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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 has described Washington’s relationship with India as one of the “most consequential” in the world during his two-day visit to New Delhi, where Blinken sought to strengthen President Biden’s administration’s ties with India amid geopolitical challenges from Afghanistan and China. “Blinken described the two countries as largely in lockstep on the need to find a peaceful solution to the Afghan conflict — as well as to flesh out the Quad, a nascent grouping of four countries that is seen as a U.S.-led effort to counter China’s influence in Asia,” Gerry Shih reports for the Washington Post.
Blinken has begun his visit to Kuwait today, where he held talks with high-ranking officials in Kuwait, addressed a group of American diplomats, toured the country’s parliament, and met at the royal palace with Kuwait’s ruling emir, Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah, the crown prince and foreign minister. “The State Department said Blinken would advance discussions with tiny oil-rich Kuwait on military cooperation, regional security and investment during his short visit,” AP reports.
President Biden’s administration has announced its first sanctions on Syria, targeting prison facilities and officials who run them, as well as armed groups, focusing on human rights abuses. The sanctions are part of Washington’s policy to keep up pressure on the Syrian government, but the administration have also targeted an armed opposition group and two of its leaders, widening the net of those impacted by the sanctions and signaling a new approach. “Today’s action makes clear that the United States will not forget the victims of human rights abuses in Syria and will use appropriate tools to target and single out those responsible, regardless of the perpetrator,” Blinken said in a statement. Sarah El Deeb and Matthew Lee report for AP.
The Biden administration has said that the sanctioned Syrian officials and groups have “perpetuated the suffering of the Syrian people.” The sanctions included ones against Saydnaya Military Prison, one of eight prisons sanctioned, which is operated by Syrian Military Intelligence and where, according to a statement from the Treasury Department, it is estimated that between 5,000 and 13,000 people have been executed between 2011 and 2015. Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
Senior U.S. and Russian officials yesterday restarted strategic stability talks on easing tensions between the world’s two largest nuclear weapons powers and agreed to reconvene in September after informal consultations, the State Department has said. The TASS news agency cited Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying he was satisfied with the consultations and that the United States showed readiness for a constructive dialogue at the talks. Stephanie Nebehay and Jonathan Landay report for Reuters.
Russia has said today that it wants France and the U.K. to be included in wider nuclear arms control talks with the U.S., while Ryabkov said that the U.S. wanted China to be included in the talks. Russia’s ambassador to Washington said it was inevitable that Russia and the U.S. “would eventually have to discuss broadening the arms control talks to include more powers and that Moscow saw Britain and France as priorities in that regard,” Reuters reporting.
The State Department has said that it is monitoring reports of internet outages and slowdowns in Iran amid ongoing anti-government protests in response to a water shortage in the country. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement that the U.S. supports the “right” of the Iranian people “to voice their frustrations and hold their government accountable.” Price also said that the State Department has seen “disturbing reports that security forces fired on protesters, resulting in multiple deaths,” adding that the U.S. condemns “the use of violence against peaceful protestors.” Celine Castronuovo reports for The Hill.
A bipartisan group of top lawmakers are urging Biden to personally advocate for the release of two children of a former top Saudi official who are being detained by authorities in Riyadh. In a letter sent to Biden, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Ben Cardin (D-MD) say they have “deep concern” about the arrest and abduction of two adult children of Saad al-Jabri, an exiled longtime top advisor to Mohammed bin Nayef, a former Saudi crown prince and interior minister. “The Saudi government is believed to be using the children as leverage to blackmail their father and force his return from Canada,” the lawmakers said. “The prolonged prosecution of Dr. Aljabri and his family members has now evolved to risk the exposure of classified U.S. counter-terrorism projects,” the lawmakers added. Jack Detsch reports for Foreign Policy.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has sought today to improve security ties with Vietnam that have been slowly deepening as both countries watch China’s activities in the South China Sea. In a meeting with Austin on Thursday morning, Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc also said he was looking forward to an upcoming visit to Vietnam by Vice President Harris. Idrees Ali reports for Reuters.
Former President Trump called his acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen nearly every day at the end of last year to alert him to claims of voter fraud or alleged improper vote counts in the 2020 election, according to two people familiar with the conversations. There are notes of some of the calls that were written by a top aide to Rosen, Richard Donoghue, who was present for some of the conversations. These notes could be turned over to Congress in a matter of days if Trump does not file papers in court seeking to block such a handover. “In addition, both Rosen and Donoghue could be questioned about the conversations by congressional committees examining Trump’s actions in the days after the election,” Josh Dawsey and Devlin Barrett report for the Washington Post.
The House yesterday passed a bill to increase funding for the Capitol Police months after the Jan. 6 attack and boost Capitol Hill staffer pay as part of a spending measure for legislative branch operation. “The bill would provide $604 million for the Capitol Police, an increase of $88 million from the enacted level for this year,” Cristina Marcos and Naomi Jagoda report for The Hill.
