News Roundup and Notes: January 25, 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.

IRAQ and SYRIA

Secretary of State John Kerry hopes for “clarity” on Syrian peace negotiations within 24 to 48 hours; the talks were scheduled to begin in Geneva today. Kerry expressed agreement with UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura that invites to the talks should not be delivered until “you have the pieces lined up.” [Reuters’ David Brunnstrom]

Syrian opposition groups will meet today for talks on the UN-brokered efforts to begin peace negotiations, a spokesperson said, citing obstacles caused by Russia as a reason for delay. [Reuters]

“The peace talks and after.” Joshua Landis and Steven Simon opine that moving into the negotiations, the US “will have to stay flexible in its expectations and objectives in light of the shifting military balance on the ground.” [Foreign Affairs] 

ISIS has released a video purporting to show the men responsible for the November Paris attacks while they were in Iraq and Syria; they are shown carrying out executions, including beheadings. [New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi] In the video, which claims to show the nine attackers, the Islamic State also threatens to attack the UK. [The Guardian’s Raya Jalabi]

Senior Saudi and Iranian officials had a tense meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week; the meeting at been set up as an effort to bridge the divide between the two rivals to promote peace in Syria. [Reuters] 

Syrian government forces supported by Russian airstrikes took control of a rebel stronghold in Latakia province yesterday, the latest in a string of victories in the area. The gains position Assad’s forces within reaching distance of the mostly rebel-controled Idlib province. [Wall Street Journal’s Raja Abdulrahim]

Suspected Russian airstrikes killed at least 63 people, including nine children, when they targeted the town of Khasham, near the city of Deir Az Zor in the east of the country on Saturday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Al Jazeera]

The Islamic State is pursuing an intensified siege against the Assad regime’s last remaining stronghold in the east of Syria, in an “apparent show of resilience” amid mounting defeats elsewhere. [Washington Post’s Hugh Naylor]

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians are at risk of starvation in areas under government and opposition siege, UN officials and aid workers have warned. [Washington Post’s Hugh Naylor]

Turkey’s difficulties with the Syrian Kurds present complications for the US strategy to defeat ISIS, Karen DeYoung and Carol Morello report. [Washington Post]

Amid accusations of Saudi attempts to meddle in Iraq’s domestic affairs, the country’s foreign minister has summoned the Saudi ambassador in Baghdad. [Al Jazeera]

“Now we are seeing another possible ramification of Washington’s acquiescence to the Iranian power grab.” Max Boot and Michael Pregent make the case for why “appeasing Iran” hurts US interests in Iraq. [Washington Post]

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban has set out conditions for engagement in ongoing peace talks, including the demand that all foreign troops be withdrawn from the country and the call for UN sanctions against the group’s leadership to be lifted. [Wall Street Journal’s Jessica Donati and Margherita Stancati]

China is considering taking on a larger role in the Afghanistan peace process, with the backdrop of withdrawing US troops and the spreading Taliban offensive across the country. [New York Times’ Edward Wong and David Jolly]

Afghan military units fighting the Taliban in Helmand province are undergoing major structural reform and leadership changes, according to a US military official, including the replacement of a number of important commanders. [AP]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Time is running out for the Safe Harbor agreement, lawmakers warn, as the Senate Judiciary Committee delayed its discussion of the Judicial Redress Act by a week on Thursday. Supporters of the bill say that it is vital to negotiations as its passing will assuage EU “concerns about privacy protections in the US.” [The Hill’s Katie Bo Williams]

Europe’s top digital privacy watchdog, Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, is closing in on US tech firms, and in the coming weeks will be at the center of efforts to regulate how digital data is transferred outside the EU. [New York Times’ Mark Scott]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS 

US Secretary of State John Kerry is to meet with Chinese officials to discuss North Korea’s recent nuclear test. He is expected to put pressure on China to take a more active role in dealing with North Korea, reports Felicia Schwartz. [Wall Street Journal]  Kerry’s visit will form part of a larger trip, encompassing Laos and Cambodia, which aims to encourage unity amongst ASEAN nations in an attempt to calm tensions over maritime disputes in the South China Sea. [Reuters] 

Seven people have been detained in Malaysia on suspicion of links to Islamic State. All Malaysian nationals, the arrests fuel rising concerns about the influence Islamic State is wielding in Southeast Asia. [Wall Street Journal’s Yantoultra Ngui]  The country’s prime minister has warned of a “very real” threat following the release of a video from the regional branch of the militant group warning of attacks in Malaysia. [Reuters] 

“Deprived of the basic necessities of life.” The UN repeats its appeal to all parties involved in the conflict in the Yemen to allow humanitarian access to Taiz, following officials’ visits to the city to observe the full extent of the damage to its infrastructure. [UN News Centre] 

“Sickeningly celebratory and familiar.” Mohammed Hanif decries Pakistani officials’ rhetoric around the massacre at Bacha Khan University on Wednesday. Pakistani security experts are even citing the mass killing of students as a sign that the Taliban are weakening, unable to attack anything more than “soft targets” such as schools. [New York Times] 

The “memory of possibility is all we have.” Omar Robert Hamilton reflects on the fact that, although the revolutionary power of the Arab Spring has faded, an Egyptian state which “knows it deserves to be overthrown” is still nervous on its 5th anniversary. [The Guardian] 

A former Guantánamo Bay detainee has appeared in court on a charge of domestic violence in Uruguay. However, the judge found that there was insufficient evidence against him, and he was subsequently freed. [AP]

An IS-inspired machete attack on a Jewish teacher is the latest in a series of knife attacks on Jewish people in Marseille, France. The attacker, a teenage boy, was reportedly attempting to decapitate his victim, who was able to deflect the blows with a copy of the Torah he happened to be holding at the time. [New York Times’ Adam Nossiter] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security