S. F-35 fighter jet program already fulfills the aspirations that China has for its Belt and Road initiative, Jonathan D. Caverley, Ethan B. Kapstein and Srdjan Vucetic argue in an analysis at Foreign Policy. While “Belt and Road’s optimistic projections cover a larger landmass and more countries …” the authors explain, “… Joint Strike Fighter membership provides its own benefits in terms of prestige, access to technology and subcontracts, and close security ties with the United States.”

“There’s no airplane quite like the Grumman X-29,” Jacopo Prisco writes in a profile of the fighter jet at CNN.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A new North Korean Constitution names leader Kim Jong-un as the country’s head of state and military commander in chief, in a development some have interpreted as a possible step toward a peace treaty with the U.S. Rachel Frazin reports at the Hill.

The Syrian government has stepped up airstrikes on the opposition stronghold in Syria’s northwestern rebel-held province of Idlib, in an effort to recapture the territory, Raja Abdulrahim and Nazih Osseiran report at the Wall Street Journal.

The resignation of former U.K. Ambassador to Washington Kim Darroch “will have a chilling effect on the future candor of all British diplomats reporting home from their foreign posts,” former governor of Ohio and a former member of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee John Kasich comments at CNN.

President Trump’s order that all federal agencies provide citizenship data to the Commerce Department could open a new legal front over whether states can redraw their voting maps based on citizenship status. The development comes after the president lost the battle to include a citizenship question in the 2020 census, Reuters reports. 

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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).