The Early Edition: September 3, 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.  

AFGHANISTAN

At least 16 people were killed and 119 others wounded in a suicide car bomb attack in the Afghan capital of Kabul late yesterday, interior ministry spokesperson Nasrat Rahimi said today. The blast took place in a residential area near Green Village, a large compound that houses aid agencies and international organizations, Rahimi said. The AP reports.

The Taliban asserted responsibility for the attack, the third claimed by the group in as many days in the country, saying it had targeted “foreign occupiers,” Siobhán O’Grady and Sharif Hassan report at the Washington Post.

The explosion came just hours after U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad briefed the Afghan government on an agreement “in principle” with the insurgent group that would see 5,400 U.S. troops leave the country within 135 days of a final deal being approved. In an interview with Afghanistan’s main news outlet Tolo News, Khalilzad said “we have reached an agreement with the Taliban in principle,” adding “of course, until the U.S. president agrees with it, it isn’t final.” Mujib Mashal reports at the New York Times.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani yesterday told Khalilzad to share details of the draft deal between the U.S. and Taliban with all Afghan leaders, the president’s spokesperson Sediq Sediqqi said. Sediqqi told reporters that the U.S.-backed government would need to “study and assess” details of the accord; the U.S. envoy is scheduled to meet with all Afghan leaders in Kabul this week to build a consensus before the deal is finalized, Reuters reports.

Trump administration officials are divided over whether to expand the C.I.A.’s presence in Afghanistan, according to American officials. While some senior White House advisers want C.I.A.-backed militia forces in Afghanistan to serve as part of a counterterrorism force that would prevent the resurgence of the Islamic State or al-Qaeda as U.S. military troops prepare to leave, C.I.A. and military officials have expressed reservations, sparking a debate in the administration. Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Julian E. Barnes, Matthew Rosenberg and John Ismay report at the New York Times.

“Much has been done to ensure the rights that the Taliban radically suppressed … any peace agreement must protect these [human and political] rights,” Madeleine Albright argues at the Financial Times, warning that at risk are the democratic institutions and practices the Afghans have put into place since the Taliban were overthrown after the 9/11 terror attacks, as well as the progress made by women over two decades to secure equal rights to education, employment, and political participation. 

CHINA AND HONG KONG 

Hong Kong C.E.O. Carrie Lam admitted that she sparked “unforgivable havoc” by igniting the city’s political crisis and said she would quit if she had a choice, according to a leaked audio recording of remarks she made last week to a group of business leaders. “If I have a choice, the first thing is to quit, having made a deep apology,” Lam told the group at the closed-door meeting, explaining that she had “very limited” room to resolve the crisis because it had become a national security and sovereignty issue for China amid heightening tensions with the U.S.. Greg Torode, James Pomfret, Anne Marie Roantree report at Reuters.

Lam insisted today she had no intention of stepping down and denied ever offering to resign after the audio recording revealed her saying she would like to quit. In a press conference today, Lam said she had not tendered her resignation to Beijing and is committed to leading the city out of its monthslong political crisis; “the choice of not resigning is my own choice,” she asserted, insisting she wanted “to help Hong Kong in a very difficult situation and to serve the people of Hong Kong,” Julia Hollingsworth and Bianca Britton report at CNN.

“If as chief executive [Lam] truly has no room to compromise with protesters, then she should publicly admit her functionary status, resign as chief executive, and tell Beijing to stop violating its promise of one country, two systems for Hong Kong,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board argues.

IRAN

Iran warned yesterday it would take a “stronger step” in reducing its commitments under a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers if European parties failed to protect Tehran’s economy from sanctions reimposed by the U.S. after Washington quit the accord last year. “It is meaningless to continue unilateral commitments to the deal if we don’t enjoy its benefits as promised by the deal’s European parties,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart in Moscow. Nasser Karimi reports at the AP.

