Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.
A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken yesterday visited Israel and the West Bank, meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority; however, he made no mention of a new peace initiative, instead calling for steps to allow both Israelis and Palestinians to live securely and with dignity. Dov Lieber and William Mauldin report for the Wall Street Journal.
Blinken’s meet with Abbas marked a U.S. re-engagement with Palestinians, but may risk tensions between Washington and Israel. Blinken announced new U.S. aid plans to support Palestine and the Gaza region, plans for closer ties with Palestinians, and pledged to reopen a U.S. consulate in Jerusalem after the Trump administration closed the facility in 2019. Lara Jakes and Isabel Kershner report for the New York Times.
The U.S. will provide around $75 million in development and economic assistance to Palestinians affected by the recent clashes, Blinken said. Al Jazeera reporting.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) will no longer push forward on his effort to force a Senate vote aimed at halting a $735 million arms sale to Israel after the senator found out Friday that the State Department had already finalized the sale, and it wasn’t clear if he could have forced a vote to block it, according to an aide to Sanders. Eliza Collins reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Blinken met with top Egyptian officials Wednesday. “In a brief visit, Blinken met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and general intelligence head Abbas Kamel at the presidential palace in Cairo. He made no comments to media ahead of the meeting,” reports Reuters.
Ireland’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney, yesterday supported a parliamentary motion condemning the “de facto annexation” of Palestinian land by Israeli authorities, the first time an E.U. government has used the phrase in relation to Israel. Coveney cited Israel’s “manifestly unequal” treatment of the Palestinian people. Reuters reporting.
Journalists in Gaza had their WhatsApp accounts blocked following the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. “According to the Associated Press, 17 journalists in Gaza confirmed their WhatsApp accounts had been blocked since Friday. By midday Monday, only four journalists – working for Al Jazeera – confirmed their accounts had been restored … The incident marks the latest move concerning WhatsApp’s owner Facebook Inc that has left Palestinian users or their allies bewildered as to why they have been targeted by the company, or if indeed they had been singled out for censorship,” reports Al Jazeera.
Britain’s foreign minister Dominic Raab will meet today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, as well as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh. Reuters reporting.
President Biden signaled yesterday that the U.S. could impose sanctions on Belarus. “That’s in play,” the president told reporters when asked about possible sanctions. “I don’t want to speculate until we get it done.” Tal Axelrod reports for The Hill.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Wednesday accused the West of attempting to use the alleged “hijacking” of the passenger plane at the weekend as a way to undermine him and falsely portray his handling of the incident. “As we predicted our ill-wishers from outside the country and from inside the country changed their methods of attack on the state,” Lukashenko told parliament, adding, “They (the ill-wishers) have crossed many red lines and have abandoned common sense and human morals.” Reuters reporting.
The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has condemned the situation, describing it as an “astonishing episode,” “tantamount to an extraordinary rendition.” UN News Centre reporting.
A pilot aboard the jetliner repeatedly questioned air-traffic controllers about their request to redirect the plane to Minsk amid an alleged bomb threat, according to a partial transcript released yesterday by Belarus’s government aviation agency. Although the transcript hasn’t been independently verified, several pilots and security experts told the Wall Street Journal that it appeared genuine. Benjamin Katz and Ann M. Simmons reports for the Wall Street Journal.
A 29-second video released yesterday of dissident Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich confessing to organizing “mass riots” has been met with skepticism from scholars, family members and human rights groups who say that he was likely coerced. Antonia Noori Farzan reports for the Washington Post.
Russia appears to be fairly wary about explicitly supporting Belarus, despite being a long-time ally of the country. “From the Kremlin’s point of view, it’s not going to go out of its way to critique what Belarus has done … but conversely it’s not leaping in with full-throated support because it does not want to be caught in the fallout,” said Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russia and international security issues. Andrew Roth reports for the Guardian.
An explainer to why Russia has long been a lifeline for Belarus if provided by Mary Ilyushina for the Washington Post.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) urged on Wednesday for all airlines to avoid entering Belarus’s airspace due to safety concerns. “The circumstances surrounding this action cast serious doubts on the respect shown by Belarus for international civil aviation rules,” EASA said in a safety bulletin, adding, “The actions undertaken by Belarus amounted to an increased safety risk for the (Ryanair) flight and put into question the ability of Belarus to provide safe air navigation services.” Reuters reporting.
