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A curated weekday guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
United Arab Emirates (UAE) agents put Pegasus spyware from Israeli spyware firm NSO Group on the phone of U.S. journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s wife months before Khashoggi’s murder, new forensic evidence suggests. Khashoggi’s wife Hanan Elatr was arrested by UAE agents and her cellphone, laptop, and passwords were handed over. Examination of Elatr’s two Android devices, which were returned to her by Emirati authorities several days after her release, has shown that attempts were made to install the Pegasus spyware onto the devices during that time. Dana Priest reports for the Washington Post.
Talks to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which were paused at Iran’s request last week, are to resume before the end of this year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said. Reuters reports.
Iran’s top diplomat to Yemen, Hassan Irloo, has passed away due to Covid-19, days after being flown to Tehran for treatment, officials have said. Irloo last year was nominated as Iran’s ambassador to the areas of Yemen controlled by the Houthi rebels. Maziar Motamedi reports for Al Jazeera.
Tehran has implied that Riyadh, which has a blockade in place on Yemeni airspace, may have prevented efforts to save Irloo’s life. Irloo “was evacuated in poor condition due to delayed cooperation from certain countries,” the Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson, Saeed Khatibzadeh, told state media. Patrick Wintour reports for the Guardian.
The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen has said that it helped get Irloo out of Yemen before he died, rejecting Iran’s accusation. The coalition said in a statement it had facilitated Irloo’s repatriation and arranged for an Iraqi medical plane to fly him from Sana’a to Basra, Iraq. Reuters reports.
A former Israeli intelligence chief has said that Israel assisted the U.S. during the January 2020 assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, the first public acknowledgment of Israel’s role in the assassination. Soleimani was killed in a U.S. airstrike near Baghdad’s airport. Maj. Gen. Tamir Heyman, who retired as the head of the Israeli army intelligence in October, suggested in an interview given in September with a Hebrew-language magazine that Israel was involved with two assassination attempts while he was in office, including the Soleimani strike. “Assassinating Soleimani was an achievement, since our main enemy, in my eyes, are the Iranians,” Heyman told the magazine. AP reports.
RUSSIA AND UKRAINE
The U.S. expects to hold talks with Russia next month to try and diffuse tensions concerning Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said. Blinken yesterday also appealed to Moscow to de-escalate and to establish a productive setting for the January talks, which the U.S. is proposing to hold both directly with Russia and through parallel discussions that involve NATO and OSCE (the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe). Michael R. Gordon and Ann M. Simmons report for the Wall Street Journal.
In a speech yesterday, Putin said that Russia has “nowhere further to retreat to” in the standoff over Ukraine and would be forced into a tough response unless the West dropped its “aggressive line.” Talking to military officials, Putin said: “If the aggressive line of our Western colleagues continues, we will take adequate military-technical response measures and react harshly to unfriendly steps.” Putin added that Moscow wants “constructive, meaningful talks with a visible end result — and within a certain time frame — that would ensure equal security for all.” Mark Trevelyan reports for Reuters.
Putin discussed the situation with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz yesterday, where Putin reiterated his demands for security guarantees from the U.S. and NATO. These guarantees include a demand for a binding pledge that NATO will not expand further east and will not allow Ukraine to join the military alliance. Earlier yesterday, Putin said that his demands towards NATO did not amount to “an ultimatum.” Ivana Kottasová reports for CNN.
NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said yesterday that, while NATO is ready to engage in “meaningful dialogue” with Russia, it will continue to support Ukraine “politically and practically.” “Dialogue with Russia needs to be based on the core principles of European security and to address NATO’s concerns about Russia’s actions, and it needs to take place in consultation with NATO’s European partners, including with Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said. Ivana Kottasová reports for CNN.
The fragile international coalition that has kept the International Space Station going is fraying as tensions between the U.S. and Russia worsen. Christian Davenport reports for the Washington Post.
CHINA, HONG KONG
A prominent Harvard University nanotechnology professor has been found guilty on six counts related to payments he received from a Chinese government talent program. The trial in a federal court in Boston has emerged as a key test for the Justice Department’s initiative to combat Beijing’s efforts to extract talent from U.S. universities. Charles Leiber “was accused of lying to government investigators about his participation in the Chinese government’s Thousand Talents program aimed at wooing foreign experts. He also was charged with failing to disclose cash payments from the program on his income tax returns and concealing the existence of a Chinese bank account,” Byron Tau and Aruna Viswanatha report for the Wall Street Journal.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has praised the recent legislative elections in Hong Kong as a manifestation of the people’s democratic rights and has said that the situation in Hong Kong has improved in the past year from “chaos,” according to state media. Reuters reports.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
A Libyan parliamentary committee has said it is “impossible” to hold a long-awaited presidential vote on Friday as scheduled. The news had been widely expected amid mounting challenges to the scheduled elections and calls for a delay. The election commission disbanded electoral committees late yesterday. In a letter to parliamentary speaker Aguila Saleh, al-Hadi al-Sagheir, the head of a committee tasked to follow the electoral process, said his committee reached its conclusion after “reviewing technical, security and judicial reports.” He urged Saleh, who suspended his duties to join the presidential race, to return to his job so he could help “redraw a roadmap” to revive the political process. AP reports.
