News Roundup and Notes: June 2, 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. 

SURVEILLANCE, TECHNOLOGY, and PRIVACY

GOP senators faced mounting pressure to restore surveillance authorities after the Patriot Act provisions were allowed to sunset, with both the White House and House Republicans calling on the senators to swiftly pass the USA Freedom Act. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing for amendments to the NSA reform bill that would slow the transfer of the surveillance program from the NSA to telephone companies—a proposal rejected by key lawmakers in the House. [Wall Street Journal’s Kristina Peterson and Carol E. Lee] Meanwhile, Sen. Rand Paul blocked a procedural vote on the USA Freedom Act yesterday, reiterating his preference for a vote on his amendments. [Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis and Ellen Nakashima]

Congress’ move to limit government surveillance was “not so much a glorious moment of constitutional rebalancing for the legislative branch as it was parliamentary farce as usual,” writes Dan Froomkin. [The Intercept]

Sen. Paul “should stop stalling the USA Freedom Act,” writes the Washington Post editorial board, noting that the senator is “sow[ing] fear and paranoia about government.”

The current surveillance debate is indicative of “a larger evolution” in how individuals view the war on terror—and is playing out in a “radically different” context from the original debate over the Patriot Act, reports Peter Baker. [New York Times]

The White House maintained its position on Edward Snowden, stating he should face prosecution notwithstanding the expiry of key Patriot Act provisions. [The Hill’s Jordan Fabian] 

IRAQ and SYRIA

ISIS suicide bombers targeted an army base in Iraq’s Anbar province on Monday, killing at least 42 Iraqi troops in an attack carried out using armored Humvee vehicles. [Al Jazeera America]

Violent clashes continue in Syria’s Aleppo province, after the Islamic State captured territory from other rebel groups and advanced closer to the key highway connecting the city of Aleppo to Turkey. [Wall Street Journal’s Raja Abdulrahim]  The U.S. criticized the Syrian regime for carrying out strikes that assisted the progress of Islamic State militants around the northern city. [Reuters]

The international coalition to defeat ISIS is meeting in Paris today to discuss its strategy, following significant gains made by the extremist group in recent weeks. [AP] U.S. and Turkish officials are also discussing an initiative to keep Islamic State militants away from Turkey’s border, according to a State Department official. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon]

A House bill aimed at preventing ISIS from profiting from its destruction of heritage sites will curb imports on Syrian archeological artifacts; an equivalent restriction is already in place for Iraq. [The Hill’s Cristina Marcos] 

YEMEN

An American journalist was released by Houthi rebels yesterday after being detained for around two weeks, the State Department confirmed. [New York Times’ Kareem Fahim and Rick Gladstone]

American envoys met with Houthi rebels for the first time in secret last week in Oman, urging the group to agree to a ceasefire and calling for the release of American detainees. The talks helped secure the release of journalist Casey Coombs, according to U.S. and Arab officials. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon and Asa Fitch]

A video of a French woman being held hostage in Yemen has been released. The French foreign ministry has verified the video which shows the woman pleading to the French and Yemeni governments for assistance. The captors have not been identified. [France 24]

The Houthi group has agreed to a “flexible” deal with the UN envoy that involves peace talks with the Yemeni government, sources have told Asharq Al-Awsat, reports Arafat Madabish.

IRAN

Iran’s nuclear capacity has increased in the last 18 months, challenging the Obama administration’s argument that the program had been “frozen” during negotiations. [New York Times’ David E. Sanger and William J. Broad]

A nuclear deal with Iran could further destabilize the Middle East, the French Foreign Minister warns in an interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Dalton.

President Obama said that tough diplomacy with Iran is more effective than a military strike in obtaining a nuclear deal. [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid]

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

More than 6,000 people have died and 16,000 injured since the start of the Russian-Ukraine conflict in April 2014, according to a new UN report, which also alleges that both sides have committed war crimes. [New York Times’ Nick Cumming-Bruce; UN News Centre]

Russian diplomats are justifying the conflict by portraying Ukraine as a failed state, a “new story-line” in Moscow’s “propaganda machine,” according to The Economist.

Russia accused the EU of “breaches of ethical norms” for leaking a confidential blacklist detailing travel bans on 89 EU officials to journalists. [Washington Post’s Karoun Demirjian]

The U.S. released footage confirming that an encounter between an unarmed Russian warship and a U.S. military ship was routine, refuting Russian reports to the contrary. [CNN’s Barbara Starr]

AFGHANISTAN

Militants killed nine Afghan aid workers in the country’s north overnight; the government accused the Taliban of carrying out the shooting attack. [Reuters’ Bashir Ansari]

Qatar is continuing its efforts to mediate peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government. Talks with the U.S. over the status of the Taliban members formerly held at Guantanamo Bay form “one piece of [the] complex diplomatic puzzle,” writes Tom Kutsch. [Al Jazeera]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The TSA failed to detect explosives and weapons at checkpoints in U.S. airports in 95% of undercover tests conducted by Homeland Security. [ABC News’ Justin Fishel et al] The acting chief of the TSA has been reassigned following the findings of the internal investigation. [NBC News’ Tom Costello and M. Alex Johnson]

U.S. ambassador to the UN Samantha Power speaks to Al Jazeera about her experiences, noting the “big pie of international security threats” facing nations.

African states are facing increased pressure to investigate allegations of peacekeeper abuse in the Central African Republic [New York Times’ Nick Cumming-Bruce]

Walter Pincus investigates South China Sea land reclamations made by Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia, even as China’s military construction in the area continues to attract sole criticism. [Washington Post]

South Sudan expelled the deputy head of the UN Mission in the country. No official reason for the decision was provided, and the UN has called for its immediate reversal. [Al Jazeera]

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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

Sarika Arya

Former Summer Fellow at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@sarika_arya).