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The Early Edition: October 15, 2018

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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.

JAMAL KHASHOGGI DISAPPEARANCE

Saudi Arabia has given Turkey permission to search its Istanbul consulate this afternoon - nearly two weeks after Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi went missing there, according to a Turkish diplomatic source. A delegation from Saudi Arabia also arrived in Turkey for the investigation into Khashoggi's disappearance Friday, Elise Labott and Bard Wilkinson report at CNN.

Saudi King Salman and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly spoke by telephone late last night over Khashoggi's disappearance, according to State-run news agencies in both countries. Turkey claimed that Erdogan "stressed forming a joint working group to probe the case," while Saudi Arabia said King Salman thanked Erdogan "for welcoming the kingdom's proposal" for forming the working group, and that the king had told Erdogan that "no one will get to undermine the strength of this relationship," the AP reports.

Khashoggi's disappearance is provoking a growing a rift between Washington and Saudi Arabia. President Trump yesterday threatened the kingdom with "severe punishment" if its royal court is found to be responsible for Khashoggi's death; in response, the Saudi Foreign Ministry released a statement vowing that if Riyadh "receives any action, it will respond with greater action," citing the oil-rich kingdom's "influential and vital role in the global economy," David D. Kirkpatrick reports at the New York Times.

Saudi Arabia "affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it ... whether by threatening to impose economic sanctions ... using political pressures ... or repeating false accusations," the Foreign Ministry statement said. According to Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television, the kingdom has "over 30 measures" it is able to implement. AFP reports.

Saudi Arabia has categorically denied involvement in Khashoggi's disappearance, condemning a "campaign of false allegations and falsehoods". In what appears to be a reference to Turkey, and perhaps its Gulf rival Qatar as well, Riyadh claimed some were "rushing and seeking to exploit rumors and accusations to achieve goals and agendas unrelated to the search for truth," Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.

The kingdom late yesterday thanked countries - including the U.S. - "for refraining from jumping to conclusions" over Khashoggi's disappearance. The embassy in Washington issued a message on Twitter to "clarify" the foreign ministry's earlier statement regarding Saudi retaliation, Reuters reports.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had commented Saturday that Saudi Arabia must cooperate with the investigation into Khashoggi's disappearance. Making the remarks during a visit to London, Cavusoglu said that "we have not yet seen cooperation on this subject and we want to see it," Reuters reports.

A Turkish newspaper has reported that Khashoggi's Apple Watch may have recorded his own death. The pro-government, privately owned newspaper Sabah reported that the journalist manually turned on the recording function of his Apple Watch before walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and that his "interrogation, torture and killing were audio recorded and sent to both his phone and to iCloud," with the talking of his kidnappers also captured in the recording, Morgan Gstalter reports at the Hill.

A duo of House Democrats is appealing to fellow lawmakers to join them in their calls for the U.S. intelligence community to release information on any advanced knowledge it had of the reported Saudi plot to capture Khashoggi. Reps. Mark Pocan (Wis.) and Ro Khanna (Calif.) are reportedly circulating a letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, asking whether the Trump administration warned Khashoggi of any threats against him, with the request linked to a push to end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in the Yemeni civil war, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

Major U.S. defense contractors reportedly expressed anxiety to the Trump administration that lawmakers angered by Khashoggi's disappearance will block further arms deals with Riyadh, according to a senior U.S. official Friday, Reuters reports.

President Trump said Saturday that the U.S. would be "punishing itself" if it ceases military sales to Saudi Arabia, even if it is proven that Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Istanbul consulate. Claiming that arms sales to the kingdom account for $110 billion, Trump stated that "it's the best equipment in the world but if they don't buy it from us, they're going to buy it from Russia or they're going to buy it from China or they're going to buy it from other countries," making the comments at an Oval Office event celebrating the release of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, Alexander Bolton reports at the Hill.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin yesterday was unclear on whether he would attend the upcoming Future Investment Initiative, slated to start in Riyadh on Oct. 23: "I am planning on going at this point," Mnuchin said Friday - but yesterday, a Treasury spokesperson said that "we will evaluate the information that comes out this week;" media and tech organizations including Uber, Virgin and Viacom - as well as JPMorgan Chase C.E.O. Jamie Dimon - have withdrawn in protest at Khashoggi's alleged killing, Jeanne Whalen and Damian Paletta report at the Washington Post.

