News Roundup: September 27, 2013

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 Security Council Resolution

The permanent members of the Security Council have agreed on the text of a draft resolution on Syria [Reuters’ John Irish and Michelle Nichols]. The key language in the draft, which reflects a compromise between Russia and the U.S. and its allies, reads:

Decides, in the event of non-compliance with this resolution, including unauthorized transfer of chemical weapons, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in the Syrian Arab Republic, to impose measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.

The draft does not provide for automatic sanctions, as originally advocated by the U.S., U.K. and France. Any future sanctions, including military force, will require a second Security Council vote.

According to U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, a full Security Council vote could take place by tonight, provided the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) agrees upon the U.S.-Russia framework for abolishing Syria’s chemical weapons [Nick Paton Walsh and Elise Labott at CNN].

UN Ambassador, Power welcomed the deal:

According to a draft resolution of the OPCW, BBC reports that inspection into Syria’s chemical weapons will begin by Tuesday, and the OPCW will be authorized to investigate sites not declared by the Syrian regime. An OPCW vote on the final text is expected later today.

Russian deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov stated yesterday that Russia would be willing to contribute toward implementing the chemical weapons deal in Syria, and would not import any of the arsenal into Russia [Reuters].

The Washington Post (Joby Warrick) notes that according to the most recent confidential assessment by both the U.S. and Russia, the timeline to destroy Syria’s entire chemical weapons arsenal could be as short as nine months. The Post also reports that the bulk of Syria’s chemical weapons consist of “unweaponized” liquid precursors, which can be dealt with relatively quickly.

Meanwhile, the leader of the Free Syrian Army, General Salim Idriss is reported to have cut short meetings in Europe to return to Syria to meet with the rebel groups that rejected the Western-backed opposition coalition [the Daily Star].

NSA phone surveillance

At yesterday’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing into NSA surveillance, the Obama administration expressed a willingness to consider greater limits on the powers of the NSA [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]. The Committee is hoping to push ahead swiftly with a Bill that would require, among other things, public reports on NSA’s use of the calling log database and that would reduce the number of years that the data is held before it must be deleted [New York Times’ Charlie Savage].

The Hill (Brendan Sasso) reports that Democratic Senator Ron Wyden hinted, through his line of questioning, that the NSA may have tracked or considered tracking Americans’ cellphone location data. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Wyden has access to classified information about NSA’s programs. The Washington Post (Ellen Nakashima) also covers this story, reporting that NSA Director Keith Alexander “dodge[d] questions on [the] scope of surveillance.”

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Britt Snider and Charles Battaglia propose the creation of an independent inspector general at the NSA to boost public confidence in the department.

Iran and the West

As noted in yesterday’s News Roundup, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, along with representatives of the other major powers, to discuss Iran’s nuclear program [Reuters’ Arshad Mohammed and Matt Spetalnick]. Kerry and Zarif also had a brief private meeting following the main session [Anne Gearan in the Washington Post].

The FT (Geoff Dyer in Washington and James Blitz ) reports on the dates set for the detailed negotiations that are scheduled to take place in Geneva next month. The first talks will be held on October 15 and 16, according to Baroness Ashton, EU’s foreign policy head.

In a statement following the P5+1 ministerial meeting on Iran, Kerry welcomed Zarif’s “very different tone.” However, he stated that a lot more work was required in order to get “concrete results” on Iran’s nuclear program.

U.K. Foreign Secretary made a similar statement via Twitter:

Al Jazeera America covers the full story, including German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle’s statement that a “window of opportunity has opened” for a peaceful resolution, while noting that words would have to be matched by actions.

Meanwhile, Jay Solomon and Laurence Norman in the Wall Street Journal cover Israeli minister Yuval Steinitz’s calls to maintain pressure on Iran to ensure success on the nuclear issue.

In response to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s preference for a speedy timeline on a nuclear deal, Kerry said in a CBS interview yesterday that a deal could come within three months, depending on Iran’s willingness to negotiate [the Hill’s Mario Trujillo].

Debate on Iran’s diplomatic turn continues in the media. Philip Stephens in the FT argues that the U.S. must be willing to take risks as “talks are the only way to reset Iran’s atomic clocks.” In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer writes that Iran is not seeking successful negotiation. Rather, Iran wants sanctions relief, and “more than anything, they want to buy time.” The Economist recommends continuing with sanctions in order to reach a deal with Iran, as “[n]o matter how friendly Iran suddenly appears, any talks will be protracted and theatrical.”

Also at the UN yesterday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addressed the Nuclear Disarmament Summit, calling for the eradication of nuclear arms [Erin McClam at NBC News]. His Twitter feed captures key elements of his speech, such as:

…and in a specific message to Israel:

Charles Taylor judgment

The Appeals Chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone upheld the 50-year sentence and conviction of former Liberian President Charles Taylor for aiding and abetting war crimes [The Guardian’s Owen Bowcott]. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the judgment against the former head of state as a “significant milestone in international criminal justice, as it confirms the conviction of a former Head of State for aiding, abetting and planning war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

And, ICYMI, see Beth Van Schaack’s analysis of the significance of the judgment posted on Just Security yesterday afternoon.

Other developments

An interim report [original copy] on domestic use of drones by the U.S. Department of Justice’s inspector general states that existing rules raise “unique concerns about privacy” and calls for new surveillance rules [BBC]. The report also finds that the FBI has spent $3 million on drone deployment.

NPR (Scott Neuman) covers the report of the Strategic Studies Institute (U.S. Army War College), also on drones. The study finds that drone strikes in Pakistan have “little influence” on insurgent violence stemming from the region. However, it finds that drone strikes cause fewer civilian deaths as compared to other methods of combat.

The Economist cautions the West to reconsider the threat posed by al-Qaeda given that the network “now holds sway over more territory and is recruiting more fighters than at any time in its 25-year history.”

The New York Times (Eric Schmitt) covers a U.S. and Turkey deal to create a $200 million fund to counter violent extremism in states such as Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the new round of negotiations with Israel in a speech at the UN yesterday, but criticized Israel’s policy of settlement building (the Washington Post’s Anne Gearan). Abbas also called on other states to follow the EU’s example of imposing restrictions on aid to Israeli organizations operating in the occupied Palestinian territories.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal (Saeed Shah), Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif indicated his intention to speak up against U.S. drone strikes in his country during his speech at the UN later today. He also stated that he would proceed with plans to build a gas pipeline from Iran, notwithstanding U.S. objections.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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