June 16, 2018

World Security Update: JustSecurity

Be sure to visit www.justsecurity.org

   

INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORT ON THE F.B.I.

The Department of Justice (D.O.J.) Inspector General Michael Horowitz yesterday published a 500-page report looking at F.B.I. investigations during the 2016 presidential election, including the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and the anti-Trump texts exchanged by two F.B.I. officials, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who were involved in the Clinton case and the investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Matt Apuzzo reports at the New York Times.

The report strongly criticized former F.B.I. Director James Comey for his actions during the Clinton investigation, accused him of insubordination and said it was a “serious error of judgment” when Comey decided to send a letter to Congress in late October 2016 announcing the reopening of the Clinton case. Devlin Barrett, Karoun Demirjian, John Wagner and Matt Zapotosky report at the Washington Post.

Strzok told Page in a text that “we’ll stop” Trump from becoming president and the report described the message as “indicative of a biased state of mind” and implied “a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.” The BBC reports.

The report “reaffirms the president’s suspicions about Comey’s conduct and the bias among some of the members at the F.B.I.,” the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday in response to Horowitz’s findings. Jordan Fabian reports at the Hill.

F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray yesterday said he accepted the findings of the Inspector General’s report, expressed disappointment at some of the problems highlighted in the report, but said that the F.B.I. would “learn from this report” and that nothing in the document impugned “the integrity of our workforce as a whole.” Sadie Gurman and Del Quentin Wilber report at the Wall Street Journal.

“I do not agree with all of the inspector general’s conclusions, but I respect the work of his office and salute its professionalism,” Comey writes at the New York Times, highlighting that the report is important for two reasons: that there was “no evidence that bias or improper motivation” affected the Clinton investigation and that the report “is vital in shedding light for future leaders on the nature and quality of our investigation and the decisions we made.”

“Tomorrow, Mueller should be suspended and honest people should be brought in, impartial people to investigate these people like Strzok,” Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said yesterday evening, adding that suspending the probe would give Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein a “chance to redeem themselves.” Brent D. Griffiths and Darren Samuelsohn report at POLITICO.

Details from the report have bolstered Trump’s claims of political bias within the F.B.I. and the report’s references to Comey, who was fired by Trump last year, and its criticisms of Strzok and Page has given Trump’s allies ammunition in their efforts to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 election. Robert Costa reports at the Washington Post.

“At this point, the Mueller investigation must be reassessed in light of today’s information,” Trump ally and chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said yesterday, joining other Republicans in casting doubt on the Mueller probe. Kyle Cheney and Elana Schor report at POLITICO.

It would be “stupid” for President Trump to sit down for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, Donald Trump Jr. advised yesterday, saying he doesn’t “trust” the federal prosecutors carrying out Mueller’s probe. Quint Forgey reports at POLITICO.

Republicans and Democrats will find conclusions in the report that suit their agenda, with Republicans saying it demonstrates anti-Trump bias in the F.B.I., and Democrats pointing to Comey’s actions being damaging to Clinton and welcoming the finding it was right not to prosecute the former presidential candidate. Jonathan Allen explains at NBC News.

A breakdown of the report’s revelations is provided by the New York Times.

The key takeaways from the report are provided by Jeremy Herb and Marshall Cohen at CNN.

   

The KOREAN PENINSULA

The Trump administration yesterday defended its strategy on the Korean Peninsula, insisting that it is not leaving regional allies vulnerable and that vague language in the document signed by President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the recent Singapore summit represents a solid commitment from the North to get rid of its nuclear weapons. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said sanctions on North Korea will not be lifted until “after the full denuclearization, the complete denuclearization,” Anne Gearan and John Hudson report at the Washington Post.

Pompeo has claimed that China is committed to maintaining U.N. sanctions on North Korea, having met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other senior officials in Beijing – following talks with top South Korean and Japanese officials in Seoul where Pompeo provided a briefing on Tuesday’s summit between Trump and Kim. Jeremy Page and Michael R. Gordon report at the Wall Street Journal.

