June 14, 2018

World Security update: JustSecurity

The Early EditionJune 14, 2018   

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The KOREAN PENINSULA

The U.S. hopes to achieve “major disarmament” of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program within two-and-a-half years, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said yesterday at a news conference with South Korean and Japanese officials in Seoul to discuss Tuesday’s Singapore summit between President Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Michael R. Gordon and Jessica Donati report at the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. remains committed to the “complete, verifiable and irreversible” denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Pompeo said today, hitting back at reporters who questioned why the joint Singapore statement did not explicitly use such wording. Michael Crowley and Louis Nelson report at POLITICO.

North Korean state media have spun the summit as a boon for Kim, who was able to extract key concessions including: an end to joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, a promise from Trump to eventually lift sanctions against Pyongyang and a phased, “step-by-step” denuclearization process rather than immediate dismantlement. Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.

Sanctions on North Korea would not be lifted until North Korea has achieved “complete denuclearization,” Pompeo said, dismissing North Korean state media reports that the U.S. would grant concessions to Pyongyang in exchange for a phased denuclearization process. The BBC reports.

“What’s most important was that the people of the world, including those in the United States, Japan and Koreans, have all been able to escape the threat of war, nuclear weapons and missiles,” the South Korean President Moon Jae-in told Pompeo at their meeting in Seoul today, making the comments amid skepticism about the outcome of the Trump-Kim summit and concerns about the sincerity of Pyongyang’s desire to denuclearize. Christine Kim and David Brunnstrom reports at Reuters.

The cancelation of joint U.S.-South Korea drills “requires consultations,” the South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said at the joint news conference with Pompeo, responding to Trump’s surprise announcement on Tuesday to halt the military exercises. Ben Westcott, Jungeun Kim and Jennifer Hauser report at CNN.

“It will be necessary to flexibly change military pressure against the North to abide by the spirit of the Panmunjom Declaration,” President Moon said today, referring to his agreement with Kim in April and indicating that South Korea would reconsider its position on joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises if North Korea sincerely takes steps to carry out denuclearization. Reuters reports.

North and South Korean officials are holding high-level military talks at the border village of Panmunjom today, which is in the demilitarized zone (D.M.Z.) between the two countries, to focus on implementing the agreements made during Kim’s meetings with Moon in April and May, according to Seoul’s defense ministry. Kim Tong-Hyung reports at the AP.

The Pentagon has been considering the future of U.S.-South Korea military exercises following Trump’s surprise announcement, with a White House National Security Council official saying that “regular readiness training and training exchanges will continue.” Phil Stewart reports at Reuters.

A formal suspension of the August joint military exercises is expected to be announced by the Trump administration this week, according to several administration officials, which would be accompanied by detailed Pentagon guidance to the U.S. military. Barbara Starr, Pamela Brown and Ryan Browne reports at CNN.

The House Armed Service Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) yesterday expressed his support for the end of joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

Japan has been considering arranging a summit meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Kim, government sources have said today. Yoshifumi Takemoto and Elaine Lies report at Reuters.

Trump’s tweet about North Korea no longer posing a nuclear threat was made “with eyes wide open,” Pompeo said in Seoul, explaining that Trump and Kim had a “blunt conversation” about what Pyongyang would need to do to rejoin the international community. The AP reports.

Democrats have criticized the Singapore statement for its lack of detail and for making too many concessions to Kim, pointing to previous unfulfilled North Korean commitments to denuclearize and the fact that the joint declaration provides no specific timeframe or actions to be taken. David Brunnstrom and Steve Holland report at Reuters.

The cancelation of joint military exercises “seems like a pretty substantial concession on our part,” the former Deputy Defense Secretary Robert O. Work has said, warning that the decision could advantage China and Russia. Spencer Ackerman reports at The Daily Beast.

An explanation of the nature and purpose of the joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises is provided by the AP.

The denuclearization process is likely to be difficult as it would require tough negotiations, years of dismantling and verification, and trust that North Korea would sincerely pursue the path of disarmament. Joby Warrick explains at the Washington Post.

Following the Singapore summit, the responsibility has now fallen to Pompeo to reassure allies and hash out the details of denuclearization, which is likely to be a difficult task due to the lack of specifics in the joint declaration, concerns about joint military exercises, and the other concerns and interests of country’s in East Asia. Elias Groll and Robbie Gramer write at Foreign Policy.

A comparison of Trump’s approach to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program with his approach to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is provided by Katrina Manson at the Financial Times.

   

YEMEN

Yemeni government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition yesterday launched an assault on the port city of Hodeidah, after the U.N. failed to broker an agreement between the coalition and Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi fighters currently in control of the city. Dion Nissenbaum and Margherita Stancati report at the Wall Street Journal.

