The Early Edition: July 16, 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

European Union (E.U.) Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini has said that Iran’s recent breaches of the 2015 nuclear deal are not yet significant. Speaking at a press conference yesterday following a meeting of E.U. foreign ministers, Mogherini explained that none of the signatory parties plans to trigger the dispute resolution mechanism – a process that could lead to further sanctions: “none of the parties … has signaled their intention to invoke this article, which means that none of them for the moment – for the time being with the current data we have had – [believe] that the non-compliance is considered to be significant,” Mogherini stated, Vasco Cotovio and Kara Fox report at CNN. 

“We invite Iran to reverse the steps and go back to full compliance,” Mogherini stated, explaining “technically all the steps that have been taken, and that we regret have been taken, are reversible,” the BBC reports.

European ministers insist that the nuclear deal with Iran can still be saved, with Mogherini asserting that the accord is “not in the best of health, but it’s still alive … we’re at the most difficult juncture in its history, but the agreement is still in place.” Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell stated “Europe is doing everything it can to avoid” the deal collapsing; European ministers apparently hope to persuade Iranians that the deal is “still worthwhile,” Michael Birnbaum reports at the Washington Post.

The conclusion was condemned by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was quoted by Israeli news media as saying: “the European Union’s response to Iranian violations reminds me of the European appeasement of the 1930s,” adding “there are probably some in Europe who will not wake up until Iranian missiles fall on European soil … then it probably will be too late,” Matina Stevis-Gridneff reports at the New York Times.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stated yesterday that Iran does not want a war with the U.S. and indicated that the nuclear program could be up for negotiation if U.S. President Trump lifts the sanctions he has imposed. In an interview with NBC News, Zarif said “it is the United States that left the bargaining table … and they’re always welcome to return,” Dan De Luce reports at NBC.

Zarif also cautioned that the U.S. is “playing with fire,” repeating comments previously made by Trump. “I think the United States is playing with fire,” Zarif told reporters, explaining that the country’s breach of the agreement “can be reversed within hours,” and adding “we are not about to develop nuclear weapons … had we wanted to develop nuclear weapons, we would have been able to do it [a] long time ago,” AFP reports.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei today vowed his country would retaliate over the capture of an Iranian tanker by British authorities. In a televised speech, Khameni called the seizure of the ship “piracy,” stating: “God willing, the Islamic Republic and its committed forces will not leave this evil without a response,” the AP reports.

The U.N. has voiced concerns over “tight travel restrictions” imposed on Zarif during his visit to New York City this week. U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq yesterday told reporters the U.N. secretariat is “in close contact with the permanent missions of the United States and Iran to the U.N. and has conveyed its concerns to the host country;” Zarif, who arrived in New York Sunday, is only permitted travel between the U.N., the Iranian U.N. mission, the Iranian U.N. ambassador’s residence and New York’s J.F.K. airport, Al Jazeera reports.

A United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.)-based oil tanker traveling through the Strait of Hormuz stopped transmitting its whereabouts over two days ago after it headed off into Iranian waters, tracking data has revealed, sparking concerns today over its status. Jon Gambrell reports at the AP.

TURKEY

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that a controversial Russian S-400 missile defense system will be fully deployed in April 2020 despite the likelihood of U.S. sanctions, adding the next step would be to jointly produce S-400s with Moscow. The first batch of equipment was delivered to Turkey in recent days even after repeated U.S. calls to cancel the deal or suffer consequences, Al Jazeera reports. 

“With God’s permission [the systems] will have been installed in their sites by April 2020,” Erdoğan told a crowd at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport in a speech marking the third anniversary of 2016’s attempted coup. “The S-400s are the strongest defense system against those who want to attack our country …  God willing, we are doing this as a joint investment with Russia, and will continue to do so,” Erdoğan added, Reuters reports. 

The U.S.-Turkey rift over the S-400 system “could signal a permanent rupture in [the] alliance with Washington,” Dan DeLuce writes in an analysis at NBC, noting that the developments will also test U.S. President Trump’s willingness to impose sanctions on Ankara.