An explainer to the impact E.U. sanctions have had on Belarus and any future impact they may have is provided by Rick Noack for the Washington Post.
Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid has called on the U.K. to take action to stop anti-democratic regimes such as Belarus siphoning corrupt money through London’s financial center. Kalyeena Makortoff reports for the Guardian.
Protasevich’s parents call on “the whole international community to save him,” the Guardian reports.
U.S. prosecutors have seized materials from Ukraine’s former chief prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, and two other Ukrainians, as part of the investigation into Rudolph Giuliani’s ties to Ukraine. According to a court filing, Lutsenko was involved in efforts to uncover dirt about current President Biden. Jonathan Stempel and Karen Freifeld report for Reuters.
The Manhattan district attorney has convened a grand jury that is expected to decide whether to indict former President Trump, other executives at his company, Trump Organization, or the business itself, should prosecutors present the panel with criminal charges. “The move indicates that District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.’s investigation of the former president and his business has reached an advanced stage after more than two years. It suggests, too, that Vance thinks he has found evidence of a crime — if not by Trump, by someone potentially close to him or by his company,” Shayna Jacobs and David Fahrenthold report for the Washington Post.
Trump has called the convening of the grand jury in the New York probe as “purely political” and “a continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt in American history.” Dareh Gregorian reports for NBC News.
Trump has responded by claiming “absolute immunity” while he was president to a lawsuit from Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) seeking to hold him accountable for the Jan. 6 attack. “The argument is the first time Trump has formally defended his actions in court since the insurrection, and reflects his continued push to his supporters that he did nothing wrong and was robbed of a second term in office,” Katelyn Polantz reports for CNN.
The fraud case against Steve Bannon has been formally dismissed by a federal judge in New York. The dismissal ends “months of litigation over how the court system should handle his pardon while related criminal cases remain unresolved,” Shayna Jacobs reports for the Washington Post.
The Senate has confirmed Kirsten Clarke as the first Black woman to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division. Clarke was ceremonially sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris at the Justice Department yesterday evening. Christina Carrega reports for CNN.
The Senate Armed Services Committee has advanced the first female Army secretary nominee. Biden’s nominee, Christine Wormuth, would be the first woman in the job if she is confirmed. “In a voice vote at the top of an unrelated hearing, the committee approved Wormuth’s nomination to be Army secretary, sending it to the full Senate for a vote,” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
Bipartisan leaders of the House Oversight and Reform Committee have requested an investigation into the Postal Service’s Internet Covert Operations Program, in the wake of reports that it carried out online surveillance of Americans’ social media posts. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
JAN. 6 CAPITOL ATTACK
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) is teeing up a vote on the House-passed bill to create a commission probing the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Schumer suggested that there may be a “potential vote this week,” saying that “we all know the commission is an urgent, necessary idea to safeguard our democracy…we have to get it passed. Each member of the Senate is going to have to stand up and decide: Are you on the side of truth and accountability or are you on the side of Donald Trump and the big lie?” Jordain Carney reports for The Hill.
Despite efforts from moderates on both sides to find a path forward, senators are struggling to salvage the bill to create the Jan. 6 commission. Jordain Carney reports for The Hill.
Senate Democrats Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have pleaded with Republicans to drop their opposition to the commission, calling the legislation “a critical step to ensuring our nation never has to endure an attack at the hands of our countrymen again.” The New York Times reports.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has become the second Senate Republican to say she will support the bill, joining Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT). “A third Republican centrist, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), says she supports setting up a bipartisan commission but is working to make changes to address what she calls ‘flaws’ in the House bill,” Alexander Bolton reports for The Hill.
