News Roundup and Notes: October 11, 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

Earlier this morning, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was announced as the winner of the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize for “its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons.”

The Guardian has live updates.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal (Sam Dagher) reports that government and opposition forces have stepped up violence in an effort to gain control of Safira. However, the area houses two of the main weapons research and production facilities, to which access for the OPCW is required. The violence comes only a day after OPCW chief called for a temporary ceasefire to allow his team to carry out the disarmament work.

Human Rights Watch has released a report on the widespread “executions, indiscriminate shootings and hostage taking” of civilians by Syrian opposition forces in Latakia and surrounding areas. The New York Times (Anne Barnard) and Washington Post (Loveday Morris) have more on this report, which alleges that rebels have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In the U.S., the Washington Post (Holly Yeager) reports that according to a study by the Public Accountability Initiative, 22 military analysts that called for a strike against Syria in large media appearances over the summer have ties to defense contractors and other firms with stakes in the outcome. In some cases, there is “clear-cut” conflict, “such as board positions and shares in companies that make weapons that probably would have been used in any U.S. action.”

U.S. officials have told Reuters that the Pentagon is suggesting that the OPCW use a U.S.-made destruction unit in Syria to destroy the country’s chemical weapons stockpile (Anthony Deutsch and David Alexander).

Egypt

The Hill’s Carlo Muñoz reports that following the White House decision to suspend most aid to Egypt, the Obama administration may end up paying “millions of dollars in storage costs and contractor fees tied to several big-ticket weapon sales to Egypt.” A State Department spokesperson confirmed, “there are costs associated with the suspension of some programs.”

An Israeli official has told Fox News (Paul Alster) of Israel’s fears that cutting off aid to Egypt will stall efforts to stabilize the region. In response to the U.S. announcement, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Badr Abdellaty stated:

The decision was wrong. It is a flawed decision in terms of content and timing and raises serious questions over the United States’ readiness to provide strategic support to Egypt’s security programs.

The Egyptian cabinet also issued a statement criticizing the announcement, as reported by France 24.

The government expressed the strangeness of the decision which was issued at such a vital time during which Egypt is facing a war against terrorism.

Secretary of State John Kerry stressed that the decision was not “a withdrawal from our relationship” with Egypt, and confirmed U.S. “commitment to the success of [the interim] government” [BBC].

The Washington Post editorial board writes that the decision to withhold aid to Egypt reflects an attempt to balance President Obama’s “‘core interests,’ such as the security of Israel and counterterrorism, with U.S. support for liberal values.” However, the problem with Obama’s “mixed messages on Egypt” is that the administration is “still betting on a regime that is delivering none of those goods.”

Libya

Following yesterday’s brief kidnapping, Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has called for calm after being released [The Guardian’s Chris Stephens and Nicholas Watt]. In a television statement, he expressed “hope this matter will be treated with wisdom and rationality, far from tension.”

Zeidan has told France 24 that an unspecified “political party that wants to destabilize the current government and bring it down by any means” was responsible for the kidnapping. He added that he would provide more detail in the “coming days.”

The U.S., U.K., and France, along with the UN, condemned Zeidan’s abduction, and pledged support for Libya’s transition to democracy [BBC]. But Reuters’ Myra MacDonald writes that Western allies “have few good options” to back their promises of support. She notes that “[w]ithout an authoritative government, Western allies have no clear partner for the central plank of their strategy to stabilize Libya – training Libyan security forces to guard key installations, cities and the country’s desert borders with Egypt to the east and Algeria to the west.”

The New York Times (Carlotta Gall) covers the “show of power by Libya militia” in Zeidan’s kidnapping. The Guardian’s Chris Stephen reports that the Prime Minister’s kidnapping have “deepened fears that Libya may be on the verge of disintegration, with security forces split between regular forces and many militia formations.” And The Economist writes that the “brief but dramatic kidnap of the prime minister, widely regarded as decent and sensible, has dealt another blow to a country in disarray.”

In the U.S., Josh Gerstein covers the legal battle between prosecutors and defense lawyers representing Abu Anas al-Liby over the government’s decision to hold al-Liby for interrogation, rather than bringing him before a U.S. court [Politico].

