The Early Edition: July 31, 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.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

North Korea yesterday launched two ballistic missiles, Seoul announced, with the development coming days after a similar launch that Pyongyang described as a warning to the South over planned joint military drills with the U.S. The two devices were shot from the Wonsan area on the country’s east coast at dawn, flying around 155 miles into the sea, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (J.C.S.,) AFP reports.

“The North’s repeated missile launches are not helpful to an effort to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula and we urge [North Korea] to stop this kind of behavior,” a J.C.S. statement commented regarding the development, Al Jazeera reports.

The U.S. is aware of reports about the launch and will continue to monitor the situation, according to a senior official in Washington. South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said hours after today’s launch that Pyongyang should be considered an adversary if it continues to threaten the South, Timothy W. Martin and Andrew Jeong report at the Wall Street Journal.  

Last week’s missile shooting marked the first launch of projectiles since U.S. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jon-un met in June at the Demilitarized Zone (D.M.Z.) that separates the two Koreas. The projectiles were short-range missiles that did not pose a threat to the U.S. or its allies, according to two U.S. officials, Stella Kim, Doha Madani and Courtney Kube report at NBC.

The latest test also comes as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is set to attend the A.S.E.A.N. meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers in Bangkok today; North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, was initially scheduled to attend that meeting, but later cancelled the trip. Pompeo commented on his departure that he did not know when denuclearization talks with North Korea would restart but that he was hopeful it would not be “too long,” Jake Kwon, Barbara Starr and Ryan Browne report at CNN.

Pompeo will also seek to ease brewing tensions over trade between U.S. allies Japan and South Korea, and will meet both countries’ foreign ministers separately Friday before convening a three-way meeting among them. “We will encourage them to find a path forward … we think it’s important,” Pompeo said aboard his plane, adding “they’re both great partners of ours; they’re both working closely with us on our efforts to denuclearize North Korea,” Matthew Lee reports at the AP.

CHINA, HONG KONG AND TAIWAN

Dozens of Hong Kong protestors appeared in court today on charges of rioting – a sentence punishable by up to ten years in prison – following arrests made during Sunday’s demonstrations. The 44 protesters were charged for their alleged role in demonstrations which sparked violent clashes between police and protesters in a residential neighborhood on the main island Sunday; their sentencing is scheduled for Sep. 25, Laurel Chor reports at the Guardian.

China has defended its controversial Xinjiang camps amid claims of exploitation and involuntary detention – saying most of the people who were in the centers had left the facilities and “returned to society.” Speaking at a press briefing in Beijing yesterday, Xinjiang’s Uighur governor Shohrat Zakir maintained that the system was an effective and “pioneering” approach to combat “terrorism,” adding that “more than 90 percent of the graduates have found satisfactory jobs with good incomes,” without specifying how many people were being held in the camps, Al Jazeera reports.

U.S. lawmakers have accused the Trump administration of delaying approval of a sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan worth $8 billion – possibly to avoid offending Beijing amid delicate trade negotiations or to use the planned sale as a “bargaining chip.” Chinese officials have voiced strong opposition to the sale of the jets requested by Taiwan, Edward Wong and Eric Schmitt report at the New York Times.

A detailed account of China’s crackdown on the minority Muslim Uighur group and the ever-present security and far-reaching collection of data in Xinjiang is provided by Yuan Yang at the Financial Times.

“Protesters in Hong Kong have delivered the most stunning rebuke to Chinese tyranny since the Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989,” Claudia Rosett argues at the Wall Street Journal, warning that “Beijing is now laying the propaganda groundwork for a military crackdown.”

U.S. President Trump’s proposal for ambitious new arms control is a “nonstarter” in light of Beijing, Robert A. Manning writes at Foreign Policy, commenting that U.S. and Russia “can’t maintain the global system of nuclear deterrence on their own anymore.”

AFGHANISTAN

Dozens of civilian passengers were killed in Afghanistan this morning when the bus they were travelling in ran over a roadside bomb, with women and children comprising most of the victims, according to officials.  “A passenger bus travelling on the Kandahar-Herat highway hit a Taliban roadside bomb … so far at least 28 killed, 10 wounded,” spokesperson for western Farah region Muhibullah Muhib announced, AFP reports.

“The bomb was freshly planted by the Taliban insurgents to target Afghan and foreign security forces,” Muhib added. Spokesperson for the Afghan presidency Sediq Sediqq put the death toll slightly higher at 34, also blaming the incident on the Taliban, Al Jazeera reports.

IRAN

The Trump administration appears to be taking a softer approach to its maximum pressure campaign on Iran with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expected to reissue waivers this week that will enable international work on nuclear projects inside the country to proceed, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter. The move will garner disappointment from Iran hawks who want more hard-hitting action against Tehran, including ending the waivers, Eliana Johnson reports at POLITICO.

The U.S. ramped up diplomatic pressure on Germany yesterday as it sought to combine efforts to secure the key Strait of Hormuz oil passageway amid heightening tensions between Washington and Iran. “We’ve formally asked Germany to join France and the U.K. to help secure the Strait of Hormuz and combat Iranian aggression,” U.S. embassy spokesperson Tamara Sternberg-Greller said in a statement, adding “members of the German government have been clear that freedom of navigation should be protected … our question is, protected by whom?” AFP reports.

Iran rejected Pompeo’s offer to visit and talk to the Iranian people as a “hypocritical gesture.” Speaking on the sidelines of a Cabinet meeting today, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif remarked: “You don’t need to come to Iran,” proposing Pompeo instead grant visas for Iranian reporters to travel to the U.S. and interview him there, the AP reports.

