News Roundup and Notes: September 25, 2013

Before the start of your workday, Just Security provides you with a curated summary of up-to-the-minute news developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

Speeches at the UN

ICYMI, President Obama addressed the UN General Assembly yesterday [transcript from the White House]. The focus was on Syria, Iran and the peace process in the Middle East.

With respect to Syria, President Obama emphasized the need to enforce the ban on chemical weapons and affirmed the overwhelming evidence that the Syrian regime was behind the chemical weapons attack last month.

Speaking on Iran, he told the UN that there was “basis for a meaningful agreement.” He directed Secretary of State John Kerry to pursue negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program with the Iranian government, in cooperation with the U.K., France, Germany, Russia, China, and the E.U.

The New York Times editorial board notes that President Obama addressed both the role and influence of the U.S. in the world and its “hard-earned humility” over its “ability to determine events inside other countries.” The “real challenge,” however, is how the President will balance these two ideas.  The New York Times’ David Sanger writes how the President’s speech may signal yet another evolution of the “Obama Doctrine.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also addressed the General Assembly a few hours after President Obama’s speech. In relation to concerns over Iran’s nuclear program, he stated:

[Iran] is prepared to engage immediately in time-bound and result-oriented talks to build mutual confidence and the removal of mutual uncertainties with full transparency.

The BBC has more on President Rouhani’s speech.

Notably, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff used her speech at the UN to make a case against foreign espionage, a clear reference to allegations that the U.S. spied on Brazil [Joe Leahy in the Financial Times].

More on Iran

A senior administration official at the White House confirmed that the U.S. suggested to Iran that the leaders of the two countries informally meet.  However, the Iranians refused, saying “it was too complicated for them to do that at this time given their own dynamic back home.” The Wall Street Journal (Jay Solomon and Carol Lee) has more on the story.

The media continues to analyze the Iran-US relationship. The Wall Street Journal editorial covers the “diplomatic humiliation” by the Iranian President’s refusal to meet informally with President Obama.

The Washington Post editorial board cautions the West against being “induced into further, unwarranted concessions” by President Rouhani’s “skillful diplomacy.” The Economist writes that speeches of Obama and Rouhani to the UN indicate that “the door to serious talks has re-opened,” but a “hard diplomatic slog awaits.” And Farnaz Fassihi at the Wall Street Journal has views from Iranian citizens, with most citizens optimistic for Iran’s future as well as its new relationship with the U.S. and the West.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has dismissed President Rouhani’s speech to the UN as a “cynical public relations ploy” [The Guardian’s Joel Greenberg]. The Wall Street Journal (Joshua Mitnick) also covers the continued Israeli skepticism regarding Iran’s new stance.

Iran’s President spoke to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in his first English-language television message to the U.S yesterday

More on Syria

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour also interviewed French President Francois Hollande last evening. Speaking on the Syria deal, Hollande stated that a resolution that did not have an option to go to the Security Council for authorization of sanctions in the event of a breach would have “no scope” and “no punch.” Hollande made similar assertions at a press conference following his address to the UN, claiming that without the threat of sanctions “there would be no credibility” [Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere].

As rebel infighting continues [Asharq Al-Awsat], thirteen strong rebel groups in Syria issued a joint statement rejecting the key opposition bloc, the Syrian National Coalition [Al Jazeera]. The groups, many of which have been designated as terrorist organizations by the West, also called for the application of Islamic law.

Anne Barnard in the New York Times covers statements from Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad yesterday, which indicate differences between the West and the Syrian regime on peace negotiations with the opposition.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has announced a further $339 million in humanitarian aid to support those affected by the crisis in Syria.

More on surveillance

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy has stated that he will push for greater limits on the NSA to end its phone records collection program [The Hill’s Brendan Sasso]. He claimed that the government had not yet proved that the surveillance program was an effective counterterrorism tool.

According to a top-secret document received by the Hindu, the Indian embassy in D.C. and the Permanent Mission of India at the UN were targets of the NSA spying program.

Kenya terror attacks

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has announced the end of the four-day terrorist siege at Nairobi’s Westgate mall [AFP]. Five suspects are reported to be dead, with 11 in custody, according to the Kenyan President [NBC News]. The BBC (Jastinder Khera) covers the Twitter battle between the Kenyan authorities and al-Shabaab militants that unfolded during the siege, which offered confusing accounts of the events on the ground.

There are allegations that a widow of one of the London 7/7 suicide bombers was among the perpetrators, but British officials stated it was not yet possible to comment on the story, reports Vikram Dodd in the Guardian.

In the attacks’ aftermath, the U.S. will be reviewing its assessment of al-Qaeda’s East African connections and how best to counter that threat, according to officials [Wall Street Journal’s Siobhan Gorman and Drew Hinshaw].

Other developments

The Pentagon has moved a large fleet of drones from the key U.S. base, CampLemonnier in Djibouti’s capital to a temporary location in a remote part of the country, reports the Washington Post (Craig Whitlock and Greg Miller). This decision follows concerns of local officials owing to numerous drone mishaps in recent years.

Secretary of State John Kerry will be signing the international Arms Trade Treaty today, reports the Washington Post (Karen DeYoung). The Treaty limits the supply of weapons to zones where they would facilitate human rights violations.  The National Rifle Association has opposed the move, claiming it will be used to regulate domestic weapons purchases.

The Pentagon has rejected a request from the military to spend close to $200 million to renovate the prison at Guantanamo Bay [New York Times’ Charlie Savage]. This included a request to replace Camp Seven, where “high-value” detainees are housed.

The House of Representatives has voted in favor of creating a special envoy for religious freedom in Central America and the Middle East [Fox News’ Perry Chiaramonte].

In the latest crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood following Monday’s court ruling banning the organization, the authorities have shut down the headquarters of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice newspaper [Reuters].

The Associated Press reports on the emergence of a new Sunni militant group that has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attacks on Pakistan’s Christian minority. The group, Jundallah claimed to target Christians to retaliate against the deaths of Muslims killed by U.S. drone strikes.

 If you want to receive your news directly to your inbox, sign up here for the Just Security Early Edition. For the latest information from Just Security, follow us on Twitter (@just_security) and join the conversation on Facebook.  To submit news articles and notes for inclusion in our daily post, please email us at news@justsecurity.org.  Don’t forget to visit The Pipeline for a preview of upcoming events and blog posts on U.S. national security. 

Filed under:
About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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