"I don't think [Mnuchin] should go," Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told CNN's "State of the Union" yesterday, adding "I don't think any of our government officials should be going and pretending it's business as usual until we know exactly what's happened here." Rubio told host Jack Tapper that "no matter how important they might be to our Iranian strategy, our ability to be a voice for human rights ... is undermined and compromised if we are not willing to confront something as atrocious as what's allegedly happened here," Kelsey Tamborrino reports at POLITICO.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) commented yesterday that there "doesn't seem to be" any other explanation than the involvement of Saudi Arabia in Khashoggi's disappearance, adding that "the Saudi Arabian ambassador has been asked ... to bring information back ... they haven't done so." Megan Keller reports at the Hill.

The U.K., France and Germany have called for a "credible" investigation into Khashoggi's disappearance, with their foreign ministers claiming that that if anyone were found responsible they should be held accountable, and urging a detailed response from Riyadh. U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt stated that whatever happens now is "absolutely up to Saudi Arabia," the BBC reports.

"I don't want to get drawn into hypotheticals because we don't know the facts yet," Hunt told reporters, adding that "we have been very, very clear that if these stories are true, that would be totally appalling and we would have to think about the appropriate way to react in that situation," Reuters reports.

"Egypt stresses the importance of revealing the truth of what happened in a transparent investigation," the Egyptian foreign ministry said in a statement yesterday, adding that it is monitoring developments "with concern" and supports Saudi Arabia's attempts to deal with the situation. Reuters reports.

An explainer on what is currently known regarding Khashoggi's disappearance is provided at the AP.

JAMAL KHASHOGGI DISAPPEARANCE: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

Ankara and Riyadh are increasingly fixed on Washington as the "decisive factor" in their growing rift over Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance, David D. Kirkpatrick reports at the New York Times.

The president's son-in-law Jared Kushner "carefully cultivated a close partnership" with Salman, and despite the escalating rift over Khashoggi, Kushner "has already signaled that he has no intention of turning his back on the crown prince." Philip Rucker, Carol D. Leonnig and Anne Gearan provide an analysis at the Washington Post.

"If [President Trump] makes a genuine contribution to the efforts to reveal what happened inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul that day ... I will consider accepting his invitation," Jamal Khashoggi's fiancée and doctoral student Hatice Cengiz writes in an op-ed at the New York Times.

"How tragically ironic that in his disappearance and probable death ... Khashoggi may have done more to get Washington to see the troubling reality of [Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's] Saudi Arabia than he ever could have done alive and through his writing," Kristian Ulrichsen comments at POLITICO Magazine

"It seems clear that Mohammed bin Salman ... wanted to silence Mr. Khashoggi," Karen Elliott House comments at the Wall Street Journal, arguing that "when efforts to woo him back as an adviser failed, he was captured in Istanbul ... the most charitable interpretation is that this was an abduction that went horribly wrong."

"America seems incapable of standing up to Prince Mohammed bin Salman," Haroon Moghul comments at NBC, positing that a pan-Islamic response - involving the removal of Mecca and Medina from unelected Saudi control - may be the way forward.

A guide to "five things to watch for in U.S.-Saudi relations": what action will Trump take?; will the U.S. impose sanctions?; will this affect the military-to-military relationship?; will Saudi Arabia say it was involved with Khashoggi's disappearance?; and will business ties be affected?, is provided by Rebecca Kheel at the Hill.

U.S.-TURKEY RELATIONS

U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson - detained in Turkey for over two years - was freed Friday, in a hearing that saw the Turkish judge sentence Brunson to three years, but rule that the pastor had already served enough time in pre-trial detention. The Economist reports.

Following his release Brunson flew from Izmir in western Turkey to a U.S. base in Germany, and then on to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Brunson's release marks a rebuilding of relations between Turkey and the U.S. - the pastor's detention having provoked a major diplomatic rift between the two nations, the BBC reports.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday that the judiciary had taken its decision independently, posting a message on Twitter also stating that "I hope that the United States and Turkey will continue their cooperation as the allies that they are, and fight together against terrorist groups." Reuters reports.

Trump welcomed Brunson home Saturday and claimed the release would improve relations with Ankara, but the president denied any connection to the dispute between Turkey and Saudi Arabia over missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Trump invited Brunson to the Oval Office roughly an hour after he had landed back in the U.S., Peter Baker and Carlotta Gall report at the New York Times. "

"I just want to congratulate you because you have galvanized this country," Trump told Brunson, who was flanked by senior administration officials and his family as the two met in the Oval Office. "I really want to thank the administration," Brunson said, adding "you really fought for us - unusually so ... from the time you took office, I know that you've been engaged," Colin Dwyer reports at NPR.