“Iran is prepared for reducing its commitments if the European parties do not show enough determination … the third step has been designed and will be stronger than the first and second steps to create balance between Iran’s rights and commitments to the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] J.C.P.O.A.,” Iranian foreign ministry’s spokesperson Abbas Mousavi was quoted as saying by state news agency I.R.N.A. Iran set a deadline for Friday for Europe to offer it a means to sell its crude oil on the global market, Reuters reports.

“Iran will never hold bilateral talks with the United States but if it lifts all the sanctions it reimposed on Iran it can join multilateral talks between Iran and other parties” to the 2015 deal, President Hassan Rouhani said today. Reuters reports.

A senior Iranian delegation arrived in Paris yesterday to discuss details of a “financial bailout package” that French president Emmanuel Macron plans to use to compensate Iran for oil sales lost to U.S. sanctions. In exchange for the $15 billion letter of credit, Iran would agree to return to compliance with the nuclear deal, according to Iranian press reports and a senior American official, David E. Sanger, Steven Erlanger and Adam Nossiter report at the New York Times.

Diplomats have accused Iran of “stifling” a U.N. investigation into its alleged storage of nuclear equipment and radioactive material in Tehran, sparking new fears over Iran’s activities. The diplomats explained Iran has refused to provide answers to key questions raised by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency over claims, first made public by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year, that Iran had created a now-dismantled site in Tehran to store equipment and material used during past nuclear weapons work. Laurence Norman reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Iran acknowledged for the first time yesterday that a rocket explosion took place at its Imam Khomeini Space Centre following satellite images that showed the blast last week. Citing a “technical error,” government spokesperson Ali Rabiei said the explosion occurred “at a test site, not at the launch site,” adding “the explosion happened at the launchpad and no satellite had yet been transferred to the launchpad;” Rabiei’s comments were the first explanation offered by Iran for Thursday’s explosion, which took place before a planned satellite launch by Tehran that the U.S. had criticized. The AP reports.

An Iranian oil tanker the Adrian Darya 1 — formerly known as the Grace 1 — at the centre of a dispute between Tehran and Western powers turned off its tracking beacon today, igniting renewed speculation that it will head to Syria. The disappearance of the ship follows a string of Iranian oil tankers turning off their Automatic Identification System to try and conceal where they deliver their cargo amid U.S. sanctions targeting Iran’s energy industry, Jon Gambrell reports at the AP.

Russia and Iran are planning to hold joint naval exercises in the Indian Ocean, T.A.S.S. news agency quoted Zarif as saying yesterday. Zarif earlier revealed after talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov that Tehran welcomed a Russian proposal for ensuring security in the Gulf. Reuters reports.

Japan will not join a U.S.-led security mission to guard threats to shipping in key Middle Eastern waterways but will consider deploying its naval force independently, the Yomiuri newspaper reported today. The paper said Japan was weighing a plan to send its Maritime Self-Defense Force (S.D.F.) on information-gathering missions in the areas around the Strait of Hormuz and Bab al-Mandab shipping lane between Yemen, Djibouti and Eritrea and would also consider including the Strait of Hormuz in the S.D.F.’s sphere of activity “if Iran agrees,” the Yomiuri said, citing unidentified government sources. Reuters reports.

ISRAEL-IRAN TENSIONS

Chief of the Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah militant group Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah threatened yesterday to strike “deep inside” Israel, after an exchange of fire on the Lebanese-Israeli border Sunday ignited concerns over a wider conflict between the two sides. “If you attack us, your borders, soldiers and settlements — including those on the border and those deep inside [Israel] — will be threatened and targeted,” Nasrallah warned in a televised speech, asserting there were “no more red lines” in Hezbollah’s confrontation with Israel. AFP reports.

The Israeli military “faked casualties” in the Hezbollah attack, according to reports yesterday by Israeli media. The army allegedly waged a “deception operation” against the Lebanese militant group with the aim of convincing Hezbollah that it had “scored a direct hit on a military vehicle and inflicted Israeli casualties, and therefore cease fire.” Ilan Ben Zion reports at the AP.

