The Early Edition: September 4, 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’s C.E.O. Carrie Lam today announced the formal withdrawal of a proposed extradition bill that triggered three months of protests in the Chinese-ruled city. The full withdrawal of the bill, which would have allowed Hong Kong citizens to be sent to mainland China to face trial, was one of the main demands of pro-democracy protesters. Austin Ramzy and Elaine Yu report at the New York Times.

Reactions from protesters indicate that the move will be insufficient to calm the unrest, with many dismissing her concessions as too little and too late. Lam stopped short of addressing the protesters’ others demands, including an independent investigation into the police response and use of force, amnesty for arrested protesters and direct elections for all lawmakers and the C.E.O.. Shibani Mahtani and Timothy McLaughlin report at the Washington Post.

Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei yesterday accused the U.S. government of instructing law enforcement to “threaten,” “coerce” and “entice” its employees to turn against the company and collect incriminating information about the firm on behalf of the U.S., making the assertions in a press release yesterday. Huawei also alleged that the U.S. was launching cyber attacks on the company to infiltrate its internal information systems, Laurens Cerulus, Steven Overly and Eric Geller report at POLITICO.

“We strongly condemn the malign, concerted effort by the U.S. government to discredit Huawei and curb its leadership position in the industry,” the Huawei statement read. “For the past several months, the U.S. government has been leveraging its political and diplomatic influence to lobby other governments to ban Huawei equipment;” the statement continued: “furthermore, it has been using every tool at its disposal — including both judicial and administrative powers, as well as a host of other unscrupulous means — to disrupt the normal business operations of Huawei and its partners.” Dan Strumpf and Chuin-Wei Yap report at the Wall Street Journal.

The Department of Justice (D.O.J.) responded by saying that while they do not comment on specific investigations, “in all matters, our investigative techniques comply with the law and all subjects of investigations enjoy the same rights to due process afforded by our Constitution and safeguarded by an independent judiciary.” Reuters reports.

IRAN

The U.S. imposed sanctions on Iran’s space agency and two affiliated research organizations Iran Space Research Center and the Astronautics Research Institute yesterday, asserting they were being used to advance Tehran’s ballistic missile program. “The United States will not allow Iran to use its space launch program as cover to advance its ballistic missile programs,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement announcing the sanctions, adding that  Iran’s Aug. 29 attempted launch of a satellite into orbit underscored “the urgency of the threat.” Carol Morello reports at the Washington Post.

“These designations should serve as a warning to the international scientific community that collaborating with Iran’s space program could contribute to Tehran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon delivery system,” Pompeo added. In a statement, the State Department said the new sanctions are the first to target Iran’s civilian space agency, Tal Axelrod reports at the Hill.

Iran today dismissed as “ineffective” the U.S. sanctions: “Americans are addicted to sanctions … these sanctions are totally ineffective,” Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted Foreign Ministry Mohammad Javad Zarif as saying. Reuters reports.

“This is simply another in a long line of illegal U.S. economic terrorism imposed on Iran in defiance of U.N.S.C. Resolution 2231 … and which will have no effect on our development of peaceful space and satellite technologies,”  spokesperson for Iran’s mission to the U.N. Alireza Miryousefi told reporters. Jessica Donati and Ian Talley report at the Wall Street Journal.

“Iran has rejected an offer of a $15 billion loan by European countries aimed at protecting its economy from sanctions reimposed by the United States,” its state-run Press TV reported today. Reuters reports.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gave European powers a further two months to salvage a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers today, but cautioned that Tehran was “still preparing for further significant breaches of the agreement” in the event that diplomatic efforts failed. Reuters reports.

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban defended carrying out a deadly suicide attack on Monday in the Afghan capital of Kabul amid ongoing peace talks with the U.S. — saying the move put them in a “strong position” to negotiate. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told The Associated Press that “we understand that peace talks are going on … but they must also understand that we are not weak and if we enter into talks … we enter from a strong position;” Mujahid explained the attack was a response to raids by U.S. and Afghan forces on civilians across the country. Rahi Faiez and Cara Anna report at the AP.

U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan without a peace agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government could trigger a “catastrophic” civil war, nine former senior U.S. diplomats warned yesterday, cautioning that the country could “once again become a sanctuary for terrorists.” In a joint statement, the ex-ambassadors and envoys wrote that the administration “needed to avoid a hasty exit” to ensure the Islamic State group (I.S.) and other extremists are not given more room to operate and to avoid undermining the Afghan people’s opportunity to live under a democratic government. Dan De Luce reports at NBC.

Afghanistan’s government today voiced fresh concerns about an agreement that U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad says has been reached “in principle” with the Taliban on ending America’s longest war, requesting clarifications about the deal and its risks in order to avoid “unpleasant consequences.” The AP reports.

