The Early Edition: December 9, 2019

Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.

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.  

The KOREAN PENINSULA 

North Korea said yesterday it had carried out a “very important test” at its space launch centre, as Pyongyang ramps up pressure on Washington over stalled nuclear talks. The result of the latest drill will have an “important effect” on changing the “strategic position” of North Korea, a spokesperson for North Korea’s Academy of the National Defence Science said in a statement carried by the official K.C.N.A. news agency. The announcement of Saturday’s test at the Sohae satellite launch site came just hours after President Trump said he would be “surprised” by any hostile action from the North. Choe Sang-Hun and David E. Sanger report at the New York Times.

Trump yesterday again expressed confidence that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would not want to abandon their special relationship by resuming hostile acts, but he also made an implicit threat to the North Korean leader after Pyongyang reported Saturday’s “successful test of great significance.” “Kim Jong-un is too smart and has far too much to lose, everything actually, if he acts in a hostile way … he signed a strong Denuclearization Agreement with me in Singapore,” Trump said in a message sent on Twitter, referring to his first formal meeting with Kim in Singapore in 2018.“He does not want to void his special relationship with the President of the United States or interfere with the U.S. Presidential Election in November,” the message continued. Reuters reporting.

The test came after North Korea’s ambassador to the U.N. Kim Song appeared to shut the door on further denuclearization talks with the U.S. as the end-of-year deadline set by its leader Kim Jong-un for substantial U.S. concessions in nuclear diplomacy is fast approaching. “We do not need to have lengthy talks with the U.S. now and the denuclearization is already gone out of the negotiation table,” the ambassador said in a statement, adding that the “sustained and substantial dialogue” pursued by the U.S. was just a “time-saving trick” meant to benefit a “domestic political agenda.” Dakin Andone and Elizabeth Joseph report at CNN.

An analysis of Trump and Kim’s “special relationship” in light of recent developments is provided by Stephen Collinson at CNN.

An explainer on Kim’s options as the deadline for Washington to change its policies looms is provided by Reuters.

AFGHANISTAN 

“Senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable,” a confidential stash of government documents obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act after a three-year legal battle has revealed. Craig Whitlock reports at the Washington Post. 

The U.S. resumed talks with the Taliban in Qatar on Saturday, three months after President Trump abruptly called off diplomatic efforts that could end America’s longest war. AFP reports.

UKRAINE-RUSSIA PEACE TALKS

Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold formal talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky over the five-year-old war in eastern Ukraine east today, in a highly-anticipated summit in Paris, the first between leaders of the two countries since 2016. The two men will aim to reach accord on breaking up illegal militias, expelling foreign fighters from the east and Ukraine regaining control over its border, in a meeting mediated by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. AFP reports.

“Putin intends to use the Paris summit to raise the pressure on Zelensky to fulfill the Minsk deal, counting on support from … Macron, who has signaled a desire to normalize ties with Russia,” Vladimir Isachenkov and Yuras Karmanau report at the AP, writing, “[i]f the 2015 agreement is implemented, it could pave way for a relief from the [European Union] sanctions while allowing Moscow to keep leverage over Ukraine.” The 2015 Minsk ceasefire deal was aimed at ending the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

IRAN

Iran on Saturday freed an American graduate student, Xiyue Wang, who had been detained for more than three years on espionage charges in Iran, as part of a prisoner swap between Tehran and the U.S.. In exchange for Wang’s release, the U.S. freed Masoud Soleimani, an Iranian scientist who was arrested at a Chicago airport last year and was convicted on charges of violating American sanctions against Iran. Abigail Williams and Linda Givetash report at NBC News.

President Trump hailed the swap in a message sent on Twitter: “Thank you to Iran on a very fair negotiation … see, we can make a deal together!” The BBC reporting.

The letter sent last week by three key European powers accusing Iran’s ballistic missile program of being “inconsistent” with the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and world powers is provided by Colum Lynch at Foreign Policy.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

The House passed a symbolic resolution on Friday backing a two-state solution to the Israeli and the Palestinian conflict, breaking with President Trump on his Israel policy. The Democratic-led House voted 226 to 188, largely along party lines, for a non-binding resolution recording objection to any peace proposals put forward by the Trump administration that do not expressly call for an independent Palestinian state living side-by-side with a Jewish state of Israel. Laura Kelly reports at the Hill.

Israeli aircraft launched attacks in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip early yesterday, in retaliation to three rockets being fired hours earlier from the Palestinian enclave toward southern Israel. Al Jazeera reporting.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

The White House has indicated it will not take part in impeachment hearings in Congress set for this week or seek to defend President Trump in Democratic-led hearings to draw up formal charges against him. In a letter sent last Friday to House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), White House counsel Pat Cipollone criticized the ongoing impeachment inquiry as “completely baseless” and said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had ordered Democrats to proceed with articles of impeachment “before your committee has heard a single shred of evidence.” The impeachment inquiry has focused on Trump’s request to Ukrainian President Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, while the administration temporarily suspended aid as leverage. Nicholas Fandos and Maggie Haberman report at the New York Times.

