News Roundup and Notes: November 13, 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

As lawmakers consider new sanctions against Iran, White House press secretary Jay Carney warned yesterday that disrupting a deal with Iran would be a “march to war” [The Hill’s Jeremy Herb]. Carney added:

It is important for Congress to reserve its ability to legislate for the moment when it is most effective in order to give the current P5+1 negotiations the best chance to make real progress in achieving our shared goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Secretary of State John Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden and other senior administration officials are scheduled to brief the Senate Banking Committee and the Senate Democratic leaders later today on the Geneva negotiations [Politico’s Burgess Everett and John Bresnahan]. However, the Senate remains strongly divided on whether to proceed with new sanctions against Iran. While some members such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have stated that “a third round of sanctions is necessary,” others have agreed to defer their decision until briefed by the administration. Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), for example, has stated, “I think we ought to not interfere with the negotiations.”

The Associated Press, New York Times (Jonathan Weisman) and Wall Street Journal (Michael Crittenden et al.) also cover the challenges facing the Obama administration amidst growing skepticism from U.S. lawmakers over the negotiations with Iran.

Meanwhile, President Obama has renewed the national emergency declaration with respect to Iran – originally signed in 1979 – stating, “our relations with Iran have not yet returned to normal, and the process of implementing the agreements with Iran, dated January 19, 1981, is still under way.” While this is a “technical move,” it highlights “this past week’s failure to reach a deal on Iran’s nuclear program” [The Hill’s Julian Pecquet].

The Wall Street Journal (Stacy Meichtry) notes that the developments in Geneva demonstrate France’s “growing influence and assertiveness in Middle East affairs,” particularly “at a time when Washington is treading softly.”

In an op-ed in Al Jazeera America, Christopher A. Bidwell notes that “Iran is arguing with the wrong U.S. officials” and that Tehran needs to focus on Congress to end the sanctions regime. Bidwell warns that while “Senate’s most active sponsors of sanction legislation — Mark Kirk, R-Ill.; Robert Menendez, D-N.J.; Joe Manchin, D-W.V.; and Bob Corker, R-Tenn. — showed restraint as October negotiations got under way, they may not hold off for long.”

In the New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman argues, “We, America, have our own interests in not only seeing Iran’s nuclear weapons capability curtailed, but in ending the 34-year-old Iran-U.S. cold war.” He states that the U.S. “must not be reluctant about articulating and asserting our interests in the face of Israeli and Arab efforts to block a deal.”

Patrick Clawson and Mehdi Khalaji similarly argue that “the challenge for the Obama administration is to take steps that would make a nuclear accord a success for U.S. interests rather than facilitate the Islamic Republic’s hegemony at home and in the region” [Washington Post].

Egypt

An Egyptian court has ordered an end to the state of emergency that was imposed following the crackdown on protestors supporting ousted President Mohamed Morsi [Al Jazeera]. However, the military has stated that it is awaiting executive order to lift the curfew. 

And the Washington Post (Eric Cunningham) reports that Egypt’s secular parties are “plagued by infighting, disorganization and disparate ideologies” and are “struggling to capitalize on the downfall of their chief political foe and his Muslim Brotherhood backers.”

Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly halted a plan last night to explore the potential construction of thousands of new settlements in the West Bank, which was announced earlier in the day by his Housing Minister, Uri Ariel [AP]. The announcement had prompted a Palestinian threat to walk out of the peace talks. Noting that the plan had been drawn up “without any advance coordination,” Netanyahu stated:

This is a meaningless step — legally and in practice — and an action that creates an unnecessary confrontation with the international community at a time when we are making an effort to persuade elements in the international community to reach a better deal with Iran.

The New York Times (Jodi Rudoren) and Wall Street Journal (Joshua Mitnick) have more on this development.

Syria

Reuters (Khaled Yacoub Oweis) reports that the Syrian government forces advanced on rebels in the northern city of Aleppo yesterday, in an effort to regain territory lost to the opposition. According to activists, Islamist rebel groups viewed the regime’s advances as a grave threat, thus declaring an emergency and summoning all rebel fighters.

