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Early Edition: February 3, 2023

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A curated weekday guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.

U.S. RELATIONS – CHINA

The U.S. is tracking a suspected Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon over the continental United States, defense officials said yesterday. Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen Patrick Ryder said the government has been tracking the balloon for several days, adding that it does not pose a military or physical threat to people on the ground. Senior military officials have advised President Biden not to shoot it down due to fear the debris could pose a safety threat. Oren Liebermann, Haley Britzky, Michael Conte, and Nectar Gan report for CNN

China has declined to say whether it sent a spy balloon over the continental U.S. but said it was looking into the allegation. “The Chinese side is gathering and verifying the facts,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said, adding that China hoped Beijing and Washington could handle the issue calmly and carefully. Brian Spegele and Joyu Wang report for the Wall Street Journal

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping during his two-day visit to China at the end of this week. If the meeting goes ahead it will be the first time in nearly six years that a U.S. Secretary of State has sat down with the Chinese leader, and would provide further evidence of Beijing’s desire to improve the tone of its relationship with Washington. Demetri Sevastopulo reports for the Financial Times

OTHER U.S. RELATIONS

Kenya is asking the U.S. to pay for the expansion of a joint counterterrorism base, raising concerns that the country could turn to China for help if the U.S. refuses. U.S. officials are worried that Kenya might bring a state-owned Chinese construction company into a U.S. special-operations base if the Pentagon opts out of the proposed project, which could cost roughly $50,000. The Biden administration has so far resisted Kenya’s request that the U.S. pick up the bill for the upgrade, but the issue isn’t settled. Michael M. Phillips reports for the Wall Street Journal

Guantanamo detainee Majid Khan has been transferred to Belize, reducing the prison’s population to 34, the Pentagon said yesterday. Khan, who was allegedly tortured at a CIA facility overseas before his transfer to Guantanamo, has cooperated with the U.S. authorities for over a decade, pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges, and in March 2022 completed a prison sentence reached through plea bargain. Jess Bravin reports for the Wall Street Journal

DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS 

The FBI plans to search former Vice President Mike Pence’s Indiana home for more classified material in the coming days. According to people familiar with the matter, the Justice Department is currently in talks with Pence’s legal team about scheduling the search. Pence’s lawyers, who previously discovered several classified documents at the former Vice President’s home, do not believe there are any additional classified documents to be found there, a person close to Pence said. Aruna Visawanatha and Sadie Gurman report for the Wall Street Journal. 

House Republicans voted yesterday to remove Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar from the House Foreign Affairs committee. The House voted 218-211 along party lines on the resolution to remove her from the panel, which House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries called “political revenge.” House Republicans have argued that Omar should not serve on the panel due to her past statements about Israel, which have been criticized by both parties as antisemitic. Clare Foran and Kristin Wilson report for CNN

House Republicans have begun their probe into alleged political abuses inside the Justice Department by interviewing a little-known former FBI official. The recently launched subcommittee has publicly claimed that the official, Jill Sanborn, is a key player in a so-called “deep state” plot to use federal law enforcement to target conservatives. The interview with Sanborn, which reportedly lasted for about four hours,  is the first known interview conducted by the subcommittee. Marshall Cohen, Sara Murray and Annie Grayer report for CNN

Manhattan prosecutors this week warned that they might file new fraud charges against longtime Trump Organization executive Allen Weisselberg. These new charges would increase the pressure on Weisselberg to cooperate with a broader investigation into former President Trump’s involvement in paying hush money to an adult star during his 2016 presidential campaign. The potential new charges against Weisselberg are unrelated to the hush money, but he has long been the missing piece in any criminal case against the former president. Ben Protess, William K. Rashbaum and Jonah E. Bromwich report for the New York Times

A federal law prohibiting people subject to domestic violence restraining orders from possessing firearms was ruled unconstitutional by an appeals court yesterday. The ruling is the latest significant decision dismantling a gun restriction in the wake of the Supreme Court’s expansion of Second Amendment rights last year in the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen decision. The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals said that the federal law targeting those believed to pose a domestic violence threat could not stand under the Bruen test, which requires that gun laws have a historical analogy to the firearm regulations in place at the time of the Constitution’s framing. Tierney Sneed reports for CNN

RUSSIA, UKRAINE

The E.U.’s top officials are due to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv today. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel, as well as 15 European commissioners, have traveled to Kyiv for the summit, which is expected to focus on Ukraine’s reconstruction and its candidacy for membership to the bloc. Erin Mendell reports for the New York Times

A bipartisan group of senators yesterday urged President Biden to delay the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey until Turkey approves Sweden and Finland’s admission to NATO. The group of 27 senators wrote in their letter that Turkey’s failure to ratify the two Nordic country’s admission or present a timeline for ratification “threatens the Alliance’s unity at a key moment in history, as Russia continues its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.” Haley Britzky reports for CNN

NATO members Poland and Estonia, are pushing to raise the alliance’s defense spending from 2 percent to 2.5 or even 3 percent of member countries’ GDP. Such a proposal, which is still in its early stages, is likely to face significant pushback from Western European powers already struggling to meet the existing NATO defense spending benchmark. Robbie Gramer, Amy Mackinnon and Jack Detsch report for Foreign Policy

NATO’s secretary-general has called on Russia to fulfill its obligations under the New START nuclear arms control treaty. “We note with concern that Russia has failed to comply with legally-binding obligations, including on inspection and call on Russia to fulfill its obligations under the Treaty”, Jens Stoltenberg said. His comments come after the U.S. on Tuesday accused Russia of violating the treaty by refusing to allow inspections on its territory. Al Jazeera reports. 

OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Israel’s attorney-general has warned Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to get involved in a controversial overhaul of the country’s judiciary. In a letter to Netanyahu, Gali Baharav-Miara said the prime minister should “avoid intervening in initiatives regarding changes in the judicial system,” due to a conflict of interest stemming from his ongoing corruption trial. Netanyahu’s office called the attorney-general’s position “unacceptable” and requested two weeks to provide a full response. James Shotter reports for the Financial Times. 

Israel and Sudan have agreed to sign a peace deal later this year, Israel’s foreign minister said yesterday. The agreement, which was mediated by the U.S., will be signed as a ceremony in Washington in a few months’ time, after Sudan establishes a civilian government, the Israeli statement said. If the peace agreement is signed, that would make Sudan the fourth Muslim-majority country to normalize relations with Israel since late 2020 as part of a series of U.S.-backed agreements known as the Abraham Accords. Dov Lieber reports for the Wall Street Journal

Iran publicly blamed Israel for a drone attack last weekend on a military facility in the city of Isfahan. In a letter to the U.N. secretary-general, Iran’s ambassador to the U.N., Amir Saeid Iravani, said that Iran reserved the right to “respond resolutely” to the attack. David S. Cloud reports for the Wall Street Journal

COVID-19

COVID-19 has infected over 102.541 million people and has now killed over 1.11 million people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 671.350 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 6.84 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. is available at the New York Times.

U.S. and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post

The post Early Edition: February 3, 2023 appeared first on Just Security.


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