News Roundup and Notes: November 8, 2013

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

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said yesterday that the negotiating powers will draft the text of a framework agreement on Friday, amidst “talk that an agreement could even be signed on Friday or Saturday” [Laura Rozen at Al-Monitor’s Back Chanel]. At the conclusion of yesterday’s talks, Zarif told Al-Monitor, “We are talking about a framework agreement that includes three steps: objectives, end game, and a first step.” He claimed that the negotiations were on the “right track.”

And in “the strongest sign so far of an agreement on a first step toward a comprehensive final deal,” NBC News (Ann Curry) reported last evening that Secretary of State John Kerry would be making an unplanned trip to Geneva to join the Iran negotiations today.

The Department of State Twitter account confirmed Kerry’s attendance this morning:

In a similar move, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague announced earlier today:

And reportedly, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is also traveling to Geneva to finalize the deal [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon and Laurence Norman].

The New York Times (Michael Gordon), Wall Street Journal (Jay Solomon and Laurence Norman) and Washington Post (Joby Warrick and William Booth) have more detail on the possible deal with Iran.

In the U.S., White House spokesperson Jay Carney defended the negotiations, claiming [The Hill’s Julian Pecquet]:

This would stop Iran’s nuclear program from advancing for the first time in a decade.

In an interview with NBC News’ Chuck Todd, President Obama also defended the negotiations, while stating:

We don’t have to dismantle sanctions to [agree on a good deal]. If, in fact that proves to be a possibility, then it’s greatly preferable to us ratcheting up that conflict higher and higher, which ultimately might lead to some sort of confrontation.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) told Reuters (Patricia Zengerle) yesterday, “We’ll wait until the Geneva meeting is over with, but I talked to [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid about it yesterday and he wants to mark up” the bill authorizing new sanctions. But in an emailed statement to The Hill (Julian Pecquet), Johnson clarified:

Leader Reid did not ask me to make a final determination on a sanctions mark-up before this round of talks in Geneva has concluded. I don’t know the outcome of negotiations now underway in Geneva, and I plan to wait to hear any results of those talks from our negotiators before making a final decision.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has continued to issue warnings to the West over the proposed deal with Iran:

According to Netanyahu’s official website, the Prime Minister told U.S. delegates yesterday:

What we’re having today is a situation that Iran is giving up, at best, a few days of enrichment time, but the whole international regime’s sanctions policy has the air taken out of it. That’s a big mistake, it will relieve all the pressure inside Iran, it is a historic mistake, a grievous historic mistake.

Netanyahu also warned Kerry this morning that Israel does not see itself bound by any agreement that the P5+1 powers reach with Iran [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid].

The Associated Press and Politico (Josh Gerstein) have more on Israel’s reaction to the proposed Iran deal.

Surveillance

At the U.K. parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee’s hearing into global surveillance yesterday, the heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ expressed fury over Edward Snowden’s leaks [The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour]. MI6 chief John Sawers claimed:

The leaks from Snowden have been very damaging. They have put our operations at risk. It is clear our adversaries are rubbing their hands with glee. Al-Qaida is lapping it up.

Both Sawers and Iain Lobban, the head of GCHQ, declined to provide specific examples of compromised intelligence capability at a public hearing, but promised they would be “very, very specific” at a future private hearing.

Lobban attempted to reassure the Committee members and the public by emphasizing his agency does not “delve into innocent emails and phonecalls:”

We do not spend our time listening to the telephone calls or reading the emails of the majority, the vast majority – that would not be proportionate, it would not be legal…We can only look at the content of communications where there are very specific legal thresholds and requirements which have been met.

Andrew Parker, the director general of MI5, also revealed at the hearing that 34 terrorist plots against the U.K. had been foiled since the 2005 London bombings, but there were “several thousand” extremists still in the U.K. [The Telegraph’s Tom Whitehead et al.].

The Guardian editorial notes that the committee “barely touched on the substantive issues,” failing to ask questions about GCHQ’s reported involvement in intercepting traffic between Google and Yahoo data servers, the spying on world leaders or the reliance on corporate partners “well beyond” the legal requirements.

The Washington Post (Mark Hosenball and Warren Strobel) reports that Edward Snowden persuaded up to 25 co-workers at the NSA to provide him with their log-in details which he used to access confidential information. According to a source, these agency employees were identified and subsequently removed from their assignments.

The Economist covers how internet programmers, “stung by revelations of ubiquitous surveillance and compromised software,” are debating how to increase internet security, including at the recent meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Jane Harman warns that in the “post-Snowden age,” the administration “should be open to multilateral agreements and possibly a global convention on surveillance,” beyond legal-limits imposed by Congress.

Benghazi

The New York Times (Bill Carter and Michael S. Schmidt) reports that according to two senior government officials, Dylan Davies, a security officer at the U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi, previously told the FBI that he was not on the scene until the morning after the attack, which contradicts the version provided to CBS News’ 60 Minutes.

In response, CBS News has announced it is “reviewing” whether their witness misled the channel.

Israel-Palestine

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters this morning “pressure has to be put where it belongs: that is on the Palestinians, who refuse to budge” [Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung]. Meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry before Kerry’s detour to Iran, Netanyahu added:

No amount of pressure will make me or the government of Israel compromise on the basic security interests and the national interest of the state of Israel.

