The Early Edition: July 17, 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

U.S. President Trump claimed yesterday that Washington is not seeking regime change in Iran, adding that “a lot of progress” has been made in easing recent tensions. Trump’s comments came after Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed to keep rolling back commitments under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that Trump pulled out of last year, Al Jazeera reports. 

“We’re not looking for regime change,” the president stated during a Cabinet meeting, though he added “we want them out of Yemen.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted that Iranian leaders have indicated readiness to discuss their ballistic missile program “for the first time,” Brett Samuels reports at the Hill. 

Pompeo’s claim was shot down within hours by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, visiting New York for a meeting at the U.N.. Zarif’s spokesperson said that Trump and Pompeo had misinterpreted Zarif’s public statements, in which he repeated past demands that if the U.S. “wants to talk about missiles, it should stop selling weapons, including missiles, to regional states,” David E. Sanger and Michael Crowley report at the New York Times. 

“If you want to discuss ballistic missiles … then we need to discuss the amount of weapons sold to our region,” Zarif’s spokesperson explained, adding that “last year, Iran spent $16bn altogether on its military, we have an 82 million population … U.A.E. with a million population spent $22bn … Saudi Arabia – with less than half of [Iran’s] population – spent $67bn, most of them are American [arms]. These are American weaponry that is going into our region, making our region ready to explode,” Al Jazeera reports. 

“Iran’s missiles … are absolutely and under no condition negotiable with anyone or any country … period,” spokesperson for the Iranian mission at the U.N. Alireza Miryousefi stated in a message on Twitter following Trump and Pompeo’s Cabinet meeting remarks. Reuters reports.  

Tehran has said that it came to the assistance of a foreign oil tanker that broke down in the Strait of Hormuz as international concern is growing over the fate of an Emirati-linked ship that went missing in Iranian waters three days ago. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi was today quoted as saying that “a foreign oil tanker encountered a problem in the Persian Gulf due to technical failure and Iranian forces, in accordance with international regulations, rushed to help it after receiving a distress call,” Eric Cunningham reports at the Washington Post. 

The U.K. will send a third warship to the Gulf, though the country’s Ministry of Defense has claimed that the move is not related to the current Iran crisis. The ministry announced yesterday that the type 45 frigate H.M.S. Duncan is transiting to the region to ensure Britain maintains a continuous maritime security presence, while type 23 frigate H.M.S. Montrose undertakes planned maintenance. Al Jazeera reports. 

“If this were a boxing match … you’d say that the United States is trying to let Iran punch itself out,” David Ignatius comments at the Washington Post in an analysis of the current state of play between the geopolitical adversaries. 

TURKEY

U.S. President Trump announced yesterday that the Pentagon has suspended Turkey from participating in the N.A.T.O. F-35 fighter jet production program and from buying a planned 100 F-35s due to Ankara’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 air-defense system, Vivian Salama, Michael C. Bender and Michael R. Gordon report at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump declined to criticize Turkey’s purchase of the Russian system condemned by the Pentagon and N.A.T.O.. The president explained that Turkey was “forced into” the acquisition by his predecessor Barack Obama, and that he understood why they opted to buy the Russian missiles; “I’ve had a good relationship with President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan,” Trump told reporters at a Cabinet meeting at the White House, adding “it’s a very tough situation that they’re in and it’s a very tough situation that we’ve been placed in … with all of that being said, we’re working through it – we’ll see what happens,” AFP reports.

“It’s not really fair … because of the fact that you bought a Russian missile … we’re not allowed to sell them billions of dollars’ worth of aircraft … it’s not a fair situation,” Trump stated, adding “I would say that [F-35 manufacturer] Lockheed is not exactly happy.” Reuters reports.

Trump’s nominee to become the next secretary of defense Mark Esper labeled Turkey’s move as “disappointing.” Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, Esper stated “they have been a long-standing and very capable N.A.T.O. ally, but their decision on the S-400 is the wrong one,” adding “the policy that I have communicated to my counterpart … is that you can either have the S-400 or you can have the F-35 … you cannot have both,” Al Jazeera reports.

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Shi’ite Houthi rebels said they launched a drone attack on Jizan airport in southwestern Saudi Arabia early today. Houthi military spokespersonn Yahya Saria claimed the attack disrupted operations at the airport, Reuters reports.

