The Early Edition: March 1, 2021

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.

MYANMAR

Police fired on protesters in Myanmar yesterday, killing at least 18, the UN human rights office said, on the deadliest day of anti-coup rallies. Police were out in force early and used live rounds in different parts of the largest city of Yangon after stun grenades, tear gas and shots in the air failed to disperse crowds. Military forces also reinforced police. Reuters reporting.

Myanmar’s month-old military regime sacked the country’s ambassador to the United Nations on Saturday, a day after he delivered an impassioned speech to the U.N. General Assembly in New York, pleading for international intervention to restore democracy to his homeland. State television announced U Kyaw Moe Tun’s dismissal, saying he had “betrayed the country and spoken for an unofficial organization which doesn’t represent the country and had abused the power and responsibilities of an ambassador.” Richard C. Paddock reports for the New York Times.

The US government is devising “additional actions” in coming days against those behind the violent crackdown and military coup in Myanmar. “We will continue coordinating closely with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world to hold those responsible for violence to account,” U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement. Channel News Asia reporting.

KHASHOGGI REPORT

Saudi Arabia said it rejected completely an intelligence report released by the Biden administration that found Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi. “The government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia completely rejects the … assessment in the report pertaining to the Kingdom’s leadership, and notes that the report contained inaccurate information and conclusions,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by state news agency SPA. Reuters reporting.

Lawmakers of both parties yesterday voiced a desire for the Biden administration to go further in punishing Saudi Arabia — and particularly Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — following the public release of a report directly implicating him in Khashoggi’s murder. President Joe Biden stopped short of penalizing the prince himself, though the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on others directly involved in the killing and the State Department unveiled a policy allowing the U.S. to limit visas to those who target journalists. Jesse Naranjo reports for POLITICO.

The White House is expected to announce a new policy towards Riyadh today. Biden was vague in outlining what would be put out, saying only that the overall approach to Saudi Arabia it would be “significant” and make clear that “the rules are changing”. Julian Borger reports for The Guardian.

Soon after the US intelligence community published its long-awaited assessment of Khashoggi’s assassination, it was removed without explanation and replaced with another version that took out the names of three men it had initially said were complicit. “The quiet switch by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence went largely unnoticed,” Alex Marquardt reports for CNN.

A look of what the Biden administration has done — and not done — so far after the Khashoggi report is provided by Miriam Berger for The Washington Post.

Five steps to hold Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman accountable are proposed by Jameel Jaffer and Joel Simon in a piece for Just Security. The authors write that the Biden administration, Congress, and American business and civic leaders “all have a role to play in holding the regime accountable.”

The MIDDLE EAST

Iran yesterday rebuffed an offer for European Union-brokered talks with the US on Tehran’s nuclear program because Washington has not done enough to lift sanctions against Iran. The Biden administration, committed to reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, had previously said it was willing to attend a meeting. Laurence Norman and Michael R. Gordon report for the Wall Street Journal.

Recent rocket attacks against United States sites in Iraq are “suspicious” and the perpetrators must be identified, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said. Following a meeting in Tehran with his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein, Zarif suggested on Saturday the strikes could be aimed at harming Iran-Iraq relations. Al Jazeera reporting.

Saudi Arabia said Saturday it thwarted a missile attack over Riyadh and bomb-laden drones targeting a southern province, the latest in a string of airborne assaults it has blamed on Yemen’s rebel Houthis. AP reporting.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Iran of attacking an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman last week, a charge rejected by Tehran. “This was indeed an operation by Iran. That is clear,” Netanyahu told state radio Kan. Asked if Israel would retaliate, he said: “You know my policy. Iran is Israel’s biggest enemy. I am determined to fend it off. We are striking at it all over the region.” The Iranian Foreign Ministry denied involvement. Reuters reporting.

An in-depth analysis of the legal basis of the Biden administration’s Feb. 25 airstrikes in Syria under domestic and international law is provided by Co-Editor-in-Chief Ryan Goodman for Just Security.

