News Roundup and Notes: March 12, 2015

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.

IRAQ and SYRIA

President Obama’s AUMF against the Islamic State is in danger of stalling given the sharp disagreement between Republicans and Democrats over its scope. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Ash Carter urged the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to approve the authorization, although committee chair Bob Corker downplayed the urgency for the measure yesterday. [Politico’s Austin Wright]

The battle for Tikrit. The Iraqi military and allied Shi’ite militia forces were cementing their hold on most of the city yesterday, announcing that they were heading for a strategically significant victory in their nine-day offensive against ISIS. [New York Times’ Anne Barnard]  Government and militia forces have been slowed today by sporadic fire exchange with Islamic State fighters in the city, hampering their advance in the southern, northern and northwestern parts of the city. [Reuters’ Saif Hameed]

U.S. defense officials are considering ways of protecting moderate Syrian rebels following their training outside Syria through a U.S.-run program. Gen. Martin Dempsey said the program will not succeed unless the fighters think they have a “reasonable chance of survival.” [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes]

A coalition of aid agencies has accused the UN Security Council of failing to enforce a year-old resolution demanding that humanitarian relief be supplied to those in need in Syria, in a “scathing” new report released today, reports Somini Sengupta. [New York Times]

Australian authorities are looking to independently verify claims by the Islamic State that an Australian teenager recruit died after committing a suicide attack in Iraq’s Anbar province. [APSydney Morning Herald]

The family of a Palestinian man shown in an ISIS execution video has denied the claim he makes, under clear duress, that he is an “agent for the Israeli Mossad” before he is shot. [New York Times’ Diaa Hadid]  France has identified a man and a boy featured in the video showing the killing of the Palestinian man as French citizens, reports the AP.

The Islamic State has desecrated the Assyrian capital of Khorsabad, sparking a plea from Iraq for a stronger international response to prevent the militant group from further destroying the country’s heritage. [Reuters’ Dominic Evans]

The Syrian conflict has plunged 80% of its citizens into poverty and has led to huge economic losses since it began in 2010, according to a new report from the UN-backed Syrian Center for Policy Research. [AP]

A small number of Americans, many former members of the military, have volunteered to fight the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Dave Philipps and Thomas James Brennan profile Patrick Maxwell, a former infantry Marine who is fighting with Kurdish peshmerga in Iraq. [New York Times]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, AND TECHNOLOGY

A U.K. Intelligence and Security Committee report published today concludes that British intelligence agencies “do not seek to circumvent the law,” but finds the legal framework “complicated” and lacking in transparency. [BBC]  Stay tuned to Just Security for further coverage of the report’s conclusions.

The Senate Intelligence Committee will mark up CISA, the cybersecurity measure aimed at enhancing information sharing with private companies, in a closed session today. [The Hill’s Elise Viebeck]

IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS

Secretary of State John Kerry said he is in “utter disbelief” over the letter to Iran’s leaders authored by Sen. Tom Cotton and signed by 46 other Republican senators. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, Kerry admitted that the deal with Iran would not be “legally binding,” but said such “executive agreements” were a “necessary tool of American foreign policy.” [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon]

Some Republican senators admitted to being surprised by the backlash to the letter, with Senate Armed Services Committee chair John McCain acknowledging that they “probably should have had more discussion about it.” [Politico’s Burgess Everett]

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei slammed the GOP letter today, expressing concern over the U.S. reputation for “backstabbing.” [Reuters]

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is pushing back against criticism that the Iran letter is analogous to her 2007 Syria visit against the Bush administration’s wishes. [The Hill’s Mike Lillis]

Criticizing the GOP letter as “disgraceful and irresponsible,” the New York Times editorial board writes that the Republicans have made “an Iranian bomb and military conflict more likely.”

Tom Cotton’s “alleged sedition is hard to fathom,” writes Rich Lowry, who argues why the letter to Iran is not the treacherous act it is being made out to be. [Politico Magazine]

Did the GOP letter violate the Logan Act of 1799? NPR’s Miles Parks explores the question, citing Just Security’s Steve Vladeck.

