Early Edition: February 8, 2021

A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the weekend.

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

FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP 

Former President Trumps Senate impeachment trial starts tomorrow  and House impeachment managers have been trawling hundreds of hours of video footage in an effort to prepare a persuasive, cinematic case that details how Trump incited rioters. “[Today], both the House impeachment managers and Trump’s lawyers will file new briefs before the trial gets underway. Trump’s team is scheduled to file its pre-trial brief at 10 a.m. ET, which will be a more detailed account of the former President’s defense after the initial response to the House’s impeachment submitted last week … The House managers will file a response to Trump’s initial filing by 12 p.m. ET, giving them an opportunity to push back on the claims that both Trump and most Senate Republicans are making that the trial itself is unconstitutional,” reports Jeremy Herb for CNN.

House managers are planning a much shorter trial than the first one, focusing on video evidence, with there likely to be no in-person witnesses and the trial ending within one week. Nicholas Fandos reports for the New York Times.

Sources have said that House managers actually wanted firsthand testimony but that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and administration officials made clear that they wanted the trial to move speedily. Rachel Bade, Tara Palmeri, Ryan Lizza and Eugene Daniels report for POLITICO.

Documents from a court hearing of an alleged Capitol rioter and self-styled militia founder Jessica Marie Watkins indicate that Trump incited rioters to travel to Washington DC. “Trump wants all able bodied patriots to come,” Watkins wrote to an alleged co-conspirator Dec. 29. Rosalind S. Helderman, Rachel Weiner and Spencer S. Hsu report for the Washington Post.

Schumer confirmed that the Senate will allow the trial to be paused on Jewish Sabbath on Friday following a request by a lawyer acting for Trump in the trial. “Lawyer David Schoen asked that the trial, which is set to begin on Tuesday, be temporarily put on hold if it is not finished by the beginning of the Sabbath on Friday at 5:24 pm ET and then reconvene on Sunday. There would need to be an agreement among senators to hold the trial on a Sunday,” Manu Raju, Lauren Fox, Jim Acosta and Kelly Mena report for CNN.

Five things to watch in the Trump impeachment trial are explained by Sahil Kapur for NBC News.

Intelligence officials will be responsible for whether Trump gets access to sensitive intelligence briefings, the White House confirmed Saturday. Lexi Lonas reports for The Hill.

IMMIGRATION & ASYLUM

The Biden administrations new rules for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could see a marked shift in law enforcement at the border, after a new operational plan, which has not yet been finalized, is expected to result in agents no longer deporting immigrants for charges including driving under the influence (DUI) and assault, and will instead focus on national security threats, recent border crossers and people completing prison and jail terms for aggravated felony conviction. “Generally, these convictions would not include drug based crimes (less serious offenses), simple assault, DUI, money laundering, property crimes, fraud, tax crimes, solicitation, or charges without convictions,” acting director Tae Johnson told senior officials in an email Thursday. Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti report for the Washington Post.

Central American families are flocking to the Mexican border, with US authorities stating that the situation could quickly see influxes similar to that in 2018 and 2019. Silvia Foster-Frau, Arelis R. Hernández, Kevin Sieff and Nick Miroff report for the Washington Post.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Saturday that the US has suspended and initiated the process to terminate the Asylum Cooperative Agreements with the Governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras,” reversing a Trump administration policy which required asylum-seekers seeking refuge at the US-Mexico border to first seek asylum in one of the three Central American nations. Zack Budryk reports for The Hill.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 27 million and now killed over 463,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 106.22 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2.31 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

More than 1,000 active-duty military personnel are ready to provide support to state vaccination sites, the White House said on Friday. Erin Cunningham, Kim Bellware, Isaac Stanley-Becker and Meryl Kornfield report for the Washington Post.

House Democrats are expected to reveal new legislation introducing Child Tax Credit payments at $3,600 per child under the age of six and $3,000 per child age six through 17 for a single year. The full benefit is available to single parents earning up to $75,000 annually and for couples earning up to $150,000. Payments would phase out after those thresholds … Families can receive the Child Tax Credit payments on a monthly basis” rather than a lump sum one a year. By Daniella Diaz and Tami Luhby reports 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-YEMEN RELATIONS

Two days after the Biden administration removed from its terrorist designation list the Iran-backed Houthi rebel group, the State Department has insisted that the US remains deeply troubled by the rebel groups actions and urged it to immediately cease attacks impacting civilian areas inside Saudi Arabia and to halt any new military offensives inside Yemen. AP reporting.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke for the first time Saturday with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud about the war in Yemen. They “discussed regional security, counterterrorism, and cooperation to deter and defend against attacks on the Kingdom. The Secretary outlined several key priorities of the new administration including elevating human rights issues and ending the war in Yemen,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement. Tal Axelrod reports for The Hill.