The western-backed Syrian Opposition Coalition, currently in exile in Turkey, has elected an interim government in coordination with rebel groups in Syria’s north [Wall Street Journal’s Rima Abushakra]. The armed opposition have not yet commented on any arrangement.

The New York Times (Ben Hubbard) covers how private donors are supporting opposition groups, adding a “wild card” to the civil war.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Albanians protested yesterday at the prospect of Syria’s chemical weapons being brought to their country to be destroyed, “exposing a rare dent in the NATO member’s loyalty to the United States” [Al Jazeera America]. Prime Minister Edi Rama confirmed yesterday that no final decision has been made.

In the U.S., Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) has told Fox News (Catherine Herridge) of his concerns that Western jihadist fighters in Syria could bring terror back to the West.

And the State Department has welcomed the Syrian Coalition’s decision to participate in the Geneva II conference as “a significant step forward.”

Afghanistan

The Wall Street Journal (Nathan Hodge) reports that the increasing criminalization of commercial disputes in Afghanistan “comes at a delicate time in U.S.-Afghan relations”, with the question of immunity for U.S. personnel and contractors being “the last major issue of contention” in the talks between the two sides.

The Washington Post (Matthew Rosenberg) covers how the “United States has struggled for years to cut off the main contribution American taxpayers make to Taliban coffers: the hiring of Afghan contractors with ties to the insurgents.” A recent case raises new doubts about the military’s ability to “weed out suspicious contractors.”

The Washington Post editorial finds it “incomprehensible that the State Department is dragging its feet in providing [Afghan] interpreters with U.S. visas” despite the retribution the translators face from the Taliban.

Democratic Republic of Congo 

According to the country’s Information Minister, Lambert Mende the DRC has refused to sign a deal with the M23 rebels, due to problems with the title of the document, not its contents [BBC]. Mende said that in calling the document an agreement or accord, the deal was giving “credibility to criminals” as “you sign an agreement with a body that is legitimate and that exists.” UN special envoy to the DRC, Martin Kobler expressed confidence that the talks would resume following a “cooling off” period. 

The New York Times (Nicholas Kulish and Somini Sengupta) covers the success of the new UN Force Intervention Brigade, noting that “the gamble” in authorizing the troops to “neutralize armed groups” appears to have worked in the DRC, “even as it raises new risks.”

Other developments

U.S. officials have told CNN that the State Department will designate Boko Haram – the Nigeria-based and al-Qaeda affiliated extremist group – and Ansaru, an offshoot, as Foreign Terrorist Organizations [CNN’s Security Clearance’s Elise Labott].

Three senior Navy civilian officials are being investigated as part of an inquiry into an alleged defrauding scheme that “charged the military $1.6 million for homemade firearm silencers that cost only $8,000 to manufacture” [Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock].

President Obama’s nominee for the Department of Homeland Security chief, Jeh Johnson has a confirmation hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee today [NPR].

A man from North Carolina has been charged in a federal criminal indictment with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, as he allegedly sought to join an al-Qaeda-linked militant group in Syria [AP].

The Associated Press reports that a military drone crashed into Lake Ontario during a New York Air National Guard training mission. There were no reported injuries.

UN Security Council member, Rwanda plans to put to vote a draft resolution authorizing the ICC to defer the trials of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto for one year [Reuters’ Michelle Nichols]. According to diplomats, the Security Council is split over the request.

In a unanimously adopted resolution yesterday, the Security Council authorized a “temporary boost for the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia of over 4,000 troops and an expanded logistical package so it can maintain basic security and respond to the evolving threat from Al-Shabaab insurgents” [UN News Centre].

BBC reports that China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Vietnam have been elected to the UN Human Rights Council, amidst concerns about the countries’ rights records voiced by human rights organizations.

Three bombs went off in Iraq’s Baqouba today, targeting Shiites observing a religious ritual and killing at least eight people [AP].

The Wall Street Journal (Jeremy Page) notes that China’s Communist Party aims to set up a state security committee, with “the potential to cement President Xi Jinping’s hold on the military, domestic security and foreign policy and help establish him as the country’s most individually powerful leader since Deng Xiaoping.”

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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