Early Edition: February 2, 2021

A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours.

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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.

MYANMAR COUP                        

Tensions rise and international condemnation loudens following yesterday’s coup in Myanmar, where the country’s military seized power from the civilian-led government, detaining hundreds of senior politicians, including civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Hundreds of members of Myanmar’s Parliament are still detained in “an open-air detention center” in the country’s capital. “One of the legislators told the Associated Press news agency he and some 400 other parliament members were able to talk to one another inside their government housing complex and communicate with their constituencies by phone but were not allowed to leave the compound in Naypyidaw,” Al Jazeera reports.

President Biden said he intends to take “appropriate action” against Myanmar’s military leaders and will review a raft of sanctions which the US has lifted over the years, but such action could have unintended consequences, pushing the country closer toward China. William Maudlin and Ian Talley report for the Wall Street Journal.

The Biden administration yesterday briefed Congress on the matter, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) said. “We are monitoring this situation with great concern, and the Biden administration is already providing briefings to the Hill on the state of affairs,” Schumer said, adding, “Congress stands ready to work collaboratively with the administration to resolve the situation.” Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.

The UN Security Council is due to convene a closed meeting today, with UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric expressing concern over the impact the coup could have on the 600,000 Rohingya Muslims still in the country.“There are about 600,000 Rohingya those that remain in Rakhine State, including 120,000 people who are effectively confined to camps, they cannot move freely and have extremely limited access to basic health and education services,” Dujarric told reporters, adding, “So our fear is that the events may make the situation worse for them.” Michelle Nichols reports for Reuters.

The options available to Biden following his threats to potentially place sanctions on Myanmar leaders are explained by Simon Lewis, Humeyra Pamuk and Daphne Psaledakis for Reuters.

Explainers to Myanmar’s coup are provided by the New York Times and CNN.

What’s next for Myanmar is explored by Andrew Nachemson for Foreign Policy.

US IMMIGRATION

The Biden administration yesterday asked the Supreme Court to cancel upcoming arguments in two cases challenging former President Trump’s US-Mexico border wall and the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) which requires asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while their claims are considered. Until those reviews are completed, acting Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar said that the court should suspend the pending lawsuits. “The border wall case, now called Biden v. Sierra Club, is scheduled for argument Feb. 22. The immigration case is now called Pekoske v. Innovation Law Lab — David Pekoske is acting homeland security secretary — and is scheduled for March 1,” reports Robert Barnes for the Washington Post.

President Biden will sign three executive orders today aimed at reforming the immigration system and undoing Trump administration policies, including establishing a family reunification task force for families separated at the US-Mexico border, a review of the MPP as well as a review of the public charge rule. Sabrina Rodriguez reports for POLITICO.

US CAPITOL ATTACK 

The police officer responsible for shooting and killing Ashli Babbitt, the woman who attempted to climb through a broken glass door into the Speaker’s lobby on Jan. 6, will most likely not be charged in connection with her death, police investigators indicated after making a preliminary determination, although the Justice Department made clear it had not yet made a final determination on the matter. Aruna Viswanatha, Sadie Gurman and Tawnell D. Hobbs report for the Wall Street Journal.

A New Mexico county commissioner, Couy Griffin, who was charged for his role in the Capitol breach will be detained pending trial, a federal magistrate judge in Washington ordered. Josh Gerstein reports for POLITICO.

Prosecutors have filed charges against Stephen Samsel, one of the rioters alleged to have first breached Capitol barricades — charges include “forcibly assaulting a police officer, attempting to obstruct a police officer and obstructing an official proceeding,” Paul P. Murphy reports for CNN.

MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE

A group of House Democrats have filed a resolution to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) from her assignments on the House Education and Labor Committee and the House Budget Committee, after it was recently revealed that in 2019 she spouted conspiracy theories and called for the execution of lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), as well as FBI agents. The resolution was brought by Florida Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch and Jahana Hayes of Connecticut. The Rules Committee will consider the resolution tomorrow. Rebecca Shabad reports for NBC News.

“House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, is planning to deliver an ultimatum to House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy on Greene this week, a source familiar tells CNN. Hoyer is expected to tell McCarthy that Republicans have 72 hours to strip Greene of her committee assignments, or Democrats will bring the issue to the House floor,” reports Annie Grayer, Manu Raju and Clare Foran for CNN.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) yesterday indirectly rebuked Greene’s actions, stating: “Loony lies and conspiracy theories are cancer for the Republican Party and our country.” Jessica Dean and Caroline Kelly report for CNN.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 26.32 million and now killed over 443,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 103.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2.24 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

President Biden and Senate Republicans yesterday held a nearly two-hour meeting on the coronavirus relief bill. Following Biden’s recent $1.9 trillion proposal, the 10-member group of Republicans set out a $618 billion relief proposal, including $1,000 direct checks for many adults, as well as “$300 a week in enhanced federal unemployment benefits through June, versus the $400 a week through September in the Biden plan. The GOP proposal also outlines $20 billion each for child care and schools — both lower than the Biden proposal — as well as $50 billion for small-business relief and $160 billion for vaccines, testing and protective equipment, according to a summary released Monday morning,” reports Andrew Duehren and Richard Rubin for the Wall Street Journal.

