News Roundup and Notes: November 3, 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

Russia is stepping up its push for Syria peace talks, officials from the Syrian government and members of the opposition potentially meeting in Moscow next week, a senior official said today. [Reuters] 

The new US-supported alliance of anti-ISIS forces in Syria “so far exists in name only,” according to Ben Hubbard, citing 10 days of interviews and front-line visits in northern Syria. [New York Times]

President Obama stated that US Special Operations Forces to be stationed in Syria will not fight on the front lines, during an appearance on NBC News yesterday. [The Hill’s Jordan Fabian] 

UK Prime Minister David Cameron will abandon plans to call a House of Commons vote to approve airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, the result of concern over opposition votes and the complex picture added to by Russian intervention. [The Guardian’s Nicholas Watt and Ewan MacAskill]  Further, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee urged Cameron to drop the vote, raising concerns over the legal basis for such intervention. [BBC]

Iran has threatened to quit Syria peace talks over Saudi Arabia’s involvement in them, though the comments may be “more akin to diplomatic posturing” given the amount Tehran has to lose if it drops out, report Rick Gladstone and David E. Sanger. [New York Times]

Russia has carried out airstrikes around ISIS-controlled Palmyra, the Russian defense ministry confirmed. [AFP]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military partners conducted 10 strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Nov 1. Separately, military forces carried out a further 17 on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

The US cut off the flow of billions of dollars to the Iraqi central bank this summer over concerns that the money was ending up in Iranian banks and was potentially being channeled into ISIS. [Wall Street Journal’s Emily Glazer et al]

A prominent Iraqi politician who was a leading voice in support of the 2003 US invasion has died; Ahmed Chalabi was a long-time opposition figure against Saddam Hussein. [Al Jazeera]

ISIS has tracked and killed two Syrian human rights activists at their home in southern Turkey. [New York Times’ Liam Stack]

“The strategic purpose” of the wars waged by Russian President Vladimir Putin is “war itself,” suggests Masha Gessen at the New York Times.

“The creeping optimism that there might be a route to peace in Syria remains constrained by the elephant in the room” – the regime of Bashar al-Assad, observes Crispin Blunt, adding that at this moment, UK military intervention in Syria would do “little except make ourselves feel better.” [The Guardian]

The steps approved by President Obama for Syria are “incremental and underpowered,” opines the Washington Post editorial board, adding that any action which puts US pressure on the Islamic State is welcome.

“Why do some groups trigger our sympathy and win outside help while other victims suffer in (relative) obscurity?” asks Stephen M. Walt, providing a nine-point framework of the “social construction of victimhood” at Foreign Policy.

RUSSIAN AIRLINER CRASH

A heat flash was recorded by a US infrared satellite at the same time and in the same vicinity as the Russian plane crash, an account which undermines claims that the plane was struck by a missile. [NBC News]

While there is no direct evidence that terrorism was involved in the incident, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that it could not yet be ruled out. [The Guardian’s Peter Beaumont et al] 

The “mystery” surrounding the Russian airplane crash this weekend grew deeper yesterday after Metrojet denied any pilot error or technical fault, claims immediately described as premature by Russian aviation officials. [New York Times’ Neil MacFarquhar; Wall Street Journal’s Thomas Grove and James Marson]

Claims that ISIS militants were involved in downing the Russian airliner are “propaganda,” according to Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. [BBC]

Who is involved in the crash and what do they have at stake? From the New York Times. 

SOUTH CHINA SEA 

The US Navy will patrol within 12 nautical miles of China-claimed islands in the South China Sea roughly twice a quarter, a defense official said yesterday. [Reuters]

The US and Japan are pushing to have concerns about the South China Sea included in a statement to be published following regional defense talks held in Malaysia. [Reuters]

The US should develop closer military-to-military ties with China, the head of US Pacific Command said today, suggesting that dialogue between the two can “avoid misunderstanding and military miscalculation.” [Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold and Jeremy Page]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS 

The CIA did not remove officers from Beijing following the OPM hack, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper said. [Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima and Adam Goldman]

A Guantánamo Bay detainee has agreed to postpone his sentencing hearing by three years; Majid Khan pleaded guilty to terror charges in 2012 following an agreement that he would testify for the government. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

A Palestinian stabbed an elderly Israeli man yesterday in the northern city of Netanya, police said. The attacker was shot and wounded. [AP]

The US may be complicit in war crimes committed during the Yemen conflict due to its role in providing military aid and support to Saudi Arabia, the leading nation in the coalition against Houthi rebels. [Al Jazeera America’s Lauren Carasik]

Iran’s hardliners appear determined to prevent an increase in foreign economic engagement, despite the nuclear accord concluded in July. Gerald F. Seib provides the details. [Wall Street Journal] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security