News Roundup and Notes: October 2, 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

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said yesterday that the government shutdown “cast[s] a very significant pall over America’s credibility to our allies,” but emphasized that U.S. national security will not be in jeopardy [The Hill’s Carlo Muñoz].

Yesterday was the first day of furloughs for around 400,000 employees of the Defense Department [The Hill’s Jeremy Herb and Carlo Muñoz]. Politico (Philip Ewing) reports that as the government shutdown took place, Pentagon officials were uncertain regarding the scope of a bill signed by President Obama late Monday that authorizes pay for uniformed military and exempts some civilians from furloughs.

According to a senior intelligence official, the shutdown has resulted in furloughs for 70 percent of civilian employees of spy agencies, including intelligence analysts, and is likely to undermine national security [The Hill’s Brendan Sasso].

The White House has announced that President Obama will be cutting short his Asia tour next week due to the government shutdown [BBC]. Malaysia and the Philippines had been scheduled for the end of his tour, but, in a statement the White House said, “Because they are on the back end of the president’s upcoming trip, our personnel was not yet in place and we were not able to go forward with planning.”

Iran-U.S.-Israel

Reuters (Patricia Zengerle and Timothy Gardner) reports that the Senate Banking Committee will not be pressing ahead with the recent sanctions on Iran passed by the House of Representatives until negotiations with Iran take place later this month. According to lawmakers and Congressional aides, a deliberate decision to delay new sanctions was taken to facilitate a better atmosphere for the upcoming negotiations on Iran’s nuclear issue.

According to Iranian media, 230 Iranian parliamentarians of a total of 290 signed a statement expressing support for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s diplomatic efforts at the UN [Reuters]. Parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani praised Rouhani’s U.N. address, but “made no specific mention of Rouhani’s phone call with Obama.”

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used his address to the UN General Assembly yesterday to warn the international community about Iran [Washington Post’s Colum Lynch and Scott Wilson]. He emphasized that “Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons.” Comparing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to his predecessor, Netanyahu stated:

The only difference between them is this: Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf’s clothing; Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a wolf who thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of the international community.

An Iranian diplomat rejected Netanyahu’s accusations, reiterating that Iran’s nuclear activities are “exclusively for peaceful purposes.”

Following Netanyahu’s address, a spokesperson for the State Department stated that the U.S. was in agreement with Israel in that “we are not going to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon,” but stressed that “diplomacy is the preferred path.”

Analysis of the latest developments continues in the media. Foreign Policy’s (the Cable) Colum Lynch comments on the “small, but potentially far-reaching, shift” in that Iran is now acknowledging its Israeli counterparts as “Israelis,” and not as members of a “Zionist entity.”

The New York Times editorial board analyzes Netanyahu’s UN address, noting that President Obama will have to work closely with Israel to persuade Netanyahu “that sabotaging diplomacy, especially before Iran is tested, only makes having to use force more likely.” Wyn Bowen and Matthew Moran argue in the Guardian that there is “an opportunity to achieve a realistic solution to the Iranian nuclear challenge” given the “new era” in Iran’s foreign policy.

And in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Con Coughlin writes that recent policies in Tehran, including intensified efforts to circumvent UN sanctions, “are at odds with the new president’s diplomatic overtures” and leave Rouhani with little maneuver room in future negotiations.

Crisis in Syria

At least fifteen countries, including the U.S., have agreed on urgent action, including special quotas for Syrian refugees fleeing from the country’s civil war [New York Times’ Nick Cumming-Bruce].

As violence continues on the ground, the Economist questions whether Syria will soon see an ethnic conflict in addition to the current crisis. The New York Times’ Ben Hubbard covers how the al-Qaeda-sponsored rebel group – the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – appears to be pursuing its own agenda in Syria, including carving out a jihadi state. And Liz Sly notes in the Washington Post how “foreign fighters from across the Arab world and beyond are playing an increasingly dominant role in the battle for control of Syria.”

Meanwhile, defected Syrian general Zaher al-Sakat told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview that “[Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad will not give up the chemical stockpile.”

NSA surveillance

Despite the government shutdown, the Senate Judiciary Committee will continue its hearings on the NSA surveillance programs today, reports The Hill (Kate Tummarello and Brendan Sasso). However, the Senate Intelligence Committee has postponed plans to review Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein’s bill on the NSA’s powers, originally scheduled for Thursday.

In the Washington Post, Andrea Peterson discusses the bipartisan support in Congress in favor of reforming the FISC, including the introduction of a constitutional advocate who would argue for civil liberties before the Court.

Other developments

Washington Post’s Al Kamen covers the “tough challenge” involved in finding a new head of Homeland Security, with no nomination forthcoming.

The U.S. and South Korea have signed a new pact to deter North Korea’s potential use of nuclear arms [Reuters’ David Alexander and Jack Kim]. Craig Whitlock in the Washington Post writes that outgoing U.S. military commander of U.S. forces in South Korea, Gen. James Thurman has stated that a “close watch” must be kept on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Al Jazeera America reports that a day after U.S. diplomats were expelled from Caracas, the U.S. expelled three Venezuelan diplomats in Washington in a reciprocal action.

The Washington Post editorial board argues that Iraqi and Afghani translators, “who put their lives on the line” to assist U.S. forces, should be granted visas as a matter of urgency.

John Campbell, writing for CNN, questions whether Boko Haram – the Islamic jihadist group operating in Nigeria – poses a threat to American interests.

A report of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has found widespread torture in Libya’s detention centers, with 27 deaths in custody recorded in the last two years.

The Financial Times’ Borzou Daragahi discusses the fear that Iraq is moving in the direction of a sectarian civil war amid a surge in political violence across the country.

A woman has been arrested by France’s intelligence agency for suspected links to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula [France 24].

Tara McKelvey at BBC covers how, under al-Qaeda’s new leadership, the organization’s standards for membership have become less stringent as it extends its reach through groups such as al-Shabaab.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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