"It's not clear what ... if anything ... Erdogan gets in return for releasing Brunson ... but that should become clearer in coming weeks," Michael Hirsh comments at Foreign Policy, arguing that Trump may be in a tight diplomatic spot over the Khashoggi revelations.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened "very painful blows" against the leaders of Hamas Palestinian militant group - in control of the Gaza strip - if they do not put an end to protests along the perimeter fence that have led to violent clashes with Israeli troops. Netanyahu claimed that Israel is very close to waging a "different kind of activity" against the Islamic militants" and that "if it has any sense, Hamas will cease its fire and violent outbursts - now," the AP reports.

Seven Palestinians were killed on Friday during fierce protests along the fence, according to Gaza health officials; the Israel Defense Force (I.D.F.) claimed four of them were shot dead after they crossed into Israeli territory and approached an army snipers' post. There were no Israeli injuries, Isabel Kershner reports at the New York Times.

U.S. student Lara Alqasem - detained at Ben Gurion airport and barred from Israel under a law against pro-Palestinian boycotters - filed an appeal yesterday with the country's supreme court, which suspended her deportation pending a hearing on her case. Reuters reports.

SYRIA

A deadline passed today for the withdrawal of jihadist fighters from the Russia-Turkey brokered buffer zone in Syria's northwestern rebel-held Idlib province, but the province's dominant jihadist group - Hayat Tahrir al-Sham - pledged to continue to fight in the region. "We have not abandoned our choice of jihad and fighting towards implementing our blessed revolution," the group stated, adding "we appreciate the efforts of all those who strive inside and abroad to protect the liberated area," apparently in a reference to Turkey. AFP reports.

Israel agreed with Syria and the U.N. to open the Quneitra crossing in the occupied Golan Heights today, outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley announced Friday. Haley said in a statement that the opening "will allow U.N. peacekeepers to step up their efforts to prevent hostilities in the Golan Heights region," Reuters reports.

Syria and Jordan have agreed to reopen the vital Naseeb border crossing between the two countries, three years after rebel groups captured the "commercial lifeline." The crossing will be opened today, according to a spokesperson for the Jordanian government, Al Jazeera reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 70 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between Oct. 1 and Oct. 6 [U.S. Central Command]

AFGHANISTAN

Top U.S. diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad met with Taliban leaders Friday, marking the second meeting since the White House ordered direct talks with the Taliban this summer in the hope of accelerating the peace process in Afghanistan. Khalilzad flew to Kabul to meet with the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani on Saturday, Mujib Marshal reports at the New York Times.

Taliban militants killed at least 22 security forces, officials said yesterday, in separate attacks on security checkpoints across two Afghan provinces ahead of parliamentary elections slated for this week. Reuters reports.

YEMEN

Air strikes by the U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi rebel group in Yemen killed at least 10 civilians in Hodeidah province Saturday, according to medics and Houthi media. Reuters reports.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said yesterday that the U.S. should withdraw its support from Saudi Arabia in the Yemeni civil war over allegations that the Saudi government murdered dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. "I think one of the strong things that we can do is not only stop military sales, not only put sanctions on Saudi Arabia, but most importantly, get out of this terrible, terrible war in Yemen led by the Saudis," Sanders told CNN's "State of the Union," Megan Keller reports at the Hill.

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton has pledged to toughen the Trump administration's approach to China, claiming that Beijing's "behavior needs to be adjusted in the trade area, in the international, military and political areas," Reuters reports.

Chinese ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai yesterday denied that China has interfered in U.S. elections, describing the accusations as "groundless." Michael Burke reports at the Hill.

President Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping will "probably" meet at a G20 summit next month, a U.S. official said yesterday, as both sides decried the countries' strained diplomatic relationship. AFP reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said yesterday that the U.S. is seeking "regime change" in his country, adding that the Trump administration is the most hostile that Tehran has faced in its four decades. Reuters reports.

A number of countries that have been widely criticized for "severe" human rights abuses are among 18 newly elected members of the U.N. Human Rights Council, with the candidacy of the Philippines, Eritrea, Bahrain and Cameroon giving rise to criticism. The BBC reports.

U.S. military communications and technology companies Harris and L3 Technologies announced yesterday that they will merge. AFP reports.


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