News Roundup and Notes: July 9, 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.

IRAN

Nuclear agreement close. Iran and the P5+1 were close to reaching a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear program today, however remain deadlocked on the question of Iranian arms and missile trade. [Reuters’ Louis Charbonneau and Parisa Hafezi]

President Obama held a video conference with the U.S. negotiating team conducting Iran talks in Vienna, the White House said yesterday. [The Hill’s Elliot Smilowitz]  The president pegged the chances of successfully concluding a deal at “less than 50-50” during a gathering at the White House on Tuesday, report Sarah Wheaton and Burgess Everett. [Politico]

Russia wants the arms embargo against Iran lifted following the successful conclusion of a deal on Tehran’s nuclear program, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today. [Reuters]

Tensions were running high in nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1, provoking “heated exchanges” amongst foreign ministers as parties struggled to pass the final barriers to agreement, according to people involved in the talks. [New York Times’ Laurence Norman]

Anti-Americanism amongst Iranian hardliners is “getting even more strident,” as the U.S. and Iran come ever closer to a potentially historic nuclear agreement. [New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink]

“Iranian adventurism, especially if it includes anti-American terrorism, will eventually provoke a more muscular U.S. response,” write Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz, arguing that confrontation between the two will become “more likely, more quickly” following the conclusion of a nuclear agreement, in an op-ed at the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. suggestion that nuclear talks could become open-ended puts much more pressure on Tehran, suggests Steve LeVine, a sharp change of course by the Americans, preferring to appear “gracious” rather than petulant if no deal is reached. [Defense One]

IRAQ and SYRIA

Over 200 U.S. citizens have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria in order to participate in the conflict there, FBI Director James Comey said in written testimony presented during a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The cost of training each of the 60 Syrian rebels for the fight against the Islamic State is about $4 million; Politico reports that of the $500 million requested for the “train-and-equip” program, roughly half of that has been spent, writes Austin Wright.

Some 20,000 American troops are needed in Iraq and Syria, along with a regional military coalition from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt in order to defeat the Islamic State, according to Sen Lindsey Graham speaking before the Atlantic Council yesterday. [Defense One’s Molly O’Toole]

Sen Bob Casey is pushing for greater measures limiting the Islamic State’s access to funding; in a letter sent yesterday to Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Casey called for new sanctions against ISIS’ “middlemen” and for the group to be designated as a transnational criminal organization.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. The U.S. and coalition military forces carried out 11 airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria on July 7. Separately, military forces conducted a further 14 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

An Iraqi court has sentenced 24 men to death for their involvement in a June 2014 massacre near Tikrit carried out by militants; mass graves were found following the seizure of the city from Islamic State fighters earlier this year. [CNN’s Mohammed Tawfeeq]

The number of Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict into neighboring countries has risen to more than four million, as fighting heads into its fifth year, the UN said today. [New York Times’ Nick Cumming-Bruce]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

The NSA has tapped the phone calls of the German Chancellery for decades, including German chancellor Angela Merkel, her advisers, and the staff of her predecessors, according to a report released yesterday by WikiLeaks. [Reuters; New York Times’ Alison Smale]

The OPM hack was an “enormous breach,” resulting in the theft of “millions and millions” of government background investigation records, FBI Director James Comey said during testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta]  A House subcommittee yesterday learned that the OPM knew about “vulnerabilities” in its security system since 2012, but failed to take action to prevent a breach. [The Hills’ Cory Bennett and Austin Yack]

U.K. police agencies have trialed Hacking Team’s technology and have been working toward purchasing it for years, but have been prevented due to concerns over the legality of the tools. A major security breach of the company also reveals that the Italian surveillance firm assisted the DEA to launch surveillance operations from the American embassy in Bogota, Colombia. [The Intercept’s Ryan Gallagher]  Motherboard’s Joseph Cox provides figures, giving some sense of the scale of the company’s operations.

Russia criticized presidential candidate Hillary Clinton regarding her “inappropriate’ accusations that it had “directly or indirectly sponsored” hacking. [Reuters’ Jim Young]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Israel has changed its policy, opening dialogue with the International Criminal Court in The Hague over the preliminary examination the court is conducting into possible war crimes in Palestinian territories; a senior Israeli official told Haaretz that the contact will only be in order to make clear that the ICC does not have authority to hear Palestinian complaints, reports Barak Ravid.

Two Israelis disappeared in Gaza some months ago; both are thought to have been taken into Hamas custody. [Haaretz’s Shirly Seidler, et al.]

Israel’s diplomatic isolation could be aggravated by a nuclear deal with Iran, unless Prime Minister Netanyahu reforms his approach to the surrounding issues, writes Michael J. Koplow. [Politico]

Islamic militants in the Sinai Peninsula are an increasingly destabilizing threat to Israel, according to Wall Street Journal’s Tamer El-Ghobashy.

NIGERIA

Boko Haram is willing to release more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls in exchange for captured militant leaders, the result of ongoing negotiations with the Islamist group. [AP’s Michelle Faul]

Nigeria has arrested a bombing suspect and two others close to a Boko Haram stronghold, said officials who are scrambling to secure Nigeria after a string of fatal attacks. [Reuters]

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

The U.S. air force secretary has called Russia its “biggest threat,” on the heels of a boost in American military presence in Europe. [Reuters]

Ukrainian military troops will receive increased training, pursuant to new plans by American and Ukrainian officials. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The exiled Yemeni government is ready for a UN-led ceasefire contingent on certain “guarantees,” but the Houthi leadership has expressed skepticism. [Al Jazeera]

The 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre has been marked by controversy over whether it constituted “genocide,” after the veto by Russia of a UN Security Council resolution labeling the incident as such. [New York Times’ Dan Bilefsky and Somini Sengupta]

Britain has agreed to meet NATO’s military spending target for the next ten years, after government spending cuts threatened to discredit its global security commitments. [New York Times’ Stephen Castle]

Senior lawmakers have questioned the U.S. Army’s policy to decease numbers of soldiers and civilian personnel, especially in light of threats from the Middle East and Russia. [Reuters’ Bob Strong]

British MPs have called on the director of public prosecutions for guidance in addressing allegations of U.K.-U.S. intelligence sharing, which assisted in covert drone strikes, in what has been described as an “unusual step.” The action follows a report last month covering revelations from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. [The Guardian’s Alice Ross]

A Canadian anti-terror bill expanding powers of the country’s spy agency and law enforcement will be challenged by activists at the UN as undermining privacy and freedom of speech. [The Guardian’s Jessica Murphy]

Tunisia will build a wall along its Libyan border, part of a broader counterterrorism initiative to protect the country from Islamist militants in Libya. [New York Times’ Carlotta Gall]

Somali immigrants in the U.S. are calling for rehabilitative treatment of suspected recruits of Islamist groups, in an effort to deradicalize young people susceptible to joining Al-Shabaab and ISIS. [New York Times’ Mitch Smith] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security

Sarika Arya

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