News Roundup and Notes: September 26, 2013

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Arms Trade Treaty

The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs reported on the increased number of signatories to the Arms Trade Treaty yesterday:

However, at least 50 member states must ratify the treaty for it to come into force [Rick Gladstone in the New York Times].

As we noted yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry also signed the Treaty, but the decision has received push back from some Senate Republicans:

The U.K. Foreign Secretary, on the other hand, tweets a positive response and encourages other countries to also sign the Treaty:

NSA Surveillance

A bipartisan group of four U.S. senators introduced legislation yesterday to end NSA’s bulk collection of phone records and to establish new controls on the department [Patricia Zengerle, Reuters]. The Hill (Kate Tummarello and Brendan Sasso) reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee will be holding a public hearing today into the government surveillance program.

Meanwhile, NSA Director Keith Alexander, speaking at a cyber-security conference yesterday, defended his department’s program and criticized some of the media for “sensationalized” reporting [Politico’s Tony Romm]. And Justice Antonin Scalia has stated that he expects that the legality of the NSA surveillance program will eventually come before the Supreme Court [the Hill’s Jeremy Herb].

In the latest revelations about surveillance, BBC reports that the NSA domestic surveillance is by no means a new thing.  Apparently, the NSA spied on Martin Luther King and Muhammad Ali, among others, during the Vietnam War protests. While this operation had been exposed in the 1970s, the names of the phone-tapping targets had been kept secret. The documents were declassified following a government panel ruling in favor of the National Security Archive, a research institute based at George Washington University.

Iran and the West

As reported in the News Roundup earlier this week, Secretary of State John Kerry will be meeting Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif today, in the highest level encounter between the two countries since the 1979 Iranian revolution [the Financial Times’ Najmeh Bozorgmehr and James Blitz]. The meeting marks the beginning of a new round of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program.

In an interview with the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed hope for a speedy timeframe on the nuclear deal, with a preference for a three-month timetable [edited transcript].

Ray Takeyh in the Financial Times explores the “domestic politics driving Iran’s diplomatic shift.” In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria questions whether Rouhani or Obama can deliver on any future deal, noting domestic politics in both countries.

The New York Times (Mark Landler and Thomas Erdbrink) reports on the “political storm” set off with President Rouhani’s condemnation of the Holocaust in an interview with CNN. Amidst accusations from an Iranian news agency that the interview was not accurately translated, Landler and Erdbrink comment that the Iranian President is walking on a “political tightrope.”

The Wall Street Journal (Charles Levinson) notes that unlike Israel’s Prime Minister, Israeli President Shimon Peres has endorsed President Obama’s decision to give “peace a chance” with Iran. And the Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid has called his Prime Minister’s decision to boycott the Iranian President’s UN address “irrelevant in current diplomacy,” reports the Associated Press.

President Obama at the UN

The media continues to react to the President’s speech at the UN on Tuesday. The Washington Post editorial board describes his address as the “most morally crimped speech by a president in modern times,” and one that signals “trouble at the core of U.S. foreign policy.” In an op-ed, E.J. Dionne Jr. argues that Obama’s address was a diplomatic outreach to his own citizens, indicating the President’s awareness that “the most vital negotiation” he faces is with the American public [Washington Post].

Syria

In an interview with Venezuelan broadcasters yesterday, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad stated that he did not disregard the possibility of a U.S. military attack despite the chemical weapons deal [Associated Press]. He also claimed to have confessions from opposition members that the rebels were behind the chemical weapons attack.

As noted in yesterday’s Roundup, the rebel groups that denounced the Syrian National Coalition have announced a new alliance with the aim of creating an Islamic State [Washington Post’s  Liz Sly and Karen DeYoung].

Meanwhile, at the UN, diplomats suggest that broad consensus on a Security Council resolution on Syria has been reached, with a “reference” to sanctions in the event of non-compliance, reports the New York Times (Somini Sengupta). French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stated yesterday that a deal on the Syria resolution was close [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman]; the Russian deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov also expected the resolution within 2 days [Al Jazeera America]. Gatilov stated that the text would include a reference to Chapter VII of the UN Charter, but no provision for an automatic trigger.

Finally, speaking to the Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated allegations that the chemical weapons attack was carried out by the rebels. He also maintained there were no differences between the U.S. and Russian position as reflected in the Geneva framework.

Kenya attacks

Al Jazeera America reports that al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Godane has posted a video message online claiming responsibility for the terrorist attack in Nairobi,. In the video, he warned the Kenyan government:

Take your troops out [of Somalia] or prepare for a long-lasting war, blood, destruction and evacuation.

Godane also claimed al-Shabaab sought to punish the West for its involvement in Somalia, indicating that the Westgate mall was targeted because it was frequented by expatriates.

Meanwhile, Somali Defense Minister Abdulhakim Haji Faqi has made an international plea in an interview with NBC News for “funding and resources” to fight the terrorist group al-Shabaab (Keir Simmons et al.).

The New York Times (Nicholas Kulish and Jeffrey Gettleman) writes that the Westgate attack is seen by the U.S. as a “direct threat” to its own security interests.

Other developments

Jay Solomon and Nathan Hodge at the Wall Street Journal write that Anham FZCO, the company contracted by the Pentagon to supply food and water to forces in Afghanistan possibly violated U.S. sanctions by bringing in supplies through Iran to build a warehouse.

A U.S. citizen, and former translator for the U.S. army in Iraq, has been sentenced to 25 years by a federal judge for attempting an arms sale to the Taliban in Afghanistan [Reuters].

Fox News (Adam Housley) reports that the theft of U.S. military equipment in Libya, which was used for training by U.S. Special Forces, is more extensive and dangerous than initially estimated.

The News Roundup noted earlier this week that North Korea’s nuclear program may no longer be dependant on imports. Max Fisher at the Washington Post discusses why this self-sufficiency is “scary.”

The Wall Street Journal (Laurence Norman) reports that the head of EU foreign policy, Baroness Ashton will be returning to Egypt next week to restore political negotiation.

At least 23 people were killed today in bomb blasts in Baghdad, as violence in Iraq continues [Reuters].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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