The Early Edition: September 11, 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.  

JONH BOLTON RESIGNATION

U.S. President Trump fired his national security adviser John Bolton yesterday amid disagreements with his hard-line aide over how to handle foreign policy challenges such as Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea. “I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House … I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration,” Trump stated in a pair of messages sent on Twitter, adding that he would name a replacement next week. Peter Baker reports at the New York Times.

Bolton contested Trump’s account of his dismissal, asserting in a message sent on Twitter that he had offered to resign of his own accord on Monday night and the president had said in response that they would “talk about it tomorrow.” Deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley told reporters that Bolton’s deputy Charles Kupperman will now serve as an acting national security adviser. Nahal Toosi and Quint Forgey report at POLITICO.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cautioned that Bolton’s departure should not be interpreted as indicating any strategy changes: “I don’t think any leader around the world should make any assumption that because someone of us departs that President Trump’s foreign policy will change in a material way,” Pompeo told reporters. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin insisted that Trump and top aides remain “completely aligned” on Washington’s harsh sanctions against Iran, as part of its “maximum pressure campaign.” AFP reports.

JONH BOLTON RESIGNATION: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

An analysis of why U.S. President Trump and outgoing national security adviser John Bolton “parted ways” is provided by Eliana Johnson at POLITICO.

A look at how Bolton’s dismissal might affect U.S. foreign policy, including in Venezuela, Iran and Russia, is provided by Patrick Wintour at the Guardian.

Who could replace John Bolton? Katie Rogers at the New York Times suggests likely candidates for Trump’s fourth national security adviser of his presidency, including the U.S.’s special representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun and the administration’s special representative for Iran Brian Hook.

A map of other high-profile departures from the Trump administration since Trump’s inauguration is fielded by Kevin Schaul, Reuben Fischer-Baum and Kevin Uhrmacher at the Washington Post, who comment that the administration “has seen a remarkable amount of turnover in key positions.”

Bolton and Trump “have regularly been at odds over how to take on major foreign policy challenges facing the United States,” with Bolton “favoring sanctions and pre-emptive military action against some countries even as the president pursued diplomacy.” Eileen Sullivan at the New York Times outlines five “policy clashes” between the pair during Bolton’s 17 months in the post.

“Bolton made many mistakes … but he is not the real reason that U.S. foreign policy has been so erratic and unsuccessful over the past 17 months,” Max Boot argues at the Washington Post, commenting that “if Trump wants to find the real culprit for his failed foreign policy, he should look in the mirror.”

“To pursue his own policy agenda and serve an erratic president … Bolton effectively destroyed the National Security Council system.” John Gans at the New York Times argues how.

IRAN

The U.S. yesterday said Iran’s failure to address the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.)’s concerns was “totally unacceptable.” “Any indication that Iran is providing insufficient cooperation to the I.A.E.A. on a matter involving potential undeclared nuclear material or activities raises serious and profound questions,” the U.S. statement to a quarterly I.A.E.A. Board of Governors meeting said; the U.N. nuclear watchdog has called in recent days on the nation to ramp up its cooperation, warning “time is of the essence.” Reuters reports.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif criticized the U.S. today for issuing new sanctions against Iran despite U.S. national security adviser John Bolton’s resignation. “As the world … was breathing a sigh of relief over ouster of #B_Team’s henchman in the White House, [Washington] declared further escalation of #EconomicTerrorism [sanctions] against Iran,” Zarif said in a message sent on Twitter, adding “thirst for war —maximum pressure— should go with the warmonger-in-chief [Bolton].” Reuters reports.

Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said yesterday that U.S. President Trump could meet with his Iranian counterpart President Hassan Rouhani at the upcoming U.N. General Assembly in New York “without preconditions” after Trump sacked his hawkish national security advisor, while insisting there will be no easing of pressure on Tehran. “Now the president has made clear, he is happy to take a meeting with no preconditions, but we are maintaining the maximum pressure campaign,” Mnuchin said, just days after Iran declared it had fired up centrifuges to boost its enriched uranium stockpiles. Helen Regan and Sharif Paget report at CNN.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called on the U.S. today at a Cabinet meeting in Tehran to “abandon warmongering and its maximum pressure policy” on Iran. The AP reports.

Bolton’s exit will not lead to dialogue between Washington and Tehran, Iran said today. “The departure of … Bolton from President Donald Trump’s administration will not push Iran to reconsider talking with the U.S.,” Tehran’s U.N. envoy Majid Takhteravanchi said in comments carried by state news agency I.R.N.A.. Reuters reports.

Adviser to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani Hesameddin Ashena said that Bolton’s firing “decisively pointed to the failure of Washington’s ‘maximum pressure strategy’ against Iran.” Iranian government spokesperson Ali Rabiei commented “John Bolton had promised months ago that Iran would last for another three months … we are still standing and he is gone.” Reuters reports.

