The Early Edition: September 10, 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.  

IRAN

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday that Iran had been developing nuclear weapons at a secret site near the city of Abadeh, but destroyed the facility after Israel discovered it in early 2018. “In this site, Iran conducted experiments to develop nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said, displaying satellite photographs that he claimed showed the facility, adding after Israeli intelligence uncovered the site, “they destroyed [it] … they just wiped it out.” David M. Halbfinger and David E. Sanger report at the New York Times.

Netanyahu called upon other countries to join the U.S. in maintaining pressure on Tehran. “I call on the international continuity to wake up, to realize that Iran is systematically lying, and … to join President Trump’s sanctions to exert more pressure on Iran,” Netanyahu said, adding: “the only way to stop Iran’s march to the bomb, and its aggression in the region, is pressure, pressure and more pressure;” political opponents have decried Netanyahu’s announcement as election propaganda. Andrew Carey and Oren Liebermann report at CNN.

Iran responded to the Israeli leader’s accusation, accusing Netanyahu of hypocrisy saying he, along with members of the Trump Administration, wanted a war: “the possessor of REAL nukes cries wolf on an ALLEGED ‘demolished’ site in Iran,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stated in a message sent on Twitter, without addressing what the Iranian facility was, nor why it seemed to be demolished in Netanyahu’s presentation. “He & #B_Team just want a war, no matter innocent blood & another $7 TRILLION,” the message continued, referring to U.S. President Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Felicia Schwartz and Laurence Norman report at the Wall Street Journal.

Netanyahu’s remarks came as the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) reportedly found traces of uranium at a different site in Iran Sunday that the Israeli leader had first pointed to during a speech last year at the U.N.. Iran had yet to explain the traces of uranium at that site, Reuters reports. 

Iran’s U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi accused the U.S. of breaching the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty by modernizing its nuclear weapons instead of “moving toward disarmament.” While Ambassador Ravanchi cited progress in achieving a universal ban on nuclear explosions and the wider aim of nuclear disarmament, he said “unfortunately, currently, there are two alarming races: new nuclear arms race and nuclear arms modernization race;” the ambassador added that “irresponsible policies” such as those of the U.S. “are detrimental to all international efforts towards nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and therefore must come to an end.” The AP reports.

AFGHANISTAN

U.S. peace talks with the Taliban  aimed at ending the 18-year war in Afghanistan are “dead,” President Trump said yesterday, after he abruptly called off planned Camp David meetings with the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani and Taliban leaders on Saturday. The president said negotiations with the Taliban, which appeared to have been close to a deal, were at an end, and also warned that the U.S. could do “certain things” that would cost “millions of lives” in an effort to end the war, a move he said he does not want to take. Vivian Salama and Michael C. Bender report at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump also denied that the decision to go ahead with the meeting caused rifts at the White House following news reports that Vice President Pence and national security adviser John Bolton opposed his plan to hold Camp David talks. “A lot of Fake News is being reported that I overruled the VP and various advisers on a potential Camp David meeting with the Taliban,” Trump said in a message sent on Twitter, adding “this Story is False! I always think it is good to meet and talk, but in this case I decided not to.” Karen DeYoung, Josh Dawsey and Missy Ryan report at the Washington Post.

“The U.S. military is likely to accelerate the pace of its operations in Afghanistan to counter an increase in Taliban attacks,” Head of U.S. Central Command Marine General Kenneth McKenzie said yesterday, after Washington signaled a break on peace talks with the insurgents. “We’re certainly not going to sit still and let them carry out some self-described race to victory … that’s not going to happen,” McKenzie told reporters during a visit to Afghanistan. Reuters reports.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani earlier yesterday renewed his call for peace, but said that peace could not be unconditional, reiterating his request for a ceasefire that the Taliban have so far refused. Al Jazeera reports.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned in a report to the Security Council circulated yesterday that the Islamic State group (I.S.) remains “resilient” in Afghanistan notwithstanding “a high pace” of operations against it by government and international forces. Guterres said that Afghanistan’s “volatile security situation is highly concerning” and that between mid-June and early September 183 incidents were attributed to I.S. militants — almost double the 93 during the same period last year; Guterres’ report was written before Trump ended efforts to reach a political settlement with the Taliban. The AP reports.

AFGHANISTAN: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

“If the forces are truly committed to lasting peace and protection of the Afghan population, ending the suffering of civilians should be a condition for the peace talks in the first place.” Syed Muzaffar Shah at Just Security argues that the Taliban and government leaders must “insist on a ceasefire.”

“The collapse of … Trump’s plans for a potentially historic summit at Camp David … reveals new fractures in his foreign-policy team,” Lara Seligman, Elias Groll and Robbie Gramer argue at Foreign Policy, commenting on pushback from officials on the negotiations.

“Trump’s move could be an opportunity for Washington to reset the terms of the planned peace deal, which had come under growing bipartisan criticism and divided the White House,” Stephanie Findlay and Aime Williams at the Financial Times explore what the president “hopes to gain” by cancelling the Camp David summit.

“The opportunity for peace in Afghanistan is too precious to squander with a not-fully-baked, premature agreement,” David Ignatius at the Washington Post highlights the need for a “better peace pact that might really curb terrorism.”