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen intercepted and destroyed three drones fired by the Houthi rebels towards the southwestern Saudi cities of Jizan and Abha, state T.V. reported yesterday. The AP reports.

SUDAN

Sudan’s ruling military council and the pro-democracy movement signed a “political declaration” yesterday at a ceremony in Khartoum as part of a power-sharing deal intended to end the country’s impasse following weeks of a standstill in talks. The parties are expected to sign a second document, a constitutional declaration, within days, Samy Magdy reports at the AP.

The deputy chief of the ruling military council Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo – who signed the deal on behalf of the generals – commented that the agreement was a “historic moment” for Sudan. “I am pleased this morning to give this good news … to the great Sudanese people of the signing of the political agreement,” Dagalo stated this morning, Jason Burke and Zeinab Mohammed Salih report at the Guardian.

CHINA AND HONG KONG  

Lawmakers in the U.S. House and Senate brought in legislation yesterday to keep Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei out of U.S. fifth generation (5.G.) networks and block American firms from doing business with the company. The Defending America’s 5.G. Future Act, which would codify President Trump’s May executive order, would bar the removal of Huawei from the Commerce Department’s “entity list” without House and Senate approval and empower Congress to disallow administration waivers for U.S. companies to do business with the Chinese company, Maggie Miller reports at the Hill.

Around 2,000 senior citizens in Hong Kong – including well-known actress Deannie Ip – marched today in support for youths leading the monthlong demonstrations against the controversial extradition bill. The seniors also criticized the police for their heavy-handed tactics during Sunday’s protests in Hong Kong’s Sha Tin district, with Ip commenting police should not use such tactics against young protesters, who “have no guns” and were peacefully expressing their frustrations, adding “they are young people and they are doing the right thing … why are they being mistreated?” the AP reports.

Chinese diplomats are using Twitter more and more to defend Beijing’s policies to foreign nations. Diplomats are expressing their views on a platform banned in their own country with the aim of “shaping the narrative about China” as well as “trying to shape a broader international narrative,” AFP reports.

An analysis of how Hong Kong is “turning into the West Berlin of the quasi-cold war between the West and China” is provided by Melinda Liu at Foreign Policy.

“The backlash abroad against President Xi Jinping’s China has spread rapidly in the last year,” Richard McGregor writes at CNN, commenting that it is “hard to see how Xi’s supremacy in domestic politics can be sustained.”

THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

Plaintiffs who challenged the Trump administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census yesterday asked a federal judge to punish administration officials, arguing that the officials had deliberately delayed the lawsuit in order to hide damning evidence. In a motion filed in United States District Court in Manhattan, the plaintiffs – including the American Civil Liberties Union (A.C.L.U.) and a coalition of state and local governments – charged that the conduct raised “serious questions” about the role that senior Department of Justice (D.O.J.) officials played in aiding that strategy, Michael Wines reports at the New York Times. 

Rep. Al Green (D-Tex.) filed articles of impeachment against President Trump last night, triggering a “contentious” vote in the coming days around an issue that has starkly divided the Democratic Party. Green said the House must impeach Trump for racist remarks suggesting four minority congresswoman “go back” to their ancestral countries as well as other comments made previously, Rachel Bade reports at the Washington Post.  

A full text version of Green’s impeachment resolution is provided at NBC. 

White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway yesterday claimed that she was “taking one for the team” by defying a House subpoena compelling her to testify on her multiple violations of the Hatch Act – a federal ethics law that bars government officials from engaging in political activities at work. “They’re trying to silence me and take away my First Amendment rights,” Conway said during an interview regarding her decision to miss the House Oversight hearing for which she was subpoenaed, adding: “I would be happy to testify, just so we’re clear … I have nothing to hide … I have done nothing wrong.” Caitlin Oprysko reports at POLITICO.  

Army Secretary Mark Esper appears to be on a “glide path” to confirmation as Pentagon chief, following yesterday’s hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Esper clashed briefly with Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) over his previous job as a lobbyist for defense contractor Raytheon, but that debate provided the only point of contention during the hearing, Ellen Mitchell and Rebecca Kheel report at the Hill.  

Esper said that he advocates putting diplomacy first with Iran, as tensions simmer between Washington and Tehran in the Gulf. An account of the hearing is provided by Dan Lamothe and Pal Sonne at the Washington Post. 