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

Yemen’s Red Crescent said yesterday 88 bodies had been pulled from the rubble of a Houthi rebel-run prison in southwestern Dhamar province that was hit a day earlier by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, killing over 100 people and injuring dozens. Sunday’s attack was one of the deadliest in over four years of war in Yemen, Ahemd Al-Haj and Samy Magdy report at the AP.

A group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers is advancing to end the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen through an amendment to the annual defense policy bill, amid intensifying criticism of the air war following Sunday’s attack. “We strongly urge you to include the House provision that prohibits military support for the Saudi-led coalition’s war” against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, the lawmakers said in a letter signed by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Republican Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Mike Lee (Utah), and Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) as well as dozens of others; “inclusion of this amendment would ensure that our men and women in uniform are not involved in a war which has never been authorized by Congress, and continues to undermine rather than advance U.S. national security interests,” the letter continued. John Hudson and Missy Ryan report at the Washington Post.

U.N. special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffith slammed Sunday’s attack and urged the military alliance to investigate the deadly air raids. “The human cost of this war is unbearable,” Griffiths said in a statement adding: “we need it to stop … I hope the coalition will launch an inquiry into this incident … accountability needs to prevail.”  Al Jazeera reports.

An explainer to the fighting in southern Yemen and the conflict between local allies is provided by Stephen Kalin and Ghaida Ghantous at Reuters.

ELECTION SECURITY

A report on disinformation tactics out tomorrow pinpoints Instagram as the likely main social media platform used to disseminate disinformation during the 2020 election, while warning that altered “deepfake” videos of candidates will also pose a threat.  The report put together by New York University’s (N.Y.U.) Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, also highlighted China, Russia, and Iran as countries likely to launch such attacks against the U.S. in the run up to the elections. Maggie Miller reports at the Hill. 

A helpful guide to “deepfakes” ahead of the 2020 election, including what the government is doing about the new era of high quality faked video or audio, is provided by Philip Ewing at NPR.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Trump administration announced yesterday that it would reopen consideration of some applications for deportation deferrals from immigrants with life-threatening conditions who receive critical care in the U.S. The announcement came after the administration faced backlash from lawmakers and civil rights groups over its decision in August to end the “deferred action” program which allows migrants in the country illegally to avoid deportation for compelling reasons, such as if they are in need of life-saving medical care. Miriam Jordan reports at the New York Times.

“No international instrument is more important to the security of the United States and the world, and it must be protected and defended at any price,” Ambassador Thomas Graham Jr. argues at Just Security, commenting on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (N.P.T..)

U.S. congressional Democrats are preparing to investigate allegations of President Trump’s role in hush-money payments to women who say they had affairs with him and plan to hold hearings and call witnesses involved as soon as October. Rachael Bade and Tom Hamburger report at the Washington Post.

Seven health centers — including four hospitals and two primary health care centers — in Syria’s north-west were attacked in recent days and two of them were destroyed, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) said yesterday. The U.N. News Centre reports.

“Pakistan would not use nuclear weapons first,” Prime Minister Imran Khan said yesterday, amid tensions with India after New Delhi revoked the special status of its part of the disputed Kashmir region. “We both are nuclear-armed countries … if these tensions increase, the world could be in danger,” Khan said, speaking to members of the Sikh religious community in the eastern city of Lahore, adding “there will be no first from our side ever.” Reuters reports.

North Korea’s recent series of missile launchings have allowed the North’s leader Kim Jong-un to test missiles “with greater range and maneuverability that could overwhelm American defenses in the region,” according to American intelligence officials and outside experts. The firings were dismissed as “very standard” by Trump, David E. Sanger and William J. Broad write at the New York Times.  

About the Author(s)

Nat O'Connell

Assistant 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).