The full translation of Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid’s warning for the U.S. is provided by the editors at Foreign Policy.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

North Korea launched two projectiles from its South Phyongan province toward the sea earlier today, South Korea’s military said — in the country’s eighth weapons test since late July. There was no immediate information on whether the projectiles were ballistic missiles or rocket artillery. AFP reports.

The projectiles were fired just hours after the North offered to resume denuclearization talks with the U.S.. The North’s First Vice Minister Choe Son Hui said her country was willing to continue nuclear diplomacy in late September but that Washington must devise acceptable new proposals, adding that if the proposals did not satisfy North Korea, dealings between the two countries may end. Simon Denyer reports at the Washington Post.

U.S.-UKRAINE RELATIONS

Three House committees yesterday launched a new joint investigation into President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani’s dealings with Ukraine and whether the Trump administration’s decision to deny foreign aid to Ukraine had any “underlying political motives.” In letters to White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the leaders of the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight committees assert that Trump and Giuliani “appear to have acted outside legitimate law enforcement and diplomatic channels to coerce the Ukrainian government into pursuing two politically-motivated investigations under the guise of anti-corruption activity.” Caitlin Oprysko reports at POLITICO.

An explainer on Trump and Giuliani’s hunt for fake Ukraine “dirt” on Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden is provided by Viola Gienger this morning at Just Security.

U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONS

A C.I.A. asset extracted from Russia in 2017 provided key information to the U.S. about the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, and was “one of its highest-level covert sources inside the Russian government,” it was reported yesterday. The informant was reportedly pulled because of concerns among U.S. officials that the individual, whose identity is unknown, could be discovered by the Russian government following fears that President Trump and his administration “repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence.” Jim Sciutto reports in an exclusive at CNN.

Former intelligence officials have since denied that there is public evidence that Trump “directly endangered the source.” Julian E. Barnes, Adam Goldman and David E. Sanger report at the New York Times.

“Trump has gravely damaged America’s ability to collect crucial information … and not just about Russia,” Michelle Goldberg at the New York Times argues that “a president who can’t be trusted is degrading American intelligence gathering.”

TRUMP-RUSSIA AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) revealed yesterday that his panel would vote Thursday to adopt procedures for hearings as it further considers articles of impeachment against President Trump. The resolution would allow Trump’s lawyers to review some of Congress’s impeachment-related evidence and would also permit the panel’s staff, on both the Democratic and Republican sides, to question witnesses for an additional hour, part of an effort to “elicit more useful information.” Heather Caygle, Kyle Cheney and Andrew Desiderio report at POLITICO.

Nadler announced yesterday that Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski would testify later this month, in what would be the first public appearance of a Trump ally as Democrats seek to determine whether to introduce articles of impeachment against the president. Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) accused former national security adviser Michael Flynn of failing to comply with a subpoena for documents and his testimony in a letter released yesterday. “Notwithstanding repeated efforts by committee staff to engage with your counsel and accommodate your adjournment requests, you have, to date, failed to comply with the committee’s subpoena or cooperate with the committee’s efforts to secure your compliance,” Schiff wrote in the letter to Flynn, which requests that Flynn appear for testimony on Sept. 25. Kyle Cheney and Andrew Desiderio report at POLITICO.

IMMIGRATION

A federal judge in California yesterday reinstated a nationwide injunction preventing implementation of President Trump’s policy which denies asylum to almost all migrants who enter the country after passing through Mexico or a third country. Judge Jon S. Tigar ruled that applying the injunction across the country was “necessary to maintain a uniform immigration policy and prevent uneven enforcement.” Sarah Mervosh reports at the New York Times.

The Supreme Court is weighing a request by the Trump administration to permit the new restriction. “Immigration and border security policy cannot be run by any single district court judge who decides to issue a nationwide injunction,” a statement by White House says, adding: “this ruling is a gift to human smugglers and traffickers and undermines the rule of law.” Robert Barnes reports at the Washington Post.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS 

“For the first time, the well-shielded [Terrorist Screening Database] T.S.D.B. has been held constitutionally unviable,” Jeffrey Kahn at Just Security explains why Judge Trenga’s case, Elhady v. Kable, is a “game-changer” and outlines likely next steps following last week’s opinion.

Democratic presidential candidates generally agree that President Trump “has shaken the presidency loose from its constitutional limits.” A guide to the candidates’ understanding of executive power, and the scope and limits on a president’s power to act unilaterally, or even in defiance of statutes, is available at the New York Times.

Attorneys-general from 50 U.S. states and territories yesterday launched an antitrust investigation into tech giant Google’s dominance in search and advertising. The probe will look for practices that harm both competition and consumers. Aarti Shahani reports at NPR.

At least 18 Iranian and pro-Iranian fighters were killed in overnight strikes in and around the town of Albu Kamal, near Syria’s border with Iraq, according to U.K.-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The group said the unidentified warplanes had “bombed bases, arms depots and vehicles” belonging to Iran-backed militias in al-Hizam, al-Akhdar and other areas around Albu Kamal. The BBC reports.

Hong Kong’s C.E.O. Carrie Lam today renewed her appeal to pro-democracy protesters to stop violence and “engage in direct dialogue.” The AP reports.

Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah today said his Iran-backed movement had shot down an Israeli drone in southern Lebanon for the first time yesterday to bolster a deterrent against attack by Israel. “Despite all the threats and intimidation, today we are affirming the balance of power and reinforcing the deterrent force that protects our country,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech. Reuters reports. 

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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).