NSA

According to a former intelligence official, “there has been no support for the [NSA] from the President or his staff or senior administration officials, and this has not gone unnoticed” [Foreign Policy’s Shane Harris]. The senior leadership team at the NSA is allegedly dispirited by the White House’s failure to defend the agency against criticism of its surveillance programs.

The New York Times (Eric Schmitt) reports that “red flags” from when Edward Snowden was working as a CIA technician in 2009 “slipped through the cracks.” Concerns voiced by his supervisor at the CIA were apparently not forwarded on to the NSA or its contractors.

As the debate over surveillance continues in the U.K., the Business Secretary Vince Cable has stated that the Guardian “has done a very considerable public service” in publishing the NSA files [Nicholas Watt et al. in The Guardian]. Cable also confirmed that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is launching a review of the oversight of intelligence agencies in the U.K.

Meanwhile, the former head of GCHQ, the U.K spy agency, has called Edward Snowden’s leaks the “most catastrophic loss to British intelligence ever” [The Times’ Sean O’Neill].

Government shutdown

The editorial board at Defense News cautions that as Congress attempts to manage U.S. debt, the DOD needs to “brace for more cuts.” As the government shutdown continues, the editorial argues that this is a good time for Pentagon leaders “to reconsider their budgetary future.”

Yesterday, President Obama signed a bill to reinstate military death benefits after it won final passage in the Senate earlier in the day [The Hill’s Justin Sink]. This is the first “so-called funding bill” that Obama has signed during the shutdown.

Iran

Mark Landler warns that Congress could play “bad cop” in next week’s negotiations with Iran [New York Times]. With a “tough, new Iran sanctions bill teed up in the Senate,” Landler notes that lawmakers “could foul up delicate diplomacy at a crucial moment.”

The Financial Times (John Reed) reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is calling upon the U.K. to recognize Iran’s “mad ideology,” and has urged the U.K. to abandon its plan to re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran. And in an exclusive interview with France 24 (Gallagher Fenwick), Netanyahu also urged France to take a tough stance on Iran.

ICC

BBC reports that lawyers for Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta have filed a request to the ICC for a “permanent stay of proceedings,” alleging intimidation of defense witnesses and that prosecution witnesses had been attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Only a day after this request, the African Union called for an “extraordinary session” to discuss withdrawing from the ICC as a group, amidst criticisms that the Court has shown “double standards” in prosecuting only Africans [Al Jazeera America’s Michael Pizzi]. The AU is scheduled to meet in Ethiopia today. The AP reports that Zimbabwe Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa has stated that his country will back any decision to break ties with the ICC.

Afghanistan

The Washington Post (Karen DeYoung and Ernesto Londoño) reports that the U.S. is “losing patience as deadline for long-term deal [with Afghanistan] nears.” The deadline has been set for October 31.

According to Afghan government officials yesterday, the U.S. recently seized a senior Pakistani Taliban commander, Latif Mehsud, who Afghan intelligence operatives were trying to recruit as an interlocutor for peace talks [Washington Post’s Ernesto Londoño and Kevin Sieff] Spokespersons for the Pentagon and the CIA declined to comment on this report.

Other developments

A car bomb exploded at the Swedish consulate in Benghazi, Libya earlier this morning, but no immediate causalities have been reported [Reuters].

White House nominee Michael Lumpkin stated during his Senate confirmation hearing yesterday that Pentagon should consider abandoning the AUMF, and that it was time to reconsider how the administration executed its global counterterrorism campaign [The Hill’s Carlo Muñoz].

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has announced that Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter will step down early December [DoD News].

CNN (Julia Talanova) reports that two New York residents have been arrested on charges of conspiring to solicit aid in support of terrorist organizations, including the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The allegations include planning to supply winter clothing and electronics to militants.

The New York Times (Rick Gladstone) covers the UN’s reactions – a “mix of diplomatic decorum and criticism” – to recent disapproval of its peacekeeping missions.  A spokesperson for the United Nations has stated that the departments “take all such observations and findings very seriously and are ready to consider how they can reinforce the integrity of our systems.” Meanwhile, in a unanimous vote, the Security Council “reinforced and updated” the UN peacekeeping mandate in the Central African Republic yesterday, and called for a political resolution to the country’s conflict [UN News Centre].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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