The Early Edition: September 12, 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.  

IMMIGRATION

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday granted a request by the Trump administration to enforce a new rule that denies asylum to migrants at the southern border who have traveled through Mexico or another country without seeking protection there. The order, temporarily in effect while lower court proceedings play out, is a victory for President Trump’s restrictive immigration policies which have been repeatedly challenged in court. Robert Barnes reports at the Washington Post.

“BIG United States Supreme Court WIN for the Border on Asylum!” Trump hailed the move in a message sent on Twitter. In a statement, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said the decision “greatly helps build on the progress we’ve made addressing the crisis at our southern border and will ultimately make American communities safer.” Brent Kendall and Jess Bravin report at the Wall Street Journal.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented from the ruling, with Sotomayor claiming the court’s action will “upend longstanding practices regarding refugees who seek shelter from persecution.” “It is especially concerning, moreover, that the rule the government promulgated topples decades of settled asylum practices and affects some of the most vulnerable people in the Western Hemisphere — without affording the public a chance to weigh in,” Sotomayor wrote. Josh Gerstein and Ted Hesson report at POLITICO.

IRAN

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani yesterday reiterated that Washington must first lift its sanctions before Iran’s leaders would agree to meet with U.S. President Trump. “If the sanctions remain in place, negotiations with the U.S. administration have no meaning,” Rouhani said in a telephone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, according to Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency (I.R.I.B.). Reuters reports.

Trump left open yesterday the possibility that the U.S. could weaken economic sanctions on Iran, adding he believes Tehran would like to strike a deal with Washington on its nuclear program. When asked by reporters about the possibility that the U.S. would ease up on its “maximum pressure” campaign to secure a meeting with the Islamic Republic, Trump said “we’ll see what happens;” the president also warned that it would be “very very dangerous” for Iran to enrich uranium, a key step in developing a nuclear weapon. Lara Jakes reports at the New York Times.

Iran condemned a so-called “U.S.-Israeli plot” to put pressure on the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) after the U.N. nuclear watchdog issued calls in recent days for more cooperation from Tehran following reports of uranium particles found at an undeclared site. “[W]e are witnessing a U.S.-Israeli plot with the support of their affiliated media,” Iran’s ambassador to the I.A.E.A. Kazem Gharibabadi, said in a statement to an I.A.E.A. Board of Governors meeting. Reuters reports.

Trump has in recent weeks shown openness to considering a proposal by Macron to extend a $15 billion credit line to Tehran in exchange for renewed compliance with the 2015 nuclear pact, according to four sources with knowledge of Trump’s conversations with the French leader. Two of the sources said that State Department officials, including Secretary Mike Pompeo, are also open to weighing the French plan, which would compensate Iran for oil sales disrupted by U.S. sanctions. Erin Banco and Asawin Suebsaeng report at The Daily Beast.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday played down the impact of Bolton’s departure, predicting that Washington would continue to hold a tough line on Iran. “So I am convinced, I have no doubts at all, that in any situation — with talks, without talks — President Trump and his administration will be very, very tough with Iran,” Netanyahu told Israeli media outlet Channel 20. Tal Axelrod reports at the Hill.

SYRIA

U.N.-appointed independent investigators have said that air strikes by U.S.-led coalition forces have killed, wounded or displaced many civilians in Syria. The report from the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria published yesterday found “reasonable grounds to believe that international coalition forces may not have directed their attacks at a specific military objective, or failed to do so with the necessary precaution;” the investigators noted that “launching indiscriminate attacks that result in death or injury to civilians amounts to a war crime in cases in which such attacks are conducted recklessly.” Tal Axelrod reports at the Hill.

The U.N. report also accused Syrian and pro-government Russian forces of waging a deadly air campaign in northwestern Syria that appeared to target medical facilities, schools and other sites that could also amount to war crimes. Al Jazeera reports. 

Tens of thousands of women and children continue to be kept in “inhumane conditions” in a remote camp on the other side of the country, amid intensifying violence in northwestern Syria, the report further found. The U.N. News Centre reports.

AFGHANISTAN

At least four Afghan troops were killed and three others were wounded this morning in a Taliban suicide car bomb attack that targeted an Afghan special forces base on the outskirts of Kabul, deputy spokesperson for the Afghan Defense Ministry Fawad Aman has said. The AP reports.

President Trump vowed to hit the Taliban “harder” than ever as America yesterday commemorated the 18th anniversary of the deadly Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks that led the country into war in Afghanistan. While Trump maintained that he is seeking to strike a peace deal, he also issued an explicit warning to the Taliban, claiming that in the wake of last week’s attack in Kabul, U.S. forces have “hit our enemy harder than they have ever been hit before and that will continue.” AFP reports.

“We do not seek conflict … but if anyone dares to strike our land, we will respond with the full measure of American power and the iron will of the American spirit and that spirit is unbreakable,” Trump said at a memorial service marking the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Caitlin Oprysko reports at POLITICO.

“Defeat in Afghanistan … should lead to smarter decisions about where and for what purpose the country commits its military forces,” Stephen M. Walt argues at Foreign Policy, commenting that “after 18 years of war, thousands of lives lost, and hundreds of billions of dollars squandered,” the U.S. “ should try to learn from its missteps and do what it can to avoid them in the future.”

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Iran’s Foreign Ministry said yesterday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge to annex the Jordan Valley and his repeated accusations against Tehran were just “ploys to win re-election,” the semi-official news agency Tasnim reported. “Netanyahu seeks votes to stay in power through accusations against Iran and later he announces a malicious intent to annex yet another part of Palestine so he can stay in power and carry on with expansionism and aggression,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi reportedly said. Reuters reports.

