News Roundup and Notes: September 30, 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.

Security Council resolution on Syria

On Friday, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2118 (2013) on chemical weapons in Syria. [ICYMI, see Just Security’s Ryan Goodman’s post analyzing whether the text that appeared in the final Resolution imposes legal obligations on the relevant parties]. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the Resolution, stating that “the international community has delivered.” However, he stressed that “this is not a license to kill with conventional weapons.”

Reuters’ Michelle Nichols reports that Security Council members, “putting to test its fragile consensus,” will meet on Monday to discuss a proposed Security Council presidential statement on humanitarian aid to Syria. The draft statement urges Syria to facilitate “safe and unhindered humanitarian access to people in need … including across conflict lines and, where appropriate, across borders from neighboring countries.”

The Security Council Resolution incorporates the decision on the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons adopted by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum has an in-depth story of this “quiet” and “obscure” international organization that is now responsible for overseeing the dismantling of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.

OPCW officials have said that coordination with the Syrian regime has been “businesslike and efficient” ahead of this week’s inspections into Syria’s chemical weapons facilities [Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum]. Meanwhile, Ban ki-Moon has called upon the National Coalition for the Syrian opposition “to reach out to other opposition groups and agree on a representative and united delegation” in preparation for the peace conference in November.

Iran and the U.S.

President Obama spoke on the phone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Friday. Following the first communication between an American and Iranian leader since 1979, Obama stated that there was a “basis for a resolution” on the nuclear issue. The Iranian President made a similar statement through his Twitter account:

Rouhani’s return home, following the “historic phone call,” was met with mixed reactions [Reuters’ Marcus George]. The New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink also covers Rouhani’s reception in Iran, who was greeted by hundreds cheering, but also dozens of protesters hurling eggs and one or more shoes.

In an interview with ABC’s “This Week” aired yesterday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif welcomed the “necessary first step” toward addressing the nuclear issue, but called for an end to the economic sanctions [Politico’s Ginger Gibson]. And in the latest development, Iran is considering resuming direct flights to the U.S. [AP].

Amidst talk of improved relations, the Wall Street Journal (Julian Barnes and Siobhan Gorman) covers claims of U.S. officials that Iran hacked unclassified Navy computers in recent weeks. Officials allege that the hackers work for the Iranian government or are acting with the regime’s approval. And Israeli security officials announced yesterday that they have arrested an Iranian spy for allegedly spying on Israel and gathering intelligence on potential terrorism targets, including the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv [Washington Post’s William Booth].

The Wall Street Journal (Jay Solomon and Carol Lee) reports that President Obama will be using his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House later today to “ease doubts” on his diplomatic talks with Iran. Meanwhile, the Associated Press writes that Netanyahu has stated he is set to “tell the truth in the face of the sweet talk and onslaught of smiles.” This message of caution is intended to persuade the U.S. to maintain the economic sanctions on Iran.

Analysis in the media continues. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) write that they were left “underwhelmed” by Iran’s rhetoric. They outline “four strategic elements” that are necessary for a resolution on the nuclear issue, including increased sanctions and a “convincing threat of the use of force.”

John Bolton argues in the Wall Street Journal that Rouhani’s “conciliation strategy is intended to buy time and legitimacy to build a bomb.” Jennifer Rubin, in the Washington Post, cautions that the U.S. “will be lured into endless negotiations” or worse, agree a deal that allows Iran to reach its nuclear weapons capability.

Shashank Joshi writes that Rouhani’s words are “meaningful signals” that should not be dismissed [CNN]. His diplomacy comes with domestic political cost, which demonstrates that Rouhani is “willing to anger domestic constituencies in pursuit of his agenda.” The Financial Times (Najmeh Bozorgmehr) discusses “raised hopes” in Iran following Rouhani’s week at the UN. Bozorgmehr notes that the state-run television channels that are authorized by Iran’s Supreme Leader did not broadcast the protests against Rouhani, and instead hailed his UN visit as a success.

And the New York Times (Michael Schwirtz and David Sanger) covers the “dueling narratives” in Iran over U.S. relations. Even as Iranian Foreign Minister welcomed diplomatic first steps on ABC’s “This Week,” his deputy said Iran would never fully trust the U.S.

Russia

Meanwhile, in bilateral relations with Russia, a U.S. appeals court decision to uphold the conviction of Russian arms smuggler Viktor Bout has been criticized by the Russian Foreign Ministry as “unjust and politicised” [AFP].

NSA Surveillance

The New York Times’ James Risen and Laura Poitras broke a major story on the NSA’s gathering of data on social connections of U.S. citizens. According to latest documents and interviews with officials, NSA has been using its metadata “to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information.”

[In The Pipeline, keep an eye out for Just Security’s Stephen J. Schulhofer post on the NSA’s metadata program and the missing constitutional argument.]

Al-Shabaab

BBC’s Peter Taylor investigates the “recruitment pipeline” that brings young Muslim men through Kenya to join al-Shabaab in Somalia. And Peter Bergen and David Sterman cover al-Shabaab’s supporters in the U.S. who have helped to fund the organization through money transfers of tens of thousands of dollars [CNN].

Other developments

On Friday, Lawal Babafemi was arraigned in a federal district court in New York, following extradition from Nigeria, for providing material support to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula [FBI press release].

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is touring South Korea, where the transfer of military operational control over South Korean troops to Seoul, which is currently held by the U.S., is likely to be a key issue [BBC].

New York Times (Eric Schmitt and Michael Schmidt) reports that the leaked terrorist plot by al-Qaeda in August has caused “more immediate damage to American counterterrorism efforts than the thousands of classified documents disclosed by Edward Snowden,” according to senior officials. Snowden’s leaks have had a “broader impact” on national security, including damaging diplomatic ties.

China has produced a 236-page list of equipment and chemical substances that it has banned for export to North Korea, fearing the items would facilitate the production of nuclear weapons in North Korea [New York Times’ Jane Perlez].

Al Jazeera America and AFP report on two suspected U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan in the last 24 hours. The Pakistani Foreign Ministry has issued a statement condemning the U.S. strikes as a “violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” [The News].

The latest bomb blast in Pakistan’s Peshawar yesterday has left at least 41 dead, and appears to be aimed at undermining Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s plans to hold peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban [Washington Post’s Tim Craig and Haq Nawaz Khan].

Members of Islamist militant group, Boko Haram are suspected to be responsible for the attack on a Nigerian college that has left at least 40 students dead [Reuters].

BBC reports on the latest series of violence in Iraq as a number of bomb blasts in mainly Shia Muslim districts of Baghdad have killed at least 42 people and injured many more. According to UN data, more than 5,000 people have been killed this year in sectarian violence.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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