News Roundup and Notes: January 27, 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

UN Special Envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura has sent out invitations to the latest round of negotiations seeking to bring to an end the five-year-long Syrian conflict. Mr de Mistura described the details of the guest list as too “sensitive” to be disclosed. [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta]

Syrian Kurds will not be invited to the Geneva peace talks, with a Saudi-backed opposition group taking the lead for the opposition, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said today. [Reuters]  Russia had insisted that the US-backed Kurds be included, while Turkey threatened to boycott the talks if they took part. [Wall Street Journal’s Nathan Hodge and Dion Nissenbaum]

The talks will have a two track agenda, one focusing on governance – “new governance, new constitution and new elections” – and the other humanitarian, with an immediate aim of achieving a broad cease-fire agreement. [Al Monitor’s Laura Rozen]

“Like all previous attempts at a peace deal, there is once again a conspicuous silence on the central issue at stake: President Bashar al-Assad’s future.” Omer Aziz argues that the US is “dooming” the current round of peace negotiations by refusing to address the fate of the Assad regime. [Foreign Policy]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out three airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Jan. 25. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 15 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

Israel and Jordan are both exercising “caution and restraint,” reluctant to be pulled deeper into the Syrian conflict, comments David Ignatius. [Washington Post]

Many former Syrian rebel fighters are “now penniless and disillusioned about a peaceful uprising gone awry,” reports Raja Abdulrahim, profiling one such opponent of the regime now living in Lebanon. [Wall Street Journal]

IRAN

The Iranian navy has warned a US warship today, telling it to leave the sea of Oman where a naval drill was being held, the Tasnim news agency reported. [Reuters]

Tehran could maintain improved relations with the US, however it is for Washington to change its “hostile” attitude towards Iran, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said today. [Reuters]

Pope Francis called on Rouhani to work for peace in the Middle East and to endeavor to halt the spread of terrorism, during a meeting between the two at the Vatican. [Reuters]

Canada is set to lift most of its sanctions against Iran, saying that keeping the measures in place while other nations lift theirs would only damage Canadian interests. [Wall Street Journal’s Paul Viera]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A leaked UN report into the Saudi-led coalition campaign in Yemen has raised questions over the UK’s role in supplying arms to Saudi Arabia and of British military advisers. The report reveals widespread attacks on civilian targets, in violation of international humanitarian law. [The Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill]

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that records from the National Security Council are not subject to open records laws under the Freedom of Information Act. A group at the City University of New York School of Law had sought records from all NSC meetings in 2011 and all records pertaining to US targeted drone strikes. [The Hill’s Mario Trujillo] The full opinion can be found here.

The Islamic State is operating a training base in the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The claim was immediately denied by Tbilisi. [Al Jazeera]

An Afghan police officer is suspected of assisting the Taliban in poisoning 10 officers at a checkpoint, who were then shot in the head by Taliban fighters working with the “rogue” officer, Taimoor Shah and Mujib Mashal report. [New York Times]  Such insider attacks are a common occurrence in rural areas, particularly where the Taliban has a strong presence. [AP]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon traded barbs in the wake of a fatal stabbing attack of an Israeli woman by Palestinian assailants in the West Bank.  Mr Ban described Israel’s ongoing settlement activities as an “affront to the Palestinian people and to the international community,” to which Mr Netanyahu retorted saying that the Secretary General’s comments “give a tailwind to terrorism.” [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner]

Russia will “reset” its relations with the US, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov yesterday, adding that this will be done on Moscow’s terms without concessions to Washington. [New York Times’ Ivan Nechepurenko]

“Enforced disappearances” are become ever more common in Egypt, report Amina Ismail and Declan Walsh, as President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government expands its crackdown on opponents, “real or imagined.” [New York Times]

The French justice minister resigned unexpectedly yesterday, following objections to President Francois Hollande’s citizenship bill which would permit authorities to revoke the citizenship of dual nationals convicted of terrorism. [AP]

A public disagreement is underway between Defense Secretary Ash Carter and leaders of military branches over spending; both sides failing to see eye-to-eye on how to prepare for long-term military threats to the US. [Wall Street Journal’s Austin Wright]

The US and China differ on how to respond to North Korea’s nuclear program, Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi disagreeing on how to specifically respond, while achieving broad consensus on wider themes. [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz]  And the AP asks whether American tourists who travel to North Korea are “unwittingly offering themselves up as valuable pawns in a political game with Pyongyang,” following the arrest of a US university student.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is working to highlight her role as peacemaker, reports Michael Crowley, as she makes her closing case to the “anti-war Iowa liberals who rejected her in 2008.” [Politico]

“Decades of military policies against the Kurds have shown only that violence begets more violence.” Former mayor of Diyarbakir’s Sur district in Turkey, Abdullah Demirbas comments on the “devastating war” in Kurdish parts of the country, opining that it is undoing years of progress in Turkey. [New York Times] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security