The administration has fallen into the GOP “trap.” In admitting that any deal would be a “non-binding” agreement, the administration has “undercut its own credibility in making longer-term assurances about American sanctions relief,” reports Tim Mak. [The Daily Beast]

Saudi Arabia’s recent nuclear cooperation deal with South Korea is raising concern in Washington that an agreement with Iran will fuel the spread of nuclear technology. Officials fear a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, triggered by regional rivalry, if Iran is allowed to maintain nuclear capability. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon and Ahmed Al Omran]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

The U.S. will provide a further $75 million in nonlethal aid to the Ukrainian military, the administration said yesterday. The administration also imposed new sanctions against a number of Russian-backed separatists and others accused of provoking the country’s civil conflict. [New York Times’ Peter Baker]

President Obama is being pressed over the question of providing lethal aid to Ukraine, with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey breaking ranks with the president suggesting they could support arming Ukraine. Jeremy Herb provides more details. [Politico]

The Minsk agreement appears to be holding, but remains fragile, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said yesterday, calling for improved monitoring of the ceasefire.

NATO is “muscle-flexing” in the Black Sea, sending Russian President Vladimir Putin a strong message against attacking member states, writes Mark Mardell for the BBC.

Ukraine’s security agency, the SBU, is “riddled” with Russian spies, sympathizers and turncoats. Philip Shishkin provides the background to Russian infiltration of Ukrainian intelligence and discusses the impact it has on the ongoing conflict in the country. [Wall Street Journal]

HILLARY CLINTON’S PRIVATE EMAILS

Investigations into Hillary Clinton’s use of private email have been launched or are being weighed by at least three House committees. [Politico’s Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan]  Meanwhile, several Democrats have spoken out in support of the former secretary of state, stating she did not break any laws and accusing Republicans of carrying out politically motivated attacks. [The Hill’s Mike Lillis and Jonathan Easley]

The Wall Street Journal editorial board questions how Clinton carried out her job as secretary of state without, as she suggests, “sending a single email that had classified information in it.”

The AP has filed a lawsuit against the State Department seeking the release of Hillary Clinton’s emails and documents from her tenure as secretary of state, following repeated but unsuccessful FOIA requests for the information.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Eleven U.S. military servicemen have been presumed dead after their Army helicopter crashed off the coast of Florida during a training exercise. [Washington Post’s Abby Phillip and Sarah Larimer]

The UN Special Rapporteur on torture has rejected the terms under which the U.S. has invited him to visit the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, saying that he wants the U.S. to reconsider the limitations placed upon his visit, including permitting unmonitored conversations with prisoners. [AP]

Afghan Taliban gunmen have killed seven police officers during an ambush in the northern Kunduz province, Afghan officials said today. [AP]

Nigeria has recaptured 36 towns from Boko Haram, officials said yesterday, amid a regional campaign to dislodge the Islamist group’s foothold in the country. [Deutsche Welle]

U.S. military leaders warned of a “dark and dangerous” future if lawmakers fail to find a way to reverse sequestration cuts. [The Hill’s Martin Matishak]

Obama’s decision to declare Venezuela a national security threat has resulted in the U.S. “being cast again in the familiar role of the hemispheric bully trying to push around its smaller neighbors,” reports William Neuman. [New York Times]

Two Secret Service employees are being investigated by the DHS after they allegedly drove into a White House security barrier after drinking, the latest in a string of incidents straining the reputation of the agency. [Politico’s Lauren French]

The International Criminal Court will combine the trials of Ivory Coast’s former president and former youth leader on charges of involvement in deadly violence after the 2010 elections. [AP]

Saudi Arabia has recalled its ambassador from Stockholm, an expression of its disapproval of Swedish foreign policy, citing recent criticism by the country’s foreign minister of Riyadh’s human rights record. [Wall Street Journal’s Charles Duxbury]

The U.S. has requested that Vietnam stop allowing Russia to use a former American base for refueling nuclear-capable bombers that are engaged in “provocative” flights over the Asia-Pacific region. [Reuters’ David Brunnstrom]

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security