11:55 AM 10/16/2017 – TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION – from The Early Edition: October 16, 2017

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SYRIA

The U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) began their final push to oust Islamic State militants from Raqqa yesterday, marking the last phase to combat the militants in their de facto capital in Syria and after a significant number of militants surrendered as part of a locally brokered deal. John Davison and Ellen Francis report at Reuters.

The locally brokered deal was arranged to “minimize civilian casualties” and “purportedly excludes” foreign Islamic State fighters, the U.S.-led coalition said in a statement, emphasizing that the coalition was not involved in the discussions for the deal. Louisa Loveluck reports at the Washington Post.

A senior Turkish official rejected Syria’s call for Turkish troops to withdraw from the rebel-held Idlib province at the weekend, emphasizing that the Turkish forces are there in close cooperation with Russian forces and in order to establish a de-escalation zone. Umut Uras reports at Al Jazeera.

TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has around $60m worth of business dealings with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who has close ties to the Kremlin. Aggelos Petropoulos and Richard Engel report at NBC News.

Democrats and Republicans are stepping up efforts to secure the integrity of voting systems ahead of next year’s mid-term elections and in response to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Michael Wines reports at the New York Times.

The America public deserve to know about the connections between the Democrats, opposition research firm Fusion GPS, former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele and the F.B.I., and the media’s focus on Trump-Russia has meant they have failed to pick up on stories that reveal wider Russian influence. The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson defended his role in the Trump administration yesterday amid reports that he has a poor relationship with the president, Julia Manchester reports at the Hill.

The reports of a poor relationship between U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley and Tillerson are “so ridiculous,” Haley said in an interview yesterday, stating that she shares a “great relationship” with the Secretary of State. Jacqueline Klimas reports at POLITICO.

White House chief of staff John Kelly has been taking action to fill positions in the administration. Nancy Cook explains his efforts at POLITICO.

The Early Edition: October 16, 2017 

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Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

SOMALIA

More than 300 have been killed in a double explosion in Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu on Saturday and the death toll is likely to rise, marking one of the deadliest attacks in the country since the Islamist insurgency started in 2007. Nicholas Bariyo reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The attack came after President Trump renewed efforts to rid Somalia of al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab militants, some analysts stating that the bombing may have been in retaliation for al-Shabab’s loss of territory and in response to the U.S.’ increased drone attacks. Hussein Mohamed, Eric Schmitt and Mohamed Ibrahim report at the New York Times.

The U.N. Secretary-General condemned the attack and urged all Somalis “to unite in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism,” in a statement by the Secretary-General’s spokesperson yesterday. The UN News Centre reports.

The Mogadishu attack may prompt the U.S. to step up its involvement in Somalia and to counter al-Shabab, who were almost certainly behind the attack. Jason Burke provides an analysis at the Guardian.

IRAN

“We stand committed to the J.C.P.O.A. and its full implementation by all sides,” a joint statement by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday, using the acronym for the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The leaders made the statement following President Trump’s decertification of Iran’s compliance with the accord and urged the Trump administration and Congress to “consider the implications to the security of the U.S. and its allies before taking any steps” to undermine the agreement. Laurence Norman reports at Wall Street Journal.

“We will continue to stick to the deal and to cooperate with the [International Atomic Energy Agency] within the framework of international law,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Friday in response to Trump’s decision to decertify Iran’s compliance, adding that the U.S. is “more isolated than ever” as a consequence of the president’s actions. Erin Cunningham reports at the Washington Post.

“What we’re saying now with Iran is don’t let it become the next North Korea,” the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said yesterday, defending Trump’s decision to decertify Iran’s compliance and arguing that the aim is to “improve the situation” and “see how” to make the nuclear agreement “better.” Eli Watkins reports at CNN.

“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russia’s TASS news agency yesterday, responding to the Trump’s decision to decertify Iran’s compliance, noting that the Trump administration has a habit of calling for improvements and amendments to already successful agreements. Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman “praised President Trump for visionary new Iran strategy,” the White House said yesterday in a read out of Saturday’s call between Trump and King Salman. Mallory Shelbourne reports at the Hill.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trump for his “brave decision” on the Iran deal in an interview yesterday, adding that “we cannot allow this rogue regime 30 times the size of North Korea’s economy to have a nuclear arsenal.” Mallory Shelbourne reports at the Hill.

“The U.S. is no longer not just unpredictable but unreliable,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said yesterday, stating that the strength of the agreement was that it was based on “mutual mistrust” but that Trump is “widening the mistrust” between Iran and the U.S. and between the U.S. and the international community. Rebecca Savransky reports at the Hill.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry condemned the Trump administration yesterday for its decision on the Iran deal, Reuters reports.

The various reactions of global leaders to Trump’s Iran strategy is provided by the BBC.

The Iran deal cannot be “fixed” because it is “intrinsically misconceived,” Iran cannot be trusted to comply with the agreement and the deal “will breathe its last shortly.” The former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton writes at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump’s Iran strategy foreshadows “yet another crisis over the deal and perhaps a U.S. withdrawal in just three months’ time” as the president’s decision to decertify Iran’s compliance has left Congress to deal with the mess he has created. Josh Rogin writes at the Washington Post 

The president has sent mixed messages to Congress about his intentions, which does not bode well for the future of the deal as Congress lacks the tools to make effective foreign policy decisions. Daniel B. Shapiro writes at POLITICO Magazine.

Iran carried out a cyberattack on the U.K. parliament and hacked 9,000 email accounts in June, including the account of Prime Minister Theresa May, according to a secret intelligence assessment. Francis Elliot and Fiona Hamilton report at the Times.