Seoul appears to be going along President Trump’s decision to shelve major joint military exercises in South Korea, with a senior South Korean presidential official announcing today that Washington and Seoul have begun talks on temporarily suspending the significant “Ulchi Freedom Guardian” exercises that normally take place in August in addition to other joint drills while nuclear diplomacy with North Korea progresses. Kim Tong-Hyung reports at the Washington Post

Seoul has indicated that the presence of U.S. troops in the South is not subject to negotiations with the North, even should military exercises be halted, with one high-level Blue House official commenting “let me be clear. There has been no discussions and no change in position on the matter of the issue of US troops in South Korea.” Song Jung-a reports at the Financial Times.

Adm. Harry Harris – Trump’s choice to be the next ambassador to South Korea  – has told senators that he believes the U.S. must continue to worry about the nuclear threat from North Korea, despite Trump’s assertion on his return from Singapore that there is “no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” Harris did, however, endorse Trump’s plan to halt major military exercises with South Korea, claiming that the U.S. is in a “dramatically different place” compared with last year, the AP reports.

“I believe we should give major exercises a pause to see if Kim Jong-un is serious on his part in the negotiations,” Harris said, though he added that “I believe, without knowing with any certainty, that the president was referring to major exercises. The vice president has stated since then regular readiness training exercises will continue.” Stephanie Murray reports at POLITICO.

Sen. John McCain John McCain (R-Ariz.) criticized the administration’s decision to halt the military exercises, remarking in a statement yesterday that “suspending U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises is a mistake. Making unnecessary and unreciprocated concessions is not in our interests—and it is a bad negotiating tactic.” Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) is seeking answers from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Trump’s decision to cancel the military exercises, writing in a letter yesterday that “as you know, exercises build readiness, expand interoperability and promote cooperation with the allies and partners...in the Korean context, they are integral to coordination between the Republic of Korea, U.S. Forces Korea, U.S. Forces Japan and other allies and partners in the region that would be necessary to the national defense should war break out.” Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

A 42-minute documentary aired yesterday, offering a different view of the summit between Trump and Kim, with the footage – broadcast by the North Korean agency – appearing to capture several scenes missed by international news organizations, including one notable moment when Trump returned a salute given by a North Korean military leader. Adam Taylor reports at the Washington Post.

“It’s a common courtesy when a military official from another government salutes that you return that,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, during a briefing with reporters yesterday, after the incident drew questions about whether a high-ranking officer of a dictatorship deserved to be on the receiving end of a gesture typically symbolizing to symbolize respect and camaraderie. Katie Rogers reports at the New York Times.

“We’re here now...why can’t we just do it?” Trump allegedly demanded on Sunday,attempting to persuade his aides to request that the meeting with Kim be pushed up by a day — to Monday. Trump had to be talked out of altering the long-planned and carefully negotiated summit date by Pompeo and Sanders. Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey, Carol D Leonnig and Karen DeYoung report at the Washington Post.

Russian President Vladimir Putin asked North Korean official Kim Yong-nam at their meeting yesterday to pass an invitation to Kim Jong-un to visit Russia in September.Putin also said he welcomed the summit between Kim and Trump, Denis Pinchuk reports at Reuters.

The family of Otto Warmbier are continuing their lawsuit against North Korea — which alleges the Warmbier’s son was “brutally tortured and murdered” by the “criminal” regime. Susan Svrluga reports at the Washington Post.

A classified report from Israel’s foreign ministry raises doubts over Trump’s optimistic statements about the summit with Kim, and suggests the U.S. retreated from its position on several issues relating to the North’s nuclear program. The report was circulated yesterday by the research department of the Israeli foreign ministry to all Israeli embassies around the world, Barak Ravid reports at Axios.

The real headline of the Trump-Kim summit should have been: “U.S. weakens its 70-year alliance with South Korea,” Fareed Zakaria comments at the Washington Post.

Trump’s “McDonald’s theory” – his plan to transform North Korea into a modern economy – can only come about if Pyongyang improves on human rights, Josh Rogin argues at the Washington Post.

