News Roundup and Notes: August 6, 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

President Obama took on critics of the Iran deal in a speech at American University. Obama suggested that the people opposing the deal are the same ones who created the “drumbeat of war” and exploited the public’s fears, pushing the US into the Iraq war. The president went on by saying:

So let’s not mince words.  The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy or some form of war — maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon.

…how can we in good conscience justify war before we’ve tested a diplomatic agreement that achieves our objectives; that has been agreed to by Iran; that is supported by the rest of the world; and that preserves our options if the deal falls short?

Further discussion is provided by Julie Hirschfeld Davis at the New York Times and Dan Roberts et al at the Guardian.

The rhetoric adopted by Obama further stirred his critics, Sens John McCain and Lindsey Graham releasing a joint statement describing the speech as “just another example of his reliance on endless straw men to divert attention from his failed policies.” [The Hill’s Jordan Fabian]

Support for the nuclear accord is growing in the Senate, with Independent Sen Angus King announcing his support of the deal, making it look “increasingly likely” that the deal will survive the Republican challenge, reports Burgess Everett. [Politico]

Secretary of State John Kerry described a congressional rejection of the deal as the “ultimate screwing” of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in an interview with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg.

President Obama engaged in a Twitter exchange with Mitch McConnell and Steve Scalise over details of the Iran deal yesterday, addressing their criticisms. [Politico’s Nahal Toosi]

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations endorsed the Iran nuclear accord in a joint statement along with Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, welcoming the deal as an “important resolution.” [AP]

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin suggested that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had opened a “battlefront” with the US through the hardline he has taken in opposing the Iran nuclear accord. [Reuters’ Jeffrey Heller]

IAEA inspectors have so far been denied access to key scientists and military officers in Iran, hindering the investigation into allegations that Tehran had a covert nuclear-weapons program, the watchdog’s director-general, Yukiya Amano said yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon and Kristina Peterson]

Evaluating Iran sanctions relief remains a “difficult and unresolved” question, suggests Rick Gladstone, despite the core argument from opponents of the deal that it would release $100 billion in impounded funds. [New York Times]

 IRAQ and SYRIA

The US conducted its first airstrike from a Turkish base. An armed drone hit a target in ISIS-controlled northern Syria, Pentagon spokesman Capt Jeff Davis said yesterday. No further information was provided. The launch of strikes from Incirlik Air Base marks a major shift in US-Turkey security relations, report Felicia Schwartz and Ayla Albayrak. [Wall Street Journal]

Russia and the US have agreed on a draft UN Security Council resolution seeking to identify those behind chemical weapons attacks in Syria and bring them to account, a US official said. [Reuters]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out seven airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on August 4. Separately, military forces conducted a further 22 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

Barrel bombs hold the “ignoble distinction” of posing the greatest threat to Syria’s civilian population, writes Kenneth Roth, arguing that ISIS has “distracted us from this deadly reality.” [New York Times]

Turkey’s heightened involvement in the war against the Islamic State and Kurdish groups is being seen as part of a wider political strategy of President Tayyip Erdogan, aimed at regaining a parliamentary majority in new elections. [New York Times’ Tim Arango and Ceylan Yeginsu]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

A divided 4th Circuit Court of Appeals delivered its decision in US v Graham yesterday, ruling that “the government conducts a search under the Fourth Amendment when it obtains and inspects a cell phone user’s historical [cell-site location information] for an extended period of time” and that obtaining such records requires a warrant. [Washington Post’s Orin Kerr]  A Supreme Court hearing on the case is considered likely. [The Intercept’s Jenna McLaughlin]

A proposal requiring social media and other tech companies to report terrorism related activity is “unworkable, and goes well beyond US law and 20 years of federal Internet policy,” according to a letter signed by trade groups backing tech companies, in which Senate leaders are pressed to kill the provision. [The Hill’s Mario Trujillo]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

France agreed to repay Russia for two warships which were never delivered after economic sanctions – imposed on Moscow following its annexation of Crimea – prevented the deal from going ahead last year. [New York Times’ Sabrina Tavernise]

The Pentagon’s recent shift in how it describes the threat posed by Russia is “not sitting well” with the White House, where Moscow is considered one of a “myriad threats,” rather than the “existential” danger claimed by military officials, write Nancy A. Youssef and Noah Shachtman. [The Daily Beast]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A military helicopter crashed in southern Afghanistan this morning, killing 17 people, including five pilots, the provincial chief of police has said. [AP]  And a Taliban suicide bomber killed at least six people in Logar province, in the east of the country today. [Al Jazeera]

A suicide attack in Saudi Arabia targeted a mosque in the southern province of Aseer today. Figures on casualties are not yet available. [Reuters]

Controversial Islamic preacher Anjem Choudary has been charged by British authorities with inciting support for the Islamic State. It is alleged Choudary and another advocated on behalf of the group through lectures which were published online. [The Guardian’s Jamie Grierson and Shiv Malik; Wall Street Journal’s Margaret Coker and Jenny Gross]

The US has imposed sanctions on two named Qatari financiers for their alleged support of al-Qaeda and its Syrian affiliate, Nusra Front, the Treasury Department has said. [New York Times]

Former CIA Director Leon Panetta sent a letter to Congress saying that it was changing its policy on the interrogation of terrorism suspects, three months after President Obama was sworn into office. The letter was recently declassified and obtained by VICE News; Jason Leopold provides analysis.

ISIS-affiliated militants in Egypt have threatened to kill a Croatian hostage within 48 hours unless Egyptian authorities release female Muslim prisoners, according to a video released yesterday. [New York Times’ Kareem Fahim]

Secretary of State John Kerry urged China to cease “problematic actions” in the South China Sea, so as to provide an opportunity for diplomacy, according to a senior State Department official. Kerry met with China’s foreign minister in Kuala Lumpur. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon]

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan during World War II. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe marked the occasion by calling on the international community to work together to eliminate nuclear weapons. [Wall Street Journal’s Jun Hongo]  The Guardian editorial board gives its view on the Hiroshima legacy, noting that there is no more global consensus on the elimination of nuclear weapons today “than there is a consensus in favor of banning war itself.”

President Obama has made nominations for three key national security positions, including IAEA Representative, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and the Under Secretary for the Army. [White House]

US involvement in rebuilding Libya’s military following the overthrow of Moammar Gaddafi’s 40-year rule was a “lesson in the limits of US power,” writes Missy Ryan at the Washington Post, continuing:

 … the Obama administration’s plan to help the country rebuild its military, joined by other NATO governments, […] came to symbolize the shortcomings of the West’s approach to post-revolution Libya. Undermined by insecurity and political divisions there, the flagship assistance program revealed not only the hollowness of Libyan institutions but also how different parts of the US government worked at cross-purposes, dooming a project that Obama ­selected as a personal priority.

Two women are entering into the third and final phase of Ranger School, which once completed will make them the first women to ever graduate from the training program. [Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security