The U.N. Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has expressed concern about the security situation in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, where forces affiliated with different armed groups have been deployed. The current mobilization “creates tensions and increases the risk of clashes that could spiral into conflict,” UNSMIL said in a statement. UN News Centre reports.
The bodies of at least nine people have been found in Myanmar’s central region following a suspected air raid by the military. According to news reports, only two of the victims were members of an anti-coup self-defense force, while the rest were villagers, including two children. Al Jazeera reports.
Myanmar’s oldest rebel force, the Karen National Union (KNU), is requesting international help to establish a “no-fly zone” near the Thai border, warning of a “high possibility” of military airstrikes on civilians near the border. There has been an escalation in fighting recently between the Myanmar army and the KNU, prompting thousands of people to seek refuge in Thailand. Reuters reports.
Dozens of people have been killed in violence between farmers and herders in Nigeria’s central Nasarawa state, Nigeria’s president has said. “Local police said the violence broke out when armed Fulani herders attacked villagers from the Tiv ethnic group over the killing of a kinsman that they blamed on Tiv farmers,” Al Jazeera reports.
NatWest Markets PLC has pleaded guilty to wire and securities fraud. In a plea deal, the bank admitted that its traders in London, Singapore, and Connecticut engaged in several schemes between 2008 and 2018 to manipulate U.S. Treasury markets, and the bank agreed to pay $35 million in fines and other penalties. Dave Michaels and Aruna Viswanatha report for the Wall Street Journal.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) has declined the Jan. 6 House select committee’s request to speak to him. Perry was the first known lawmaker to whom the panel had reached out to for its investigation. “I stand with immense respect for our Constitution, the Rule of Law, and the Americans I represent who know that this entity is illegitimate, and not duly constituted under the rules of the U.S. House of Representatives,” Perry wrote in a statement posted to Twitter. Annie Grayer and Zachary Cohen report for CNN.
The Jan. 6 select committee has suggested that it will move ahead with subpoenaing Perry if he does not voluntarily provide the requested information. “The select committee prefers to gather relevant evidence from members cooperatively, but if members with directly relevant information decline to cooperate and instead endeavor to cover up, the select committee will consider seeking such information using other tools,” a committee spokesperson said. Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
Michael Flynn, a former National Security Advisor to former President Trump, is suing to block the Jan. 6 select committee subpoena of his phone records. Flynn’s lawsuit, the eighth court challenge over the select committee’s ability to gather evidence on Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, was filed the day after Flynn was scheduled to testify before the committee. Katelyn Polantz reports for CNN.
Ali Alexander, the organizer of the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally, has said that he believes that the Jan. 6 select committee will subpoena Trump. Alexander, who recently took part in an eight-hour-long deposition with the panel, told right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on his InfoWars program that: “they want a nexis, is what my lawyers call it, between the people who were violent, unjustified violent, or vandalism and then you and me and the activists…So then they can connect it to a Trump staffer and then Trump. Folks, Trump will be subpoenaed by this committee.” Zachary Petrizzo reports for The Daily Beast.
Just Security has recently published two pieces related to the Jan. 6 attack: Ambassador P. Michael McKinley (ret.) writes on ‘How Stalling Tactics Could Still Constrain the January 6 Committee’ and Ryan Goodman and Justin Hendrix discuss the ‘Crisis of Command: The Pentagon, The President, and January 6’.
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
President Biden has expressed optimism that he will find a path to an agreement with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) on the Build Back Better agenda, after Manchin rejected the roughly $2 trillion education, healthcare, and climate proposal. “Look, I want to get things done. I think there’s a possibility of getting ‘Build Back Better’ done,” Biden told reporters. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has also put in motion plans for the Senate to vote on the bill early next year despite Manchin’s opposition. Ken Thomas reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The Justice Department has reversed a legal opinion from former President Trump’s era that could have required several thousand federal convicts to return to prison from home confinement if the Biden administration declares an end to the Covid-19 national emergency. Josh Gerstein reports for POLITICO.
European leaders are reinstating Covid-19 restrictions as the Omicron variant continues to spread across Europe. European countries are beginning to record the highest number of daily cases since the start of the pandemic, as restrictions, including on gatherings, begin to be announced by countries. BBC News reports.
President Biden has set out his plan for the U.S. to tackle the new threat from the Omicron Covid-19 variant. “The initiative focuses on sending millions of rapid at-home tests to Americans, bolstering support for hospitals facing intense pressure and getting more people their booster shots. But it leaves out the business closures and stay-at-home orders that marked the early days of the pandemic,” Peter Sullivan reports for The Hill.
The White House has instructed the Pentagon to mobilize 1,000 additional service members to help medical facilities across the U.S. fight the recent surge of Covid-19 cases. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
The coronavirus has infected over 51.27 million people and has now killed over 810,100 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 276.30 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.37 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report 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.