AFGHANISTAN

The US special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, held talks today with a senior Afghan official in Kabul over ways to expedite the peace process, before heading to Qatar, where discussions with Taliban delegates are ongoing. Reuters reporting.

“Breaking our [withdrawal] agreement with the Taliban will endanger American troops and entrench them in an unwinnable war,” William Ruger argues in an opinion piece for the New York Times on why President Biden must pull out of Afghanistan.

CORONAVIRUS

U.S. federal drug regulators on Saturday authorized Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine for emergency use, paving the way for doses to be administered starting this week. Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly approved the vaccine’s effectiveness in completely protecting against hospitalization and death. Unlike the two other authorized vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, the J & J vaccine does not need to be kept frozen or followed by a second shot. The newly approved doses are expected to start shipping as early as today. Lena H. Sun reports for The Washington Post.

The House has approved President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, as Democrats who control the chamber steered the sweeping measure towards approval. The bill that would fund vaccines and medical gear and send a new round of emergency financial aid to households, struggling businesses and state and local governments cleared the House on a nearly party-line vote of 219 to 212 early on Saturday, with the next step Senate consideration. Emily Cochrane and Jim Tankersley report for the New York Times.

The Israeli government yesterday announced plans to vaccinate tens of thousands of Palestinians, after facing strong criticism over the small number of inoculations it had provided to Palestinians living under its occupation. Adam Rasgon reports for the New York Times.

U.S. CAPITOL ATTACK

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has charged more than 300 people in connection with the deadly storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, and at least 280 have been arrested, Acting Deputy Attorney General John Carlin told reporters on Friday. “The investigation into those responsible is moving at a speed and scale that’s unprecedented, and rightly so,” he said. “Those responsible must be held to account, and they will be.” Til Axelrod reports for The Hill.

The DOJ has charged a Texas man who was apparently captured on video attacking a dozen police officers, including a Capitol Police officer who died from injuries sustained while defending the building, with a chemical spray during the Capitol insurrection, according to court records. Federal prosecutors say Daniel Caldwell sprayed a line of officers that were blocking rioters from entering the building. Marshall Cohen reports for CNN.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Hong Kong police charged 47 pro-democracy campaigners and politicians with conspiracy to commit subversion, in the largest opposition crackdown under Chinese national security laws. All face life in prison if convicted. The BBC reporting.

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has arrived at a penal colony east of Moscow to begin his prison sentence, a public commission that observes the treatment of detainees said yesterday. Alexey Melnikov, the secretary of the Public Monitoring Commission (ONK) in Moscow, said Navalny had been moved to the Vladimir region. Navalny was jailed for two years and eight months for parole violations in a 2014 case. Zahra Ullah and Olga Pavlova report for CNN.

Countries are “nowhere close” to the level of action required to fight global warming, a UN climate action report said on Friday, calling on nations to adopt more robust and ambitious plans to reach the Paris Agreement goals, and limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, by the end of the century. The UN News Centre reporting.

The US Senate Judiciary Committee today is set to vote to advance Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden’s attorney general nominee, clearing the way for the U.S. Senate to vote to confirm him to the position. Reuters reporting.

Former President Trump delivered his first public address since leaving office at the end of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference yesterday in Florida. In his address, Trump attacked Democrats, teased a possible presidential bid in 2024 and rattled off grievances that continue to rile much of his party. David Siders reports for POLITICO.

The Pentagon on Friday published documents intended to serve as training materials for the recent departmentwide stand down order to address extremism. The materials set out four goals for commanders in broaching the issue, including a review of the meaning of the oaths to the Constitution taken by all service members; an examination of actions banned under law or military policy; the duty to report to the chain of command when a prohibited action is seen or learned of, or certain behaviors cause concern; and organized listening sessions. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

A tracker of all pending lawsuits and investigations against Trump, including key takeaways from each case, case charts that explain the case’s main issue, procedural posture, and any approaching deadlines, was compiled by Karl Mihm, Jacob Apkon and Sruthi Venkatachalam for Just Security. 

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).