President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are to meet in Geneva on June 16 for the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders. The meeting comes at a time of deteriorating relations between the nations, and it is expected that it will cover topics such as nuclear proliferation, Russian interference in U.S. elections, climate change and the coronavirus pandemic. “Biden is expected to raise concerns about Russian troops massing at the Ukrainian border, as well as Belarus, a Russian ally, recently forcing a civilian jetliner to land so it could arrest Roman Protasevich, an opposition journalist on board,” Matt Viser reports for the Washington Post
Biden has defended his decision not to sanction the company in charge of building Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. The pipeline is expected to be finished this summer and is intended to provide Europe with a sustainable gas supply while giving Russia more direct access to the European market. Biden characterized his decision as protecting relationships with European allies. “I have been opposed to Nord Stream 2 from the beginning,” Biden said, “but it was almost completed by the time I took office,” he added “and to go ahead and impose sanctions now would I think be counterproductive in terms of our European relations and I hope we can work on how they handle it from this point on.” Caroline Kelly and Jason Hoffman report for CNN.
Alexei Navalny, the jailed critic of Putin, is facing three new criminal investigations by Russia. Navalny said that he learned about the cases, which his allies fear could keep him in prison for many more years, from an investigator who visited him in custody. Al Jazeera report.
Russian lawmakers have passed legislation through the lower chamber of the legislature which would ban members of “extremist” organizations, including allies of Navalny, from seeking office. The bill is now heading to the upper legislature. “Navalny and his allies have denounced the proceedings as a move to stifle critical voices before September’s parliamentary election,” Vladimir Isachenkov reports for AP.
Growing ties between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and China have concerned U.S. officials that a $23 billion weapons sale to Abu Dhabi will be impacted. United States spy agencies have tracked new transport flights between the two countries and the Biden administration is worried that Abu Dhabi might allow China to access the United States’ latest defense technology if the sale goes through. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) has introduced legislation to expand the U.S.’s diplomatic efforts abroad in an effort to boost its ability to compete with China. Meeks, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement that the Ensuring American Global Leadership and Engagement Act would push for “the revitalization of American diplomacy, leadership, and investments globally in response to the policy challenges posed by the People’s Republic of China.” Tax Axelrod reports for The Hill.
A spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry has said that China rejects the pending U.S. legislation, and that Beijing would safeguard its own interests. Reuters reports.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
The Pentagon is accelerating the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. United States troops and their allies are currently set to be out of Afghanistan by early to mid-July, well ahead of President Biden’s 11 Sep., 2021 deadline. The accelerated exit has however left officials with unresolved issues. “The Pentagon still has not determined how it will combat terrorist threats like Al Qaeda from afar after American troops leave. Nor have top Defense Department officials secured agreement from allies about repositioning American troops in other nearby countries. And administration officials are still grappling with the thorny question of whether American warplanes — most likely armed Reaper drones — will provide air support to Afghan forces to help prevent the country’s cities from falling to the Taliban,” Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper report for the New York Times.
The U.S. special envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, is to travel to Saudi Arabia and Oman for talks aimed at reaching a ceasefire in the six-year conflict in Yemen. Lenderking’s discussions “will focus on achieving an urgent comprehensive, nationwide, and sustainable ceasefire to ensure the regular and unobstructed delivery of essential commercial goods and humanitarian assistance throughout Yemen and a transition to an inclusive political process,” the State Department said in a statement. Al Jazeera reports.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a stern message on nuclear talks with Iran to Secretary of State Antony Blinken during Blinken’s visit to Israel. “We discussed many regional issues, but none is greater than Iran,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “He pointedly added that he hoped the United States would not rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, ‘because we believe that that deal paves the way for Iran to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons with international legitimacy.’” Michael Crowley reports for the New York Times.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Mali’s acting vice president has ousted the interim president and prime minister, carrying out the country’s second coup d’état in nine months. Col. Assimi Goïta, “one of the military officers who led last year’s overthrow, said the men had unveiled a new government without his input — without two members of the junta that toppled Mali’s previous government — and had therefore violated the country’s transition agreement,” Danielle Paquette reports for the Washington Post.
Armenia has said that one of its soldiers has been killed in a border shoot-out with Azeri forces, which followed “the opening of fire by Azerbaijani troops,” Armenia’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement. Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense denied the accusations and said that they understood the death to be an accident. Al Jazeera reports.
