The Early Edition: September 13, 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.  

TRUMP-RUSSIA AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

The House Judiciary Committee voted yesterday to widen the panel’s powers to investigate President Trump as Democrats seek to build their case for impeachment. The panel voted 24-17 along party lines on a resolution which laid out new authorities for lawmakers — including subjecting witnesses to more aggressive questioning — and outlined a process for the president to respond to evidence and testimony presented in the committee’s hearings. Andrew Desiderio reports at POLITICO.

Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said the investigation would allow the panel to “determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment with respect to President Trump.” “With these new procedures will begin next week an aggressive series of hearings investigating allegations of obstruction, corruption and abuse of power against the president,” Nadler told reporters after the vote. Nicholas Fandos reports at the New York Times.

“Some call this process an impeachment inquiry … some call it an impeachment investigation … there is no legal difference between these terms, and I no longer care to argue about the nomenclature,” Nadler said as he opened the proceedings. “But let me clear up any remaining doubt: the conduct under investigation poses a threat to our democracy … we have an obligation to respond to this threat … and we are doing so,” Nadler said. The BBC reports.

“Democrats have never gotten over the fact that I won the Election very fairly,” Trump stated in a Facebook post hours after the vote. “If they go down the path of impeachment they will be dividing the nation! so ridiculous to even be talking about this subject when all of the crimes were committed by the other side,” the president said. Reuters reports.

IMMIGRATION 

The Mexican government said yesterday that it opposed an “astonishing” U.S. Supreme Court order that would bar migrants from countries other than Mexico and Canada from applying for asylum at U.S. borders. Speaking at President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s daily news conference, Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard explained that Mexico has a different policy when it comes to asylum seekers and would never implement such a rule: “our policy of refuge, of asylum is a tradition in Mexico” whereas “the U.S. has a very hardline immigration policy” Ebrard said. The AP reports.

The U.N. refugee agency criticized Wednesday’s ruling curbing asylum applications at the southern border today, saying the decision “could hurt people fleeing violence and persecution” who are entitled to “full and effective asylum procedures and international protection.” Reuters reports.

The Supreme Court order could prove a burden for Mexico, Azam Ahmed and Paulina Villegas write at the New York Times, noting that the country “is already playing host to tens of thousands of migrants awaiting their asylum hearings in the United States [and] its migrant detention facilities can be overcrowded, unsafe and unsanitary.”

“What happened in Mississippi reveals the hypocrisy of how the law is being applied today,” Brian Owsley argues at Just Security, commenting that while prosecutors exercise their discretion to charge undocumented immigrants, they ignore the felony of unlawful employment of undocumented immigrants committed by employers and others in management.

U.S.-UKRAINE RELATIONS

The Trump administration has released $250 million in military aid for Ukraine, U.S. senators said yesterday, following intense bipartisan backlash from lawmakers who expressed concern that the White House had held up money approved by Congress that was key to warding off Russian aggression in the region. Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said today he expects to hold a summit with U.S. President Trump later this month and appeared confident that peace talks to resolve Ukraine’s conflict with Russia in the eastern Donbass region would also take place toward the end of September. Reuters reports.

IRAN

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said yesterday that “the world cannot live with a major confrontation in the Gulf,” referring to the heightening tensions between the U.S. and Iran in the wake of the unravelling 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The U.N. chief told reporters “it is absolutely essential to avoid any escalation of the situation,” adding that although he has “no particular insight” into the chances of a meeting between U.S. President Trump and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani during the U.N. General Assembly later this month, any effort to avoid a confrontation would “always be welcome.” The AP reports.

“Tehran is accelerating its development of potential nuclear technologies and capabilities, and —despite Bolton’s departure — there is no off-ramp in sight.” Keith Johnson and Elias Groll at Foreign Policy argue that a “diplomatic rapprochement” with Iran is unlikely, “given the Trump administration’s stated desire to maintain its maximum pressure campaign and the Iranian regime’s repeated refusal to enter negotiations with the current administration.”

SYRIA

The U.S. is reportedly preparing to deploy about 150 troops to northeast Syria to conduct ground patrols with Turkish forces, as part of a series of “military and diplomatic” steps taken by the U.S in recent weeks to reduce tensions with Turkey, Eric Schmitt reports at the New York Times. 

A defense official told news network C.N.N. that the military was considering sending a small number of troops to Syria to help create a “buffer zone” at the Syria-Turkey border — but no decisions had been made. “For security reasons, we are not going to discuss numbers or timelines,” Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Sean Robertson told the network. Ryan Browne reports at CNN.

The U.S.’ top envoy for Syria Ambassador James Jeffrey yesterday dismissed findings by U.N. independent investigators that deadly airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition early this year could amount to a war crime. Jeffrey said the coalition takes “extreme care in every military operation we do” and did not “accept the findings of that particular body;” Jeffery’s remarks came a day after a U.N. report indicated that coalition airstrikes on Jan. 3 along the Iraqi border may not have been “directed at a military objective” or may not have been carried out with the “necessary precaution.” The AP reports.

AFGHANISTAN

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) yesterday subpoenaed the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad for testimony, demanding he appear before the panel next week to explain the failure of the U.S.-Taliban talks. Nahal Toosi reports at POLITICO.

“We need to hear directly from the administration’s point person on Afghanistan to understand how this process went off the rails,” Engel said, explaining: “for months, we haven’t been able to get answers on the Afghanistan peace plan, and now the president is saying the plan is dead.” “I’m fed up with this administration keeping Congress and the American people in the dark on the peace process and how we’re going to bring this long war to a close,” the Chair continued. Catie Edmondson reports at the New York Times.