We have ample reason to doubt Trump’s competence and his motivations, E.J. Dionne Jr. comments at the Washington Post, arguing that there can be no defending the president’s performance in Singapore.

The Singapore summit was merely the first episode in what is set to be a disorientating period of diplomacy, Derek Chollet comments at Foreign Policy, highlighting five issues to watch moving forward.

   

YEMEN

Saudi-led coalition forces fought their way to the outskirts of the airport in Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah today, in a fierce battle coinciding with the holy Muslim Eid-al-Fitr holiday. Residents of the city, controlled by Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels, said clashes were taking place in the Manzar neighbourhood, with many residents of the neighbourhood fleeing to the city center, Tom Miles reports at Reuters.

Residents say rebel snipers are stationed on rooftops of buildings in Hodeidah to counter pro-government advances toward the rebel-held city today, with rolling coverage at the AP.

Yemen’s government has said that its forces are not attacking the port of Hodeidah itself, with Foreign Minister Khaled Alyemany claiming that “we are not planning to destroy the infrastructure.” The BBC reports.

Rebel leader Abdel Malek al-Houthi has urged his forces to “confront the forces of tyranny,” after 39 people were killed (including 30 Houthis) in heavy fighting yesterday as coalition gunships pounded rebel positions. Al-Houthi added that “the western coast will turn into a big swamp for the invaders,” AFPreports.

U.A.E. ambassador to the U.N. Obaid Salem al-Zaabi maintained that the Saudi-led coalition had no choice but to act, asking “should we leave the Houthis smuggling missiles? This comes from this seaport. We already gave the United Nations the chance to operate from this seaport, and (the Houthis) refused.” Al-Zaabi’s comments contradict the conclusions of a U.N. panel of experts that previously reported that it was unlikely the Houthis were using the port for smuggling arms, Ahmed Al-Haj reports at the Washington Post.

The U.N. has confirmed that debris from five ballistic missiles launched from Yemen into Saudi Arabia since July 2017 contained components manufactured in Iran and shared key design features with an Iranian missile, although U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres’s report – submitted to the Security Council yesterday – also said that the U.N. has been unable to determine whether the technology and  missile parts were transferred from Iran after January 16, 2016 when U.N. restrictions came into force. Edith M. Lederer reports at the Washington Post.

The U.N. and its humanitarian partners claim that they are rushing to provide life-saving assistance to thousands of families under threat in Hodeidah, with U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen Lisa Grande saying in a statement that “dozens of U.N. staff are in the city helping to deliver food, water and health services...we estimate that 600,000 civilians are in the city – many of whom are dependent on assistance to survive.” U.N. News Centre reports.

The U.N. Security Council (U.N.S.C.) has called on all sides involved in the fighting over the to keep Hodeidah’s port open to allow the delivery of aid and other essentials, with members of the U.N.S.C. expressing their “deep concern about the risks to the humanitarian situation” in a closed-door meeting, according to Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia who holds the council presidency. Al Jazeera reports.

The Pentagon has said that it is not involved in the military offensive carried out by the coalition, with spokesman Major Adrian Galloway claiming that Washington “does not command, accompany, or participate in counter-Houthi operations or any hostilities other than those authorised against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and I.S.I.S [Islamic State group].” Galloway added that “our support to the coalition consists of aerial refueling to coalition aircraft and intelligence support to assist our partners in securing their borders from cross-border attacks from the Houthis,” Al Jazeera reports.

The U.S. refused to provide military assistance to help take the port, according to an Emirati official. The coalition had asked for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support, as well warships to be sent to clear mines that it believes have been laid by Houthi rebels, Katrina Manson, Nasser al-Sakkaf and Andrew England report at the Financial Times.

France has agreed to provide minesweeping support for the operation, added the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. Phil Stewart reports at Reuters.

“If they keep Hodeidah and its revenues and its strategic location, the war will last a long time and the suffering of the Yemeni people will continue,” U.A.E. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said yesterday, adding that “the deadlock must end.” Margherita Stancati, Asa Fitch and Dion Nissenbaum report at the Wall Street Journal.