The assault began with coalition airstrikes and shelling by naval ships, according to Saudi-owned satellite news channels and state media, with convoys of vehicles seen to be heading toward the rebel-held city before dawn, all forming part of an operation dubbed “Golden Victory”. Jon Gambrell reports at the Washington Post.

The Houthi rebels controlling the city reported “two enemy air strikes on the [Hodeidah] area,” via their news outlet Al-Masirah, while the previous day coalition sources stated that 18 air strikes had been carried out on Houthi positions around the port, AFP reports.

Attacking forces managed to “liberate areas... in the surroundings of the airport” and captured or killed “dozens” of Houthis,according to Emirati news agency W.A.M., also reporting the “martyrdom” of four Emirati soldiers. Medical sources in the region claimed 22 Houthi fighters had been killed in coalition strikes, the BBC reports.

Coalition troops today captured the town of Nakhila in Yemen’s ad-Durayhimi district, some 12.5 miles south of Hodeidah’s International Airport, as fierce fighting and airstrikes pounded the area on the second day of the offensive. Jon Gambrell reports at the Washington Post.

Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. announced late yesterday what they described as a “multi-faceted plan” to protect Hodeidah’s citizens, with the plan including the establishment of routes for food, medical supplies and oil shipments to Hodeidah from Saudi Arabia’s southern city of Jizan and U.A.E. capital city Abu Dhabi. The AP reports.

“We have several ships stationed, and we have storage capacity very close to Hodeidah fully stocked up,” U.A.E. Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem al-Hashimy, told Reuters in Riyadh, adding that “we have as well planes that are out of the U.A.E. that are ready to be flown in once the situation allows for that.” Sarah Dadouch and Alexander Cornwell report at Reuters.

“[Do not] allow any sniper or gunmen from Houthi [rebel] militia on the roofs of your houses. Stay away from military camps ... Do not store petrol products,” Information Minister for the exiled Yemeni government Muammar al-Iryan warned Hodeidah residents. Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.

A protracted battle for Hodeidah will intensify what is already a humanitarian disaster, with a quarter of a million people in the city in danger of injury or death from an urban assault, the U.N. has said. Margaret Coker and Eric Schmitt report at the New York Times.

The U.N. has said that it will continue to bring aid to the city, with U.N. humanitarian coordinator Lise Grande stating that “we are there and delivering, we are not leaving Hodeidah.” The U.N. Security Council is due to meet behind closed doors today over the offensive, at the request of the U.K., Mohammed Ghobari and Mohamed Mokashef report at Reuters.

“We have a ship offloading food even as shelling and bombing is happening. Humanitarians will not walk away,” Grande told reporters from the capital, Sana’a. Manal Abdulrahman reports at Al Jazeera.

“I call on the parties to engage constructively with our efforts to spare Hodeidah any military confrontation,” U.N. special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths said in a statement released yesterday, adding “I also call on the parties to exercise restraint and to give peace a chance.” U.N. News Centre reports.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson yesterday urged the coalition to adhere to its promises to protect civilians and keep humanitarian aid flowing, but made no call for the coalition to call off the attack. Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.

   

SYRIA

Turkey’s military said today that Turkish and U.S. officials have reached an agreement on a plan for the Syrian town of Manbij, with a military statement announcing that  Turkish and U.S. military officials met at the U.S. European Command headquarters in Stuttgart on June 12 and 13 and reached an agreement on a “Manbij Implementation Plan.” The statement indicated that the plan would be discussed by senior officials from the two countries, but provided no specific details, the AP reports.

The military-to-military talks followed an agreement between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on June 4 over the Manjib road map, and the new joint statement suggests that the agreed road map is functioning well within the set timeframe. The Hurriyet Daily News reports.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said last night that Iran’s presence in Syria is not negotiable, also repeating his assertion that Iran has no fixed bases in Syria in an interview with Iran’s Al Alam TV. Assad suggested that contacts are “ongoing” between the Russians, the U.S., and the Israelis, but was firm that the relationship between Syria and Iran “will not be part of any settlement” and is “not in the international bazaar,” the AP reports.

“We are giving the political process [in Syria’s rebel-held southwest Syria] a chance. If that doesn’t succeed, we have no other option but to liberate it by force,” Assad commented in the interview. Lisa Barrington reports at Reuters.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (O.P.C.W.) has said chemical weapons are very likely to have been used in Syria last year, concluding that sarin was used as a weapon in the south of rebel-held Latamina on 24 March 2017 and chlorine at its hospital the next day, although in line with its mandate O.P.C.W. did not assign blame. The BBC reports.

