News Roundup and Notes: November 12, 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

The Guardian (Julian Borger and Ian Traynor) covers how a “last-minute rethink” stalled a deal with Iran, according to Western officials. A Saturday-night meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius “led to an 11th-hour toughening of the west’s position on Iran’s nuclear programme that proved unacceptable to Iranian negotiators.” The points of contention with the draft presented by the P5+1 included the lack of a guarantee in the preamble about Iran’s right to enrich uranium and the halting of Iran’s Arak reactor.

Speaking at a press conference in Abu Dhabi yesterday, Kerry stated, in reference to the Geneva negotiations:

The P5+1 was unified…on Saturday – when we presented a proposal to the Iranians. And the French signed off on it, we signed off on it, everybody agreed this was a fair proposal. There was unity. But Iran couldn’t take it at that particular moment; they weren’t able to accept that particular agreement.

In response, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif took to Twitter, denying that Iran was to blame for stalled negotiations:

A French diplomat, on the other hand, has stated that reports that the deal failed because of the French position was part of a “blame-game strategy by Tehran for not getting the accord it wanted” [Al Jazeera America’s Bruce Crumley].

And the “blame-game” continues as a Russian Foreign Ministry source stated this morning that Kerry’s “interpretation simplifies to an extreme and even distorts what happened in Geneva” [AFP]. The source added:

The draft joint document suited the Iranian side. But since decisions at negotiations are taken by consensus, it was not possible to make a final deal. And this was not the fault of the Iranians.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has been keen to reassure its Middle Eastern allies. U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro sought to reassure leaders at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly in Jerusalem yesterday, stating [AFP]:

Obama has made it crystal clear that he will not permit Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon period, and is prepared to use all elements of our national power to ensure that we are successful.

At yesterday’s press conference with Emirati Foreign Minister Abdallah bin Zayid Al Nuhayyan, Kerry emphasized that the “United States is committed to protecting our security and the security of our allies” from Iran’s nuclear capabilities, but urged allies, including Israel, not to oppose negotiations:

…the time to oppose it is when you see what it is, not to oppose the effort to find out what is possible.

The New York Times’ Mark Landler has more on this story.

Kerry is set to testify on the Geneva negotiations before the Senate Banking Committee tomorrow behind closed doors, as senators from both parties have called for tougher economic sanctions against Iran [CNN’s Security Clearance’s Ted Barrett and Elise Labott]. While Vice President Biden briefed Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on the negotiations by phone yesterday, as part of the administration’s effort to prevent Congress from passing tougher sanctions [The Hill’s Jeremy Herb].

And in a related development, the U.K. Foreign Office appointed a veteran diplomat yesterday as its charge d’affaires for Iran, in the first step toward reopening its embassy in Tehran [Al Jazeera America].

Analysis in the media continues. The Washington Post editorial argues that the “latest pause in the talks was fortunate,” as “the Obama administration could profitably spend the time before the next round of talks ensuring that whatever terms it puts forward for limiting Iranian nuclear capacity have broad support in Washington and among U.S. allies.” The New York Times editorial notes that the “inconclusive negotiations” have allowed Israeli opponents “to generate more hysterical opposition.” The editorial calls upon the U.S. and its allies to be “united and smart,” arguing that the “best way to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon is through a negotiated deal.”

In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Dalia Dassa Kaye notes that “a number of prominent security voices in Israel have taken views that differ from Netanyahu’s maximalist stance.” Many Israelis accept a final nuclear deal that “would protect Israeli security while allowing for limited enrichment activity in Iran.” And Nima Shirazi outlines U.S. hypocrisy over Iran’s right to enrich uranium, noting that, in fact, “Iran’s inalienable right to a peaceful, domestic nuclear energy program is affirmed by international law via the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Surveillance

Der Spiegel reports that according to a “top-secret” GCHQ presentation leaked by Edward Snowden, the UK spy agency targeted employees of mobile communications companies and billing companies to gain access to company networks. One method included using fake copies of LinkedIn profiles, with an invisible feature: “a small piece of malware that turned their computers into tools for Britain’s GCHQ intelligence service.”

Yesterday, Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) spoke to the civil liberties and justice committee of the European Parliament, calling upon the EU “to work pragmatically with the United States to continue balanced efforts to protect our nations” [The Guardian’s Dan Robers]. Sensenbrenner defended the reforms outlined in his USA Freedom bill, while stating to European parliamentarians:

Together we can rebuild trust while defending civil liberties and national security on both sides of the Atlantic.

Sen. John McCain’s office clarified to Politico yesterday:  “Senator McCain believes that there needs to be accountability for the Snowden leaks, but he is not calling for the resignation of General Alexander, who is retiring soon” (Juana Summers).

And the New York Times (Alison Smale and David E. Sanger) covers how the “spying scandal alters U.S. ties with allies and raises talk of policy shift,” including “a concrete, commercial backlash.”

Egypt

David Ignatius notes that the strain in the U.S.-Egypt relationship “doesn’t seem to have diminished cooperation between the two countries’ intelligence services,” according to Egypt’s General Intelligence Service director, Gen. Mohammed Farid el-Tohamy [Washington Post].

In an interview with AFP, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy stated that his country will be expanding cooperation with Russia:

Independence is having choices. So the objective of this foreign policy is to provide Egypt with choices, more choices. So I’m not going to substitute. I’m going to add.

Al Jazeera America’s Ashraf Khalil covers how Egypt’s ‘Committee of 50’ is attempting to re-write the country’s constitution, noting that the group faces a “Herculean task on short deadline.”

Taliban

The Wall Street Journal (Nathan Hodge and Habib Khan Totakhil) reports that the Afghani Taliban has threatened participants of Afghanistan’s local assembly that is due to meet this month to consider the bilateral security agreement with the U.S. A statement of the Taliban claimed:

If the Jirga approves the agreement with America, the Islamic Emirate will include all participants of the Jirga in a list of national traitors, and will target every one separately to punish them for this historical treason.

Meanwhile, a senior leader of the Haqqani militant network, Nasiruddin Haqqani was shot dead in Pakistan on Sunday [New York Times’ Declan Walsh and Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud]. There are conflicting views about the responsibility for the killing, with Pakistani intelligence suspecting their Afghani counterparts as having ordered the killing.

And in an “extraordinary statement,” the Pakistan Army has demanded an unconditional apology from a religious hardliner for referring to dead terrorists as “martyrs,” stating such remarks were “irresponsible and misleading” [The Nation’s Sikander Shaheen].

Syria

The New York Times (Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad) and Washington Post (Loveday Morris) have more coverage on the Syrian National Coalition’s announcement yesterday to attend the Geneva II peace talks under certain conditions.

Other developments

The Hill’s Jeremy Herb covers the five biggest issues in the Defense Authorization bill, including reform in the handling of military sexual assaults, NSA surveillance, Iran sanctions, future of Guantanamo detainees, and sequestration.

Pentagon’s comptroller Robert Hale has told Politico,  “Frankly, I am nervous” as the 2014 fiscal situation for the Department of Defense is still unclear (David Rogers).

Reuters (Hamid Shalizi AND Dylan Welch) reports that the Afghani intelligence service abandoned its investigation into the disappearance and murder of a group of civilians in the Wardak province following a U.S. raid last year, due to the lack of U.S. cooperation.

The UN envoys and their diplomatic counterparts expressed regret that peace talks between the M23 rebel group and the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo failed to be concluded last evening [UN News Centre]. According to the envoys, “the parties have expressed no differences on substantive points within the draft document” but “agreement on the format has not yet been reached.”

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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