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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the weekend. Here’s today’s news.
Russian authorities arrested and charged a suspect accused of murdering Catherine Serou, a 34-year-old U.S. citizen and former Marine. “State news agency RIA-Novosti cited the local court as saying the suspect gave her a ride in his car, then took her to the wooden area and beat her and stabbed her ‘in the course of a dispute.’ Russian news reports have identified the suspect as Alexander Popov and said he had a record of violent crimes,” APreports.
Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, flew back to Washington, D.C., on Sunday, saying: “given the results of the meeting between the two presidents, I am counting on constructive work with my American colleagues to build equal and pragmatic relations.” Al Jazeera reporting.
National security advisor Jake Sullivan yesterday said that the Biden administration is preparing to impose additional sanctions on Russia over the poisoning of opposition leader and Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. “Sullivan also noted President Biden had already signed an executive order that would give him even more leeway to impose penalties against Russia if they continued to engage in similar activities,” reports Caroline Vakil for The Hill.
Sullivan wasn’t clear on the timing or detail of sanctions, saying only that they would come “as soon as we develop the packages to ensure that we’re getting the right targets. When we do that …. we will impose further sanctions with respect to chemical weapons.” Annie Karni reports for the New York Times.
German prosecutors on Monday said that they arrested a university research assistant accused of working for the Russian secret service, saying the accused had met with a member of Russia’s service least three times between October 2020 and June and passed on information in return for cash payments. Reuters reporting.
The Taliban released every few hours this weekend videos of the group’s insurgents inspecting further Afghan district headquarters. “Nearly two dozen of Afghanistan’s 387 districts were taken over by the Taliban, mostly in northern Afghanistan, on Saturday and Sunday, adding to some 30 others seized by the insurgents across the country since early May, according to local reports. The Taliban have also reached the outskirts of several provincial capitals … Many of these districts have surrendered to the Taliban as a result of negotiations that involved local power-brokers and military commanders who figured they would get a better deal if they moved early. On some occasions, the Taliban even gave Afghan soldiers and policemen, many of whom have been unpaid for months, pocket money for a safe journey home,” reports Yaroslav Trofimov for the Wall Street Journal.
The Taliban entered two provincial capitals in northern Afghanistan Sunday, local officials said. “In Kunduz city, the capital of the province of the same name, the Taliban seized the city’s entrance before dispersing throughout its neighborhoods … To the west of Kunduz in Maimana, the capital of Faryab Province, Taliban fighters appeared at the city’s entrance before moving into the city’s periphery. The Taliban clashed with security forces into Sunday night, after a series of takeovers in past days in the capital’s surrounding districts” report Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Najim Rahim for the New York Times.
President Biden will host Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Friday at the White House. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that the visit would emphasize the “enduring partnership”. between the two countries. Caroline Vakil reports for The Hill.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, co-founder of the Taliban, said the group is committed to peace talks and wants a “genuine Islamic system” in the country which would make provisions for women’s rights and offer protection to diplomats and NGOs working in the country. Reuters reporting.
Former president of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai has criticized the U.S. and NATO for failing in their mission in Afghanistan and leaving the country “in total disgrace and disaster. AP reporting.
Iran’s new President-elect Ebrahim Raisi said Monday that he is not willing to meet with President Biden, nor is he willing to negotiate over Tehran’s ballistic missile program or Iran’s support of regional militias, AP reports.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called for an investigation into newly elected President Ebrahim Raisi for alleged crimes against humanity, saying states should exercise universal jurisdiction. Reuters reporting.
Iran’s sole nuclear power plant was temporarily shut down on Saturday due to a “technical fault” which will take days before it is fixed and operational again. Al Jazeera reporting.
Newly sworn-in Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned world powers involved in the Vienna talks against negotiating further with new “regime of brutal hangmen” under Raisi. “Raisi’s election is, I would say, the last chance for world powers to wake up before returning to the nuclear agreement, and understand who they are doing business with,” said Bennett in a statement. Reuters reporting.
Talks in Vienna to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, for which the U.S. is involved in indirectly, were adjourned Sunday; no resumption date was given, but a Russian envoy said they may resume in a soon as 10 days. “We are now closer than ever to an agreement, but the distance that exists between us and an agreement remains, and bridging it is not an easy job,” top Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi said on Iran’s state television. “We have made progress this week, in this sixth round. We are closer to a deal, but we are not still there. We are closer than we were one week ago, but we are not still there,” Enrique Mora, the E.U.’s political director, told reporters. Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.
U.S. and E.U. officials warned that negotiations could not continue indefinitely. Reuters reporting.
Preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons remains a “paramount priority” for the Biden administration, with diplomacy “the best way to achieve” it, said national security advisor Jake Sullivan when asked about Iran on ABC News’s “This Week.” Felicia Sonmez, Marianna Sotomayor and Jeanne Whalen report for the Washington Post.
Sullivan said that key challenges remained for the nuclear agreement, including on sanctions and the country’s nuclear commitments, and that Iran’s final decision on the matter rests with the supreme leader, not Raisi. Melina Delkic for the New York Times.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
The U.S. is pulling by “this summer certain forces and capabilities, primarily air defense assets,” from the Middle East, the Pentagon confirmed on Friday. “This decision was made in close coordination with host nations and with a clear eye on preserving our ability to meet our security commitments,” Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Jessica McNulty said in a statement, adding, “it’s about maintaining some of our high demand, low density assets so they are ready for future requirements in the event of a contingency.” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
On Sunday, at least one rocket fell close to the perimeter of the Ain al-Asad air base in northern Iraq that hosts U.S. troops, although it did not explode and there was little damage and no causalities,Iraq’s military said, adding, “an investigation by security forces found the projectile had been launched from the nearby al-Baghdadi area,” reports AP.
