News Roundup and Notes: March 20, 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.

TUNISIA MUSEUM ATTACK

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Bardo museum attack, but did not offer any evidence to back its claim. [CBS News and AP]  While the claim could not be verified, the audio message released by the group is raising new fears of the militant group’s growing global reach, reports Erin Cunningham. [Washington Post]

Other militant groups also sought to associate themselves with the attack, highlighting “the looseness of their proliferating networks,” reports David D. Kirkpatrick. [New York Times]

Nine people have been arrested in connection with Wednesday’s terrorist attack; the death toll in the massacre has risen to 21. The national army is being deployed to Tunisia’s major cities in response to the attack, President Essebsi said yesterday. [BBC]

The “Arab spring’s only success needs support,” writes The Guardian editorial board, calling for greater Western support for Tunisia’s security forces and economy.

IRAQ and SYRIA

The Iraqi offensive to retake the city of Tikrit has stalled. While Iraqi security forces and Shi’ite militia were successful in forcing the Islamic State from towns and villages to the south and east of the city, forces have been unable to uproot militants from the city center. [Wall Street Journal’s Matt Bradley]

The Islamic State has released a video purporting to show three Kurdish peshmerga fighters being beheaded in northern Iraq. [Reuters]

The unarmed U.S. military drone shot down by Syrian government forces on Tuesday was flying in a new area, where U.S. aircraft had not previously operated and over a region known to be a power hub for the Assad regime. [Washington Post’s Missy Ryan]  The incident marks the first time Syrian military has downed a U.S. aircraft, heightening concerns for the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State. [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum]

The Assad regime is “testing the new red line” with an attack earlier this week on a village using a chlorine gas bomb; Josh Rogin notes that it is unclear what the Assad regime would need to do to prompt White House intervention in the war. [Bloomberg View]

Gen. David Petraeus answers written questions from the Washington Post’s Liz Sly. Discussing Iranian involvement in Iraqi efforts to defeat the Islamic State, Petraeus notes that their role is “ultimately part of the problem, not the solution.”

Iraq’s leading Shi’ite cleric has called for greater professionalism and planning in the fight against the Islamic State, during a sermon today. [Reuters]

The Economist considers that “as much as the Islamic State is a cause of chaos in the Middle East, it is also a symptom,” and notes that despite the group’s “galvin[izing]” effect, cracks are appearing in the caliphate.

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Benjamin Netanyahu has backtracked from his pre-election statement rejecting Palestinian statehood. The Israeli leader said he had not changed his policy on the subject since his 2009 speech, but that “circumstances have to change” to obtain a “sustainable, peaceful two-state solution,” in an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell.  Netanyahu also sought to counter criticism of his anti-Arab rhetoric during the election campaign in a series of interviews with U.S. media. [The Hill’s David McCabe]

President Obama “reaffirmed the [U.S.’s] longstanding commitment to a two-state solution” in a phone call with Netanyahu yesterday, but said the U.S. would have to “reassess [its] options” after the Israeli leader’s “new positions and comments” on the matter. [New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren and Michael D. Shear]  American officials also said that Netanyahu’s clear comments on Palestinian statehood earlier this week made it difficult for the administration to accept his re-positioning on Thursday. [Wall Street Journal’s Nicholas Casey and Carol E. Lee]

House Speaker John Boehner is expected to visit Israel on March 31, heading a delegation of Republican lawmakers. [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid]

The Israeli election was “historic” for the Palestinian bloc; Hussein Ibish explains how Israel’s Palestinian citizens can position themselves to gain power within Israeli politics. [Politico Magazine]

IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS

In a video greeting for the Persian New Year celebration of Nowruz, President Obama said Iran and the U.S. have “an historic opportunity” to improve ties and resolve the nuclear issue peacefully. [The Hill’s Jordan Fabian]

Iran negotiations are stalling amid disagreement over the limits to be placed on Iran’s development of new centrifuges, according to Western officials speaking yesterday. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon and David E. Sanger]  A dispute over when international sanctions on Tehran would be reversed is also one of the remaining barriers to reaching a framework agreement by the March 31 deadline, report Laurence Norman and Jay Solomon. [Wall Street Journal]  EU leaders are meeting in Brussels this morning for a further discussion on the progress of the Iran talks. [Reuters]

Administration officials defended the nuclear negotiations before the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday; committee chair Ed Royce accused the administration of “pushing off” Congress, while simultaneously seeking UN “bless[ing]” for the agreement. [AP’s Deb Riechmann]

The Senate will delay a vote on the Iran bill, which would allow Congress to review a nuclear deal with Tehran, until mid-April, allowing the White House a few more weeks to reach a political agreement. [Politico’s Burgess Everett]

The AP offers a primer for the technical negotiations, explaining the key focus of the talks: enrichment.