In southern Yemen, what was a trickle of civilians fleeing war in December has grown to more than 140,000 today, worsening a humanitarian crisis already considered the most severe in the world and increasing pressure on both aid organizations and hospitals. Sudarsan Raghavan reports at the Washington Post.

   

SYRIA

Syrian government violations of agreements in the designated de-escalation zone in southwestern Deraa region will be met with “firm and appropriate measures,” the U.S. State Department said yesterday, referring to the opposition-held area bordering Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and President Bashar al-Assad’s attempts to regain control of the area. Brendan O’Brien reports at Reuters.

Pro-Syrian government forces have bombarded rebels in Deraa region today, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, who say at least six people have been killed. Reutersreports.

“We are seeing movement and we will keep seeking more of it,” the U.N. special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said yesterday, welcoming the involvement of U.S. officials at upcoming Geneva talks on forming a Syrian constitutional committee and efforts to find a political solution to the seven-year conflict. Reuters reports.

The State Department yesterday announced it would release $6.6m of funding for the Syrian Civil Defense team, known as the “White Helmets,” who carry out humanitarian work in the country. Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.

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]

   

AFGHANISTAN

A U.S.-Afghan airstrike in Afghanistan has killed the Pakistani Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah, a senior Afghan Defense Ministry official said today. Rupam Jain and Jibran Ahmad report at Reuters.

A three-day ceasefire between Afghan security forces and the Taliban has begun today, marking the first Taliban-declared nationwide ceasefire since the conflict in Afghanistan began in 2001. The AFP reports.

“I sincerely hope this sense of solidarity marked by this joyful occasion will continue well into the future,” the U.N.’s Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, said yesterday, welcoming the ceasefire which marks celebrations for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and expressing hope that the ceasefire will lead to the peace “that all Afghans want and deserve.” The U.N. News Centre reports.

   

LIBYA

Forces loyal to the self-styled Libyan National Army (L.N.A.) commander Gen. Khalifa Haftar say they are close to regaining full control of the city of Derna, which would mean Haftar gaining power over eastern Libya and potentially undermining U.N.-led efforts to seek a political solution to the conflict. Ayman al-Warfalli reports at Reuters.

The U.S. Africa Command carried out an airstrike against an al-Qaeda affiliate in Libya this week, the U.S. military said yesterday, stating that one fighter had been killed in the attack which was coordinated with the Libyan government. Reuters reports.

   

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

The Trump administration is expected to withdraw from the U.N. Human Rights Council, according to sources, who say that talks to address U.S. concerns – including what Washington believes to be anti-Israel bias – have not been fruitful. Stephanie Nebehay reports at Reuters.

Trump’s retreat from international leadership is being celebrated by China and Russia who will step in to fill the void left by the U.S., Phil Stephen writes at the Financial Times.

The United States has become a “rogue superpower” under Trump’s tenure, as demonstrated by his administration’s approach to his allies, to trade, Iran, N.A.T.O. and security arrangements in East Asia. Robert Kagan writes at the Washington Post.

   

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Trump has approved $50bn worth of tariffs on Chinese imports and his administration is expected to announce the decision today, with the potential to trigger a global trade war. Shawn Donnan reports at the Financial Times.

“The United States reiterated the urgent need to identify the sources of the attacks and to ensure they cease,” the State Department said in a press release describing the meeting between U.S. and Cuban officials yesterday, explaining that it had raised concerns about mysterious health symptoms experienced by U.S. employees at its embassy in Havana, Cuba at a meeting yesterday. Carmen Sesin writes at NBC News.

Norway’s request for additional U.S. troops to be stationed along the Norway-Russia border is “clearly unfriendly, and it will not remain without consequences,” the Russian Embassy in Norway said in a statement yesterday. Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

The ongoing Gulf crisis is dividing Arab states and countries such as Kuwait and Oman have been “thrust into untenable positions” as they have to choose between Qatar or the Saudi-led bloc, which has isolated and blockaded Doha. Jonathan Schanzer and Varsha Koduvayur write at Foreign Policy.

 

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