“Americans have been inclined to interpret a number of Erdogan’s most provocative moves as attempts to seek concrete concessions … yet Ankara has consistently presented such moves in terms that are both more defensive and more ambitious,” Nick Danforth argues at Foreign Policy, exploring how tensions escalated between the N.A.T.O. allies.   

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

U.S. lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly for a bill that seeks to impose sanctions on officials involved in the murder of Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. The House yesterday approved the Human Rights and Accountability Act by a vote of 405-7 yesterday; the act, introduced by Congressman Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.,) requires the director of National Intelligence to publicly identify the persons involved Khashoggi’s killing –and impose visa and travel sanctions on them, Al Jazeera reports. 

The warring parties in Yemen have agreed to new measures to enforce a ceasefire and facilitate a troop pullback from the strategic Red Sea port of Hodeidah, the U.N. announced yesterday. Representatives of the Iran-aligned Shi’ite Houthi rebel movement and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government-in-exile met on a U.N. ship in the Red Sea for talks on Sunday and Monday, the organization disclosed in a statement, Al Jazeera reports. 

The U.N. statement claimed that both sides were keen to reduce hostilities after a rise in ceasefire violations at Hodeidah, adding that “they agreed on a mechanism and new measures to reinforce the ceasefire and de-escalation, to be put in place as soon as possible,” without elaborating further. According to the statement, the two sides finalized conceptual agreement on troop withdrawals, which now require political leaders’ buy-in, Reuters reports. 

Yemeni human rights group Mwatana for Human Rights today released its report on the civilian cost of the country’s conflict, based on more than 2,000 interviews with Yemenis. The group documents 74 cases of obstructing movement of aid or people, largely pointing the finger at the Houthis; the N.G.O. also documented 52 cases of land mines wounding civilians and 150 coalition airstrikes – together killing at least 435 people, the AP reports. 

AFGHANISTAN 

A roadside bomb in Afghanistan has killed at least 11 pilgrims riding a truck in the southern province of Kandahar, according to provincial officials. At least 35 others were also wounded after their truck set off a landmine in the Khakrez district of the province yesterday afternoon, according to southern region army spokesperson Ahmad Sadeq Essa, Al Jazeera reports. 

Local radio station Samaa station in the eastern city of Ghazni has been forced to shut down after repeated threats from the area’s Taliban commander, according to the station’s direction Ramez Azimi. Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid denied the militants had threatened the station, Rahim Faiez reports at the AP. 

The KOREAN PENINSULA 

North Korea has announced that it is rethinking whether to abide by its moratorium on nuclear and missile tests and other steps aimed at improving ties with the U.S. The foreign ministry claims that upcoming regular U.S.-South Korean ‘Dong Maeng’ military drills are forcing the North to rethink whether it should be committed to the promises it made to the U.S., the AP reports. 

“We will formulate our decision on the opening of the D.P.R.K. [North Korean]-U.S. working-level talks … while keeping watch over the U.S. move hereafter,” a foreign ministry spokesperson said in a pair of statements released through state news agency K.C.N.A., describing the military drills as a “rehearsal of war.” Reuters reports. 

Nuclear envoy Kim Hyok Chol – who steered talks ahead of the collapsed February summit between Northern leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Trump – is alive, South Korean legislator Kim Min-ki stated today after an intelligence briefing, contradicting a previous South Korean news report that he had been executed. The most recent statement follows a series of conflicting reports about the fate of North Korea’s negotiators after the break down of the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi, Reuters reports. 

CHINA AND HONG KONG

Hong Kong’s secretary for justice Teresa Cheng will head to Beijing tomorrow as protests have continued unabated against a controversial extradition bill she had backed, according to the city government. Reuters reports.

“What began as a protest against an extradition bill has ballooned into a fundamental challenge to the way Hong Kong is governed,” Yanan Wang and Alice Fung write at the AP, adding that demonstrators “have increasingly held up signs expressing a broader wish: a yearning for greater democracy.”