Protestors in Iraq have clashed with security forces in Baghdad’s Tahir Square. The protestors are demanding an end to the killing of Iraqi anti-corruption activists – roughly 80 have been killed since the end of 2019. The protestors say that the activists were killed by Iran-backed militia who “have essentially crushed a grass-roots anti-corruption movement that blames Iranian influence, and the militias, for many of Iraq’s ills,” Jane Arraf reports for the New York Times.
At least one demonstrator was shot dead and dozens injured at the rally in Baghdad as security forces cracked down on the protesters. Sofia Barbarani reports for Al Jazeera.
The U.N.’s top humanitarian official has warned that urgent measures are needed to avoid famine in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. “There is a serious risk of famine if assistance is not scaled up in the next two months,” wrote Mark Lowcock, the U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator. Al Jazeera reports.
Qatar’s top diplomat has met with Egypt’s president in Cairo, as ties between the two nations start to improve following the end of the blockade of Egypt and three other Gulf nations. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammad bin Abdulrahman Al Thani agreed on “intensifying joint consultation and coordination” to boost bilateral ties between the two nations, el-Sisi’s office said in a statement. Al Jazeera reports.
Iran has announced a list of mostly conservative or hardline candidates for next month’s presidential election in Iran. Iran’s Guardian Council narrowed the field to seven candidates and disqualified prominent figures associated with centrist or reform-minded political factions from running. Kareem Fahim reports for the Washington Post.
Syrians are voting today in presidential elections which are set to be won by President Bashar al-Assad. The elections have been widely dismissed by experts and activists as a sham poll, and the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, and Italy issued a joint statement denouncing the elections and saying that the poll “will neither be free nor fair.” Tamara Qiblawi and Jomana Karadsheh report for CNN.
WhatsApp is suing the Indian government over its “mass surveillance” internet laws. The new internet laws give the Indian government greater power to monitor online activity, including on encrypted apps like WhatsApp and Signal. The laws were passed in February but were due to come into effect on Wednesday. WhatsApp says that the laws will “severely undermine” the privacy of their users and are unconstitutional. Hannah Ellis-Petersen reports for the Guardian.
The death toll of an attack in a remote mountainous region of Peru has risen to 16. Peruvian authorities blame the violence on a dissident faction of Maoist rebel group Shining Path, and the country’s interim president has said that there would be “no impunity” for those responsible. Al Jazeera reports.
The coronavirus has infected over 33.16 million and now killed close to 591,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 167.88 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.487 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
The Biden administration put an end to a closely-held State Department effort launched late in the Trump administration to prove that Covid-19 originated in a Chinese lab over concerns about the quality of its work and a broader politicized effort by the Trump administration to blame China and selectively pick facts to prove a theory, according to three sources familiar with the decision. “The decision to terminate the inquiry, which was run primarily out of the State Department’s arms control and verification bureau, was made after Biden officials were briefed on the team’s draft findings in February and March of this year, a State Department spokesperson said. Questions were raised about the legitimacy of the findings and the project was deemed to be an ineffective use of resources, explained a source familiar with the decision,” reports Kylie Atwood for CNN.
The U.S. and China were split over how to inquire into the origins of Covid-19 during the World Health Assembly in Geneva this week, an annual gathering of the World Health Organization’s decision-making body. “Washington calls for new studies into when, where and how the pandemic began, while Beijing says scrutiny should turn to other countries,” report Drew Hinshaw, Betsy McKay and Jeremy Page for the Wall Street Journal.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra told the Assembly that international experts should be given “the independence to fully assess the source of the virus and the early days of the outbreak.” Yasmeen Abutaleb, Shane Harris and Ben Guarino reports for the Washington Post.
French social media influencers have said they received mysterious financial offers asking them to spread negative publicity about the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. BBC News reporting.
A France security official said that authorities were investigating whether Russia was involved in efforts to have influencers spread disinformation on the vaccine’s safety. Celine Castrunuovo reports for The Hill.
The U.K. government fell “disastrously short” of what the public expected in its response to the coronavirus pandemic, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s former most senior adviser during the height of the pandemic, Dominic Cummings, has said today during evidence to a joint parliamentary inquiry of the Health and Social Care and the Science and Technology committees. Luke McGee reports for CNN.
A map and analysis of the vaccine roll out across the U.S. is available at the New York Times.
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.