News Roundup and Notes: January 26, 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

The UN special envoy to Syria expects the latest round of peace negotiations to begin on Friday. Announcing that invitations to the talks would be sent out on Tuesday, Staffan de Mistura said that there is a hard road ahead, with a “lot of posturing … a lot of walk-outs and walk-ins.” [UN News Centre; Wall Street Journal’s Dana Ballout and Nathan Hodge]

Recent diplomatic developments “did not give cause for optimism over the negotiations,” said the head of the Syrian opposition negotiating team, quoted by Arabic news channel Al-Hadath. [Reuters]

The Obama administration is prepared to adopt a military solution to the Islamic State in Syria, said Vice President Joe Biden speaking after talks with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The National Security Council declined to comment on whether Biden’s remarks constituted a shift in America’s strategy. [Politico’s Blake Hounshell]

The Syrian military has gained control of Sheikh Maskin, an important town in the south of the country, from rebel forces following weeks of fierce clashes, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Al Jazeera]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition military forces carried out three strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 16 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said she has “a much longer history than one vote,” addressing comments by rival Bernie Sanders concerning her 2002 vote to authorize the war in Iraq. [The Hill’s Lisa Hagen]

IRAN

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani began his visit to Europe yesterday. Leading a 120 member delegation, Rouhani aims to rebuild Tehran’s ties with the West following the lifting of economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic. [Reuters]

Rouhani has today said that economic growth is critical to combating extremism in the Middle East. [Reuters]

Rouhani will meet with Pope Francis today, a sign of the close relationship between the Vatican and Iran. Some say that the close ties could help support peace efforts in Iraq and Syria. [Wall Street Journal’s Francis X. Rocca and Asa Fitch]

The White House is facing fresh difficulties in its relationship with Iran, following the disappearance of three Americans in Baghdad, Iraq. Hard-line Iraqi Shi’ite militiamen with close links to Iran are suspected of being behind the abduction. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon]

LIBYA

Lawmakers in Libya’s internationally recognized parliament have rejected a proposed UN-backed unity government, presenting a setback to diplomatic efforts to bring together the country’s rival factions. [AP]

The New York Times editorial board comments on the Obama administration’s plans to open a new front against the Islamic State in Libya,  opining that it is “deeply troubling” that this escalation is being planned “without a meaningful debate in Congress.”

EGYPT

Egypt’s subdued marking of the anniversary of the Arab Spring constitutes a significant departure from the original uprising, which led to the resignation of president Mubarak and, for a short while, political freedom in Egypt. A few flash protests, against current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, were quickly dispersed. [Wall Street Journal’s Tamer El-Ghobashy; New York Times’ Declan Walsh]

“Twitter uprising” and “Facebook revolution”. Maeve Shearlaw reflects on social media’s function in the Arab Spring. [The Guardian]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

“Lying to the FBI and violating a section of the Espionage Act.” Six current and former US officials have anonymously revealed how former Army General David H Petraeus, originally accused of felonies that carried heavy prison sentences, came to accept a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified material. [Washington Post’s Adam Goldman]

Two Palestinians have been shot dead by a security guard in the West Bank after they attacked two Israeli women with knives. It was the third such attack in the West Bank in eight days. [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner]

A US official’s remarks have been labelled “irresponsible” by a Chinese spokesperson. The remarks, made shortly before Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in China this week to speak on the same issue, concerned the country’s efforts to control North Korea’s nuclear program. [Reuters]

A suspected bomb was discovered at Guantánamo Bay Navy Base’s main shopping center, resulting in the deployment of a bomb squad from Mayport, Florida.  The shopping center is situated around five miles from the Detention Center Zone. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

“Sick of fearmongering:” Politico Magazine’s fourth national Mayors Survey reveals that 81% of 73 mayors surveyed were at least somewhat concerned about a heightened terror threat this year, with many expressing frustration at Congress and presidential candidates for exploiting populist concerns and making the situation worse.

There is “every reason to expect” further terrorist attacks in Europe, warns Europe’s top police agency, Europol. [AP]  The warning follows the release of an Islamic State video in which the group threatened the UK, with specific reference to Prime Minister David Cameron. [Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Dalton and Valentina Pop]

Former secretary of state and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton admitted that she should have apologized quicker for the way she handled her private email server, addressing the Democratic Presidential Town Hall in Des Moines, Iowa, on Monday night. [The Hill’s Lisa Hagen]

Bringing an end to “the longest armed conflict in the Western Hemisphere.” The UN Security Council moved on Monday to set up a UN political mission in Colombia following a joint request from the Colombian Government and FARC-EP. The mission will monitor and verify the cessation of hostilities, as the two sides attempt to end what has been a 51-year conflict. [UN News Centre]

South Sudan’s parties have missed the deadline to set up the Transitional Government of National Unity, prompting the UN to call on the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and African Union member states to act to salvage the peace process. [UN News Centre]  The entreaty comes as a report by a UN Security Council panel finds “clear and convincing evidence” that widespread human rights abuses throughout the two-year civil war were “directed by or undertaken with the knowledge of senior individuals” on both sides. The report recommends heavy sanctions be imposed on those responsible. [Foreign Policy’s Colum Lynch]

There has been little progress on peace talks in Darfur. As fighting resumes in some areas, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, has expressed concern for the welfare of civilians. [UN News Centre]

Al-Shabaab’s coordinated attacks on restaurants in Mogadishu, Somalia, last week, may signal “the possible start of a period of bloody confrontations involving Islamist militants across Africa.” [Wall Street Journal’s Heidi Vogt]

A Saudi-led coalition airstrike has killed a senior Yemeni judge and six of his relatives, according to witnesses. [New York Times’ Shuaib Almosawa]

In the wake of the terrorist attack in Jakarta, The Economist considers the various factors which may pose a threat to South-East Asia’s decades-old “bulwarks against militant Islam.”

Pakistan’s army chief has announced that he will step down in November, prompting fears that the departure of  this “powerful and popular man,” who pressured the government to support a military stance against the Taliban, will destabilize the country’s battle against militant Islamists. [Washington Post’s Tim Craig]

  

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security