Persistent rocket fire from Gaza is making another war against militants in the coastal strip “inevitable,” Netanyahu warned today. The Israeli prime minister said “advanced plans” were in place to strike Gaza and that he would determine the optimal timing of the attack, in light of the Gaza Hamas rulers’ unwillingness to stop the daily blasts. Aron Heller reports at the AP.

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

Republican and Democratic U.S. senators sent a letter Tuesday to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in an effort to pressure Saudi Arabia over human rights, urging the country to fulfill its obligation to provide $750 million this year to help the people of Yemen. While the letter acknowledged past Saudi contributions for aid in Yemen, it said the Saudis have only provided a limited share of a current $750 million commitment, adding that the U.N. was banking on that funding for programs to provide vaccinations, food, fuel and medicine. Reuters reports.

The final death toll from Saudi-led coalition airstrikes last week on a detention center operated by Iran-aligned Shi’ite Houthi rebels has reached 135 people, Yemeni medics have said. The attack, which injured 40 others, was one of the deadliest in over four years of war in Yemen. The AP reports.

TRUMP-RUSSIA AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

“House Democrats offer different, often-strained answers to a straightforward question: Has the House begun an impeachment investigation of President Trump?” JM Rieger at the Washington Post analyses Democrats’ mixed responses ahead of the House Judiciary Committee’s vote this morning on procedures relating to an impeachment inquiry against Trump.

“Republicans are gleefully mining the divides … as they accuse Democrats of ignoring pressing policy issues in a single-minded quest to impeach Trump,” Nicholas Fandos comments at the New York Times, noting that “the confusion and contradictory statements are in some ways to be expected, as Democratic leaders toil to navigate the tricky political terrain and complex legal landscape of considering whether — and how — to prosecute a case against a sitting president.”

FOREIGN POLICY

U.S. President Trump yesterday criticized outgoing national security adviser John Bolton, dismissed a day earlier, for his positions on North Korea and Venezuela — saying had been a “disaster” on North Korea policy. Trump said Bolton “offended” the North’s leader Kim Jong-un by demanding that he follow a “Libyan model” and hand over all his nuclear weapons: “we were set back very badly when John Bolton talked about the Libyan model … what a disaster,” Trump said in wide ranging comments to reporters at the White House, adding “that’s not a question of being tough … that’s a question of being not smart to say something like that.” Reuters reports.

“Anyone hoping that John Bolton getting fired by the Trump administration would end the confusion over American foreign policy is likely to be disappointed,” Nick Paton Walsh writes in an analysis at CNN, commenting on the administration’s “utterly erratic” approach to serious issues.

Bolton’s ouster highlights the divide among Republican lawmakers on national security, Catie Edmondson at the New York Times explains that “hawkish conservatives” are set against “a newer, anti-establishment group aligned with Trump’s impulses to put an end to the nation’s intractable military conflicts.”

“Trump is a self-described dealmaker, but when it comes to foreign policy agreements, the cupboard is empty,” Adam Taylor at the Washington Post, commenting that “since entering office in 2017, the American leader has … torn up numerous deals reached under previous U.S. administrations [offering] little in their place.”

“No tool of foreign policy, including diplomacy, should be deployed indiscriminately and thoughtlessly,” Rich Lowry argues at POLITICO, noting that while “Trump views himself as primarily a dealmaker, [this] doesn’t mean that every deal is worth having or even pursuing.”

WHITE SUPREMACIST VIOLENCE 

The so-called “domestic terrorism” challenge is, in fact, part of a global phenomenon and is “aggravated by a gap in legal authorities, resources, and priorities.” Joshua Geltzer at Just Security argues that eighteen years after the tragic 9/11 attacks, Americans face a new international terrorist threat inspired by white supremacist ideologies.

Leaked documents about the F.B.I.’s classification system for domestic terrorism investigations “raise questions about why the government is unable or unwilling to shed greater light on white supremacist violence,” Maya Berry and Kai Wiggins argue at Just Security.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS 

Sudan’s ruling council and rebel leaders agreed yesterday on a roadmap for peace talks that are expected to begin in October and last about two months, following the military’s ouster of President Omar al-Bashir in April, officials from both sides said. The AP reports.

Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri called yesterday on Muslims to attack U.S., European, Israeli and Russian targets in a speech marking the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. “If you want Jihad to be focused solely on military targets, the American military has presence all over the world, from the East to the West,” the leader said, adding: “your countries are littered with American bases, with all the infidels therein and the corruption they spread.” Al Jazeera reports.

A look at how the Trump administration flouted democratic norms in August 2019, including redefining citizenship and the president’s request to buy Greenland, is provided by Kate Brannen at Just Security.

The State Department has approved a potential $6.5 billion sale of F-35 fighter jets to Poland, the Pentagon announced yesterday. Details of the sale include 32 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, equipment and support, as part of an expanded military partnership between the U.S. and N.A.T.O. ally Poland, Aaron Gregg reports at the Washington Post.

President Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen has struck a deal with New York City prosecutors to provide information about the president’s business operation, according to a source familiar with the situation. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office is investigating whether the Trump Organization falsified business records, the source said. Adam Reiss reports at NBC.

Chinese businesswoman Yujing Zhang was convicted yesterday of unlawfully entering Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, after her arrest earlier this year raised concerns about security at the president’s clubs. A federal jury in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., reached its guilty verdict after a three-day trial in which Zhang decided to act as her own lawyer. Nick Madigan and Frances Robles report 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).