UN envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, visited Iran yesterday for a 2-day visit to discussed the nations involvement in the Yemen conflict. Al Jazeera reporting.

Can Biden actually help Yemen?, write Ishaan Tharoor for the Washington Post.

Five things to know about Bidens Yemen move are explained by Laura Kelly for The Hill.

US-IRAN RELATIONS

President Biden yesterday made clear that the US will not lift sanctions on Iran to entice it back to the negotiating table; it must first return to its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal before consideration will be given to lifting US sanctions. The two countries seem to have reached an impasse; Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also stated yesterday that the United States “must lift all sanctions.” Jasmine Wright and Chandelis Duster write for CNN.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also insisted that the US must make the first move as it was the US who violated the deal initially when the Trump administration withdrew in 2018. Justine Coleman reports for The Hill.

US-UAE RELATIONS

The UAEs foreign minister committed to working closing with the US to reduce tensions in the region during a call with US special envoy for Iran Rob Malley. Reuters reporting.

UAE spies hacked into devices belonging to Qatars royal family and intercepted private communications between the then-US First Lady Michelle Obama and Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, a new book by New York Times reporter states. Al Jazeera reporting.

OTHER US RELATIONS

The US intends to rejoin the United Nations Human Rights Council after Trump left the organization in 2018. The nation will initially join as an observer although diplomats have suggest that this move is indicative of a move back to full membership. AP reporting. The US Mission to the UN responded to the decision. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi during a phone call Friday that the US will stand up for human rights and democratic values in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and urged China to condemn the Myanmar Coup. Conversations were also had about China’s shaky relationship with Taiwan. Reuters reporting.

Im not gonna do it the way Trump did. Were gonna focus on international rules of the road, said President Biden speaking on China and how Trump handled the brewing tension. Aubree Eliza Weaver reports for POLITICO.

Leaders from the Philippines will meet with US officials next month to address disagreements over a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), Manila’s top diplomat said. “The VFA provides the legal framework under which U.S. troops can operate on a rotational basis in the Philippines. Experts say without it, other bilateral defense agreements, including the Mutual Defence Treaty (MDT), cannot be implemented,” reports Reuters.

LIBYA

A new interim government, including a three-member Presidential Council and a prime minister, has been appointed in Libya which will lead the country through to a scheduled national election at the end of the year. Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces, congratulated the winners of Libyan Political Dialogue Forum. AP reporting.

Egypts President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi also expressed support for the new transitional government. AP reporting.

CHINA

There is a very credible case that China is committing genocide against the Uighur and other ethnic minority Muslims, according to a formal legal opinion newly published in the UK, which concludes that there is evidence of a Chinese government-mandated move that amounts the crime of genocide against Muslim groups in Xinjiang. The report goes further, suggesting that there could be a credible case against Chinese President Xi Jinping himself. James Landale reports for BBC News.

Around 200 UK academics from 12 different UK universities are under investigation for unintentionally assisting the Chinese government in building weapons of mass destruction, breaching export laws. Al Jazeera reporting.

China arrests an Australian journalist and TV anchor on allegations of spying. Chris Buckley reports for the New York Times.

ISRAEL

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today pleaded not guilty during his trial for corruption charges. Reportedly, Netanyahu told the judge that he was not guilty “before abruptly standing, saying “thank you very much” and leaving with his motorcade.” Shira Rubin reports for the Washington Post.

The US has serious concerns about the recent International Criminal Court (ICC) Pre-Trial chamber decision that ruled the Office of The Prosecutor can investigate alleged Israeli war crimes in Palestine, a State Department spokesperson said last Friday. “We do not believe the Palestinians qualify as a sovereign state, and therefore are not qualified to obtain membership as a state or participate as a state in international organizations, entities, or conferences including the ICC,” Ned Price said in a statement.

RUSSIA

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell
s visit last week to Moscow is handing to the Kremlin a propaganda win and inadvertently undermining Alexei Navalny even as he sought to raise concerns about the jailed opposition activist’s case. Russia’s expulsion of diplomats from Germany, Poland and Sweden capped what Estonian MEP Riho Terras branded a “humiliating” misfired attempt to revive EU-Russia relation,” writes Michael Peel for the Financial Times.

The EU will today hold a video call meeting with allies of jailed Kremlin critic Navalny, along with by envoys from UK, US, Canada and Ukraine. Robin Emmott and Gabriela Baczynska report for Reuters.

OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Myanmar for the third day today, protesting against the recent military coup which removed the countrys elected government, imprisoning many of its senior leaders. BBC News reporting.

Sudans justice minister met with International Criminal Court (ICC) officials yesterday to discuss cooperation with the Hague-based court regarding trials related to the Darfur conflict, said the Sudanese official’s office. AP 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)