IRAQ

Iraqi forces and Kurdish troops have clashed in the northern oil-rich Iraqi province of Kirkuk today, amid a three-day standoff when Iraqi forces advanced into the disputed province which was included in last month’s controversial Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum, where the Kurds voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence. Loveday Morris and Mustafa Salim report at the Washington Post.

The Iraqi forces were sent by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to impose security in the area and marks the first use of military force since the referendum vote, undermining the U.S.-backed efforts of the Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga forces to combat Islamic State militants. David Zucchino reports at the New York Times.

The Iraqi central government accused the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (K.R.G.) of bringing Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.) fighters to Kirkuk, labeling the move a “declaration of war” – a K.R.G. official denying the claim as “false” and that there are only Peshmerga in Kirkuk. Reutersreports.

The Pentagon urged dialogue as “the best option to defuse ongoing tensions” and warned against “destabilizing actions that distract” from the fight against Islamic State militants and that would “further undermine Iraq’s stability.” Reuters reports.

The Iraqi forces’ operation has allegedly caused “lots of casualties,” according to a Peshmerga commander, adding that the Iraqi forces “burnt lots of houses and killed many people,” the claims could not be independently verified. Al Jazeera reports.  

Iraqi forces have captured territory in Kirkuk today, including key several positions, the Iraqi military saying in a statement that they are “continuing to advance.” Reuters reports.

Iran shut its border crossings with Iraqi Kurdistan yesterday at the request of the Iraqi government, the Iraqi foreign ministry said in a statement. Reuters reports.

NORTH KOREA

Diplomatic efforts with North Korea “will continue until the first bomb drops,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in an interview yesterday, adding that the “President has also made clear to me that he wants this solved diplomatically.” Eli Watkins reports at CNN.

The U.S. and South Korea will begin five-day joint military exercises off the Korean Peninsula today, an exercise that was described by North Korea on Saturday as “a reckless act of war” and there has been speculation that the drills would prompt North Korea to launch a provocation, with one South Korean government source saying that Pyongyang is preparing to launch a missile. Eun-Young Jeong reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. military will conduct noncombatant evacuation exercises next week to prepare U.S. service members and their families in the event of war and other emergencies. Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.

North Korea and South Korea will not hold direct talks in Russia today, despite attending the same event and despite encouragement by Moscow to use the opportunity to talk. Reuters reports.

North Korea’s ability to carry out cyberattacks poses a serious threat to the West and has achieved much more than many analysts expected, including targeting key state infrastructure, stealing hundreds of millions of dollars, and hacking into South Korea’s military networks. David E. Sanger, David D. Kirkpatrick and Nicole Perlroth explain at the New York Times.

SYRIA

The U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) began their final push to oust Islamic State militants from Raqqa yesterday, marking the last phase to combat the militants in their de facto capital in Syria and after a significant number of militants surrendered as part of a locally brokered deal. John Davison and Ellen Francis report at Reuters.

The locally brokered deal was arranged to “minimize civilian casualties” and “purportedly excludes” foreign Islamic State fighters, the U.S.-led coalition said in a statement, emphasizing that the coalition was not involved in the discussions for the deal. Louisa Loveluck reports at the Washington Post.

A senior Turkish official rejected Syria’s call for Turkish troops to withdraw from the rebel-held Idlib province at the weekend, emphasizing that the Turkish forces are there in close cooperation with Russian forces and in order to establish a de-escalation zone. Umut Uras reports at Al Jazeera.

TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has around $60m worth of business dealings with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who has close ties to the Kremlin. Aggelos Petropoulos and Richard Engel report at NBC News.

Democrats and Republicans are stepping up efforts to secure the integrity of voting systems ahead of next year’s mid-term elections and in response to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Michael Wines reports at the New York Times.

The America public deserve to know about the connections between the Democrats, opposition research firm Fusion GPS, former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele and the F.B.I., and the media’s focus on Trump-Russia has meant they have failed to pick up on stories that reveal wider Russian influence. The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

The PHILIPPINES

Two leaders of Islamic State-linked militants in the southern Philippine city of Marawi were killed by Philippine forces, a government spokesperson saying in a statement today that the bodies of the leaders – one of whom was on the U.S. Department of Justice list of most-wanted terrorists world-wide – were recovered today. Jake Maxwell Watts reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Around 30 militants remain in Marawi, the Philippine’s military chief said today, as the forces stage an operation to retake the city. The AP reports.

THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson defended his role in the Trump administration yesterday amid reports that he has a poor relationship with the president, Julia Manchester reports at the Hill.

The reports of a poor relationship between U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley and Tillerson are “so ridiculous,” Haley said in an interview yesterday, stating that she shares a “great relationship” with the Secretary of State. Jacqueline Klimas reports at POLITICO.

White House chief of staff John Kelly has been taking action to fill positions in the administration. Nancy Cook explains his efforts at POLITICO.

GUANTÁNAMO

The entire civilian legal team defending the alleged mastermind of the 2000 U.S.S. Cole bombing has quit due to a secret ethical conflict, throwing into doubt the future of the case. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

The Pentagon has not yet said if it would extend the duty of the chief war crimes prosecutor Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, who is set to retire next month but has said would extend his service if asked to. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

An al-Qaeda terrorist turned government informant was sentenced to 13 years in prison on Friday. Carol Rosenberg provides an overview of Ahmed al Darbi’s circumstances at the Miami Herald.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Islamic State today claimed responsibility for firing two rockets yesterday from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula into EgyptReuters reports.

The crisis in South Sudan has caused deep concern in the U.S., however the South Sudanese President Salva Kiir has dismissed the Trump administration’s comments and shows no sign of changing his behavior. Kevin Sieff reports at the Washington Post.

Islamist militants carried out a daytime attack today in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula today, killing seven according to officials. Ashraf Sweilam reports at the AP, also providing the context for the recent increased violence perpetrated by militants in Egypt.

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