The Early Edition: August 22, 2019

Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.

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.

U.S.-DENMARK RELATIONS

President Trump called Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s comments about a proposed U.S. purchase of Greenland “nasty,” telling reporters at the White House that it was “not nice” the way Frederiksen called the idea “absurd” and that she “shouldn’t treat the United States that way.” Rick Noack, John Wagner and Felicia Sonmez report at the Washington Post.

Trump’s remarks yesterday follow his decision to cancel a planned visit to Copenhagen after Frederiksen failed to entertain his proposal to buy Greenland – an autonomous territory that does not have full independence from Denmark. Shaun Walker reports at the Guardian.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “expressed appreciation for Denmark’s cooperation” as a U.S. ally during a phone call to his Danish counterpart Jeppe Kofod, with Kofod stating that their discussion affirmed the close relationship and bond between the two countries. The BBC reports.

Trump’s attack on Denmark was initially absurd and then evolved into a serious diplomatic rupture, Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman provide an analysis at the New York Times.   

An explanation of the importance of the U.S.-Denmark relationship is provided by Claire Parker at the Washington Post.

Former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt spoke for everyone when she asked: “Is this some sort of joke?” the New York Times editorial board writes, excoriating Trump for his “willful ignorance of how the world works” and for his readiness to dispense with old alliances.

AFGHANISTAN

Talks between the U.S. and the Afghan Taliban resumed yesterday in the Qatari capital of Doha and are expected to continue today, with the negotiations reaching a crucial stage – including the possibility that a deal could be put forward within days. Craig Nelson reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. military command stated that two U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan’s Faryab province yesterday but did not provide further details. Their deaths come amid intensified violence and against the backdrop of ongoing U.S.-Taliban peace talks. Mujib Mashal and Thomas Gibbons-Neff report at the New York Times.

IRAN

Talking to the U.S. is “useless,” the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said today during a speech marking the unveiling of a long-range surface-to-air missile system, adding that Iran’s enemies “do not accept logic, [so] we cannot respond with logic.” The AP reports.

President Rouhani warned yesterday that international waterways will not have “the same security as before” if world powers bring Iran’s oil exports down to zero, cautioning against unilateral pressure and making the comments amid increased tension between Tehran and Washington. Reuters reports.

“I can tell you that we will not start the war… but we will defend ourselves,” the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said today on the possibility of a conflict in the Gulf. Reuters reports.

French President Emmanuel Macron said yesterday that he will meet with Iranian officials before this weekend’s G-7 summit to “propose ideas” to de-escalate tensions between the U.S. and Iran and to discuss the “softening of sanctions or a compensation mechanism” in light of U.S. pressure – though it is unclear what is meant by a “compensation mechanism.” Michel Rose and Marine Pennetier report at Reuters.

Zarif today welcomed the prospect of talks with Macron to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal following U.S. withdrawal from the accord. Reuters reports.

IRAQ

Iranian-backed paramilitary forces in Iraq, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.), have accused the U.S. of targeting its positions in recent weeks, claiming that the U.S. has been using Israeli drones to attack arms depots and that the P.M.F. would use “all means at its disposal” to prevent future attacks. The BBC reports.

The U.S. military responded to the P.M.F. accusations by stating that it operates in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government and its focus is on the enduring defeat of the Islamic State group, while the Israeli military has not confirmed or denied responsibility for the attack. Liz Sly reports at the Washington Post.

The head of the P.M.F. appears to be walking back on accusations made by his deputy that the U.S. was responsible for the mysterious blasts on bases run by the militia, the AP reports.

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

A U.S. military drone was shot down over northern Yemen yesterday, leading to a U.S. Central Command statement that they are “investigating reports of an attack by Iranian-backed Houthis.” Sudarsan Raghavan and Missy Ryan report at the Washington Post.

“We are desperate for the funds that were promised,” the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen Lise Grande said yesterday, warning that the failure of donor countries would lead to the closing of another 22 life-saving programs in the coming months. The U.N. News Centre reports.

Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. have increasingly diverged over tactics in their campaign in Yemen and the cracks in their alliance could spell trouble for the Trump administration’s Middle East policy. Tim Lister provides an analysis at CNN.

SYRIA

A “humanitarian corridor” has been opened to civilians in the rebel-held northern province of Hama, the Syrian foreign ministry said today, making the statement as the Syrian government intensifies its offensive in the country’s northwest. The AP reports.