President Biden has signed an executive order aimed at protecting critical American infrastructure from cyberattacks. “The order was mostly filled with voluntary measures for companies to meet a series of online security standards, like encrypting data and requiring two-factor authentication for all users on a system, to stymie hackers who possess stolen passwords. In a call with reporters Tuesday night, a senior administration official said the idea was to develop ‘cybersecurity performance goals’ to assess how prepared each company or utility was,” David E. Sanger reports for the New York Times.
A House Armed Services Committee subpanel wants the Defense Department to examine breathing issues faced by F-35 fighter jet pilots. The request follows a NASA study released earlier this year that “had some pretty concerning findings” on the issue, committee aides have told reporters. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
A former New York state Senate candidate has been charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. “Daniel Christmann was arrested on Wednesday in Brooklyn and faces charges of knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority; disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or ground; disorderly conduct in a Capitol building; and parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building,” Caroline Vakil reports for The Hill.
A subpoena fights looms over former President Trump as investigators on the House’s Jan. 6 select committee vow a deep investigation into the Jan. 6 attack. Both Democrats and Republicans on the select committee say they want to obtain all the communications at the White House and conversations with Trump that occurred surrounding Jan. 6, however it is expected that they will struggle to get much from Trump, his former White House aides and his allies in Congress. Though, it remains unclear whether former Trump White House officials could be protected by executive privilege. Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb report for CNN.
Several police officers who were on the front lines during the Jan. 6 attack have said that they want more support from the U.S.’s largest police union and are calling on law enforcement groups to publicly denounce those who have lied about the severity of the Jan. 6 attack. “Three of the officers who testified Tuesday before the House Select Committee investigating the attack are among those speaking out, including Metropolitan Police officer Michael Fanone who told CNN that the Fraternal Order of Police has not contacted him since the riot took place,” Zachary Cohen and Josh Campbell report for CNN.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), one of just two Republicans on the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, has said that “a lot” of Republican lawmakers have privately conveyed support to him. During an interview with CNN Kinzinger also stressed that “nobody actually believes” the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. Paul LeBlanc reports for CNN.
Metropolitan Police officer Michael Fanone received an extremely threatening and explicit-filled voicemail while he was testifying before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, Fanone has revealed during an interview with CNN. Mychael Schnell reports for The Hill.
China offered the Taliban a warm welcome yesterday, declaring that the group would play “an important role in the process of peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction” of Afghanistan, as Chinese officials began two days of talks with a delegation of Taliban leaders in Tianjin, China. China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, called the Taliban “a pivotal military and political force,” but urged their leaders “to hold high the banner of peace talks,” according to a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as China steps up diplomatic efforts with the Taliban and the Afghan government to encourage a political settlement after the U.S. military withdrawal. Steven Lee Myers reports for the New York Times.
Wang reiterated China’s respect of Afghanistan’s sovereign independence and territorial integrity, saying that withdrawal of the U.S. and NATO “reveals the failure of America’s policies and offers the Afghan people an important opportunity to stabilize and develop their own country.” AP reports.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said China’s possible involvement in Afghanistan could be “a positive thing” if China was looking towards a “peaceful resolution of the conflict” and a “truly representative and inclusive” government. Blinken’s comments came after a Taliban representative visited China. “No one has an interest in a military takeover of the country by the Taliban, the restoration of an Islamic emirate,” Blinken said when asked about the visit. BBC News reports.
Blinken acknowledged yesterday during a joint press conference in India that the situation in Afghanistan is worsening. Blinken noted that the Taliban is “making advances” and called reports that the group has committed atrocities against Afghan civilians “deeply, deeply troubling.” Conor Finnegan reports for ABC News.
CHINA AND HONG KONG
China’s new ambassador to the United States Qin Gang arrived in Washington yesterday. Qin will be at the forefront of efforts by China’s President Xi Jinping, to reshape China’s relationship with Washington and it is expected that Qin will seek to reflect Beijing’s confidence in challenging Washington. Chris Buckley reports for the New York Times.
Qin arrived in Washington with an optimistic tone, saying that great potential awaited bilateral relations between the U.S. and China. “I firmly believe that the door of China-U.S. relations, which is already open, cannot and should not be closed,” Qin told reporters. “The China-U.S. relationship has come to a new critical juncture, facing not only many difficulties and challenges, but also great opportunities and potential,” Qin said. Michael Martina reports for Reuters.
The comments from Qin struck a more conciliatory note, pledging to repair the increasingly tense relationship between China and the U.S. Qin, a veteran diplomat and trusted aide to China’s leader, said in remarks posted on the website of China’s embassy in the U.S. that he will “endeavor to bring China-U.S. relations back on track, turning the way for the two countries to get along with each other…from a possibility into a reality.” Lingling Wei reports for the Wall Street Journal.
