News Roundup and Notes: October 4, 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 Department of State Twitter feed conveys Under Secretary Wendy Sherman’s concerns about how the shutdown is affecting U.S. ability to enforce sanctions on Iran and to stop sanctions evaders:

The House Armed Services Committee has scheduled a hearing next week on the Obama administration’s decision to furlough approximately half the civilian employees of the Department of Defense [The Hill’s Jeremy Herb]. The criticism leveled by Republican lawmakers is that the bill signed by the President prior to the shutdown to pay the military was intended to allow all civilian employees to be exempt from the furlough.

The Financial Times (Robert Wright) reports that thousands of private employees working for military contractors are expected to be sent home if the government shutdown continues.

Following cancellations earlier in the week, President Obama has now cancelled his planned trips to Indonesia and Brunei as well [Washington Post’s David Nakamura]. The White House press secretary, Jay Carney stated that these high-level meetings achieve “good things for us in terms of our national security and in terms of our role in the global economy,” but that foreign travel was not possible due to the “completely avoidable shutdown.”

The Hill’s Julian Pecquet reports on how the shutdown has “emboldened foreign critics” of the U.S. “democracy agenda,” including a critical editorial in yesterday’s edition of the Sri Lanka Daily News.

Surveillance

The Hill (Brendan Sasso and Kate Tummarello) reports on the draft bill outline circulated by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner to reform the NSA’s surveillance powers. Among other changes, the bill aims to end the NSA’s bulk collection of all U.S. phone records.

Foreign Policy (Elias Groll and Katelyn Fossett) covers the “WikiLeaks family feud” on Twitter. The debate between two former WikiLeaks employees centres around how the Guardian is choosing to report on the documents leaked by Edward Snowden on the NSA surveillance programs.

U.K. surveillance agency GCHQ is facing a legal challenge before the European Court of Human Rights brought by campaigning groups that are claiming that GCHQ’s mass surveillance programs have violated the right to privacy of millions of people across Europe [the Guardian’s Matthew Taylor and Nick Hopkins].  Belgium has also asked the U.K. to respond to allegations that GCHQ spied on Belgian telecoms provider, Belgacom [Reuters].

Iran

At the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, State Department Under Secretary Wendy Sherman stated that the U.S. could consider relaxing sanctions on Iran “if they take verifiable, concrete actions” [Jamie Crawford in CNN’s Security Clearance]. She clarified that this would not take place “any time soon” unless Iran addressed all the concerns about its nuclear program.

Offering “some rare, if fleeting, hope,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told NPR’s Steve Inskeep that he would “consider” meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and might “offer” an opportunity for diplomacy.

And in an interview with BBC Persian, Netanyahu stated that if Iran gets nuclear weapons, “this brutal regime will be immortal, like North Korea.”

Jodi Rudoren and David Sanger write in the New York Times that while the U.S. and Israel “share a goal in Iran talks,” they do not share a strategy. They note, in particular, that American and Israeli intelligence have chosen different interpretations of largely similar assessments: Israel believes Iran is a “few weeks or months” away from producing nuclear weapons; the U.S. “maintains it remains a year or two away.”

Muhammad Sahimi argues that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani needs President Obama to “help” by lifting at least some sanctions, or Rouhani will not have anything with which to appease Iran’s hardliners [CNN]. In an op-ed in the New York Times, Roger Cohen notes that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to “adjust to changed circumstances” and that his “credibility issue is rooted in the distorted priorities evident in [his UN] speech that was Iran-heavy and Palestine-lite.”

Syria

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported yesterday that the documents handed over by the Syrian government “look promising” but further analysis will be necessary. The team in Syria “hopes to begin onsite inspections and the initial disabling of equipment within the next week,” but this is contingent on the outcome of the technical groups established with Syrian experts.

In an interview with a Turkish broadcaster, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accused Turkey of harboring terrorists from Syria and stated “these terrorists will have an impact on Turkey and Turkey will pay a heavy price for it” [Reuters].

The New York Times (Ben Hubbard) reports on the escalating violence in Azaz, a northern Syrian town near the Turkish border. Six powerful rebel groups have issued a statement calling for an immediate ceasefire.

The Washington Post editorial board writes that the OPCW inspectors must ensure that the Syrian regime does not conceal any stocks and notes that “[v]erification that all the chemicals are removed is essential.”

Other developments

BBC reports that a Tunisian man has been extradited to the U.S. to face charges of conspiring to kill Americans abroad by planning to attack a NATO airbase and supporting a terrorist organization.

A woman with a 1-year-old girl in her car was fatally shot by police, following a chase from a White House security checkpoint, where the woman struck a barrier and an officer, toward the Capitol [Washington Post’s Peter Hermann et al.]. The police have since stated that the woman was not part of a larger threat.

Politico’s David Rogers reports that Congress has extended the special visa program for Iraqi civilians that supported U.S. troops during the war.

Thirteen suspected members of Anonymous – the internet hacking group that allegedly carried out worldwide cyber-attacks, including on institutions that did not support WikiLeaks – have been charged with conspiring to intentionally cause damage to protected computers [Al Jazeera America].

The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing yesterday on the terrorist organization al-Shabaab, including its recruitment efforts in the U.S. [Al Jazeera America’s Philip J. Victor].

In a joint statement, U.S. and Japanese leaders have agreed to increase security and defense cooperation between the two countries [DoD News]. The Wall Street Journal (Yuka Hayashi) has more on this story.

The New York Times (Somini Sengupta) covers how countries all over the world turned to Twitter during the UN General Assembly over the last two weeks, including at the “height of the diplomatic negotiations” over Syria.

A spokesperson for the Rwandan army has issued a statement against U.S. sanctions that were imposed for supporting rebels, who are using child soldiers, in the Democratic Republic of Congo [AFP]. The spokesperson claims these allegations have no factual basis.

The Wall Street Journal (Yaroslav Trofimov) covers the “most conservative” and “most controversial” Abdul Rasoul Sayyaf’s registration to run in Afghanistan’s presidential elections next year. According to an expert, he is seen by many U.S. lawmakers as “anti-American.”

The recent Egyptian court ruling banning the Muslim Brotherhood has been confirmed on appeal, and the regime has stated it will be banning or taking over the social services, such as hospitals and schools, that were being provided by the Muslim Brotherhood [BBC]. Meanwhile, a leaked video shows Egyptian army officers debating how to influence the media in the months preceding the military takeover [New York Times’ David Kirkpatrick].

The New York Times (Choe Sang-Hun) covers the “further sign” that North Korea has restarted a nuclear reactor after satellite imagery showed the country’s main nuclear complex discharging hot wastewater.

A Muslim cleric in Kenya, alleged to have links with al-Shabaab, has been shot dead, along with three others [BBC].

In the most recent suicide blast, at least three soldiers were killed at an Iraqi army checkpoint, reports AFP.

The Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood reports that two Palestinian human rights groups have called upon the ICC to investigate crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories, arguing in a legal opinion that the ICC has grounds to extend jurisdiction despite Palestine being unable to ratify the Rome Statute.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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