The U.S. envoy to North Korea said he is willing to meet Pyongyang officials “anywhere, anytime,” but in the meantime the U.S. will continue to enforce U.N. Security Council sanctions on the country over its nuclear weapons program and urge other countries to do the same. Al Jazeera reporting.
Israel’s foreign minister, Yair Lapid, will soon travel to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), marking the first time an Israeli minister has visited the country since the two nations normalized ties last year. It is unclear whether Lapid will be meeting with the UAE’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Joseph Choi reports for The Hill.
Israel-based i24News television network will open an office in Dubai, the network announced. Al Jazeerareporting.
Israel’s new government approved on Sunday the establishment of an independent state commission of inquiry into a deadly stampede at a Jewish holy site in April that left 45 people dead and dozens more injured. “It will be headed by a current or former senior judge, and its members selected by the country’s chief Supreme Court justice,” reports AP.
Ethiopia is set to vote today in a landmark election hailed as “the nation’s first attempt at free and fair elections.” Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s “ruling Prosperity Party, formed in 2019 by merging groups who made up the previous ruling coalition, is widely expected to cement its hold on power. The party that wins a majority of seats in the House of Peoples’ Representatives will form the next government,” reports AP.
Armenia’s acting Prime Minister and leader of Civil Contract party Nikol Pashinyan has won a snap parliamentary election with 53.92% of the vote, the Interfax news agency reported on Monday, citing the electoral commission. Reuters reporting.
French President Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen saw their parties, La République en Marche and the National Rally respectively, trailing on Sunday as incumbent conservatives surged ahead in the first round of regional elections, exit polls indicated. Constant Méheut reports for the New York Times.
“Nationwide, left-wing parties obtained 34 percent of the vote, compared to 29 percent of the vote for the right and 19 percent for far-right National Rally. La République en Marche, sometimes allied with other centrists or conservatives, obtained around 11 percent of the vote, and in some regions Macron’s candidates failed to make it across the threshold to run in the second round … It indicates voters have largely chosen to support the outgoing presidents of regional councils, who are mostly from the mainstream left and the right,” reports Clea Caulcutt for POLITICO EU.
Myanmar’s junta leader, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, left the country over the week to attend the Moscow Conference on International Security, scheduled for June 22-24, Myanmar military-controlled television network MRTV reported on Sunday. Reuters reporting.
The criminal trial of a relative of Joran’s King Abdullah II and a former chief of the royal court will begin today at the state security court, where the pair face charges of sedition and incitement, including conspiring with Prince Hamzah, a half-brother of the king. “The indictment, leaked to state-linked media, alleges Hamzah ‘as determined to achieve his personal ambition’ of becoming king. It says the prince and the defendants — Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a royal, and Bassem Awadallah, a former royal adviser — conspired to stir discontent,” reports AP.
Violence has intensified between Yemen’s internationally recognized government and the country’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels around the strategic city of Marib, Yemeni officials said on Sunday. Starting on Friday, Houthi rebels launched attacks on several frontline areas in the outskirts of Marib, said Lieutenant General Saggeer Azeez, chief of staff for the Yemen’s military, confirming that the fighting led to casualties among Yemeni government forces. Saudi-led coalition airstrikes retaliated to the attacks on Sunday, according to Maj. Gen. Nasser al-Zaibani, director of military operations of the Yemeni army, which fights alongside the coalition. Meanwhile, a Houthi official said that they have deployed at least 200 more fighters to the frontline near Marib in the past 24 hours. APreporting.
An Egyptian court on Sunday adjourned the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) case to allow for negotiations between parties. The case was brought by SCA after a massive cargo ship blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week in March. The SCA is currently seeking half a billion dollars from the company that owns the vessel. AP reporting.
Libya’s interim government reopened on Sunday the Mediterranean coastal highway linking the country’s long-divided eastern and western cities, confirmed Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, saying the move was in-line with a ceasefire agreement reached last year and marks a “new step” towards re-establishing stability and unity. Al Jazeera reporting.
Chile will begin drafting a new constitution on July 4 month, replacing the Pinochet-era charter, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said. Al Jazeera reporting.
The coronavirus has infected close to 33.54 million and now over 601,800 people in the United States,according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 178.51 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.866 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
The U.S. sent 2.5 million doses of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine to Taiwan, which were expected to arrive in Taipei on Sunday afternoon. Reuters reporting.
Israel is trying to revive talks with the Palestinian Authority to deliver vaccines doses after a deal on Friday fell through after authority officials said the doses were too close to expiration and did not meet their standards. Shira Rubin reports for the Washington Post.
The U.K. government has been ordered to release secret files from a 2016 exercise that assessed the U.K.’s ability to deal with an influenza pandemic, findings for which are pertinent to the Covid-19 pandemic. Claire Gilbody-Dickerson reports for the Guardian.
Myanmar has reported what is thought to be its highest daily increase in virus cases since the Feb. 1 coup. Rebecca Ratcliffe reports for the Guardian.
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.