Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic
Tuesday, April 18, 2017, 2:00 PM

Following a visit to South Korea amidst high tensions over the looming crisis in North Korea, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Tokyo to reassure Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the United States will work with its allies in the region to reach “a peaceable resolution and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” the AP writes. Pence also announced the United States’ intention to push for “stronger and more balanced bilateral trade relationships” with South Korea and Japan, among other nations. The policy would involve reforming an existing bilateral trade deal between South Korea and the U.S., known as “KORUS,” the Washington Post reports.

The Defense Department’s announcement last week that an aircraft carrier had been deployed from Singapore into the West Pacific was inaccurate, the Post tells us: while the Pentagon declared that the USS Carl Vinson was sailing toward North Korea, the aircraft carrier was actually deployed to the Indian Ocean to participate in exercises with Australian forces. The ostensible deployment had been a significant component in escalated tensions in the region amidst a North Korean missile test and military parade. It remains unclear whether the faux-announcement was deliberate or mistaken.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports on the suggestion by a leading Chinese historian of the Korean War that, “North Korea is China’s latent enemy and South Korea could be China’s friend.” Shen Zhihua’s statement last month challenged the country’s long-held policy toward Pyongyang and has ignited controversy within China, but the government’s relative tolerance of his speech may point to a growing willingness to consider alternative options on the Korean peninsula within Beijing.

In a  breach of usual U.S. government policy, President Donald Trump called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to congratulate him on the disputed results of Turkey’s recent referendum granting Erdogan vastly expanded presidential powers by a narrow margin. The White House readout of Trump’s congratulatory phone call contrasts with the State Department’s more typical statement cautioning Turkey on the potential erosion of its democracy, the Times writes. The Wall Street Journal reports that international observers have voiced concerns over a last-minute change to ballot-counting rules, among other irregularities in the vote.

British Prime Minister Theresa May called for a general election to be held on June 8th in an effort to consolidate support behind her government prior to the beginning of negotiations for the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. May had previously promised against calling an early election prior to 2020. The Times has more.

French authorities have arrested two men suspected of planning a “violent attack” aiming to disrupt the country’s upcoming presidential election, Reuters tells us. The French government described the men, who were detained following a week of efforts on the part of intelligence officials, as “radicalized.”

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis began his week-long trip to the Middle East and Northern Africa with a stop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he will meet with King Salman to discuss the U.S relationship with Saudi Arabia and regional security issues, likely including U.S. operations against ISIS in Syria. The Post reports that Mattis declined to answer when asked whether the Trump administration will provide Saudi Arabia with additional assistance in support of Saudi operations in Yemen. However, he did indicate his belief that the ongoing conflict requires a political solution, Reuters writes. Buzzfeed has reported on the Pentagon’s proposal for U.S. support to an operation conducted by the Saudi-led coalition to retake the city of Hodeida from Houthi rebel forces, which USAID and State Department officials argue would precipitate a famine across the country.

On that note, in the Small Wars Journal, Darren Tromblay takes a look at the use of proxies by Iran and Saudi Arabia to affect U.S. decision-making in the region.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, U.S. coalition airstrikes in Syria killed at least twenty civilians on Monday, Reuters tells us. Al Jazeera also reports on research by Human Rights Watch and investigative organizations indicating that the United States may not have taken the required precautions to minimize civilian casualties prior to conducting a drone strike on a mosque in northern Syria last month in which almost forty civilians were killed.

The battle for Mosul could become a “humanitarian catastrophe” if a siege develops and traps the city’s remaining civilians without food or water, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator for Iraq told Reuters. 400,000 civilians are still living within the city, roughly a quarter of Mosul’s population before the war began.


ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Benjamin Wittes alerted us to his FOIA requests seeking information as to whether the Justice Department supported President Trump’s misstatement to Congress regarding the percentage of terrorism convictions against foreign-born versus U.S.-born defendants.

Itamar Rabinovich proposed a possible way forward for the United States in Syria.

Chris Mirasola examined a new Chinese guidance restricting the transfer of digital information.

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