News Roundup and Notes: May 14, 2014

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.

Syria

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has told France 24 that his administration has evidence that the Syrian regime launched chlorine attacks “at least 14 times in recent weeks.” Fabius also said he “regrets” that the U.S. did not carry out threatened air strikes against Syria last year, as “it would have changed lots of things.”

In an interview with CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal al Mekdad sought to deny these claims, stating, “I assure you 100% that chlorine gas has never been used by the government.”

The Joint UN-Arab League Special Representative on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has resigned, amid an international community “hopelessly divided” in its approach to ending the conflict [UN News Centre].

The New York Times (Somini Sengupta and Michael R. Gordon) reports that the two events—France’s allegations and Brahimi’s resignation—point to “the failings of the West’s signature efforts on Syria, finding a diplomatic way out of a civil war in its fourth year.”

President Obama met with Syrian opposition leader Ahmad al-Jarba at the White House yesterday, during which both sides reaffirmed their commitment to a diplomatic solution, including a transition to a new governing authority [The Hill’s Justin Sink].

Following the Homs ceasefire, civilians are being allowed to return to the their homes in the former rebel-held city, but four years of airstrikes and other violence have left areas of Homs beyond recognition, reports the Washington Post (Loveday Morris).

Nigeria

The Nigerian government has indicated it is willing to negotiate with the Islamist militants Boko Haram, although senior officials say the government has made no commitment to negotiations [Reuters’ Felix Onuah].

U.S. officials have told NBC News (Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube) that “Global Hawk,” the U.S. military’s high-altitude drone, has joined the search efforts in Nigeria to find the abducted school girls.

Sen. John McCain told The Daily Beast (Josh Rogin) that the U.S. should send in troops to rescue the missing girls,  without waiting for the permission of the Nigerian government.

The White House has voiced opposition to the possibility of offering a ransom in exchange for the school girls on the basis that the administration, “as a matter of policy, deny kidnappers the benefits of their criminal acts” [Washington Post’s Anne Gearan].

The Wall Street Journal (Drew Hinshaw) covers how in stepping up terror attacks, Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, has “attained the distinction that has long eluded him: Africa’s most notorious terrorist.”

The Washington Post editorial board writes that “[r]escuing the kidnapped girls should be only a first step for Nigeria to counter Boko Haram.” The board argues that the U.S. should use this time to make the Nigerian government accept more assistance for its counterterrorism forces.

Surveillance, Privacy, & Technology

In a letter to Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., Sens. Mark Udall and Ron Wyden express concern that the administration has not acknowledged or corrected misleading statements made to the Supreme Court about the NSA’s surveillance programs, contributing to what they label a “culture of misinformation” [New York Times’ Charlie Savage].

Privacy International has filed a complaint with the UK’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal, challenging UK spy agency GCHQ’s practice of hacking computers and mobile devices, which allows the agency to switch on users’ microphones or cameras, listen in on phone calls and track their locations.

Ukraine

Ukraine is due to host round-table talks in Kiev, brokered by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, in an effort to find a negotiated settlement to the country’s crisis [BBC]. Pro-Russian separatists have refused to take part in the discussions, which will include members of the interim and regional governments.

The New York Times (David M. Herszenhorn) considers the “seemingly formidable array of obstacles” facing the round-table talks, which will focus on how to structure the government and grant more power outside Kiev.

Retaliating against U.S. sanctions, Russia said it intends to ban sales of the rocket engines that are used by the U.S. to launch most military and intelligence satellites [Wall Street Journal’s Andrey Oustroukh and Doug Cameron]. Moscow also proposed ending co-operation with the U.S. on the GPS satellite tracking system as well as the International Space Station beyond 2020.

On the ground, pro-Russian separatists killed seven Ukrainian troops in an attack on government forces in the country’s east yesterday [Reuters’ Richard Balmforth and Alissa De Carbonnel].

Other developments

As covered by Just Security’s Thomas Earnest yesterday, the ICC has decided to reopen the preliminary investigation into alleged detainee abuse by UK armed forces deployed in Iraq between 2003 and 2008.

The White House has ordered sanctions against five individuals linked to the violence in the Central African Republic, targeting those responsible on both sides of the conflict [The Hill’s Justin Sink].

The Afghan Taliban has appointed Ibrahim Sadar, a militant recently released from Pakistani custody, as the group’s new military commander, according to Afghan officials [Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov and Habib Khan Totakhil]. Two Afghan officials claim Sadar is close to Pakistani intelligence. Meanwhile, a bomb attack in Kabul killed an Afghan solider earlier today [Associated Press].

The State Department said it was not informed in advance that Yemen planned to deport McClatchy contributor Adam Baron, and noted that the administration “do[es] not typically engage governments on their specific entry/deportation policies” [McClatchy DC’s Hannah Alam].

The CNA Military Advisory Board has published a report calling on the military to prepare for the “severe risks” posed by the “nature and pace of observed climate change” to national security  [New York Times’ Coral Davenport; Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes].

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller has asked President Obama to create a bipartisan panel to investigate the reported problems with veterans’ access to health care [The Hill’s Kristina Wong].

The State Department has a background briefing on this week’s “P5+1” talks with Iran, noting that there are “a range of complicated issues” to be addressed as the parties begin drafting the text for the final nuclear agreement.

Saudi Arabia has invited Iran’s foreign minister to visit Riyadh, “breaking the ice in one of the most hostile relationships in the Middle East,” ahead of this week’s negotiations in Vienna over Iran’s nuclear program [Washington Post’s Liz Sly and Ernesto Londoño].

British cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri was cross-examined by the government at his New York terrorism trial yesterday [New York Times’ Benjamin Weiser].

A series of car bombings in Baghdad yesterday killed at least 28 people, in the latest surge in violence in Iraq [Associated Press].

CNN (Euan McKirdy) and The Economist cover the mounting tensions over the South China Sea.

Jordan’s ambassador to Libya, who was abducted by gunmen in Libya last month, has been released after his government agreed to release a Libyan citizen serving a terrorism life sentence as part of an exchange [New York Times’ Rana F. Sweis and Kareem Fahim].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).