The Soufan Group Morning Brief



President Donald Trump pitched an “America First” trade policy to leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Danang, Vietnam on Friday, vowing to protect American interests against foreign exploitation. Promising to pursue “mutually beneficial commerce” through bilateral trade agreements, Trump condemned the kind of multilateral accords his predecessors pursued, reprising a message he brought to China this week that blamed weak American leadership for trade imbalances.

It was a strikingly hostile message to an audience that included leaders who had tied their fortunes to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sweeping 12-nation accord that was to be led by the U.S., from which Trump withdrew immediately after taking office. In his address, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a starkly contrasting speech that voiced support for multilateralism and called globalization an “irreversible historical trend.” He said China would continue to pursue a free trade area in the Asia-Pacific. New York Times, CNN, NPR

Meanwhile, the White House said that Trump would not hold formal talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the summit. Officials cited scheduling issues as the reason the two leaders would not meet. Trump had been expected to ask for Moscow’s assistance in countering the threat from North Korea. After Trump’s last encounter with Mr. Putin,  on the sidelines of the G20 summit meeting in Hamburg, Germany, Trump faced criticism for not having pressed Putin more strongly on Russian interference in the 2016 election. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday that Trump and Putin could have a less formal encounter while in Vietnam. Reuters

Mueller interviews top White House aide: White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller has been interviewed as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The interview brings the Mueller’s investigation into President Donald Trump's inner circle in the White House. Miller is the highest-level aide still working at the White House known to have talked to investigators. His role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey was among the topics discussed during the interview as part of an investigation into possible obstruction of justice, sources said. CNN, Axios

Trump, Clinton camps both offered slice of dossier firm’s work: The same political research firm that prepared a dossier on ties between the Trump campaign and Russia had unrelated information on Clinton Foundation donors that a Russian lawyer obtained and offered to President Donald Trump Jr. last year. The White House and Republican lawmakers have attacked the firm, Fusion GPS, over the dossier compiled by a former British spy that is central to investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. Sources said that the negative information about Hillary Clinton that information that Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya wanted to give to Trump’s campaign at a June 2016 meeting was dug up by Fusion GPS in an unrelated investigation. Reuters

Former Guantanamo detainee sues Canada for alleged torture role: Former Guantanamo prisoner Djamel Ameziane has filed a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against the Canadian government, alleging it was complicit in his detention and torture at the U.S.-run military prison. Ameziane was detained without charge or trial at Guantanamo from early 2002 until December 2013, when he was forcibly returned to his native Algeria. In a statement of claim filed in Ontario Superior Court on November 6 and seen by Al Jazeera, Ameziane is seeking damages totalling almost $40 million. He alleges that Canadian officials exchanged information with their U.S. counterparts that contributed to his mistreatment at the prison camp. Al Jazeera

Air Force secretary says Texas shooter's offenses should have been reported to FBI: Nearly a week after former Airman Devin Kelley killed 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, the Air Force has unequivocally said that Kelley’s past conviction on domestic violence-related charges should have been communicated to the FBI. If Kelley's court-martial had been given to the FBI's National Crime Information Center, he would not have been able to purchase a firearm. “The offenses for which the shooter in Texas was court-martialed should have been reported, and that's why we launched a full-scale review of this case, and all others like it," Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said. ABC News

U.S. officials say deal with Russia on Syria’s future is near: The U.S. and Russia are nearing an agreement on Syria for how they hope to resolve the Arab country's civil war once ISIS is defeated, officials said Thursday. The agreement being discussed would focus on three elements, officials said: “deconfliction” between the U.S. and Russian militaries, reducing violence in the civil war, and reinvigorating UN-led peace talks. The agreement also seeks to build on progress in establishing “de-escalation zones” in Syria that have calmed some parts of the country. Associated Press

ISIS reportedly takes back half of Syrian town from Syrian army: A monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said on Friday that ISIS has taken back control of half of the Syrian town of Albu Kamal in Deir Ezzor province. The Syrian army declared it had captured the eastern border town on Thursday with the help of its allies. Reuters

Egypt fears influx of militants after ISIS defeat: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi says ISIS militants are making their way to his country via Libya after the defeat of the extremist group in Syria and Iraq. Egypt has been battling a powerful ISIS affiliate in its northeastern Sinai Peninsula for the last three years, and has recently seen an uptick in attacks in its vast western desert region, which borders chaotic Libya. Sisi said a “strategic imbalance” caused by the regional turmoil had forced Egypt to build up its military in recent years. He said it was “natural” that ISIS militants would flee to Libya, which has been mired in chaos since 2011. “We must have the military capabilities that compensate for that imbalance in the region and to counter terrorism,” he said. “This is a threat not just faced by us, but also by Europe.” Associated Press

