The Early Edition: August 27, 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.

G-7 SUMMIT

President Trump held a joint news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday, marking the conclusion of the G-7 summit of industrialized nations, during which Trump softened his rhetoric towards Iran and made positive comments on resolving trade tensions with China. Rebecca Ballhaus, Stacy Meichtry and Noemie Bisserbe report at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump’s more conciliatory tone at the news conference stood in stark contrast with remarks he had made over the preceding few days on dealing with Iran and China. Michael D. Shear and Peter Baker report at the New York Times.

President Trump said that he intends to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to next year’s G-7 summit which will be held in the U.S., stating that “it would be better to have Russia inside the tent than outside the tent.” Russia was kicked out of the G-7 after it annexed the Crimea in 2014 and the U.S. president’s advocacy for Moscow’s readmission has caused intense disagreements over the weekend. Michael Birnbaum and Philip Rucker report at the Washington Post.

Macron yesterday continued his attempts to de-escalate tensions between the U.S. and Iran by offering to broker talks on nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, to which Trump responded: “If the circumstances were correct” he would “certainly agree” to meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Victor Mallet and Michael Peel report at the Financial Times.

“What I hope is that in coming weeks, based on these talks, we can manage to see a summit between President Rouhani and President Trump,” Macron said at the news conference, not offering further details, but making the comments ahead of the U.N. General Assembly which Rouhani and Trump are expected to attend. Al Jazeera reports.

President Rouhani today said he would not engage in talks unless the U.S. lifts “all illegal, unjust and unfair sanctions imposed on Iran,” adding that Iran was always ready to talk but “this lock will not be unlocked” without Washington making a “positive change.” Parisa Hafezi reports at Reuters.

Brazil today rejected a $20m offer from G-7 countries to help battle the fires raging through the Amazon rainforest, with the chief of staff to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro accusing Macron’s actions of demonstrating a colonialist mindset. Jonathan Watts reports at the Guardian.

Trump yesterday proposed his own luxury golf resort in Doral, Florida as a potential venue for the 2020 G-7 summit, potentially raising ethical issues regarding the line between for-profit business and the presidency. Patricia Mazzei, Michael D. Shear and Eric Lipton report at the New York Times.

G-7 SUMMIT: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

French President Emmanuel Macron made headway on defusing tensions between the U.S. and Iran, but there was “little else to show” from the G-7 summit which was overshadowed by divisions over foreign and economic policy. Jeff Mason and Richard Lough provide an overview at Reuters.

“The pity of the entire Group of 7 show was that it was part of a new normal in which the world’s major liberal democracies basically accept that they are out of sync” with the U.S. president, the New York Times editorial board writes, highlighting the points of disagreements between the leaders and the ways in which they decided to deal with Trump.

The U.S. president’s performance at the G-7 summit was a “stunning display of incoherence – even by Mr. Trump’s standards…,” the Washington Post editorial board writes, providing an overview of his contradictory comments.

This year’s G-7 summit may be the last of the “old order,” Julian Borger writes at the Guardian, suggesting that next year’s event may be “a branding event at a Trump golf resort, with [Russian President] Vladimir Putin as de-facto co-chair….”

ISRAEL-IRAN TENSIONS

Apparent strikes by the Israeli military against Iran-backed targets in Lebanon and Iraq over the past few days were described yesterday by Lebanese and Iraqi politicians as a “declaration of war.” Israel seems to have stepped up its mission against Iran and Iran-backed militias: hitting a military base in Syria on Saturday, striking a Lebanese Hezbollah militant group media office in the suburbs of the Lebanese capital of Beirut on Sunday morning, targeting a militia commander’s convoy in western Iraq on Sunday afternoon, and striking a Palestinian facility in eastern Lebanon yesterday. Israel has only acknowledged the attack in Syria and has declined to confirm or deny the incidents in Iraq or Lebanon, Liz Sly and Suzan Haidamous report at the Washington Post.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri yesterday asked U.N. Security Council diplomats for international help to avoid “any slide towards a serious escalation,” making a statement after Lebanese President Michel Aoun said that his country would be allowed to “resort to our right to defend our sovereignty, independence and territorial security.” Ben Hubbard reports at the New York Times.

Hezbollah today claimed that the drone that crashed Sunday in Beirut’s suburbs contained a sealed explosive device intended to carry out an attack. The AFP reports.

“Iran is working on several fronts to carry out deadly attacks against the state of Israel. Israel will continue to defend its security by all means necessary,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video statement released yesterday, responding to criticisms of the strike in Syria and the alleged strikes in Iraq and Lebanon. The BBC reports.