Republican’s relief package counterproposal “would potentially leave out 29 million middle- and upper-income earners who would qualify for stimulus payments” under Biden’s proposal. “The GOP plan would cut off cash for individuals earning more than $50,000 a year and couples earning more than $100,000, according to a fact sheet provided by the office of Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins,” reports Katie Lobosco for CNN.

A tracker for the number of people in the US who have received one dose of the vaccine is provided by the Washington Post.

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

US 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.

US-CHINA RELATIONS

The National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) yesterday warned that the Chinese government has ramped up its hacking during the pandemic in an effort to obtain US health data, particularly DNA. “For years, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has collected large healthcare data sets from the U.S. and nations around the globe, through both legal and illegal means, for purposes only it can control,” the NCSC wrote in a fact sheet, adding, “The PRC’s collection of healthcare data from America poses equally serious risks, not only to the privacy of Americans, but also to the economic and national security of the U.S.” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.

China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, today warned the US not to cross a “red line” on matters relating to Hong Kong and Xinjiang, a warning that came hours after Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on an interview with MSNBC, criticizing China over its attack on Hong Kong’s autonomy and its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Jiechi, director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Chinese Communist Party, “emphasized the potential for a healthy U.S.-China relationship on public health, trade and climate, echoing recent language from leader Xi Jinping. But he left limited room for negotiation on issues such as human rights, the coronavirus response and what he called U.S. interference in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang,” reports James T. Areddy for the Wall Street Journal.

US-IRAN RELATIONS

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, said a top EU official could help “synchronize” or “coordinate” negotiations between the US and Iran to return to the 2015 nuclear accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Zarif said that the accord, which the Trump administration left in 2018, created a joint commission coordinated by Josep Borrell, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, allowing Borrell to “choreograph the actions” necessary from both sides. Al Jazeera reporting.

Iran yesterday tested a new rocket which boasts new improved technology that could be used in its missile program. “The new rocket, named Zuljanah, was developed under a government-backed program to send civilian satellites into orbit 310 miles above ground, according to a spokesman for the Iranian Defense Ministry’s Space Department. The technology is easily transferable to Iran’s military missile program run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, experts say,” report Sune Engel Rasmussen for the Wall Street Journal.

Israel’s energy minister today said it would take Iran approximately six months to produce enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon, a prediction nearly twice the length as that estimated by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Reuters reporting.

OTHER US RELATIONS

Pakistan’s Supreme Court today ordered the release from prison of British-born Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh who was convicted for kidnapping and beheading Daniel Pearl, journalist at the Wall Street Journal, in 2002. The court recommended that Sheikh be moved to a government safe house before he is finally fully released. AP reporting.

Amidst US plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, the number of attacks in the country by the Taliban in the last quarter of 2020 were higher than the same period in 2019, said a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). “It added that despite the violence, casualties this quarter were down 14% compared with the previous quarter and down 5% in 2020 compared with 2019,” Reuters reports.

UAE ambassador to Washington, Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, said he was confident that the sale of F-35 jets to his country would go ahead after a review by the Biden administration of a list of pending arms sales to US allies. Reuters reporting.

The Biden administration will maintain a 10 percent tariff rate on aluminum imports from the UAE, reversing a move by former president Donald Trump to end the levies on his last day of presidency, which was expected to take effect tomorrow, the White House has confirmed. Al Jazeera reporting.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Torture and forced labor are still taking place at high rates in North Korea’s prisons, which could amount to possible crimes against humanity, said a report by the office of Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. “Not only does impunity prevail, but human rights violations that may amount to crimes against humanity continue to be committed,” Bachelet said in a statement. The report comes as Secretary of State Antony Blinken said yesterday that in an effort to denuclearize the divided Peninsula, more sanctions could be used against North Korea in coordination with U.S. allies. Stephanie Nebehay reports for Reuters.

Russian authorities have detained more than 200 people close to a Moscow court which is currently considering whether to convert Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s suspended sentence into a three and a half years prison term. BBC News reporting. 

About the Author(s)

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)