The Taliban yesterday urged the U.S. to resume dialogue aimed at ending the 18-year-old conflict in Afghanistan, calling on the Trump administration to “revisit” an almost completed deal after it withdrew from negotiations last week. “We want resolution, not escalation of the issue — that is why we concluded the peace agreement with [the] U.S.,” the insurgents’ spokesperson in Qatar said in an interview, adding “in our view, peaceful solution of the Afghan issue is the best solution … but if U.S. opts for continuation of the war, they will find us in the field strong and unwavering as ever.” Jessica Donati reports at the Wall Street Journal.

An analysis of the violence and uncertainty prevalent in Afghanistan amid the stalled peace talks is provided by Ishaan Tharoor at the Washington Post.

“While people across [Afghanistan] want peace, many fear a large-scale U.S. troop withdrawal could strengthen Taliban rule and increase violence.” Stefanie Glinksi at Foreign Policy warns of the possible consequences of striking a quick deal without negotiations with the Afghan government.

“The best-case scenario for Washington — and one Kabul could live with — would be a deal with the Taliban that calls for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops but also stipulates that a small, counterterrorism-focused residual force remains in place,” Michael Kugelman argues at Foreign Policy.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

U.S. President Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are to meet at the U.N. this month, Moon’s office announced today, hinting at a restart of denuclearization talks. Seoul and Washington are working to fix a date for the summit during Moon’s visit to New York for the U.N. General Assembly from Sept. 22-26, Moon’s spokesperson Ko Min-jung told a briefing. Reuters reports.

Trump told reporters yesterday he would “be willing” to continue talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at some point this year aimed at dismantling the North’s nuclear weapons program. Reuters reports.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Israeli intelligence agents were likely responsible for placing surveillance devices near the White House and other locations around Washington, with the apparent purpose of capturing information from phones used by U.S. President Trump or top White House aides, American intelligence has reportedly found. Daniel Lippman reports at POLITICO.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office forcefully denied the allegations yesterday, saying in a statement that the report was “a blatant lie.” “There is a longstanding commitment, and a directive from the Israeli government not to engage in any intelligence operations in the U.S.” the statement continued, adding that directive is “rigorously enforced without any exception.” The BBC reports. 

Trump asserted yesterday that he did not believe Israel was spying on the U.S., when asked by reporters about the POLITICO report. “I really would find that hard to believe, my relationship with Israel has been great,” Trump said. AFP reports.

National security advisor John Bolton’s departure “has some Israelis worried that President Trump would now pursue a more vigorous policy of detente with Iran, leaving Israel on its own to fight Iranian influence in the region.” Neri Zilber at Foreign Policy analyses what Bolton’s exit means for Israel.

PAKISTAN AND INDIA

Pakistan’s president Arif Alvi yesterday urged India during a speech in parliament to “immediately lift all restrictions” on people in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, while ignoring opposition demands for Prime Minister Imran Khan to quit over his alleged bad governance. The AP reports.

A bipartisan group of senators has appealed to U.S. President Trump to take action over the deepening humanitarian crisis in Indian-administered Kashmir. Specifically, Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), asked Trump in a letter yesterday “to immediately facilitate an end to the current humanitarian crisis” and “to put pressure on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lift curfews imposed on residents of Kashmir and restore telecommunications services in the disputed territory.” Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

At least four people were killed and 13 others were wounded yesterday after Kurdish rebels detonated an improvised explosive device on a road in southeast Turkey, Turkish officials have said. The AP reports.

A detailed account of how Beijing’s crackdown on the minority Muslim Uighur group in China’s remote Xinjiang region “reflects a broader push towards a single ‘state-race’” is provided by Christian Shepherd at the Financial Times Magazine, who comments that “Uighurs are increasingly excluded from their language and cultural heritage.”

“If delivery of the essential [humanitarian] supplies for the civilian population were blocked based on a reasonable belief that they would be used by the besieged forces … there was no violation of [international humanitarian law] I.H.L. – unless the siege caused excessive harm to the civilian population, thus running afoul of the rule of proportionality,” Michael Schmitt, Kieran Tinkler and Durward Johnson write at Just Security, in the first in a series of articles by legal experts analyzing the major U.N. report on the Yemen War.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced yesterday that he would not attend the U.N. General Assembly later this month, but that two of his envoys would travel to the meeting in New York to condemn U.S. sanctions imposed on the country. Reuters reports.

The U.S. Air Force has sent crews to President Trump’s Turnberry resort in Scotland up to 40 times since 2015, the preliminary results of an Air Force review have revealed. Bryan Bender and Natasha Bertran report at POLITICO.

Democrats yesterday roasted Trump’s nominees to lead the Army and the Air Force on his recent decision to divert $3.6 billion from military construction projects to be used for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Army Secretary nominee Ryan McCarthy and Air Force Secretary nominee Barbara Barrett faced the Senate Armed Services Committee for their confirmation hearing for those roles. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

Trump yesterday ruled out the idea of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo taking on a dual role as national security adviser. Trump also declared he had a list of about 15 candidates being considered for the post, previously held by John Bolton. Caitlin Oprysko reports at POLITICO.

The Justice Department yesterday rejected an appeal from former F.B.I. Deputy Director Andrew McCabe of a recommendation to indict him made by the U.S. attorney in Washington, DC, sources familiar with the decision have said. McCabe allegedly made false statements to federal investigators about his disclosure of information to a journalist in 2016. NBC News reports. 

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).