News Roundup and Notes: October 30, 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 arrived in Vienna yesterday for meetings with Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey ahead of today’s talks aimed at reaching a political resolution to the Syrian conflict. [Wall Street Journal’s Valentina Pop]  The peace negotiations getting underway today are the “broadest” to take place since the start of the conflict in 2011, with “any hope of a solution” riding on Iran and Saudi Arabia, the former advocating in support of the Assad regime and the latter against it, reports Martin Chulov. [The Guardian]

“Rancor” between rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran poses the greatest threat to the talks, with “more invested in the outcome” than any of the other participants to the talks. The two states sitting together at the same table was “unthinkable” until two weeks ago. David E. Sanger et al report. [New York Times]

The US position on the regime of Bashar al-Assad has softened, the Obama administration entering into talks willing to accept an agreement that leaves Assad in power for several months or more during political transition, report Carol E. Lee and Adam Entous. [Wall Street Journal]  Colum Lynch and John Hudson explore the “pivot to Tehran,” and how the US has moved away from insisting on an “unequivocal commitment” from Iran on removing Assad from power. [Foreign Policy]

Iran’s role in the Syria talks demonstrates again that “defiant Iranian rhetoric is often a distraction from Iranian actions, which may be more pragmatic,” writes Roger Cohen at the New York Times.

Russia has said no state should use military force in Syria without the permission of the country’s central government, TASS news agency reported. [Reuters]  However, Russia may be rethinking its alliance with the Syrian government, deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken commenting that Moscow appears evermore wary of becoming entangled in the Syrian conflict. [Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Dalton]

Qatar has ruled out the possibility of engaging in military action in Syria, the country’s foreign minister saying that financial aid is more important. [Al Jazeera]

Syrian government airstrikes hit a market in Douma, a Damascus suburb today, killing 45 people and injuring another 140, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports. [Al Jazeera]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out 13 strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq on Oct. 29. [Central Command]

A rocket attack on a former military base close to Baghdad international airport used to house a group of Iranian exiles – has left more than 20 people dead. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. [AP]

ISIS and other militant groups are increasingly moving to Telegram, a Berlin-based social media service which imposes few barriers on the sharing of violent and extremist content. [Washington Post’s Greg Miller]

The Syrian conflict is pulling in Muslim fighters from former Soviet Central Asian republics, reports Yaroslav Trofimov. [Wall Street Journal]

“Who has gained ground in Syria since Russia began its airstrikes? A visual explanation from the New York Times.

GUANTÁNAMO BAY

The last British citizen held at Guantánamo Bay detention facility has been released and is on his way back to the United Kingdom, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond confirmed. Shaker Aamer was held for 14 years but was never tried for any offense. Earlier this year, Prime Minister David Cameron raised his case to President Obama, gaining an assurance of his release. [The Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor et al]

A Mauritanian detainee was repatriated on Wednesday; Ahmed Ould Abd al Aziz was cleared for release in 2009 and has been held at the prison camp since 2002. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

IRAN

An Iranian-American businessman has been arrested by Iranian security forces, a move that highlights efforts by hardliners to prevent foreign investment in the Islamic Republic, report Farnaz Fassihi and Jay Solomon. [Wall Street Journal]  Siamak Namazi has advocated for improved relations between Iran and the US and is the first dual American citizen to be detained since the nuclear accord in July. [New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink]

Tehran considered the pursuit of a nuclear deterrent when it started its nuclear program in the 1980s, according to former president Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The IAEA is set to report on Iran’s past nuclear work on Dec. 15, which the Iranian government insists was only ever used for peaceful purposes. [Reuters]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The European Parliament voted to call on EU member states to grant protection to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, as a “human rights defender.” The resolution has no legal weight but was welcomed by Snowden on Twitter as an “open hand extended by friends.” [The Intercept’s Jenna McLaughlin]

The Palestinian uprising has shifted its focus to the West Bank city of Hebron, report Diaa Hadid and Rami Nazzal, a city with a “stark history of violence and tension.” [New York Times]  And right-wing Israeli politicians are pushing for greater control over the Al Aqsa mosque compound. [Al Jazeera]

Fighting in recent weeks around the Yemeni city of Taiz is having a severe toll on the civilian population, leaving at least 1,300 civilians dead since violence escalated there. [Al Jazeera]

The Afghan government is turning to the country’s irregular militias to assist in the war effort against the Taliban, as the insurgent group gains in strength and the US presence in the country remains significantly reduced. [Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan]

Boko Haram has lost control of territory, contrary to the group’s claim that it maintains a region of similar size to Belgium in northern Nigeria. Commenting on the militant group, head of US Africa Command, Gen David Rodriguez added that Boko Haram remains a grave threat. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes]

The US power grid is vulnerable to cyberattacks, President Obama warned yesterday, suggesting that there is insufficient investment in heightening its defense. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

Is Hillary Clinton a liar over Benghazi? Glenn Kessler explores the accusations that have been leveled against the former secretary of state. [Washington Post] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security