News Roundup and Notes: October 22, 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.

IRAQ and SYRIA

Secretary of State John Kerry will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Vienna tomorrow, the first face-to-face talks between the US and Russia on the Syrian conflict since the Russian intervention began. [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz et al]

The US has strongly condemned Moscow for putting on a “red carpet welcome” for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad this week, accusing Russia of acting in a manner at odds with its stated goal of political transition in Syria. [BBC]  And Michael Weiss et al speculate on what was discussed by the Russian and Syrian leaders, and query whether Russia will “try to pull the strings” in Iraq next. [The Daily Beast]

Personal relations between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Assad remain “chilly,” according to officials, diplomats and analysts, despite the alliance binding them together, report Steven Lee Myers and Anne Barnard. [New York Times]

Over 100 cargo vessels have arrived in Syria in recent weeks, as Russia steps up its support for the Assad regime, the boats arriving directly from Russia. [Reuters’ Jonathan Saul and Maria Tsvetkova]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out four airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria on Oct. 20. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 14 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

“Untangling the overlapping conflicts in the Syrian war,” from Sergio Peçanha et al at the New York Times.

“Putin actually is doing the US policy a great favor” by intervening in Syria, suggests Robert Grenier, providing a detailed look at the “apparent contradiction” of American policy on the Syrian crisis. [Huffington Post]

“The Russian operation currently underway in Syria is in some respects a return to the ambitious military moves of the Soviet past,” write Liam Stack and Karen Zraick, discussing how Moscow has maintained its influence in the post-Cold War era. [New York Times]

HOUSE BENGHAZI COMMITTEE

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton will testify before the House Committee on Benghazi today, the panel expected to focus on the 2012 attack rather than Clinton’s private email server, its hand “forced by recent suggestions” that the committee’s motivations are chiefly political. [Wall Street Journal’s Byron Tau]

Democrats released the full transcript of closed-door testimony from a former top Clinton aide, contrary to the wishes of the GOP. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

Despite controversy, the work of the committee is “utterly serious, its preparations extensive … and its mission vital to our fight against still-metastasizing Islamist terrorism,” argues John Bolton at the Wall Street Journal.

The Benghazi committee has been a “textbook for bad intentions,” opines Gail Collins, adding that an investigation into American deaths by terrorism should be done in a “way that doesn’t debase the human loss with a nasty political scrum.” [New York Times]

Instead of getting closer to the truth on Benghazi, we will be “treated to tiresome and politically ineffective theater from the Clinton cheer squad and hapless Republicans who don’t understand Hillary Rules,” suggests Rick Wilson. [The Daily Beast]

“Hillary-hunters beware.” Gil Troy explains how the former secretary of state goes about giving testimony, saying she will likely “demonstrate the experience, poise and partisan steeliness” that won her last week’s Democratic election. [Politico Magazine]

Hillary Clinton was correct in deciding to intervene in Libya, writes former deputy secretary of state James Steinberg, at Politico Magazine.

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing widespread criticism for his comments suggesting that it was the grand mufti of Jerusalem, a Palestinian, who gave Hitler the idea for the Holocaust. [New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren]  Jay Michaelson comments that Netanyahu’s inaccurate claim is “part of a right-wing narrative that the Israel/Palestine conflict is really about anti-Semitism.” [The Daily Beast]  And Roy Isacowitz argues that the prime minister’s comments demonstrate “his obsessive hatred of the Palestinians.” [Haaretz] 

Secretary of State John Kerry met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this morning in Berlin to discuss ways of deescalating violence in Israel and the West Bank. Kerry will tomorrow meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the question of the Temple Mount. [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid]

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate end to the continuous “cycle of suffering,” on the second day of his visit to Israel and Palestine. Ban pledged the support of the UN to all efforts to foster the conditions required to making meaningful negotiations possible. [UN News Centre]

Palestinians are hopeful that a new UN report may open discussions about international protection in the Palestinian territories. [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta]

Israel has put in place barriers close to a Jewish holy site in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. AP has the latest developments on the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

A Palestinian was shot dead following an alleged stabbing attack on an Israeli at a Jerusalem bus stop today. Since Oct. 1, 52 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers or settlers, while eight Israelis have died following Palestinian attacks. [Al Jazeera]

Hamas has concluded a visit to South Africa which angered Israel; Hamas and the ANC signed a memorandum of understanding yesterday on efforts to bring the Israeli occupation of Palestine to an end. [DW]

IRAN

The US, UK, France and Germany called on the UN Security Council’s Iran sanctions committee to take action over a test by Tehran of a new precision-guided ballistic missile earlier this month. [Reuters’ Michelle Nichols and Louis Charbonneau]

Senate Democrats are pushing Secretary of State John Kerry to respond to a recent ballistic missile test carried out by Iran, an apparent violation of international commitments. Eleven senators wrote in a letter Wednesday that how the US responds will reflect how the country may respond to violations of the nuclear deal.  [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s endorsement of the nuclear accord was cautious, warning of weaknesses contained in the accord and reemphasizing demands that all economic sanctions be lifted, Thomas Erdbrink reports. [New York Times]

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban is active in an area close to Kabul, though the threat posed to the central government is subject to dispute. [Reuters]

Kunduz faces a “tough resurrection” after the brief Taliban takeover, the city facing widespread destruction and pillaged institutions. [Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan]

The “new exodus” of Afghan refugees has started to flow toward Europe, but Western policy makers are paying little attention and “do not seem to recognize the Afghans’ desperation, and the challenges their flight poses for Afghanistan, its neighbors and Europe,” writes Michael Kugelman. [New York Times]

SECURITY, PRIVACY AND TECHNOLOGY

WikiLeaks has published a cache of documents purportedly from the private AOL account of CIA Director John Brennan. [NPR’s Eyder Peralta]  Included in the emails is private correspondence on torture and a strategy outline for playing the “US-Iranian Chessboard.” [The Daily Beast]

The NSA is counting down until the deadline for its of bulk collection of American phone call metadata, the agency required to halt the practice at 11.59pm on November 29. Dan Froomkin provides the details. [The Intercept]

Facebook has a new system for alerting users when “state-sponsored actors” have attempted to hack their accounts. [Al Jazeera America’s Michael Pizzi]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

President Obama will veto the National Defense Authorization Act, and he intends to hold a photo-op in the Oval Office when he uses his veto pen to do so. [The Hill’s Jordan Fabian]

The White House will sell eight new F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, senior US officials said, an effort to bolster the military partnership with the country. [New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg and David E. Sanger]

Harliners will not be allowed to “hijack” the efforts toward forming a national unity government in Libya, the UN special envoy to that country has said. [UN News Centre]

Vice President Joe Biden has decided not to run in the 2016 race for the White House, citing time constraints for mounting a winning campaign. [Wall Street Journal’s Colleen McCain Nelson and Peter Nicholas] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security