The Early Edition: August 23, 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’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho today called U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a “poisonous plant of American diplomacy” in response to Pompeo’s comments that the U.S. will maintain crippling sanctions on Pyongyang unless it denuclearizes. Hyung-Jin Kim reports at the AP.

Ri dismissed Pompeo’s recent comments on sanctions as “hackneyed” rhetoric in a statement carried by state-run K.C.N.A. media, and said the remarks left North Korea skeptical “as to whether we can solve any problem with such a guy.” Joyce Lee and Hyonhee Shin report at Reuters.

South Korea announced yesterday that it would withdraw from an intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan as a consequence of deteriorating relations over trade, security and wartime history. Michael R. Gordon, Andrew Jeong and Alastair Gale report at the Wall Street Journal.

“We’re disappointed to see the decision the South Koreans made about that information-sharing agreement,” Pompeo said in response to the reports. The breakdown has led to fears that cooperation over North Korea denuclearization will be undermined, Justin McCurry and agencies report at the Guardian.

The Pentagon yesterday urged the two sides to come together and stated that “our mutual defense and security ties must persist despite friction” in the South Korea-Japan relationship. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

A three-way channel involving the U.S. will allow South Korea to share intelligence with Japan, a senior official in South Korea’s presidential Blue House said today. Reuters reports.

North Korea and China stand to benefit from the deteriorating South Korea-Japan relationship, and the bilateral tensions reveal President Trump’s failure to engage with longstanding alliances. Joshua Berlinger provides an analysis at CNN.

The Trump administration “should be heavily leaning on its closest Asian allies to come to their senses,” the New York Times editorial board writes.

CHINA and HONG KONG

Protestors in Hong Kong are preparing to target the airport this weekend in a continuation of the demonstrations triggered by a now-suspended bill allowing the extradition of Hong Kong citizens to mainland China. Donny Kwok and Twinnie Siu report at Reuters.

Google announced yesterday that it has disabled 210 YouTube channels which appeared to be part of a Chinese disinformation campaign to discredit the Hong Kong protests, the move following similar action by the social media companies Twitter and Facebook. Robert McMillan reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The family of the Hong Kong citizen and British Consulate employee Simon Cheng have dismissed China’s claim that he was detained for soliciting prostitutes, calling the reports a “joke.” Julia Hollingsworth CNN.

Canada’s Consulate has banned its staff from leaving Hong Kong on official business following the detention of Simon Cheng. Kelvin Chan reports at the AP.

Leaders of the G-7 industrialized democracies must use this weekend’s summit to send a clear message to Chinese President Xi Jinping on the situation in Hong Kong and emphasize that a decision to crackdown on the protests would lead to significant economic and political consequences. The Washington Post editorial board writes.

AFGHANISTAN

Negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban resumed yesterday with signs that the two sides are close to agreeing a deal to end the war in Afghanistan – though it is not yet clear when a deal might be reached. The ongoing talks have been taking place despite increased violence, including the suicide bombing of a wedding party in Kabul last week and the killing of two U.S. service members on Wednesday. Kathy Gannon and Cara Anna report at the AP.

The two U.S. service members killed in Afghanistan’s Faryab province on Wednesday were identified by the Pentagon yesterday, Zack Budryk reports at the Hill.

The Taliban spokesperson Sohail Shaheen said yesterday that the deaths of the two U.S. troops would have a “positive impact” on the talks with the U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad, claiming that the losses would emphasize the need to “put an end to the war.” Pamela Constable reports at the Washington Post.

If U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has a sense of honor, “he might consider resigning rather than fathering the catastrophe that may soon befall Afghanistan,” Bret Stephens writes at the New York Times, arguing that the talks are being nakedly propelled by Trump’s electoral calculations rather than a consideration of the costs of hasty troop withdrawal.

IRAQ

Israel struck an arms depot belonging to an Iranian-backed paramilitary group in Iraq last month, U.S. officials have confirmed, following strong hints by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his country was behind the string of recent attacks against the militias known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.). Lolita Baldor and Josef Federman report at the AP.

The attack in Iraq represents Israel’s expanded mission against Iranian targets that began in Syria and has the potential to drag Iraq further into the escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran. An Iraqi government national security adviser said yesterday that his country wanted to avoid taking sides and being “pushed into a war.” Alissa J. Rubin and Ronen Bergman report at the New York Times.

Iraq’s former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has warned of a “strong response” to Israel if it is found that they were behind the recent airstrikes. The AP reports.

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

U.A.E.-backed southern Yemeni separatists clashed with Saudi-backed Yemeni government forces in the southern province of Shabwa yesterday, marking another escalation in violence between the two nominal allies who make up the Saudi-led coalition against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Reuters reports.

Yemeni government forces today took full control of the city of Ataq in Shabwa following clashes with separatists. Ahmed Al-Haj and Noha Elhennawy report at the AP.

Yemen’s government has called for the expulsion of the U.A.E. from the Saudi-led coalition as violence between separatists and government forces continues in the south of the country. Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Masnour Hadi’s demand has undermined U.S. attempts to repair the relationship between the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia. Saleh al-Batati and Sune Engel Rasmussen report at the Wall Street Journal.