“The United States fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself from imminent threats,” U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said in a message on Twitter yesterday after speaking with Netanyahu. Reuters reports.

Movement at the Israel-Lebanon border has been restricted by the Israeli military over fears of a Hezbollah retaliation. Reuters reports.

Israel has expanded its shadow war against Iran as Netanyahu seeks to win what is expected to be a close election, with the Israeli Prime Minister stating that the military efforts are critical to the country’s security. Felicia Schwartz explains at the Wall Street Journal.

AFGHANISTAN

The prospect of an accord between the U.S. and the Taliban faces various obstacles, including questions from U.S. Congress about the deal’s ability to safeguard America against terrorist attacks by extremist groups harbored in Afghanistan and other parts of the region. Craig Nelson reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“It is long past time to accept the risks and difficult compromises of a negotiated settlement; they only become more severe the longer we delay,” former U.S. deputy special representative for Afghanistan Jarrett Blanc writes at the Washington Post, calling for the U.S. to reach and accept the “best deal available now.”

The Trump administration must put forward a strategy for Afghanistan that implements its counterterrorism aims, Robert Pape writes at Foreign Policy, suggesting three options to achieve this goal.

CHINA and HONG KONG

“We want to put an end to the chaotic situation in Hong Kong,” the territory’s leader Carrie Lam said today, making the comments as protests – which were triggered by a now-suspended bill allowing for the extradition of Hong Kong to mainland China – have become increasingly violent. Felix Tam and Clare Jim report at Reuters.

Lam denied claims that she has lost control of Hong Kong and vowed not to accept the broader demands put forward by the protestors. Verna Yu reports at the Guardian.

The Hong Kong protests have grown beyond all predictions and have surpassed the 2014 Umbrella Movement in terms of size, length and unrest. James Griffiths provides an analysis at CNN.

TRUMP-RUSSIA AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Democrats on the Committee yesterday failed a motion to expedite their lawsuit seeking to enforce a subpoena against former White House counsel Don McGahn, arguing that McGahn’s refusal to testify “severely impedes the Judiciary Committee to do its time-sensitive work” investigating whether to approve articles of impeachment. Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

The House Judiciary Committee yesterday issued a subpoena to former White House staff secretary Rob Porter as part of its efforts “to hold the president accountable as we move forward with our investigation into obstruction, corruption and abuse of power by Trump and his associates.” Andrew Desiderio and Eliana Johnson report at POLITICO.

SYRIA

Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdogan will seek assurances from Russian President Vladimir Putin to protect Turkish forces in northwest Syria during a meeting scheduled today. Orhan Coskun reports at Reuters.

Insurgents in the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib today launched counterattacks against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in a fight that has killed more than 50 fighters on both sides, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Bassem Mroue reports at the AP.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

North Korea appears to be developing warheads to penetrate Japan’s ballistic missile defense system, Japan’s Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said today. Reuters reports.

The U.S. special representative for North Korea Steve Biegun is being seriously considered for the role of deputy Secretary of State, according to two administration officials. The speculation comes as current deputy John Sullivan is believed to be up for the role of the new U.S. ambassador to Russia. Daniel Lippman reports at POLITICO.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Trump administration applied to the Supreme Court yesterday to implement its new rule on claiming asylum which would deny entry to those who arrive at the U.S. border without first seeking refugee status in Mexico or other countries they have traveled through. Jess Bravin reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled today that Russia violated the rights of the auditor Sergei Magnitsky who died in pre-trial detention in Moscow in 2009, DW reports. Magnitsky’ death prompted the U.S. and other countries to pass “Magnitsky Acts” to impose visa bans and freeze the assets of Russian’s accused of rights abuses. The judgment is available on the ECHR website.

U.S. intelligence officials have expressed concern about the electoral systems that will be used in the 2020 presidential election, with a senior official stating that they are at “high risk” of being attacked by ransomware. Christopher Bing reports at Reuters.

The U.S. has been “maliciously hyping up” the situation in the South China Sea, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said today in response to the Pentagon’s allegations that China has been coercively interfering in waters claimed by Vietnam. Reuters reports.

The Saudi-led coalition today downed a Yemeni Houthi drone that was headed towards the kingdom, a Saudi state news agency quoted the coalition spokesperson Col. Turki al-Maliki as saying. Reuters reports.

“The acquisition of Greenland would secure vital strategic interests for the United States, economically benefit both us and Greenlanders, and would be in keeping with American – and Danish – diplomatic traditions,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) writes at the New York Times, hitting back at those who dismissed Trump’s proposal last week to buy the island. 

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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