Iran’s Defense Minister Brigadier Gen. Amir Hatami today maintained that it was “normal” for the country to test missiles as part of its defense research, according to Iranian media; Hatami’s statement came after Washington reported Tehran had test-fired a medium-range missile last week, Reuters reports.

Iranian and United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) officials met in Tehran to discuss maritime security and the flow of shipping traffic in the Persian Gulf in an attempt to address threats to commercial vessels passing through the strategic oil supply route that have increased tensions. Iranian state-run media reported that the two country’s coast guards also touched on the issue of illegal movements, Rory Jones and Benoit Faucon report at the Wall Street Journal.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom introduced a law yesterday that requires presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to appear on the state’s primary ballot, a move aimed directly at President Trump. “As one of the largest economies in the world and home to one in nine Americans eligible to vote, California has a special responsibility to require this information of presidential and gubernatorial candidates,” Newsom wrote in the statement accompanying his signature on the bill, Al Jazeera reports.

Trump yesterday appeared hopeful that his nominee to be the next director of national intelligence (D.N.I.) Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) would bring order to U.S. agencies that have “run amok.” “I think we need somebody like that there,” Trump told reporters at the White House, adding “we need somebody strong that can really rein it in because, as I think you’ve all learned, the intelligence agencies have run amok,” Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

Trump lawyers yesterday failed to reach a compromise with lawyers for House Democrats and New York state over the president’s state tax returns after Federal Judge Carl Nichols had ordered lawyers for the three sides to try to resolve the dispute. “Notwithstanding their best efforts, the parties are unable to reach agreement,” the parties stated in a joint court filing, Brian Faler reports at POLITICO.

Air Force Gen. John Hyten – Trump’s nominee to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – strongly denied allegations of sexual assault in his opening statement and went on to received support from Republicans and even some Democrats during his confirmation hearing yesterday, the AP reports.

Former congressional staffer Kash Patel has taken on the role of Senior Director of the Counterterrorism Directorate of the National Security Council (N.S.C..) Patel was one of the leading workers who tried to discredit the investigation into Russian electoral interference, Betsy Woodruff reports at The Daily Beast.

The Senate yesterday approved Trump’s nomination for David Norquist to be the deputy Defense secretary, confirming the president’s pick by voice vote. Norquist had been acting deputy Defense secretary since January, Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

A visual guide to Democrats’ stances on beginning impeachment proceedings against Trump is provided by NPR.

Trump’s racism is an impeachable offense – especially considering the precedent of former president Andrew Johnson, Peter Irons argues at NBC, commenting that “presidents are free to oppose and criticize laws passed by Congress but not to block their execution for reasons of racial animus.”

“Intelligence agencies need to work freely and honestly … and not be swayed by political considerations and the need to placate a president,” the New York Times editorial board argues, commenting on Ratcliffe’s suitability to the role of D.N.I..

TRUMP-RUSSIA AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

New York Judge John Koeltl yesterday dismissed a lawsuit from the Democratic National Committee (D.N.C.) alleging that the Trump campaign had conspired with WikiLeaks and the Kremlin to interfere in the 2016 election. Koeltl wrote in his ruling that the Trump officials were insulated from the allegations under the First Amendment, also finding that Russia could not be sued in the courts for the election interference although it could be penalized with measure such as sanctions, Jacqueline Thomsen reports at the Hill.

House Democrats yesterday introduced legislation that would require campaigns to report any foreign contacts to federal authorities, marking the latest election security developments in the wake of last week’s warnings from former special counsel Robert Mueller. The measure, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Elissa Slotkin (Mich.), Lauren Underwood (Ill.), and Jason Crow (Colo.,) would require federal campaigns to notify the F.B.I. and Federal Election Commission about any foreign contacts who try to donate funds or assist a candidate, Maggie Miller reports at the Hill.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Bombing and shelling by the Syrian government and its Russian allies in the northerwestern province of Idlib have led to “carnage in the so-called de-escalation zone,” U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock told the Security Council yesterday, reminding the council that “on 26 July, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (O.H.C.H.R.) identified at least 450 civilians who have been killed since late April,” and urging it to “do something.” The U.N. News Centre reports.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is introducing new legislation aimed at restricting the transfer of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, marking the latest sign of growing congressional backlash to the Trump administration’s close relationship with the kingdom. The bill put forward by Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.,) would bar the U.S. Export-Import Bank from financing the transfer of nuclear technology and equipment to Saudi Arabia unless nuclear cooperation agreements were put in place, Robbie Gramer reports at Foreign Policy.

Israel’s Cabinet yesterday unanimously approved a proposal to build over 700 housing units for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank in addition to 6,000 Israeli settlement housing units. Ilan Ben Zion reports at the AP.

Security forces in Sudan yesterday fired tear gas and ammunition at demonstrators in the capital Khartoum protesting against the killing of five people Monday. Al Jazeera reports.

The U.S. may be planning to blame Russian non-compliance as a pretext to pull out of the Comprehensive nuclear Test Ban Treaty (C.T.B.T.,) a Russian diplomat told the international Conference on Disarmament yesterday. The U.S. has signed but not ratified the C.T.B.T., Reuters reports.

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced yesterday that her office is opening an investigation into the data breach by bank holding company Capital One that resulted in the personal information of about 100 million U.S. customers being illegally accessed. “My office will begin an immediate investigation into Capital One’s breach, and will work to ensure that New Yorkers who were victims of this breach are provided relief,” James said in a statement, adding “we cannot allow hacks of this nature to become every day occurrences,” Maggie Miller reports at the Hill.

An interactive feature on the foreign policy positions of each Democratic presidential candidate is provided at Foreign Policy. 

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About the Author(s)

Nat O'Connell

Associate 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).