IMMIGRATION

A group of immigrant advocacy groups yesterday filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration’s new rule that says asylum seekers who pass through a third country must first apply for refugee status there rather than the U.S.. The coalition filed the suit in the Northern District of California in San Francisco, requesting an injunction to block the policy just a day after the government announced it Monday, Miriam Jordan reports at the New York Times.

The new asylum rule has left thousands of migrants stranded at the Southern border as they await their hearings in U.S. immigration court, Santiago Pérez reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“Since Trump took office … Democrats have become the party of illegal immigration,” Marc A. Thiessen argues at the Washington Post, commenting that “it’s a little hard to take Democrats seriously when, in investigating Trump, they claim to be fighting for the principle that no one is above the law.”

It is not clear whether the U.S. will block or help those fleeing violence or persecution, Susan Gzesh writes at Just Security noting that “International Law on protection of asylum seekers was developed at a time when nations realized they had failed the victims of the Nazis and other tyrannies by turning away those seeking refuge.”

JULIAN ASSANGE 

WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election from Ecuador’s embassy in London in order to help Donald Trump get elected, former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa has told reporters; Correa added that he was aware that Assange was meddling in the 2016 election while it was happening. “We did notice that he was interfering in the elections and we do not allow that because we have principles, very clear values, as we would not like anyone to interfere in our elections,” Correa commented, adding that “WikiLeaks’ justification was that they were providing truthful information … sure, but [it] was just about [Trump’s Democratic opponent] Hillary Clinton.” Jamie Ross reports at The Daily Beast. 

Assange had multiple Russian visitors to the embassy in addition to well as visits from world-class hackers, according to recent documents obtained by C.N.N. “Supporters of Assange and WikiLeaks have tried to absolve Assange … painting him as a truth-telling hero … but what this trove of documents appears to confirm is not heroic at all,” Josh Campbell comments on the new disclosures at CNN. 

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

At least 12 people were killed and scores wounded yesterday in air strikes believed to have been carried out by the Syrian air force on a popular market in a village in the northwestern rebel-held province of Idlib, according to rescuers and residents. Reuters reports. 

Several nations – including the U.S. and Britain as well as the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) – have called for an “immediate end of hostilities” around the Libyan capital of Tripoli. In a joint statement issued yesterday, the countries urged Libya’s warring parties to go back to a U.N.-mediated political process targeted at restoring peace in the country; “there can be no military solution in Libya … persistent violence has claimed nearly 1,100 lives, displaced more than 100,000, and fueled a growing humanitarian emergency,” the statement said, Al Jazeera reports.

The U.S. has announced sanctions on Myanmar’s military Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing and three other military leaders due to their role in the “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya Muslim minority group. Al Jazeera reports. 

The U.S. said yesterday that it still hopes to hold denuclearization talks with North Korea, after Pyongyang warned that U.S.-South Korean military drills could affect their planned resumption. Earlier yesterday, Pyongyang had hinted it could even reconsider its moratorium on nuclear testing over next month’s drills, AFP reports.

“We are going to continue to fight,” Venezuelan opposition leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaidó claims in an interview with Annika Hernroth-Rothstein at Foreign Policy. 

Pakistan authorities today arrested Hafiz Saeed – the U.S.-wanted terror suspect blamed for the four-day militant attack on the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008 which killed over 160 people – on terror finance charges, according to a spokesperson for the chief minister of Punjab province. Reuters reports.

The House voted yesterday to condemn President Trump’s attacks against four congresswomen of color as racist. Julie Hirschfeld Davis reports at the New York Times.

A judge admonished longtime Trump associate Roger Stone yesterday for violating a gag order before slapping him with a court-mandated social media ban. David K. Li reports at NBC. 

How likely are U.S. offensive cyber operations  to breach international law by violating sovereignty and/or the principle of non-intervention? Edwin Djabatey considers the question at Just Securityin the second part of an international law analysis on U.S. offensive cyber operations against economic cyber intrusions.

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens died yesterday at the age of 99 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., of complications following a stroke he suffered Monday. Nina Totenberg reports at NPR, which has also posted a guide to “Stevens’ Key Decisions On The Supreme Court.”  

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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).