The Early Edition: May 26, 2020

Curated summary of up-to-the-minute national security developments at home and abroad.

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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.  

CORONAVIRUS

The number of U.S. coronavirus deaths is closing in on 100,000, with just under 99,000 recorded early today, according to an NBC News count. The United States continues to be, by far, the world’s coronavirus hot spot, accounting for 1.67 million of the 5.5 million confirmed cases worldwide. There have now been over 346,000 deaths globally related to the pandemic, but over 2.3 million people have recovered. NBC News reporting.

Places where coronavirus infections are declining could still face an “immediate second peak” if they lift restrictions too early, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) said yesterday. W.H.O. emergencies head Dr. Mike Ryan told an online briefing that epidemics often come in waves, which means that outbreaks could rebound later this year in areas where the first wave has subsided. There was also a risk that infection rates could soar again more quickly if measures to stem the first wave were eased too soon. Reuters reporting.

The W.H.O. announced that it is suspending trials of hydroxychloroquine — the antimalarial drug President Trump said he took — after medical studies questioned its safety, including one published Friday that found it actually increased the risk of death. Trials in several countries are being “temporarily” halted as a precaution, the U.N. health agency said yesterday. Sarah Wheaton reports for POLITICO.

Trump said he had “just finished” taking a two-week course of hydroxychloroquine, even as evidence mounts that the drug may do more harm than good. “Finished, just finished,” the president said in an interview that aired on Sinclair Broadcasting on Sunday. “And by the way, I’m still here.” Trump again defended the drug as a coronavirus treatment in the interview, amid Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) cautions against using the medicine outside of hospitals and clinical trials over reports of serious heart problems linked to its use. Jane C. Timm reports for NBC News.

Trump has threatened to relocate the Republican National Convention if restrictions are placed on the crowd size due to the coronavirus pandemic. In a series of messages sent on Twitter yesterday, Trump urged North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) to reassure Republican officials that the event can go ahead without coronavirus-related restrictions on the number of attendees. The event is due to take place from 24-27 August at an arena in Charlotte that can hold as many as 20,000 people. Yesterday, however, the president said he would move the site of the convention if full capacity is not guaranteed. Andrew Restuccia reports for the Wall Street Journal.

The Pentagon is actively preparing for living with the coronavirus well into 2021, putting it at risk of riling Trump as he expresses confidence that the disease is subsiding. Defense officials have extended a freeze on troop movement, kept ships in port and laid the blueprint for what the military will look like in a lengthened pause because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The extended planning contradicts White House messaging that the virus will wane in the coming months and that a vaccine could be available by the end of the year. Ellen Mitchell reports for the Hill.

The White House yesterday brought forward by two days limits on travel to the United States from Brazil as the number of deaths from the new coronavirus in the South American nation topped the U.S. daily toll. A White House statement amended the timing of the beginning of the restrictions to 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time today instead of May 28 as in the original announcement on Sunday. Two days prior, Brazil overtook Russia as the world’s No. 2 coronavirus hotspot after the United States. Reuters reporting.

Some states — including Georgia, Florida and Arizona — are coming under fire for making public misleading statistics or hiding information related to the coronavirus outbreak as they move to reopen. While the U.S. has recorded more cases and deaths than any other nation, the process for counting Covid-19 deaths differs by state and government officials in numerous states are facing questions about how transparent they are being about how the virus is impacting their state. Allan Smith reports for NBC News.

There is effectively no independent oversight of the White House coronavirus task force’s $600 million deal with Battelle, the firm that makes machines that reprocess N95 face masks for health care workers. NBC News’ Jonathan Allen reports on the Battelle contract and Trump’s intervention with the F.D.A. in the context of his oversight “purge.”

Britain will administer anti-viral drug remdesivir to certain Covid-19 patients that it is most likely to help as part of a collaboration with manufacturer Gilead Sciences, the health ministry said today. The department of health said that initial data from clinical trials around the world showed that the drug could cut the recovery time of Covid-19 patients by four days. Reuters reporting.

A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. is available at the New York Times.

U.S. and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post.

A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.

Latest updates on the pandemic at The Guardian.

