News Roundup and Notes: September 24, 2013

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FBI Agent leak

The Department of Justice has stated that former FBI agent Donald John Sachtleben has agreed to plead guilty to charges of “unlawfully disclosing national defense information relating to a disrupted terrorist plot.” The former bomb technician was suspected of leaking information to the Associated Press about a failed bomb plot in Yemen last year after federal investigators secretly obtained A.P. reporters’ phone records. The New York Times’ Charlie Savage reports on the full story.

Developments in Syria crisis

In the latest news, Al-Qaeda-linked militants in Syria have justified taking over the northern town of Azaz by blaming the ousted rebels for supporting democracy and cooperating with Western officials such as Senator John McCain [Ivan Watson at CNN].

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, a strong supporter of the Syrian regime, has countered claims that his group received chemical weapons from Syria as “truly laughable,” and acknowledged the dangerous consequences any such move would have for Lebanon [Al Jazeera].

BBC reports the Russian government’s statement that UN chemical weapons inspectors are expected to return to Syria on Wednesday to investigate alleged chemical weapons attacks in other Syrian areas.

Ahead of UN talks on Syria this week, officials and representatives around the world are providing their perspective on possible solutions to the crisis.

UN under secretary general for political affairs Jeffrey Feltman spoke to BBC’s Kim Ghattas last night about the “opportunity for Syrian diplomacy.” He also stated:

It’s very hard for us to imagine a political solution for Syria that works, that doesn’t somehow have Iran as part of the conversation.

In a meeting with the editorial board of the New York Times, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius indicated a willingness to include Iran in Syria talks under certain conditions (Michael Gordon and Somini Sengupta reporting). Iran would need to agree to a transitional government in Syria that would not include current President Bashar al-Assad. And any cooperation on the Syrian crisis should not be viewed as affecting the debate on Iran’s nuclear program.

Turkish President Abdullah Gül stated in an interview with Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth that the Syrian President must go, but noted that Russia and Iran ought to be part of the Syria discussions.

And the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons reported earlier this morning:

In the New York Times, William Broad and David Sanger note that destroying the U.S. chemical arsenal “has been more complex, more time-consuming, more costly and more environmentally fraught than anyone imagined.” Although the U.S. stockpile is older and larger, they write that there are lessons to be learned for the Syrian strategy.

Kenya terrorist attack

The Westgate mall terrorist attack in Nairobi continues into its fourth day as gunfire and explosions are still heard, reports CNN (Zain Verjee et al.).

However, Kenyan forces appear to have taken control, according to the following message from Kenya’s police forces Tuesday morning:

The Guardian and BBC have live updates.

Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed told Al Jazeera’s James Bays yesterday that al-Shabaab was not acting alone, but with the support of al-Qaeda. She stated that the perpetrators include around 20 men and women from a variety of nationalities.

Al Jazeera’s Hamza Mohamed interviewed al-Shabaab spokesperson for military operations, Sheikh Abulaziz Abu Muscab yesterday.  In response to a question about Kenya withdrawing troops from Somalia, Muscab stated:

If they don’t withdraw, attacks like this will become common in Kenya. It is possible if they don’t withdraw attacks like this will happen in Kenyan cities and towns every day.

Meanwhile, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has condemned al-Shabaab as “a threat to the continent of Africa, and the world at large” [ NBC News’s Simon Moya-Smith].

The editorial board of the Standard Digital News in Kenya urges its Western allies, including the U.S. to refrain from issuing “travel advisory notes that discourage their citizens from visiting Kenya,” noting security forces’ commendable handling of the terrorist attack. President Obama has promised U.S. assistance to “bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice.”

The U.S. media also contributed to debate and analysis. The Washington Post’s Greg Miller reports that the Westgate mall attacks signal al-Shabaab’s growing “determination and sophistication,” which is likely to cause the U.S. to reconsider the threat posed by the organization, according to U.S. officials. While CNN’s Peter Bergen has the story on al-Shabaab’s U.S. connections, with around 15 U.S. citizens having died fighting for the organization over the past several years.

Be sure to check back at Just Security later today for a Guest Post from Jonathan Horowitz on special considerations for cooperation between the FBI and Kenya authorities in the investigation of the Westgate attacks.

Iran and the West

Former Iranian President and reformist Mohammad Khatami has published an article in the Guardian today, urging the West to engage in diplomacy with a “peace-seeking Iran” to resolve longstanding differences, including on the nuclear issue. He claims:

The Iranian people’s vote for Rouhani and his agenda for change has provided an unrivalled and possibly unrepeatable opportunity for Iran, the west and all local and regional powers.

While the White House has not yet ruled out a meeting between President Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani [Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere], Iran is set to join the negotiating table on Thursday with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon et al.]. The FT’s Geoff Dyer reports that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif will be meeting with the “E3+3”, the world powers that negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program, according to top EU foreign affairs representative Baroness Ashton. Zarif also reported on this development through Twitter:

And earlier this morning, he stated:

Meanwhile, the Washington Post (Joby Warrick) notes that an internal Israeli document concludes that Iran will aim to obtain relief from the harsh economic sanctions through “cosmetic” nuclear concessions.

Debate and analysis in the media continues. John Glaser argues that diplomacy with Iran is “doomed” in Al Jazeera. His main argument is that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is convinced, with “good reason,” that the U.S. has regime change in Iran on its agenda.

The New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink discusses Ayatollah Khamenei’s role in Iran’s latest diplomacy efforts. While Khamenei provides backing to President Rouhani now, he has positioned himself to take credit even if talks with the West fail, according to experts. And Farnaz Fassihi in the Wall Street Journal contends that economic sanctions have spurred Iran’s recent diplomatic manoeuvres.

Other developments

The U.S. will no longer be providing daily updates on the number of Guantanamo detainees participating in the hunger strike, as the mass protests have reportedly come to an end with only 19 inmates participating since early September [New York Times’ Charlie Savage].

Ex-Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr has challenged his terms of imprisonment before a Canadian court, given that he was under-18 when first detained, as reported by the BBC.

Following a review of Aaron Alexis, the gunman at the Washington Navy Yard, the Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has recommended to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that all future security reviews should “include any available police documents” even if they did not result in charges or convictions [New York Times’s Thom Shanker].

The Washington Post (Stephanie McCrummen) covers yesterday’s ruling by an Egyptian court that has banned the Muslim Brotherhood and any groups remotely associated with it.  The ruling, which appears to provide a mandate for further crackdown against members of the group by the military authorities, may be modified by future court decisions.  Meanwhile, the Christian Science Monitor’s Louisa Loveluck reports that the court order and accompanying seizure of assets will eliminate “critical social services” provided by the group.

The Obama administration has not yet stated whether it will grant a visa to ICC-indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to attend the ongoing UN General Assembly session [Fox News].

The Wall Street Journal covers the latest Israeli-Palestinian clashes in the West Bank city of Hebron, which have the potential to undermine peace talks.

According to experts, North Korea scientists have mastered the technology to build uranium-based nuclear bombs without the need for imports, which was one of the limited ways of monitoring the country’s nuclear activity [AP].

A Taliban attack in southern Afghanistan has left 11 police officers dead [New York Times’s Rod Nordland].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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