SYRIA

Syrian government forces yesterday captured the strategic town of Khan Sheikhoun in the rebel-held northwestern Idlib province, marking a significant milestone in President Bashar al-Assad’s four-month offensive that has seen half a million civilians displaced and an enormous cost in civilian lives. Liz Sly reports at the Washington Post.

Syrian government forces today continued their advance against rebel-held areas imposing a “choking siege” on a series of towns in the northwestern Hama province, according to state-run media. Al Jazeera reports.

The Syrian army today seized a pocket of territory in northwest Syria, according to Syrian state media. Ellen Francis reports at Reuters.

A Turkish military observation post in Hama province has been cut off by Syrian government forces today, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The AFP reports.

RUSSIA

Russia and the U.S. yesterday blamed each other for abandoning the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (I.N.F.) Treaty at a U.N. Security Council meeting, which was called by Russia after the U.S. test-fired a cruise missile previously banned under the treaty. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

Russian President Vladimir Putin today ordered reciprocal measures in response to the U.S.’s recent test-firing of a cruise missile. Andrew Osborn and Anton Kolodyazhnyy report at Reuters.

Russian medics have expressed fear that they have been exposed to radiation after treating the victims of an explosion at a military base on Aug. 8. The BBC reports.

PAKISTAN and INDIA

Security has been increased in Indian-administered Kashmir ahead of Friday prayers following calls for protests by separatists in the disputed territory – which India and Pakistan claim in full but rule in part. Devjyot Ghoshal and Fayaz Bukhari report at Reuters.

At least 152 people have been injured in Kashmir in the period between Aug. 5 and Aug. 21, according to data obtained by Reuters.

Independent U.N. experts yesterday called for the end of the communications breakdown in Kashmir and Jammu, calling the action a form of “collective punishment.” The U.N. News Centre reports.

U.S.-DENMARK RELATIONS

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) claimed yesterday that he had put forward the idea of purchasing Greenland to the Danish ambassador to the U.S. and that he had proposed the plan to President Trump last year, stating that he believes the territory could constitute a defensive tactic against China and Russia. Sen. Cotton’s comments follow President Trump’s decision earlier this week to cancel a trip to Denmark after the country rebuffed his offer to buy Greenland, Rebecca Ballhaus reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump’s idea to buy Greenland is “far from absurd,” Marc A. Thiessen writes at the Washington Post, highlighting the resources on the island and arguing that the melting of the Arctic sea ice as a consequence of global warming will open a new sea route for commercial and military vessels.

G-7 SUMMIT

French President Emmanuel Macron has called for the fires raging through the Amazon rainforest to be top of the agenda at this weekend’s meeting of G-7 industrialized nations, calling the issue an “international crisis.” Tom Phillips reports at the Guardian.

France’s main objective as host of the G-7 summit will be to avoid drama, unlike the situation last year which was overshadowed by President Trump’s disagreements with world leaders and his refusal to sign a joint communiqué. Karen DeYoung and Josh Dawsey explain at the Washington Post.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) has called on the four House panels investigating President Trump to share documents and other materials relevant to his committee’s probe into whether to instigate articles of impeachment. Andrew Desiderio and Kyle Cheney report at POLITICO.

An attack on a West Bank settlement has killed one Israeli and injured two others, according to an Israeli army statement, with the Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh commenting that the explosion is a message to Israel to “stay away from the powder keg called Jerusalem.” Yotam Berger, Yaniv Kubovich and Jack Khoury report at Haaretz.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison today expressed concern about Chinese activities in the South China Sea and agreed to cooperate to maintain peace, stability and freedom of navigation. The meeting follows yesterday’s statement by the U.S. that China has been interfering in oil and gas activities in waters claimed by Vietnam, James Pearson and Khanh Vu report at Reuters.

The U.S. today sent a navy ship through the Taiwan Strait in a move that could further exacerbate tensions with China. Idrees Ali reports at Reuters.

The Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou is not being used as a bargaining chip in the U.S.-China trade war, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said yesterday. The BBC reports.

President Trump’s plan to cut the foreign aid budget has been scrapped over fears that the funding freeze would undermine Congress’s ability to pass a bipartisan budget deal. John Bresnahan, Jennifer Scholtes and Marianne Levine report at POLITICO.

The U.S. offer to sell Patriot missile defense systems to Turkey has expired, a State Department official said yesterday, the expiration coming amid concerns over Turkey’s decision to accept a delivery of a Russian-made surface-to-air missile system. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

Talks between U.S. officials and the powerful Venezuelan, Diosdado Cabello, have been hailed by Trump administration officials as a breakthrough, Michael Stott explains at the Financial Times.

“The shipping sector is on notice that we will aggressively enforce U.S. sanctions,” a State Department official said yesterday regarding the possibility that private companies would assist the docking of an Iranian tanker traveling through the Mediterranean. Lesley Wroughton reports at Reuters.

A report released yesterday by a U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission highlighted the use of sexual violence against ethnic minorities in Myanmar, drawing attention to the Myanmar military’s “clearance operations” in 2017 in areas inhabited by the Rohingya Muslim minority. The U.N. News Centre reports.

Sudan’s former president Omar al-Bashir has appeared before court in Sudan. The dictator was subject to an international arrest warrant and U.S. sanctions, and was ousted following mass protests that started in December, Tom Wilson reports at the Financial Times.

Foreign countries’ bids for oil contracts in Libya are fueling the civil war in the country, Samuel Ramani explains at Foreign Policy. 

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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