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban and Afghan government have agreed a three-day ceasefire in Afghanistan starting last Sunday, with the government agreeing to release 2,000 Taliban prisoners.  The presidential spokesperson Sediq Sediqqi said the prisoner release was a “good will gesture,” with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcoming the move in a statement: “Peace is the consistent and overwhelming desire of the Afghan people … We hope this ceasefire can build trust. Next, all sides should work together to build on the momentum of this historic Eid ceasefire to move with urgency to intra-Afghan negotiations.” Colin Dwyer reports for NPR. 

The Afghan government called on the Taliban to extend the three-day truce which is due to expire tonight and also announced that it would free 900 prisoners from the insurgent group today. “It is important to extend the ceasefire and, in order to avoid bloodshed, the Afghan government is ready to extend it,” Javid Faisal, the spokesperson for the Afghan National Security Adviser, told a news conference. Reuters reporting.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who appeared in court on Sunday to hear charges of bribery and breach of trust brought against him by prosecutors, yesterday criticized “the wolves” who are after him, including the Israeli police, the attorney general’s office and state media outlets, arguing they are trying to force him out of office. Critics have said his recent rhetoric is an attempt to politicize the trial and mask the charges and evidence against him: “He’s successfully convinced many in the public that the court is intervening in an election and it’s not really about the cases that he faces charges in,” said Mitchell Barak, a political analyst and director at Keevoon Global Research, a Jerusalem-based consulting firm. Felicia Schwartz and Dov Lieber report for the Wall Street Journal. 

Netanyahu stands firm in his plans to annex parts of the West Bank, confirming yesterday that, “We have a historic opportunity … an opportunity that we will not let pass.” State media have confirmed that the prime minister does not intend to act until July. AP reporting. 

CHINA

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s fast-moving plans to impose a number of new national-security laws on Hong Kong threatens to alter the self-governing city’s special status. The draft resolution proposes measures against secession, foreign influence and terrorism; however, many anticipate attempts to try and control Hong Kong’s educational system, free press, courts and immigration policies, and have criticized Xi’s “nuclear option” of circumventing the city’s own legislative process. John Lyons reports for the Wall Street Journal. 

China’s top military commander of the People’s Liberation Army (P.L.A.) Chen Daoxiang today warned against protests in Hong Kong, stating “Garrison officers and soldiers are determined, confident, and capable of safeguarding national sovereignty and development interests and the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.” Helen Davidson reports for the Guardian. 

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Russian prosecutors in the trial against alleged spy and former U.S. marine Paul Whelan yesterday asked the court to pass a sentence of 18 years in prison. “The prosecution has made a very harsh demand, it’s absolutely unjustified and groundless. To be honest, we’re in shock,” Whelan’s lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov told reporters after yesterday’s hearing. The court is expected to announce its decision on June 15. Al Jazeera reporting. 

The first of five Iranian oil tankers docked in Venezuela yesterday after Iran has promised to provide Venezuela with over 1.5 million barrels of Gasoline. The U.S. has said it is monitoring the situation as both countries are under U.S. sanctions; however, Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro said the countries are “two revolutionary peoples who will never kneel down before North American imperialism,” with the country’s economy vice president and oil minister stating: “We are fortunate to be able to count on Iran in these times … We cannot allow any world power to act like a super-police.” BBC reporting. 

Richard Grenell, the outgoing acting director of national intelligence, will also give up his post as U.S. ambassador to Germany in a few weeks, German news media reports confirmed, although Grenell has yet to confirm a date. Warren P. Strobel reports for the Wall Street Journal.

President Trump’s recent threats to withhold funds from Michigan and Nevada if they continue to allow votes-by-mail is an attempt at “suppressing the vote” and challenging “the legitimacy of the election if he loses – by claiming widespread voter fraud in the mailed ballots,” writes Fred Wertheimer for NBC News. 

“The appeals court should step in even at this early stage — not to order that [former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s] case be dismissed, but to send it back to a different trial court judge for further review,” J. Michael Luttig argues for the Washington Post, commenting, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan “has done two highly unusual, and troubling, things” and the court of appeals “would be justified in intervening in the case now to correct the process the judge has established for moving to decision.” 

About the Author(s)

Nat O'Connell

Associate 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).

Siven Watt

Associate News Editor at Just Security and Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK. Follow him on Twitter (@SivenWatt)