AFGHANISTAN

The Obama administration will likely send more troops to Afghanistan next year than had originally been intended, “effectively upending” U.S. drawdown plans in light of “roiling violence” in the country and failed attempts to start peace talks with the Taliban. [New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg and Mark Mazzetti]

A powerful regional Afghan police chief was killed in a suicide attack on Wednesday in Kabul, according to officials. [Reuters]

YEMEN

Yemeni President Hadi was evacuated from his presidential palace yesterday after two fighter planes targeted his residence in the southern city of Aden. The attack came after forces loyal to the country’s former president forced the closure of the city’s international airport, following clashes which left at least 13 people dead. [Al Jazeera]

Fighting in Aden is stoking concerns of a wider conflict in the country as outbreaks of large-scale fighting in the port city have been rare, write Saeed Al Batati and Kareem Fahim. [New York Times]  And Amir Taheri comments on Iranian involvement in Yemen, describing it as a “hornet’s nest.” [Asharq Al-Awsat]

LIBYA

EU leaders are planning to back UN-brokered efforts to form a Libyan national unity government which may include a mission to help provide security to the conflict-torn country. [AP]

An airstrike has hit the Libyan capital’s only functioning airport in Tripoli. A Libyan security official says the airstrike was believed to have been carried out by the air force loyal to the country’s elected government. [AP]

The Islamic State will succeed in infiltrating Europe if the West does not provide support to Libyan forces with lethal aid, warned the army chief of Libya’s internationally recognized government. [Al Jazeera]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The U.S. government threatened Germany with cutting off intelligence sharing if Berlin offered asylum to Edward Snowden, said German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel this week. [The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald]

“Sanctions rhetoric” is destructive, said Russian President Vladimir Putin today, stating that Moscow will act in its own national interests following the EU decision to keep economic sanctions in place over the Ukraine conflict at least until the end of 2015. [BBC; Reuters]

The U.S. must increase its capacity to conduct cyberattacks in order to create a deterrent against other nations, said NSA Director Adm. Michael S. Rogers at a Senate committee hearing on Thursday. [New York Times‘ David E. Sanger]

The House Budget Committee passed the Republican’s 2016 spending proposal yesterday morning, but only after GOP leaders pushed back their plan to increase defense spending. [Politico’s John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman]  The Senate Budget Committee also passed a measure increasing war funding account in the GOP budget next year to $96 billion, matching the amount sought by House Republicans. [The Hill’s Rebecca Shabad]  Meanwhile, Sen. Paul Rand put forward a bill yesterday that would authorize the Defense Department to move around up to $50 billion to lessen the impact of sequestration. [The Hill’s Martin Matishak]

The Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Dr. Michael Vickers is retiring from federal service and is leaving the department, effective April 30. [DOD News]

A bomb exploded outside a mosque in Karachi, the Pakistani financial hub, wounding at least a dozen in a rare attack targeting the minority Bohra community. [Reuters]

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan expressed hope that Boko Haram will be defeated within one month, while admitting that the response to the militant group’s initial advancement in the north-east of the country had been too slow. [BBC]

A Japanese man has been arrested on suspicion of threatening to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and an American military base on Okinawa, Japanese police said today. [New York Times’ Martin Fackler]

Much of the surveillance footage capturing the Secret Service incident on March 4 involving two agents driving into a White House barricade has been erased, Director Joseph P. Clancy said in testimony before Congress yesterday. [Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig]

Commenting on the Fort Hood attack five years ago, Kathy Platoni considers it a “gross miscarriage of justice that no one who supervised the shooter … has been held accountable.” [Wall Street Journal]

Militants attacked a police camp in Indian Kashmir today killing two police officers and wounding three, according to police officials. [Reuters’ Fayaz Bukhari]

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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