A lawyer for the first person convicted under Hong Kong’s national security law has asked a three-judge panel for no more than 10 years in prison instead of the possible life sentence. Tong Ying-kit’s lead defense lawyer “said the court hadn’t found the attack was deliberate, no one was injured and Tong’s secession-related offense qualified as minor under the law,” Alice Fung reports for AP.
An outspoken Chinese billionaire has been sentenced to 18 years in prison by a Chinese court. Sun Dawu, 67, runs one of China’s largest private agricultural businesses in the northern province of Hebei and has in the past spoken out about human rights and politically sensitive topics. Amongst other charges, Sun was found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” – a charge often used against activists. BBC News reports.
The political crisis in Tunisia, where President Kais Saied recently invoked emergency protocols to sack the prime minister and suspend parliament, is testing President Biden’s democracy agenda. However, so far Biden’s administration has “released only anodyne statements of concern and said it had not yet determined whether the events in Tunisia constituted a coup,” Ishaan Tharoor reports for the Washington Post.
Political turmoil in Tunisia has increased as Tunisia’s president dismisses further top officials. Saied ordered the dismissal of several top officials late on Tuesday, as well as dismissing the CEO of the national television channel Wataniya, lifting the parliamentary immunity of lawmakers and assuming judicial powers. Saied has also ordered an investigation into three political parties suspected of receiving foreign funds before the elections in 2019. Al Jazeera reports.
Analysis of why Tunisia’s promise of democracy is struggling to bear fruit or fix the serious economic problems that led to the popular uprising 10 years ago, is provided by Carlotta Gall for the New York Times.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
At least two rockets have hit Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone earlier today, however the rockets did not cause any casualties, Iraqi security sources have said. “One senior Iraqi security official said the rockets were launched from a mainly Shi’ite neighborhood in eastern Baghdad and initial investigations indicate the rockets were targeting the U.S. embassy, but fell short,” Reuters reports.
A Syrian doctor has been indicted in Germany for crimes against humanity. The doctor who was among the influx of refugees who entered Germany from Syria, is accused of torturing opponents of the regime of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in military facilities in Syria a decade ago and killing at least one. “The move to indict the doctor, Alaa Mousa, was part of an effort by German authorities to hold accountable the Syrian government officials who sneaked into Germany along with more than a million refugees, many of them victims of the Syrian regime and others fleeing the civil war, in 2015 and 2016,” Christopher F. Schuetze reports for the New York Times.
Haiti’s newly installed Prime Minister Areil Henry has pledged to hold elections soon following the assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse. “Henry said the government’s mission is to hold free, honest and transparent elections with a large voter turnout as he stressed the need for security,” AP reports.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has proposed that Russian border outposts be stationed along the length of Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan after a rise in tensions between the two countries. Both countries accused each other earlier today of flouting a Russian-backed ceasefire that both sides had accepted yesterday to halt deadly clashes over their joint border. “Given the current situation, I think it makes sense to consider the question of stationing outposts of Russian border guards along the entire length of the Armenian-Azeri border,” Pashinyan said during a government meeting. Reuters reporting.
A Nigerian court has ordered the release of the leader of Nigeria’s main Shia group, Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, and his wife, Zeenah Ibrahim, who have both been in prison for more than five years. The court dismissed the charges brought against the pair, which include culpable homicide, unlawful assembly, and disruption of public peace. Sam Olukoya reports for AP.
The humanitarian response in Gaza is underway but political solutions are still needed, the U.N. Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Lynn Hastings, has said in a briefing to the U.N. Security Council. “Urgent efforts to improve the situation in Gaza must move forward swiftly, but let us not lose sight of the broader goal: resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ending the occupation and realizing a two-State solution on the basis of U.N. resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements,” Hastings said, speaking from Jerusalem. UN News Centre reports.
A Moroccan man has been arrested in Greece on suspicion of being a member of the Islamic State 9IS). The man, who was not identified publicly, was detained by anti-terrorism police on Tuesday on an international arrest warrant issued by Morocco in 2017, which is seeking his extradition and alleges that the man was a member of IS since 2014. Costas Kantouris reports for AP.
The coronavirus has infected over 34.60 million and has now killed over 611,500 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been close to 196.00 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.18 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
Top Democrats and Republicans on the Senate’s Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees are pushing President Biden’s administration to be tougher on China as it continues its investigation into the origins of Covid-19. “In a new letter to the administration released Wednesday, Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), who lead the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Jim Risch (R-ID), who lead the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, blamed China for ‘efforts to conceal the severity and scope of the outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that caused the Covid-19 pandemic,’” Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has met with the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday and reaffirmed U.S. support for a second WHO probe into the origins of Covid-19, including research in China, the State Department has said. Blinken and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus met in Kuwait, where Blinken “stressed the need for the next phase to be timely, evidence-based, transparent, expert-led, and free from interference,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement. Nicole Gaouette reports for CNN.
Myanmar’s military leader is calling for international help to contain Covid-19 as Myanmar struggles with a surge of cases and vaccination rates remain low, state media has reported. Reuters reports.
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.