Turkey said yesterday that it will maintain all of its observation posts in Syria which were formed under an agreement with Russia and Iran. The statement follows a suspected Syrian army strike near a Turkish military convoy on its way to a post in the rebel-held Idlib province, Reuters reports.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

Dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea on denuclearization is expected to reopen soon, the South Korean deputy national security adviser Kim Hyun-chong said today, adding that the talks “could go well.” Hyonhee Shin reports at Reuters.

The U.S.’s recent testing of a mid-range cruise missile and its plan to deploy F-35 fighter jets around the Korean peninsula is a “grave provocation” that could trigger a new cold war, a North Korean foreign ministry spokesperson said today according to K.C.N.A. state media, stating that Pyongyang remains open to further talks but these cannot be “accompanied by military threats.” Song Jung-a reports at the Financial Times.

South Korea today decided to stop exchanging classified intelligence on North Korea with Japan as relations between the two countries continue to deteriorate. The end of the intelligence-sharing pact poses problems for U.S. efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, Hyung-Jin Kim reports at the AP.

TAIWAN

China yesterday responded to the proposed sale of $8bn worth of advanced U.S. jet fighters to Taiwan by sanctioning any U.S. firm that participates in the arms sale. Chun Han Wong report at the Wall Street Journal.

“China will not sit idly by” as the U.S. sells fighter jets to Taiwan, a senior Chinese army officer said today, stating that Beijing may take “additional measures” – but did not elaborate on what measures may be taken. Christopher Bodeen reports at the AP.

RUSSIA

A deadly explosion in northern Russia on Aug. 8 was caused by weapons testing, Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday at a news conference in the Finnish capital of Helsinki, claiming that there is no radiation danger from the blast. Georgi Kantchev and Michael R. Gordon report at the Wall Street Journal.

The recent U.S. testing of a Navy Tomahawk cruise missile raises new threats to Russia and Moscow “will react accordingly,” Putin said in Helsinki, adding that the U.S. had tested the missile too soon after withdrawing from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (I.N.F.) Treaty which banned such weapons. The AP reports.

Russia and China have called for a U.N. Security Council meeting tomorrow to discuss U.S. use of medium-range missiles, making the request following the U.S. cruise missile test. Michelle Nichols reports at Reuters.

The U.S. testing of the cruise missile “appears to confirm Russia’s fears about American intentions as Washington and Moscow backslide into Cold War-style mistrust,” David Axe writes at The Daily Beast, providing an analysis of the threats to arms control.

G-7 SUMMIT

The traditional joint communiqué agreed at the end of the G-7 summit of industrialized nations will not be issued this year, French President Emmanuel Macron has said – a decision that follows last year’s awkward situation where President Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had a row over endorsement of the communiqué. The summit will take place this weekend in Biarritz, Victor Mallet reports at the Financial Times.

An explanation of Russia’s suspension from the G-7 is provided by Adam Taylor at the Washington Post, offering an overview ahead of this weekend’s summit.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Trump administration yesterday unveiled a new immigration rule that would allow migrant families who cross the border illegally to be detained indefinitely, eliminating the standard of care for migrant children enshrined in what is known as the Flores settlement. Michael D. Shear and Zolan Kanno-Young report at the New York Times.

President Trump yesterday called on other countries to do more to combat the Islamic State group, warning that the U.S. does not want to be embroiled in another long-term conflict and that the U.S. is “7,000 miles away” from the area that the terrorist group operates. Brett Samuels and Rebecca Kheel report at the Hill.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said yesterday that there is “no point” talking to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding India’s crackdown in the disputed Kashmir territory, stating that his overtures for peace and dialogue seem to have been misinterpreted as “appeasement.” Salman Masood and Maria Abi-Habib report at the New York Times.

“Only one capital is responsible for what is unfolding in Hong Kong: Beijing,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) writes at the Wall Street Journal of the ongoing protests triggered by a now-suspended bill to allow extradition of Hong Kongers to mainland China, and emphasizing that the U.S. stands with Hong Kong and other nations should too.

President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani has increased his push for the Ukrainian government to intensify its investigations against Trump’s political opponents, including former Vice President Joe Biden. Kenneth P. Vogel and Andrew E. Kramer report at the New York Times.

President Trump has proven himself to be the opposite of a masterful negotiator, Michael Hirsh writes at Foreign Policy, highlighting the negotiations with China, Iran, North Korea, and the recent spat with Denmark over Greenland. 

Filed under:
About the Author(s)

Pouneh Ahari

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK