News Roundup and Notes: September 11, 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

Senate Democrats blocked a GOP resolution rejecting the nuclear accord negotiated between Iran and the P5+1 yesterday, handing President Obama a significant foreign policy victory and guaranteeing the historic agreement takes effect without the president invoking his veto. [New York Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer]  The Senate voted 58-42, short of the 60 votes needed. [Wall Street Journal’s Kristina Peterson]

Following the vote, President Obama praised the result, saying he was “heartened” by the support of so many Senators which will “enable the United States to work with our international partners to enable to implementation of the comprehensive, long-term deal.”

The GOP refused to accept the defeat, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell setting up a second procedural vote on the resolution of disapproval for the accord for Tuesday evening, minutes after Democrats filibustered the first one, reports Jordain Carney. [The Hill]

Republicans are looking to “make Democrats pay dearly” for their support of the accord, asserting that they will suffer politically, comparing the deal to Obamacare in its “scope and potential” to inflict damage, report Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim. [Politico]  The conservative American Action Network has already initiated an ad campaign on broadcast television targeting House Democrats who have expressed their support for the deal. [Politico’s Jack Sherman]

The House voted 245-186 in favor of a resolution accusing President Obama of withholding documents pertaining to side deals between the IAEA and Iran yesterday, thereby failing to uphold the terms of the congressional review law. [The Hill’s Cristina Marcos]

Following the landmark vote, President Obama will face a different battle over how stringently to impose economic sanctions on Tehran. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has toned down his rhetoric on the Iran issue since it became clear that Republicans would not succeed in blocking the deal, reports Jodi Rudoren. [New York Times]

IRAQ and SYRIA

Russian presence in Syria. Moscow confirmed that “humanitarian” flights to Syria carry military equipment in addition to humanitarian aid, however denied claims of a military buildup in the conflict-torn country, amid US concerns that Russia is taking on a more active role in the war. [Wall Street Journal’s Olga Razumovskaya]  A Russian foreign ministry spokesperson complained of a “strange hysteria” over Moscow’s role in Syria, saying there was nothing unusual about its military-technical cooperation with Damascus. [The Guardian’s Shaun Walker and Ian Black]  And Israel has added its voice to the “growing chorus” of parties worried about Russian involvement. [The Guardian’s Peter Beaumont]

Chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has promised the “speedy” establishment of an accountability investigation into the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian war. [UN News Centre]  Russia withdrew its objections to the probe, clearing the way for the investigation to begin, diplomats said yesterday. [AFP]  And there is mounting evidence that the Islamic State is making and using crude chemical weapons in both Iraq and Syria, according to a US official speaking with the BBC.

A Royal Air Force drone attack in Syria was justified as part of a “collective self-defence of Iraq,” the British ambassador to the UN Matthew Rycroft wrote in a letter to the Security Council. [BBC]  The argument is a further legal justification for the strike, in addition to that given by Prime Minister David Cameron of the individual right of self-defence of the UK, under Article 51 of the UN Charter. [The Guardian’s Owen Bowcott and Nicholas Watt]

Turkish airstrikes hit PKK targets in northern Iraq overnight, according to a security source. Hundreds of fighters have died since the Kurdish group and Turkey resumed hostilities in July. [Reuters]

A “frank discussion” between Iran and Saudi Arabia is critical to finding a diplomatic solution to the Syrian conflict, UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura told the Wall Street Journal, adding that he believes many parties realize a victory is not possible, including Bashar al-Assad, reports Laurence Norman.

Leading Congressmen from the armed services and intelligence committees are investigating reports of skewed intelligence on US progress against the Islamic State; Sen John McCain told The Daily Beast that the Senate Armed Service Committee is “looking at it,” reports Tim Mak.

The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) acknowledged the existence of an investigation into the military’s analysis of the Islamic State, but defended the process involved in collecting and sorting information, pointing out that there are often disagreements among experts on such topics. [Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta]  Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart also commented that Iraq and Syria may not survive as states due to ongoing conflict and sectarian tensions, during a panel appearance at an industry conference. [AP]

Former Vice President Dick Cheney said that there is something “seriously wrong” with how the intelligence community is operating if reports of “cooked” ISIS intelligence are true, reports The Daily Beast.

Director of national intelligence, James Clapper is in “frequent and “highly, highly unusual” contact with Central Command intelligence officer, Army Brigadier General Steven Gove, the Guardian has learned. Grove is reportedly implicated in the Pentagon inquiry into potentially manipulated intelligence, mentioned above, reports Spencer Ackerman.

China said a national reportedly held hostage by ISIS matched the “characteristics” of one of its citizens who has traveled overseas. [Reuters]

President Obama has decided to raise the number of Syrian refugees accepted into the United States to 10,000 over the next year, in response to mounting international pressure. [New York Times’ Gardiner Harris et al]

“Syria will be the biggest blot on the Obama presidency.” Roger Cohen considers that while American interventionism can have “terrible consequences,” equally, American “non-interventionism” can have a “devastating” impact. [New York Times]

YEMEN

Parties to the ongoing conflict in Yemen have agreed to hold direct talks mediated by the UN envoy to that country next week, the UN announced yesterday. [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta]

Special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed applauded the parties’ decision in a statement yesterday, urging the participants to engage constructively and in good faith. [UN News Centre]

Is AQAP gaining the most from the conflict in Yemen? asks Yaroslav Trofimov, explaining that the answer “depends on who you ask.” [Wall Street Journal]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Today marks the 14th anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. A live stream of the memorial can be found here.  President Obama will spend the day at Fort Meade for an “unprecedented, live, worldwide televised troop talk.” [DoD News]

The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of permitting Palestine to fly its flag in front of the international body’s headquarters in New York, a symbolic achievement, opposed by the US and Israel. [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta]

An apparent Western hostage was identified by the CIA in Pakistan, but that person was not kept under drone surveillance. US officials now suspect that it was American aid worker Warren Weinstein who was killed in an agency drone strike targeting al-Qaeda this year. [Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe]

The US is deploying 75 additional military personnel, along with vehicles and equipment, to Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula to heighten the security of international peacekeepers, the Pentagon announced yesterday. [Reuters]

Encryption debate. FBI Director James B. Comey asserted that major Internet companies maintain a key to unlock encrypted communications “so they can read our emails and send us ads.” His comments target a frequent argument of technologists and privacy experts that holding such a key poses a security threat. [Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima]

The UN Security Council extended the mandate of the Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) until 15 March 2016, while urging all parties to “engage constructively” with efforts to finalize political agreement. [UN News Centre]  And Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin will testify before the House Benghazi committee at some point before the former secretary of state appears for public testimony on October 22. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

The ICC has issued an arrest warrant for two Kenyans suspected of bribing witnesses for the prosecution; the two men were reportedly taken into Kenyan police custody in July. [AP]

Eight suspects in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre have had charges brought against them by Serbia’s war crimes prosecutors. [AP]

A Dutch national held captive has been released after she was kidnapped in Kabul, Afghanistan three months ago. It is not known where she was held or by whom. [Reuters]

A Marine was killed and others injured during an accident which occurred during routine training at Camp Pendleton, California. [San Diego Union-Tribune’s Susan Shroder] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security