U.S. strikes al-Shabaab in Somalia: U.S. forces conducted an airstrike against al-Shabaab in Somalia on Thursday, killing “several militants,” according to the U.S. military. “U.S. forces will continue to use all authorized and appropriate measures to protect Americans and to disable terrorist threats,” AFRICOM said. The strike came less than a week after U.S. airstrikes targeted ISIS fighters in the country's north. Voice of America

Saudi Arabia orders its citizens to leave Lebanon amid escalating tensions: Saudi Arabia ordered its citizens to leave Lebanon on Thursday, escalating a crisis between the two Arab nations and raising fears that it could lead to an economic crisis or even war. The order came after Saudi Arabia stepped up its condemnations of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shiite militia that is the most powerful political and military force in Lebanon, and asserted that Lebanon had effectively declared war on Saudi Arabia. Tensions between the two countries have risen since Lebanon's Saudi-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned on Saturday, saying he feared for his life. In Lebanon, various political factions have called for the return of Hariri, whom many believe was pressured into quitting by the Saudis. New York Times, BBC News, Washington Post

Meanwhile, more than 200 people have been summoned for questioning, and most are still detained, in a wide-ranging crackdown that Saudi Arabia says is aimed at rooting out corruption and reclaiming embezzled funds, the government said Thursday. The kingdom’s attorney general, Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb, said in a statement that Saudi authorities believed that at least $100 billion “had been misused though systematic corruption and embezzlement over several decades.” New York Times

Mattis says NATO looking to bring Russia into compliance with arms control treaty: U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said Thursday he had discussed Russia’s violation of an arms control treaty with his NATO counterparts and they were looking at how to bring Moscow into back into compliance. “We have a firm belief now over several years that the Russians have violated the [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty],” Mattis said. He added that Russian compliance “ is absolutely necessary to sustain confidence in the arms-control agreement.”

The U.S. State Department’s annual arms-control compliance report, issued in April, asserted for the fourth consecutive year that Russia had developed a ground-launched cruise missile in violation of the treaty. Russian legislators denied that Russia has violated the treaty and accused the U.S. of harboring plans develop an intermediate-range missile that would be in violation of the treaty and would prompt Russia to design a similar weapon. Reuters, RFERL
Does Trump Realize that his new Iran strategy could suffer a fatal blow in Syria? “The great unanswered question about Trump’s Syria policy is whether U.S. military support of the SDF is aimed solely at defeating the Islamic State, or whether it is now also informed by the larger objective set out in the president’s new strategy of countering Iran’s growing power as well,” John Hannah writes in Foreign Policy. “If only the former, then once the military rout of the Islamic State is completed, America’s job in Syria will be done and U.S. forces can withdraw...That, of course, is exactly what Iran and its allies are counting on.”

Kurd your enthusiasm: “Washington’s understanding of the Kurds, in particular, is limited in that it is defined by a focus on the war against ISIS, as well as a reluctance to give up on Arab Iraq and its massive oil reserves. The United States has consistently failed to comprehend the fact that Kurdish independence is a direct threat to the territorial and political integrity of all the KRG’s neighbors,” Behnam Ben Taleblu and Merve Tahiroglu write in Foreign Affairs. “Washington must therefore shed the simplistic Kurds vs. ISIS paradigm and begin an honest conversation about the complex promises and pitfalls of Kurdish independence and the U.S. relationship with the Kurds.”

Trump is part of the Saudi story: “It’s not hard to guess why the Saudi crown prince has chosen to follow the Russian and Chinese road map, or why he has sought to consolidate power instead of sharing it,” Anne Applebaum writes in the Washington Post. “In part, it is thanks to the failure of the Arab Spring, a disaster that has tragically tainted ‘Western models’ in a part of the world that will know peace only if citizens of different ethnicities can find ways to share power.”

We’re not putting up a fight against Russia’s cyber warfare: “As long as this situation is left unchallenged, Moscow’s war on the West can continue with apparent impunity [and] we can be sure that not only Russia but other, similarly inclined actors, be they governments, terrorists or others who are just malevolently motivated, will continue and intensify their attacks on our networks,” Stephen Blank writes in The Hill. “It’s already time to prepare our defenses for the 2018 elections in an organized systematic way.”

Moderated by Peter Bergen
Monday, Nov. 20, 7PM
Fordham Law School

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