News Roundup and Notes: October 1, 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.

Government shutdown

The U.S. government has begun to shut down for the first time in 17 years following political stalemate. The Wall Street Journal’s (Washington Wire) Rebecca Ballhaus has in-depth coverage on what to expect from a partial temporary government shutdown.

Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin reports on how the government shutdown will affect national security. According to officials and experts, the “significant reduction in employees…means that we will assume greater risk and our ability to support emerging intelligence requirements will be curtailed.” Ty McCormick writes in Foreign Policy’s Cable that while the government shutdown won’t immediately cause foreign policy and national security machinery to break down, the “effects of political dysfunction” will have foreign policy ramifications.

In the Washington Post, Max Fisher focuses on the expectation that prison guards and border patrol agents will work without pay.

President Obama issued a video message to U.S. troops, stating that they “deserve better than the dysfunction we’re seeing in Congress.”

President Obama also signed a law last night to ensure that uniformed military personnel are paid on time [Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin].

Syria

In an address to the UN General Assembly yesterday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem stated,as reported in the Wall Street Journal (Laurence Norman):

There is no civil war in Syria, but it is a war against terror.

Comparing Syria’s civil war to 9/11, Moallem warned that foreign governments supporting the opposition risked facing attacks from these terrorist organizations in the future.

In an interview with BBC’s Jeremy Bowen, Moallem stated that the Geneva peace talks could not succeed unless regional countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar “refrain from supplying, arming, financing, [and] smuggling” the rebels.

John Hudson notes that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has effectively ruled out negotiation with almost all groups in the opposition [Foreign Policy’s The Cable]. In an interview with the Italian state television on Sunday, Assad ruled out negotiation with any al-Qaeda-backed groups. And in a different interview with Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen TV, Foreign Minister Moallem drew the line even further and rejected talks with the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition due to its support for a U.S. military strike.

A spokesperson for the Syrian National Coalition criticized Moallem’s comments as “maneuvering,” indicating that the regime “does not want to go to the Geneva talks in the first place” [Asharq Al-Awsat’s Layal Abu Rahal].

And in an interview with Al-Monitor (Andrew Parasiliti), Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stated that Iran is willing to help implement Syria’s chemical weapons disarmament plan, and should be invited to the Gevena II talks.

As noted previously on the News Roundup, a team of 20 inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is arriving in Damascus today to begin dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons in line with the UN resolution on Syria [AFP]. Meanwhile, a UN team of chemical experts wrapped up their second investigation into the use of chemical weapons in Syria yesterday, with a final report expected in late October [France 24].

The Washington Post editorial board questions whether the disarmament plan can succeed, noting the limited number of inspectors on the OPCW’s staff and “the possibility that the Assad regime will attempt to deceive inspectors.”

Turkey China missile deal

The U.S. has expressed concern over news that Turkey has chosen a Chinese firm that is under U.S. sanctions to produce its first long-range air defense and anti-missile system [Al Jazeera].

A U.S. State Department spokeswoman stated in a daily press briefing: “we, of course, have conveyed our serious concerns about the Turkish Government’s contract discussions with a U.S. sanctioned company for a missile defense system that will not be interoperable with NATO systems or collective defense capabilities.” According to local media, Turkish President Abdullah Gul stated the decision was not final and was still being evaluated [Reuters].

Leaked terrorist plot

ICYMI, yesterday, the News Roundup covered the New York Times’ (Eric Schmitt and Michael Schmidt) story on how the leaked terrorist plot by al-Qaeda in August has caused “more immediate damage to American counterterrorism efforts than the…documents disclosed by Edward Snowden.”

McClatchy Washington Bureau Chief James Asher and other analysts respond to these claims, with one expert dismissing them as “laughable.”

Surveillance

The Guardian (James Ball) discloses, according to top secret documents, that the NSA is storing metadata of millions of internet users up to a year irrespective of whether they are being targeted, contrary to claims of the Obama administration that the NSA only retains communications of people that are being intentionally targeted. These records reportedly include browsing history, account details, email activity, and account passwords.

Israel-U.S.-Iran

In a meeting between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, Obama was warned not to be fooled by Iran’s recent diplomatic maneuvers [David Nakamura and William Booth in the Washington Post]. Netanyahu stated after the meeting that Iran’s “conciliatory words must be met with real actions.”

Also speaking after the meeting Obama emphasized that “we have to test diplomacy” with Iran and stated that the U.S. will not take military options off the table if Iran fails to comply [CBS News].

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif Twitter feed expresses disapproval of President Obama’s speech:

And France 24 reports that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Chief General Mohammad Ali Jafari leveled criticism at Iranian President Rouhani for his telephone call with Obama, arguing that Rouhani “should have waited for concrete action by the United States.”

Kenya’s terrorist attacks

Washington Post’s Richard Lough reports that in the aftermath of Nairobi’s attacks, store owners in Westgate mall have alleged that Kenyan forced looted stores for electronics, jewelry and money.

The New York Times (Jeffrey Gettleman and Nicholas Kulish) covers how al-Shabaab has used a range of illegal businesses, including smuggling operations and fake charity drives, to fund their terrorist activities. And Al Jazeera talks to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and UN envoy Nicholas Kay about the key challenges facing Somalia and the region in the wake of al-Shabaab’s attack.

Other developments

Two senior Marine Corps generals have been forced to take early retirement for their failure to adequately safeguard a military base in southwestern Afghanistan from a deadly Taliban attack last September [New York Times’ Thom Shanker].

Jon Williams reacts to this disciplinary action via Twitter, questioning why the U.K. has not taken similar action:

The Obama administration has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to rule that that the U.S. can prosecute foreigners for conspiracy before military commissions [Wall Street Journal’s Jess Bravin]. The issue is being reheard after previous appellate rulings held that terrorism-related convictions for conspiracy did not amount to war crimes and could not be tried by military commissions. For Just Security‘s coverage of the oral argument, see yesterday’s post with an in-depth analysis by Jennifer Daskal and Steve Vladeck.

Sabirhan Hasanoff, who pleaded guilty to providing material support to al-Qaeda last year, has been sentenced to 18 years in prison by a federal District Court in Manhattan [New York Times’ Benjamin Weiser].

Al Jazeera (Massoud Hayoun) reports that U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stated yesterday that the U.S. will not reduce its military presence in South Korea, currently numbered at 28,500 troops. The Associated Press notes Hagel’s remarks from the DMZ that North Korea is closely monitoring the international response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons.

In deteriorating bilateral relations with Venezuela, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro expelled the top American diplomat and two embassy officials, accusing them of attempting “to sabotage the Venezuelan economy,” reports the New York Times (William Neuman).

In the latest ruling from Bangladesh’s war crimes court, a Member of Parliament from Bangladesh’s main opposition party has been sentenced to death for war crimes committed during the 1971 war with Pakistan [BBC].

Al-Qaeda militants seized the army headquarters in Yemeni city Mukalla yesterday, killing two soldiers and taking several hostages, in the second major al-Qaeda attack  in Yemen in the last 10 days [France 24].

According to AFP data on Iraq’s casualties from violence, September has been the deadliest month in Iraq since August 2012, when AFP started recording the data.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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