The Early Edition: August 30, 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.

CHINA and HONG KONG

Hong Kong police today arrested at least three prominent activists as part of a wider crackdown on the territory after months of unrest that were triggered by a now-suspended bill allowing the extradition of Hong Kong citizens to mainland China. Shibani Mahtani and Gerry Shih report at the Washington Post.

The arrest of Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Andy Chan was accompanied by a decision by the police to deny approval for a mass rally tomorrow that was scheduled to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the Chinese government’s rejection of universal suffrage in Hong Kong. The AFP reports.

The arrests follow a tense week in which Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam refused to rule out using emergency powers to deal with the unrest and the Chinese military sent fresh troops to its Hong Kong garrison. Austin Ramzy and Ezra Cheung report at the New York Times.

Carrie Lam submitted a report to the Chinese government stating that withdrawing the extradition bill could help defuse tensions in Hong Kong, but this was rejected by Beijing, according to three individuals with knowledge of the matter – demonstrating the extent of China’s involvement in the territory’s response to the protests. James Pomfret and Greg Torode report at Reuters.

Rolling coverage of the events in Hong Kong is available at CNN.

The Chinese Communist party’s worldview cannot understand the dynamics of the leaderless movement in Hong Kong. Ilaria Maria Sala provides an analysis at the Guardian.

An explanation of the significance of Beijing’s decision to limit democracy in Hong Kong five years ago and the beginnings of the Umbrella Movement is provided by Keith Bradsher at the New York Times.

AFGHANISTAN

“We’re going down to 8,600 [U.S. troops], and then we’ll make a determination from there as to what happens,” President Trump said in an interview with Fox News radio yesterday on his administration’s plans for Afghanistan. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

The U.S. will maintain a presence in Afghanistan even if a deal is reached with the Taliban, Trump said in the interview, making the comments amid ongoing talks between the U.S. and the Taliban to end the war. Reuters reports.

The U.S. and the Taliban may be close to an agreement, but the timing of a deal would clash with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s desire to hold presidential elections at the end of September, Mujib Mashal and Fahim Abed explain at the New York Times.

IRAN

Iran’s leadership has now taken the view that talks with President Trump are an eventuality, according to several sources familiar with the matter, who claim the leadership has shifted its position having assessed that Trump could be re-elected and continue to impose sanctions on Tehran – which were reinstated after Trump decided to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Farnaz Fassihi reports at the New York Times.

An Iranian satellite launch apparently exploded on its launch pad yesterday, according to imagery by Planet Labs Inc. The launch was criticized by the U.S. as being in violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution against Iran undertaking any activity associated to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Jon Gambrell reports at the AP.

The foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, and the European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini will meet in Helsinki today to discuss salvaging the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and the protection of shipping routes in the Persian Gulf. The AFP reports.

British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said there was need for the “broadest international support to tackle the threats to international shipping in the Strait of Hormuz” in a statement ahead of the talks in Helsinki, making the comments following tensions last month between the U.K. and Iran over Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker in the Strait, and the U.K.’s seizure of an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar. Reuters reports.

“I would like to work tenaciously, and play the best possible role to ease tensions in the Middle East,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said today, stating that he would like to talk to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly next month. Reuters reports.

ISRAEL-IRAN TENSIONS

Israel yesterday accused the Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah militant group of intensifying its missile-production efforts in Lebanon, making the allegation amid an expanding Israeli shadow campaign against Iranian-backed militias in the Middle East: including in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.   

“Today we uncovered part of Iran and Hezbollah’s precision missile project,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday, expressing determination to “eliminate this dangerous project” and warning them to “be careful.” Josef Federman reports at the AP.

Netanyahu warned the Lebanese government that it would hold them responsible even though it has ignored the Hezbollah missile project. The accusation follows an apparent Israeli strike near the Lebanese capital Beirut on a component of Hezbollah’s missile program, Yaniv Kubovich reports at Haaretz.

“The United States believes that the government of Israel has a right to defend itself from threatening activities throughout the region,” a senior Trump administration official said in response to Israeli strikes against Iranian targets in the Middle East, with another senior official stating: “it is our position that Israel is only acting because of Iran’s actions.” James McAuley, Liz Sly and Karen DeYoung report at the Washington Post.

The U.S. Treasury Department yesterday announced sanctions on a Lebanese bank with links to Hezbollah and also instituted targeted sanctions against four individuals with alleged links to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and an affiliate of the Palestinian Hamas militant group. Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

Ceasefire violations in southern Lebanon “could lead to a new conflict that none of the parties or the region can afford,” the U.N. Security Council warned yesterday, after approving the mandate for the U.N. peacekeeping force that was originally created to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli troops after the 1978 invasion and had its mandate expanded after the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

YEMEN and The KINGDOM

The U.A.E. carried out airstrikes against “terrorist militias” in southern Yemen, the U.A.E. Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement yesterday. The statement came after U.A.E.-backed separatists regained control of the southern port city of Aden from Saudi-backed Yemeni government forces – even though the two sides are nominal allies in the fight against Yemen’s Houthi rebels. Al Jazeera reports.

Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi yesterday condemned U.A.E.’s “blatant intervention” and warned that Yemen risks being divided up by the separatists. Ahmed Al-Haj, Maggie Michael and Noha Elhennaawy report at the AP.

The U.A.E. airstrikes mark a significant rift in the Saudi-led coalition despite a joint statement from the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia earlier this week reiterating their commitment to the coalition and calling for rival Yemeni factions to hold talks. Andrew England and Simeon Kerr report at the Financial Times.

SYRIA

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and his Russian allies have intensified their offensive against the last remaining rebel-held territory of Idlib, army defectors and residents have said today, claiming that Iranian-backed militias have reinforced the operation. Suleiman Al-Khalidi reports at Reuters.

“Three million people – two-thirds of them women and children – are counting on your support to make this violence stop,” the U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council yesterday on the situation in Idlib, outlining the impact of the collapse of ceasefires. The U.N. News Centre reports.

The U.N. special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, yesterday told the Security Council that he is “quietly hopeful” that a Syrian constitutional committee can be established before the U.N. General Assembly at the end of September, telling the Council that the terms of reference and rules of procedure are “nearly finalized, and the outstanding differences are, in my assessment, comparatively minor.” Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

PAKISTAN and INDIA

Authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir have detained 3,000 people including children, following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to strip Kashmir of its autonomous status. Kashmir is claimed by India and Pakistan in full but ruled by each in part. Niha Masih and Joanna Slater report at the Washington Post.

Kashmiris have alleged that Indian authorities in the territory have carried out beatings and torture as part of the crackdown in the disputed territory. Sameer Hashmi reports at the BBC.

“Our armed forces are ready” to respond to an Indian attack against Pakistan-administered Kashmir, the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan warned today, calling Modi a “fascist” and expressing fear that India would carry out a “genocide of Muslims in Kashmir.” Munir Ahmed reports at the AP.

VENEZUELA

“Contacts with Venezuelan opposition delegates have resumed. The next few days will bring good news about the dialogue,” Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said yesterday, after re-engaging in talks that were ended earlier this month when the Trump administration imposed a series of economic sanctions against Caracas. The AP reports.

The U.S. top envoy for Venezuela Elliot Abrams said there is no sign that Maduro is willing to negotiate an exit deal, making the comments after administration officials said the purpose of the secret talks were to achieve Maduro’s departure and replace him with opposition leader Juan Guaidó. Jessica Donati reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s role as head of state has been “further consolidated” following Parliament’s approval of the country’s constitution, the state K.C.N.A. news agency reported yesterday. Josh Smith reports at Reuters.

North Korea yesterday hit back at Britain, France and Germany for its condemnation of Pyongyang’s ballistic missiles testing, stating that the West was meddling in its “self-defensive measures for arms modernization.” Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

ELECTION SECURITY

The Democratic National Committee (D.N.C.) has decided to reject Iowa’s plan for virtual caucuses over security fears and the potential for hacking. The virtual caucus plan would have allowed registered Democrats to participate in the presidential nominating process via phone, Brianne Pfannenstiel reports at the Des Moines Register.

The D.N.C. is expected to announce the decision this afternoon in the form of a recommendation to the party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, according to sources with knowledge of the matter, with officials adding that the D.N.C. leadership assessed that the virtual caucus is at risk of interference from a foreign adversary. Reid J. Epstein reports at the New York Times.

The reported decision to call off the Iowa virtual caucus “deserves both attention and praise,” Joshua Geltzer writes at Just Security, highlighting the cybersecurity concerns raised by the proposal.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The U.S. Justice Department inspector general report strongly criticized former F.B.I. Director James Comey for disclosing memos about his interactions with President Trump with people outside of the bureau, including handing the memos to his lawyers. President Trump immediately took to Twitter to castigate the former director, Adam Goldman reports at the New York Times.

Former senior leaders of the F.A.R.C. rebels in Colombia yesterday announced a return to armed struggle and have renounced the 2016 peace accord, stating that President Iván Duque had betrayed the deal. Dylan Baddour and Anthony Faiola report at the Washington Post.

A Wall Street Journalist has been effectively expelled from China for his coverage of President Xi Jinping’s family, Gerry Shih reports at the Washington Post.

President Trump has canceled his planned trip to Poland to deal with a hurricane headed for the Florida coast, in a blow to Poland’s populist Law and Justice party-ruled government. Vanessa Gera reports at the AP.

President Trump launched the U.S. Space Command yesterday and claimed that it would “ensure that America’s dominance in space is never threatened.” The BBC reports.

Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has received criticism for his role in the Trump administration following an interview published in the Atlantic and his decision to avoid direct criticism of the White House in his upcoming book. Dan Lamothe and Greg Jaffe explain at the Washington Post. 

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