The next U.S. President “should work with America’s regional allies to strike a new nuclear agreement while showing zero tolerance for Tehran’s regional destabilization campaign,” Dennis Ross and Dana Stroul argue at Foreign Policy, commenting that “real leverage against Iran has always required not just economic pressure but also political isolation.”

AFGHANISTAN

A rocket exploded near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul today, just minutes into the anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the U.S., but officials at the compound confirmed all-clear an hour later and reported no injuries. It was the first major attack in the Afghan capital since U.S. President Trump abruptly halted U.S.-Taliban talks over the weekend, close to an apparent deal to end America’s longest war. The AP reports.

“The long Afghan conflict can only be resolved by direct talks between its own people,” the U.N. envoy for Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto told the Security Council yesterday, highlighting that any negotiations must be inclusive and represent “the whole spectrum of Afghan society.” Yamamoto said that peace efforts over the past year have “created hope, but also fear for many,” expressing concern that “peace might come at the sacrifice of freedom and rights, which the country has striven to protect and advance for the past 18 years.” The U.N. News Centre reports.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his intention yesterday to annex nearly a third of the occupied West Bank “in coordination” with the U.S., if he wins a closely contested election just a week away. “Today, I announce my intention, after the establishment of a new government, to apply Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea,” Netanyahu said in a speech broadcast live on Israeli T.V. channels, calling the area “Israel’s eastern border;” the prime minister said the step could be taken “immediately after the election” if he received a “clear mandate” from Israeli citizens. James McAuley and Ruth Eglash report at the Washington Post.

Netanyahu pledged that he would annex all Jewish settlements in the West Bank but said this would need to wait until the publication of U.S. President Trump’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan. “[The U.S. plan] poses a great challenge for us and a great opportunity, a historic opportunity to apply sovereignty over settlements in the West Bank and other areas of importance to our heritage,” Netanyahu said. Andrew Carey reports at CNN.

Arab nations denounced Netanyahu’s proposed annexation, with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat saying the move would be “manifestly illegal” and would “bury any chance of peace.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement that “all signed agreements with Israel and the obligations resulting from them would end” if Netanyahu went through with his plans, while spokesperson for U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres Stéphane Dujarric said the move would be “devastating” to the chances of revived peace negotiations. The BBC reports.

Saudi Arabia also condemned Netanyahu’s plan as a “very dangerous escalation.” The AP reports.

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

A Turkish newspaper has published new details of a recording which reportedly captured the final moments of murdered Washington Post columnist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi. The pro-government Sabah newspaper says the transcript is from a recording taken inside and later obtained by Turkey’s intelligence agency, and includes information such as the Saudi journalist’s alleged last words. The AP reports.

“The Emiratis’ policy shift isn’t only motivated by an effort to restore its reputation — it is also fueled by self-inflicted policy failures,” Hassan Hassan argues at Foreign Policy, commenting on the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.)’s “dramatic U-turn” on its strategy.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS 

A federal appeals court has temporarily lifted a nationwide injunction against President Trump’s attempt to deny asylum to almost all migrants who enter the U.S. after passing through Mexico or a third country. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, acting at the request of the Trump administration, issued a stay yesterday evening that put on hold the injunction reinstated Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Jon Tigar.  Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

A Senate subcommittee yesterday advanced the $694.9 billion defense spending bill for fiscal 2020 notwithstanding concerns among Democrats that the legislation does not constrain the administration’s ability to use Pentagon money to build Trump’s proposed wall along the southern border. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

The U.S. yesterday unveiled new counterterrorism powers and issued sanctions against a “wide range of terrorists and their supporters,” including leaders, individuals and entities affiliated with groups such as the Palestinian group Hamas, al-Qaeda and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (I.R.G.C..) Ian Talley reports at the Wall Street Journal.

U.S. President Trump issued a notice to Congress yesterday extending a national emergency declaration over the threat of foreign interference in U.S. elections. Trump wrote that foreign attempts to interfere with or undermine public confidence in U.S. elections continue “to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) formally requested an independent investigation into the Air Force’s use of a commercial airport in Scotland and overnight stays at Trump’s Turnberry resort. Bryan Bender and Natasha Bertrand report at POLITICO.

U.S. warplanes dropped 40 tons of bombs yesterday on an Island in the Tigris River “infested” with members of the Islamic State group (I.S.), the U.S.-led coalition has said. The AP reports.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi cautioned yesterday that India’s “illegal occupation” of Muslim-majority Kashmir could push the nuclear-armed countries “into an accidental war,” making the remarks at a session of the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council. The AP reports.

An analysis of the legality of Israeli strikes in Iraq and Lebanon is provided by Craig Martin at Just Security, who concludes that Israel has made no effort “to explain how the strikes were necessary and proportionate responses to actual or imminent armed attacks,” and that “on the facts as currently known, it is hard to see how the Israeli strikes could be lawful.” 

An alleged high-level spy the U.S. reportedly extracted from Russia has been named by Russian media as Oleg Smolenkov. According to the Kremlin, Smolenkov worked for a key aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin and had been fired years ago; the Kremlin asserted that the extraction reports were “fiction.” The BBC 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).