The O.P.C.W. is additionally investigating a suspected chemical attack on April 7 this year in the Douma enclave near Damascus,which prompted missile strikes by the U.S., U.K. and France. Anthony Deutsch reports at Reuters.

Top Syrian Kurdish politician Aldar Xelil hassaid he hopes President Bashar al-Assad is serious about negotiating with Kurdish-led forces and signalled a readiness for talks without conditions. Tom Perry reports at Reuters.

Israel has attacked Iranian-backed Shi’ite Muslim militias in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today, characterizing the strikes as helpful in stemming a Syrian Sunni Muslim refugee exodus to Europe. Although Israeli officials have previously disclosed scores of air strikes in Syria to prevent suspected arms transfers, they have rarely given detail on the operations, or described non-Lebanese militiamen as having been targeted, Dan Williams reports at Reuters.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 134 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between June 1 and June 10. [Central Command]

   

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

The U.N. General Assembly voted in favor of a resolution condemning Israel for “excessive use of force” and for the violence in Gaza since mass Palestinian protests began March 30 along the Israel-Gaza border. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

The resolution also called on U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres to recommend an “international protection mechanism” for the occupied Palestinian territory. Michelle Nichols reports at Reuters.

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said the resolution was “one-sided” and did “nothing to advance peace between Israel and Palestinians,” after her efforts to persuade member states to approve an amendment to the resolution that would have criticized the militant Palestinian Hamas group. Rick Gladstone reports at the New York Times.

The Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will not support a U.S. peace plan if it avoids the status of Jerusalem and the issue of Palestinian refugees, a spokesperson for Abbas said yesterday, with Palestinian Authority officials saying that Abbas would not meet with Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner when he visits Israel next week. Jack Khoury and Amir Tibon report at Haaretz.

   

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Attorneys for President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen are expected to stop representing him in the criminal investigation into Cohen’s business dealings, according to a person familiar with the matter. Rebecca Ballhaus and Nicole Hong report at the Wall Street Journal.

Cohen is facing increasing pressure from both the Manhattan criminal investigation and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential election, and amid shifts in legal representation and skyrocketing bills, is reportedly feeling neglected by the president. Former member of the Ukrainian parliament Andrii V. Artemenko has commented that many of the questions he faced during several hours of testimony Friday before a grand jury were focused on his interactions with Cohen, Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger report at the Washington Post.

Artemenko said that Mueller’s questions focused on a meeting he had with Cohen on Jan. 27, 2017, organized by Trump's business associate Felix Sater, that concerned a proposed plan to end the conflict in Ukraine and eventually lift U.S. sanctions on Russia — a priority for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Artemenko and Sater both deny that the meeting was friendly toward Russia, but the two men and Cohen have given different public accounts of the meeting, Luis Sanchez reports at the Hill.

An associate of Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort proposed recruiting former politicians from Belgium, Germany and Spain, for a secret lobbying push on behalf of the Ukrainian government in 2012, according to court documents briefly made public yesterday by Mueller’s team, which give fresh insight into Manafort’s orchestration of a campaign to boost the image of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. The lobbying effort has subsequently become part of Mueller's legal case against Manafort, who faces charges including money laundering, failing to disclose his foreign lobbying work in the U.S. and obstruction of justice, Theodoric Meyer and Josh Gerstein report at POLITICO.

House conservatives Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) introduced a resolution yesterday calling on the Department of Justice (D.O.J.) to turn over key documents – relating to congressional investigations examining the F.B.I.’s decision making during the 2016 presidential election. The legislative measure seeks to compel the D.O.J. to comply with outstanding congressional subpoenas, Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

White House counsel Don McGahn recused his entire staff last summer from working on the Russia investigation as many of his office’s lawyers played significant roles in key episodes at the center of the probe, former White House attorney Ty Cobb said yesterday. According to Cobb, many of McGahn’s attorneys “had been significant participants” in the firings of national security adviser Michael Flynn and F.B.I. Director James Comey, Darren Samuelsohn reports at POLITICO.

   

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The House Appropriations Committee yesterday rejected Rep. Barbara Lee’s (D-Calif.) amendment to sunset the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (A.U.M.F.) in a 22-30 vote that was made along party lines. The 2001 A.U.M.F. was passed soon after the Sept. 11 attacks and there have been debates about the broad powers it grants the president to wage war, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

Pre-trial scheduling by the military judge in the 9/11 war crimes trial at Guantánamo indicates that the trial will not start until 2020. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

Career diplomats and employees at the State Department have been vetted by a senior adviser to determine their loyalty to Trump and his agenda, according to current and former U.S. officials. Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer reveal at Foreign Policy.

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