The Judiciary Committee Democrats issued a report Saturday laying out the Constitutional justification for Trump’s impeachment. The 52-page report is an update to the Judiciary Committee reports that were issued in 1974 and 1998 during the impeachment proceedings of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. The report does not accuse Trump of committing impeachable offenses, but it lays the groundwork for today’s hearing, where evidence against Trump will be presented by the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees. Siobhan Hughes reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The House Judiciary Committee may vote as early as this week on articles of impeachment against Trump, Nadler said on CNN’s “State of the Union” yesterday, suggesting his panel is prepared to move forward without Republican backing. Nadler said Democrats have built a “solid” case against Trump and will move quickly to draft the articles of impeachment. The chair kept the door open as to whether Democrats will ultimately cite former special council Robert Mueller’s report’s findings as part of any articles. Devan Cole, Manu Raju and Chandelis Duster report at CNN.

Trump and his G.O.P. allies are pushing debunked allegations of corruption by former Vice President Joe Biden as a counternarrative to impeachment as Trump faces charges for allegedly pressing Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden. Katie Glueck and Maggie Haberman report at the New York Times.

Attorney General William Barr recently allowed the release of new details about former F.B.I. informant Christopher Steele at the center of conservatives’ claims about the Russia probe, opting to publish information that had been blacked out in long-awaited Justice Department Inspector General report due out today. Steele, a British former spy, compiled a dossier of information about Trump which was relied upon to some extent by F.B.I. officials. Katie Benner reports at the New York Times.

Trump on Friday dismissed a report that he continues to use a personal cell phone to make calls, a practice could leave his conversations vulnerable to foreign interception, arguing that he relies exclusively on phones issued and approved by the government. Tal Axelrod reports at the Hill.

A look at Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr’s efforts to defend Trump is provided by Natasha Bertrand and Darren Samuelsohn report at POLITICO.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

A detailed critique of the minority staff report being presented by Counsel Stephen Castor to the House Judiciary Committee today is provided by Susan Simpson at Just Security.

“Disagreements on Capitol Hill over the nuances of the [Trump impeachment] case suggest that the mechanisms created by the founders to allow an objective assessment of an unrestrained president no longer function in an age of party polarization,” Stephen Collins writes in an analysis at CNN.

A guide to watching today’s impeachment hearing is provided by Peter Baker at the New York Times.

PENSACOLA SHOOTING

The investigation into the fatal shooting last Friday at Florida Navy base was officially characterized as a terrorism probe yesterday, as new information emerged about the Saudi Air Force trainee who killed three sailors and wounded 11 others on the center where he was a visiting student. Rachel Rojas, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s field office in Jacksonville, Fla., said the terrorism inquiry allows authorities to use certain investigative techniques, without giving more details. Patricia Mazzei, Frances Robles and Eric Schmitt report at the New York Times.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has instructed the armed forces to review security and procedures for screening foreign nationals on military bases following Friday’s shooting. Connor O’Brien reports at POLITICO.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

Legislation on Xinjiang approved last week by the lower house in the U.S. is “a severe violation of international law and gross interference in China’s internal affairs,” the governor of the western region said yesterday, accusing the U.S. of conducting a “smear campaign.” The bill mandates a stronger response to Beijing’s treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority. Al Jazeera reporting.

Air raids by Syrian government and Russian forces have killed at least 18 people in the last major rebel stronghold in northwest Syria, according to rescue workers who operate in opposition-held areas. AP reporting.

“We need to acknowledge the disconnect between the clear national security threat [from Russia] and our president whose affinity for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has never been so clear as it is now,” Marc Polymeropoulos, who retired in June from the C.I.A. writes at Just Security, shedding light on the agency’s informal manifesto to the workforce titled “A Call to Arms” post-2016, which “required a whole-of-agency effort to counter the Kremlin.”

Turkey has sent 11 French nationals back to France as part of a program to extradite what it claims are foreign terrorist fighters, the Turkish ministry said today. Reuters reporting.

“The U.S. military believes that an unarmed American drone reported lost near Libya’s capital last month was in fact shot down by Russian air defenses and it is demanding the return of the aircraft’s wreckage, U.S. Africa Command says,” Reuters reporting.

Supreme Court Justice Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday put a one-week hold on a lower court’s order for Trump’s bank records to be turned over to House Democrats. Kellie Mejdrich reports at POLITICO. 

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).