News Roundup and Notes: March 16, 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

The U.S. will “have to negotiate in the end” with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in order to bring about political transition to end the country’s civil war, Secretary of State John Kerry said during an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” An expert on Syria said the interview sent a mixed message: that Kerry is still willing to find a peaceful settlement but at the same time the administration has no clear strategy for doing so. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon]

Iraqi forces need further airstrikes against the Islamic State in Tikrit to dislodge the militants’ hold on the city, officials said today, as the military offensive to retake the city stalled for a fourth day because of homemade explosives and traps set by the group. [BBC]  The U.S. outlook for the battle to retake Tikrit is a “triumph of hope over experience,” as there are no real options available should Iran-backed Shi’ite forces decide to commit atrocities against Sunnis in the city, writes Nancy A. Youssef. [The Daily Beast]

The U.S. strategy against the Islamic State is working, although it will take time to completely defeat the group, said Rear Adm. Jim Malloy, deputy director of operations for U.S. Central Command, speaking last week. [Central Command]

The tomb of Saddam Hussein has been destroyed in Tikrit fighting, though the ousted leader’s body had already been removed from the site. [AP]

Three male teenagers from the U.K. have been arrested after being stopped in Istanbul as they attempted to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State, British police said yesterday. [The Guardian’s Alexandra Topping and Contanze Letsch]

The steadfastness of the Kurds against the Islamic State “should prompt America to rethink its alliances and interests in the region and to deepen its relationship” with the Kurdish people, write Scott Atran and Douglas M. Stone. [New York Times]

Peter Maass discusses recent reports that U.S.-backed forces in Iraq are committing similar atrocities as Islamic State fighters, suggesting that this should be of no surprise as torture has long been part of the strategy employed. [The Intercept]

IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS

Iran nuclear negotiations resume in Switzerland today.  Secretary of State John Kerry arrived yesterday evening for the talks, during which the countries will seek to reach a political agreement ahead of the initial March 31 deadline. [Washington Post’s Carol Morello]  Western countries are pushing for concessions from Tehran after indicating a readiness last week on suspending UN sanctions, according to officials. [Reuters’ Louis Charbonneau and Parisa Hafezi]

Saudi Arabia will want the same ability to enrich uranium as Iran is granted under the nuclear talks, the country’s former intelligence chief has said, suggesting the start of a “nuclear fuel race,” reports Barbara Plett Usher. [BBC]

The Iran talks dominated the Sunday political shows. On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” John Kerry said that last week’s GOP letter to Iran presented “false information” and was “absolutely calculated to interfere” with the ongoing negotiations. Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Cotton, the author of the letter, said he has “no regrets at all” and defended his communication with Tehran. Check out The Hill’s Sunday show wrap-up for more reactions to the GOP letter.

Republicans are close to obtaining veto-proof majorities for Iran legislation that would impose new sanctions or require congressional approval of any agreement. The White House attempted to step up pressure on Congress, with chief of staff Denis McDonough asking Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Corker to hold off on a vote on his bill, in a letter released Saturday. [Politico’s Burgess Everett]

The exchange of letters between Corker and the White House demonstrate that the “real constitutional outlier” is President Obama’s effort to “jam Congress so it’s irrelevant,” argues the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

Moscow considered putting its nuclear arsenal on alert ahead of annexing Crimea and sent military forces into the peninsula last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a documentary aired yesterday, citing fears of anarchy and Western intervention. [New York Times’ Neil MacFarquhar; Wall Street Journal’s Paul Sonne]

Crimea will not be part of Ukraine again, its leader has told the BBC, stating that Moscow’s annexation of the peninsula one year ago was a “democratic act.”

Putin is debating whether to advance on the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, warn Hans Binnendijk and John Herbst, who call for Western unity in deterring the Russian leader in a New York Times op-ed.

HILLARY CLINTON’S EMAILS

The email traffic of other senior officials was not routinely or automatically archived by the State Department, undermining Hillary Clinton’s claim that most work-related emails sent from her personal account were saved on the electronic files of other department officials. [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]

Chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, Trey Gowdy, said the House could vote to subpoena Hillary Clinton’s emails during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”  Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Gowdy added that he has no interest in questioning Clinton on Benghazi into 2016.

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, and TECHNOLOGY

Just Security’s Steve Vladeck speaks with NPR’s Arun Rath about Wikimedia’s lawsuit against the NSA and its implications.

China has hacked into the computers of every major American company, looking to steal valuable information, according to former NSA director Mike McConnell. [CNN]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for an attack in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, on a police checkpoint on Sunday. [Reuters]

Two suicide bomb attacks at two churches in Lahore, Pakistan, killed at least 15 people yesterday. The attack was claimed by a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. [AP and Dawn]

The Afghan army killed 10 fighters claiming to be members of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, said officials, amid reports that an increasing number of Taliban fighters are defecting to the militant group. [Reuters]  Margherita Stancati reports on the sustained influence of former mujahedeen commanders on the city of Herat, which has become a hub of opposition sentiment. [Wall Street Journal]

Yemen’s Houthi rebels lifted the house arrest on Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and his cabinet ministers after almost two months, according to a government spokesperson. [Reuters]

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini will visit Cuba later this month to meet with her Cuban counterpart,  an important step in the recent thaw in relations between Cuba and the West. [Wall Street Journal’s Naftali Bendavid and Viktoria Denrinou]

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has been granted the powers he requested in response to U.S. sanctions, permitting him to legislate by decree for nine months. [AP]

Susan Glasser interviews William J. Burns, the State Department’s former No. 2, to discuss the Iran negotiations and relations with Russia, among other issues. [Politico Magazine]

“Unilaterally reducing or eliminating America’s nuclear arsenal” will not result in a safer world; Keith B. Payne, former deputy assistant secretary of defense, explains why at the Wall Street Journal.

Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East can be felt in Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and Sana’a; Al Jazeera explores whether this is a cause for concern or if Iran could prove to be a useful partner.

Secret Service controversy. “It’s time for Obama to wake up and appoint an outsider … to end the decline of the once elite Secret Service,” writes Ronald Kessler, suggesting that the president is in denial about the systemic problems at the agency. [Washington Post]  Mark Ambinder writes that the Secret Service has “become a Seth Rogen movie,” adding that the most baffling part of recent scandals is the reluctance of the agency to acknowledge that “alcohol abuse is the common denominator in most of the embarrassing stories.” [Politico Magazine]

The Washington Post hosts a selection of rare photos showing Osama bin Laden while hiding in Tora Bora.

If you want to receive your news directly to your inbox, sign up here for the Just Security Early Edition. For the latest information from Just Security, follow us on Twitter (@just_security) and join the conversation on Facebook. To submit news articles and notes for inclusion in our daily post, please email us at news@justsecurity.org. Don’t forget to visit The Pipeline for a preview of upcoming events and blog posts on U.S. national security. 

Filed under:
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