News Roundup and Notes: January 13, 2016

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

Iran detained two US Navy patrol boats along with ten crew members, described by Tehran as “trespassing” in Iranian waters close to an important naval base yesterday. [New York Times’ Helene Cooper and David E. Sanger]

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has since released the sailors, whose boats strayed into Iranian waters due to an equipment malfunction, an IRGC statement said. [Wall Street Journal’s Aresu Eqbali and Asa Fitch]

The US has apologized to Iran for entering Iranian waters, according to the commander of the IRGC. [BBC] Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reportedly took a “firm stance” on the matter when speaking with Secretary of State John Kerry. [The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman et al]

One of Iran’s nuclear officials denied reports that the core of the country’s heavy-water reactor had been removed and filled with concrete. Ali Asghar Zarean described the reports as baseless and said Tehran intends to sign an agreement with China to modify the reactor. [New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink]

The Supreme Court will today consider whether Congress acted “unconstitutionally in passing a 2012 law helping families of victims of terrorist attacks – including those killed in the 1983 Beirut bombing – collect judgments against Iran?” Barry Meier reports. [New York Times]

STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS

The full transcript of President Obama’s final State of the Union address is available here.

President Obama sought to present an optimistic outlook for America’s future during his final address, but conceded that political divisions remain and in fact “the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.” [New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael D. Shear]

The president made barely-disguised comments targeting the anti-Muslim rhetoric of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump and accused critics of playing into the hands of ISIS. [Reuters]

The media weigh in. The Wall Street Journal editorial board commented that while Obama claimed foreign policy success in his speech, there is “little connection to reality anywhere in the world.” The Washington Post editorial board criticizes Obama for failing to acknowledge that his strategy has “left Syria and Iraq in chaos and created a power vacuum that has been filled by Iran and Russia.” And the New York Times editorial board focuses on the president’s achievements despite an unwilling Congress, noting his criticism of Congress’s failure to authorize the war against ISIS.

IRAQ and SYRIA

At least 10 people have been killed and firebomb attacks have targeted Sunni mosques in suspected reprisal attacks in the wake of a string of ISIS attacks targeting Shi’ite Muslims in Iraq. [Al Jazeera] The head UN official in Iraq called on parties to avoid “being drawn into a cycle of reprisals.” [UN News Centre]

The UN humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Yacoub El Hillo has called on warring parties to lift their sieges on key towns and to give unimpeded access to aid agencies. [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta and Anne Bernard]

The Defense Department is considering a request from Turkey that it assist in training and equipping Sunni Arab fighters in Syria as part of an effort to secure Turkey’s southern frontier, US officials say. [Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out four airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Jan. 11. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 19 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

ISTANBUL ATTACK 

Turkish police have detained three Russians with suspected links to ISIS in the wake of a suicide bomb attack in Istanbul yesterday that left 10 tourists dead. [Reuters]

The Wall Street Journal editorial board comments on the attack, opining that such attacks are “one more consequence of the West’s, and Turkey’s, failure to check the chaos in neighboring Syria.

NORTH KOREA 

South Korean President Park Geun-hye has urged China to take more assertive action to rein in the North. Ms Park has come under mounting criticism for what is perceived as a failed policy of building stronger ties with Beijing. [New York Times’ Choe Sang-Hun]

South Korea fired warning shots close to an “unidentified flying object” at its border with the North, a military official today told Reuters. 

Video footage broadcast by North Korea purporting to show a successful submarine-launched ballistic missile was most likely faked, according analysis posted on 30 North, a website run by the US-Korea Institute at John Hopkins University. [New York Times’ Choe Sang-Hun; Wall Street Journal’s Kwanwoo Jun]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS 

Belgian authorities have identified three properties as possible safe houses used by the Paris attackers in the weeks leading up to the assault on the French capital. [Reuters]

A suicide bomber detonated close to the Pakistani consulate in the eastern city of Jalalabad, Afghanistan today. The bomb attack was followed by a gun battle between Afghan forces and gunmen holed up in a nearby house. At least six people have been killed and 11 wounded. [Reuters]

A suspected suicide attack outside a polio vaccination clinic in the Pakistani city of Quetta has killed at least 15 people. Armed attacks against polio workers have been a frequent occurrence in recent years; militants saying that the vaccination is a Western conspiracy to steralize Pakistani children. [BBC]

An Israeli airstrike targeted a group of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip today; the military claim that the group were planning to detonate a bomb at the frontier with Israel. A Palestinian militant faction said one man was killed. [Reuters]

Many Libyan factions are “weary of war and even ashamed” at what they have become, some fighters refusing orders to fight, organizing their own cease fires and accusing politicians of fueling civil strife. [New York Times’ Carlotta Gall]

Saudi Arabia has arrested prominent human rights activist, Samar Badawi. Amnesty International described Ms Badawai’s arrest as “the latest example of Saudi Arabia’s utter contempt for its human rights obligations.” [New York Times’ Ben Hubbard]

Two former Guantanamo Bay detainees have thanked Ghana for allowing them to resettle in the country following their release. [AP]

China has arrested a Swedish citizen on national security charges, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said today. [Reuters]

A teenage hacker has targeted the private email account of National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper; the hacker on Monday contacted Motherboard and claimed to have broken into a number of accounts connected to Clapper. A spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence confirmed the hack. 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security