“Experts agree [that] Hong Kong’s protests aren’t stopping anytime soon,” Julia Hollingsworth writes at CNN in an analysis of where the demonstrations are headed.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway defied a congressional subpoena to testify yesterday before the House Oversight and Reform Committee about her alleged repeated violations of the Hatch Act – a federal ethics law that bars government officials from engaging in political activities at work. In a letter to Chair of the committee Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.,) White House Counsel Pat Cipollone asserted that current and former presidential advisers are “absolutely immune” from congressional testimony, writing: “Ms. Conway cannot be compelled to testify before Congress with respect to matters related to her service as a senior adviser to the president … because of this constitutional immunity … the president has directed Ms. Conway not to appear at the committee’s scheduled hearing.” Andrew Desiderio reports at POLITICO.

“We’re not requiring her to testify about advice she gave the president or about the White House policy decisions … we are requiring her to testify before Congress about her multiple violations of federal law,” Cummings stated at a session yesterday. “This is bigger than just the Hatch Act … this is about holding our government to the highest standard and not allowing [Trump officials to have] special treatment when they flagrantly violate the law,” Rachael Bade reports at the Washington Post.

The committee’s efforts to get Conway to testify were branded a “purely political campaign to harass the president and his close advisers” in a statement issued by White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham. “Democrats continue to overreach and politicize the Office of Special Counsel — this time, by trying to silence Kellyanne Conway with ill-founded, phony allegations about the Hatch Act,” Grisham said, Catherine Lucey reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Navy Secretary Mark Esper has taken over as acting Pentagon chief. “At 3:04 p.m. today, the Senate received the President’s formal nomination of Dr. Mark T. Esper to be Secretary of Defense,” chief Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement; Esper is scheduled to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning for his confirmation hearing, Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

IMMIGRATION

The Trump administration announced yesterday that it will move to end asylum protections for most Central American migrants, in the government’s latest major push to restrict the flow of migrant families coming to the U.S. The new rule says asylum-seekers at the southern border who pass through another country and do not seek asylum there will not be eligible for the protection in the U.S., according to a statement from the Departments of Justice (D.O.J.) and Homeland Security (D.H.S.) – in practice, the rule means that migrants coming from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador cannot seek asylum if they did not first do so in Mexico. Daniella Silva, Julia Ainsley, Pete Williams and Geoff Bennett report at NBC. 

The U.N. refugee agency U.N.H.C.R. has stated that it is “deeply concerned” about the new U.S. restrictions. The agency argued that the rule overly restricts the right to apply for asylum, and threatens the right not to be sent back to countries where people could face persecution, the AP reports. 

U.S. President Trump claimed yesterday that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) raids over the weekend were “very successful,” despite the fact that much of the activity was not visible to the public. Trump had vowed to launch mass deportation roundups over the weekend – but by Sunday evening there were only reports of low-profile operations in a few cities, Reuters reports. 

CYBERSECURITY, TECHNOLOGY AND PRIVACY

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin yesterday voiced marked concern that social network Facebook’s proposed Libra cryptocurrency could be harnessed for money laundering, adding to the growing regulatory skepticism regarding the digital asset plans. “Treasury has been very clear to Facebook … and other providers of digital financial services that they must implement the same anti-money laundering safeguards in countering the financing of terrorism as traditional financial institutions,” Mnuchin said at a White House press conference, Reuters reports. 

“Twitter in the Middle East changed from a tool for transparency to a platform overrun by bots and propaganda.” Yarno Ritzen explores the shift in an analysis at Al Jazeera. 

How are we to assess the potential human rights effect of agreements made under the 2018 Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (C.L.O.U.D.) Act? Evelyn Aswad provides a legal analysis at Just Security. 

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Scores of demonstrators took to the streets last night in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum district to protest against the killing of a civilian, allegedly carried out by members of the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group on Sunday in the town of El-Souk. Al Jazeera reports. 

Representatives from the U.S. and Russia are set to meet in Geneva tomorrow to explore the concept of a new accord limiting nuclear arms that could eventually include China, senior U.S. officials announced yesterday. U.S. President Trump has said that he would like to see a “next generation” arms control deal with Russia and China to cover all types of nuclear weapons, and has already broached the topic individually with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, Reuters reports. 

U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty is resigning this month after two years in office, the U.S. Embassy announced today. 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).