News Roundup and Notes: June 26, 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.

FRANCE ATTACK

A man has been decapitated and two others injured in a suspected Islamist attack near the French city of Lyon. The attacker allegedly claimed to be a part of the Islamic State. French President Holland has promised action against the “terrorist attack,” in a statement from Brussels. France24 and BBC are providing live coverage of developments.

IRAQ and SYRIA

ISIS strikes again in Kobani. Islamic State militants launched a fresh assault on the Syrian border town early Thursday, five months after the group was defeated in Kobani by Syrian Kurdish forces. Kurdish troops reportedly restored order by the end of the day. [Washington Post’s Liz Sly]  The attack left almost 150 civilians dead, according to a monitoring body. [Haaretz]

U.S. troops could accompany Iraqi forces in battle virtually, using video chat technology to assist the fight against the Islamic State. [Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber]

Many in Iraq are critical of U.S. military efforts against the Islamic State; Yaroslav Trofimov reports on the views from the battlefield, including the widespread conspiracy theories. [Wall Street Journal]

IRAN

The U.S. is hopeful it can reach a “very good agreement” with Tehran, but the process will involve “tough decisions,” a senior U.S. official said, ahead of what could be the final round of negotiations starting in Vienna this weekend. [Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen]

U.S. lawmakers are expressing increasing concern over a “weak” deal with Iran, setting down minimum requirements that they say should be met in order to gain congressional approval of any final accord. [Reuters’ Patricia Zengerle]  And Sens. Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez are attempting to secure a 10-year extension for an Iran sanctions bill, set to expire at the end of 2016. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

The agreement under discussion is “fundamentally flawed,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, warning the P5+1 against concessions in advance of this weekend’s negotiations. [Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon]

The State Department criticized Iran’s human rights record in its annual report on the status of human rights worldwide. The sharp criticism comes only days before the June 30 deadline for a comprehensive nuclear deal. [Washington Post’s Carol Morello]

The absence of a key Iranian official from the imminent talks for health reasons could be another setback for the shaky negotiations, according to American officials and experts. [Politico’s Michael Crowley]

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

Russia is likely to embark on a long-term campaign of using military pressure in eastern Ukraine, according to NATO commander Gen. Philip Breedlove. [Washington Post’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff]  The NATO Secretary-General echoed these concerns, noting that Russia was amassing “large numbers of forces” on the Ukrainian border. [AP]

An armed unit of the U.S. Marine Corps will deploy to Bulgaria in the fall to help allay growing fears of the spillover effect of Russian aggression in Ukraine. [AP]

NATO has begun much needed training of the Ukrainian army, to prepare troops to battle Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. [NPR’s Corey Flintoff]

Russian President Putin called President Obama after months of silence; conversation focused on the Ukraine conflict, although the Russian leader also discussed the Syrian conflict and the Iran nuclear deal. [New York Times’ Peter Baker and David M. Herszenhorn]

Moscow is “playing with fire” by committing ongoing violations of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work told lawmakers on Thursday. [Reuters’ David Alexander]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Palestinians leaders submitted allegations of Israeli war crimes to the ICC on Thursday. The New York Times’ Marlise Simons analyzes the symbolic meaning of the move, and the likelihood of a criminal investigation. In response, two American lawmakers warned the Palestinian Authority that their “provocative, unilateral steps” risk suspension of U.S. economic aid. [The Hill’s Rebecca Shabad]

The recent UN report on the 2014 Gaza war offers useful “raw material” that will “add to the Israelis’ growing feeling that they are on their own,” writes The Economist.

Cities in Gaza remained razed a year after the 2014 war, with thousands displaced as inhabitable land is transformed into no-man zones. The Daily Beast’s Jesse Rosenfeld reports.

OPM HACK

Chinese hackers are the “leading suspect” in the hack, according to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, in what amounts to the administration’s most direct assignment of blame to date. [Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta]

Sen. John McCain lambasted OPM Director Katherine Archuleta for her failure to prevent the hacking, during the latest hearing on the issue yesterday. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]  Archuleta has so far retained her position despite calls for her resignation amid the OPM cyberattak controversy. [Washington Post’s Joe Davidson]

AFGHANISTAN

Two Afghan political opponents have forged an alliance, surprising analysts by their concerted effort to fight a Taliban insurgency in northern Afghanistan. [Wall Street Journal’s Nathan Hodge]

The Taliban attack on the Afghan parliament this week raises questions about the seriousness of the group’s recent gestures which indicated that it was open to restarting the peace process, according to The Economist.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Violent clashes between the AU and al-Shabaab militants erupted south of Mogadishu earlier today, following a car bomb by the militants at an African Union base. [Reuters]

Iranian hackers could be behind the theft of confidential Saudi documents released by Wikileaks last week, according to experts and Middle East analysts. [Washington Post’s Hugh Naylor]

Countering Violent Extremism Act. The House Homeland Security Committee chair Michael McCaul  introduced new legislation to stifle the onset of radicalization, amid growing debate on the limited initiatives to tackle domestic terrorism. [The Hills’ Julian Hattem]

The Washington Post editorial board criticizes the hostage policy review, noting that the public announcement on American families no longer being threatened with criminal charges for paying ransom “will only encourage hostage-taking.”

Fifteen emails subpoenaed from Hillary Clinton’s private account are missing, the State Department said after cross-checking with emails handed over by Clinton’s adviser Sidney Blumenthal. The announcement increases suspicion that the former secretary of state may have deleted information from the public record. [New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt]

A Miami-based Air Force combat pilot has been selected to run the Guantánamo prison, after the admiral initially chosen declined citing “personal reasons.” [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

The terrorism convictions against the Duka brothers were likely the result of a dubious investigation and entrapment by the FBI, despite being heralded as an achievement of presidential candidate Chris Christie. The Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain and Razan Ghalayini report.

The Philippines has accused China of encroaching on reefs claimed by Manila in the South China Sea, as controversial Chinese construction in the region continues. [AP]

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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).