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

A U.N. report on Yemen released yesterday alleges the U.S. and Britain as well as France and Iran may be complicit in possible war crimes in Yemen over their support for parties to the conflict there. The report from a team of investigators commissioned by the U.N. Human Rights Council accuses the U.S. and other western allies of arming and providing intelligence and logistics support to a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E..) Sudarsan Raghavan reports at the Washington Post.

“It is clear that the continued supply of weapons to parties to the conflict is perpetuating the conflict and prolonging the suffering of the Yememi people,” expert on the independent U.N. panel Melissa Parke told a news conference. “That is why we are urging member states to no longer supply weapons to parties to the conflict,” Parke added. Reuters reports.

The U.N. report accuses the Saudi-led coalition of killing civilians in airstrikes and denying them food and found that all parties to the conflict had committed possible war crimes through airstrikes, shelling, snipers and land mines, as well as arbitrary killings, torture and sexual and gender-based violence. The report also accuses the Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels of a “pervasive lack of accountability” for its shelling of Saudi regions and its use of child soldiers. The BBC reporting.

SYRIA

More than 1,000 civilian deaths in Syria have been reported over the last four months, most of them caused by airstrikes and ground attacks by President Bashar Assad’s forces and their allies, according to U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet. Bachelet said 1,089 civilians were killed between Apr. 29 and Aug. 29, including 304 children. The AP reports.

The establishment of a so-called “safe zone” in northeastern Syria has “gotten off to good start,” with U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces withdrawing from a small, initial area along the Turkish border, a Syrian Kurdish official said in an interview with The Associated Press yesterday. The AP reports.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan conceded the State Department failed to act “more vigorously” to protect its staffers from retaliation by the Trump administration for their perceived political views. Speaking in a town hall meeting on Aug. 29, Sullivan admitted that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “lacked the authority” to sack a top Trump political appointee accused of inflicting, or abetting, the alleged harassment. Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer report at Foreign Policy.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper authorized the canceling of $3.6 billion in military construction projects to fund the Trump administration’s plans to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border in a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Top Democrats immediately slammed the plan, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) labeling the decision “a slap in the face” to service members. Zachary Cohen and Ryan Browne report at CNN.

TRUMP-RUSSIA AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

House Democrats’ legal fight to force public testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn — a witness to possible obstruction of justice by President Trump — will last until at least Oct. 31, according to a schedule issued by a federal judge yesterday, putting pressure on lawmakers considering articles of impeachment against Trump. Kyle Cheney reports at POLITICO.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) last week called on Attorney General William Barr to declassify documents connected to the Justice Department inspector general’s probe into the handling of the Russia investigation. The letter specifically requested the declassification of nine documents, including files relating to former British spy Christopher Steele and his dossier, as well as Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (F.I.S.A.) warrants for former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and other members of the Trump campaign. Rachel Frazin reports at the Hill.

“Arguments both for and even against impeachment should state, for the record, that even though the [Department of Justice’s Office of the Legal Counsel] O.L.C. and [former special counsel Robert] Mueller do not believe that evidence about obstructing justice can be used to criminally prosecute Trump while he remains in office, there is nothing in the O.L.C. opinions, or in Mueller’s report, that convincingly would deny contemporaneous criminal prosecution for atrocity crimes by a sitting president,” Ambassador David Scheffer argues at Just Security, noting that Mueller, like the OLC lawyers, never addressed immunity for the most serious possible crimes. 

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS 

The specific ways in which Trump has undercut the U.S. intelligence community and their potential ramifications are explored by Joshua Geltzer and Editor-in-Chief Ryan Goodman at Just Security, who comment that “Trump is proving better at spreading disinformation than protecting real information.” 

Former F.B.I. Director James Comey “could not be charged with mishandling classified information because at the time he allegedly ‘mishandled’ it, it was not classified information.” Kel McClanahan scrutinizes the Inspector General report at Just Security.

The Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel is scheduled to meet on Sept. 24 to investigate whether tech giants, such as Google or Amazon, engage in anticompetitive practices by seeking to buy smaller rivals in order to block off competition. Reuters reports.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered Venezuela’s military to hold drills along the border with Colombia, accusing the neighboring nation’s President Ivan Duque of “plotting an attack” as tensions heightened yesterday between the two South American countries. “Columbia’s government doesn’t want peace,” Maduro told a group of officers in a televised military ceremony, adding “it wants war … it wants violence.” The AP reports.

Pakistan’s military spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor asserted today that India’s actions in disputed Kashmir were “endangering regional peace,” after New Delhi revoked the autonomy of Indian Kashmir last month. “The situation in Kashmir has become a big danger in the region … the Indian action in Kashmir is sowing seeds of war,” Ghafoor told a televised press conference. Reuters reports.

The Israeli military said yesterday the Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah militant group and Iran have built a precision-missile factory in neighboring Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. The army issued a statement saying that Hezbollah had shifted key equipment from the site to “civilian locations in Beirut” due to “fear of strikes” by Israel. Ilan Ben Zion reports at the AP. 

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).