In a joint Israeli-Palestinian television interview yesterday, Kerry warned:

If we don’t resolve the question of settlements and the question of who lives where and how and what rights they have, if we don’t end the presence of Israeli soldiers perpetually within the West Bank, then there will be an increasing feeling that if we cannot get peace with a leadership that is committed to nonviolence, you may wind up with leadership that is committed to violence.

The New York Times’ Mark Landler also covers Kerry’s diplomacy in the Middle East, noting that unlike former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Kerry takes a “personal approach” to the Middle East peace process.

And in a joint press conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh yesterday, Kerry stated:

Jordan is not just a neighbor, not a passive bystander in this process. Jordan is integrally involved in and has high stakes in the outcome of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the questions of peace.

Taliban and drones

The Pakistani Taliban has announced a wave of revenge attacks following the U.S. drone strike last Friday, and has elected Mullah Fazlullah as its new leader [Reuters’ Saud Mehsud]. The group “will target security forces, government installations, political leaders and police.” Under Fazlullah’s leadership, the organization has dismissed talks with the government as “just a trap of enemies and to distract the masses” [BBC]. The Washington Post (Tim Craig and Haq Nawaz Khan) notes that the new leader is a “hard-line commander responsible for some of the country’s worst violence, including the recent assassination of a Pakistani general and the attempted killing of schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai last year.”

The Dawn (Anwar Iqbal) reports that former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani claims in his recently published book that the government has often privately asked the U.S. to eliminate Taliban leaders, including Baitullah Mehsud who was killed last week.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Daniel S Markey writes that the killing of the Taliban leader last week “is a possible turning point” and warns that if the situation is “handled poorly, this narrow counterterrorism success will come at a cost in bilateral relations, regional counterterrorism operations and the endgame of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.”

In the U.S., the bill approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee, authorizing next year’s intelligence operations, requires public disclosure of civilian deaths caused by drone strikes [The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman].

And the Federal Aviation Administration has released a “road map” outlining plans for how drones will share airspace with civilian aircrafts by 2015, but does not indicate plans for increased privacy protections [Politico’s Kathryn Wolfe].

Syria

As noted in yesterday’s Roundup, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has officially announced the verification of one of the two remaining sites declared by the Syrian regime [UN News Centre]. A spokesperson stated, “The site was confirmed as dismantled and long abandoned, with the building showing extensive battle damage.”

The Guardian’s Ian Black covers how Saudi Arabia is set to spend millions of dollars to train and arm fighters in a new rebel group, Jaysh al-Islam in an effort to “defeat Bashar al-Assad’s regime and act as a counter-weight to increasingly powerful jihadi organisations.”

The Economist concludes that there is “no hint of compromise” on Syria as the “big powers and the regional ones cannot even muster a quorum for peace talks.”

Other developments

According to a new report from the Office of Management and Budget, the government shutdown last month cost at least $2 billion [The Hill’s Erik Wasson]. The Defense Department tops the list of the number of lost man-hours in each agency.

The Hill (Julian Pecquet) reports that the U.S. will be losing its vote on a UN panel “for the first time in its history” for failing to pay its dues to UNESCO for three years in a row, after the Obama administration was forced to halt funding due to Palestinian membership. A National Security Council spokeswoman told The Hill:

We are concerned that the loss of our vote could leave a leadership vacuum that other governments that don’t share our commitment to democratic principles may try to fill. The loss of U.S. contributions to UNESCO has already had an adverse effect on programs related to freedom of the press, Internet governance, Holocaust education, and world heritage issues.

The U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Command has opened a criminal probe into allegations that U.S. troops were involved in the killing of civilians in Afghanistan [CNN’s Barbara Starr].

The Obama administration has nominated the U.S. Army’s second-highest-ranking civilian to be the next Saudi Arabia ambassador, “underscoring the U.S.’s centrality to the oil kingdom’s security amid Saudi concern over improving U.S. relations with Iran” [Wall Street Journal’s Ellen Knickmeyer].

The Washington Post (Craig Whitlock) reports that prosecutors in the U.S. Navy bribery case have alleged that Malaysian businessmen recruited high-placed moles in the Navy, who leaked sensitive information about contracts and law enforcement investigations that were targeting the Singapore-based defense company, Glenn Defense Marine.

The European Court of Justice – the EU’s top court – has ruled that a credible threat of persecution for homosexuality constitutes grounds for asylum, in a ruling that could affect thousands of asylum cases pending across the EU member states [Wall Street Journal’s Gabriele Steinhauser].

According to a UN diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity, Jordan is set to replace Saudi Arabia on the UN Security Council for a two-year term [AP].

Al Jazeera America (Jason Leopold) reports on some of the content of the first in a series of personal diaries kept by Abu Zubaydah, one of the highest-profile prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. The article claims that “the diaries, which were never officially released, cast fresh light on Abu Zubaydah and challenge some of the Bush administration’s accounts of its ‘war on terror.’”

Rival factions in Libya have clashed in Tripoli for hours, killing at least one person [Al Jazeera].

According to a Ugandan military spokesperson, the Ugandan military has begun the process of disarming M23 rebels in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo [New York Times’ Nicholas Kulish].

At least 19 soldiers have been killed in a suicide attack at the military base in the Iraqi town of Tarmiyah yesterday [Al Jazeera].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).