News Roundup and Notes: November 14, 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

Republican senators – and a number of Senate Democrats – remained unconvinced following Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden’s appeal yesterday to delay a new round of sanctions against Iran [Politico’s Josh Bresnahan and Burgess Everett]. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) complained, “It was solely an emotional appeal” and expressed surprise that “in a classified setting, when you are trying to talk to the very folks that would be originating legislation relative to sanctions, there would be such a lack of specificity.” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) voiced concern that “we are reducing sanctions while Iran is not reducing its nuclear capabilities.”

The New York Times (Jonathan Weisman and Michael R. Gordon), Wall Street Journal (Michael R. Crittenden and Carol E. Lee) and Washington Post (Anne Gearan) have more on this development.

The Hill (Julian Pecquet) reports that House lawmakers from both parties are also “seeking to tie President Obama’s hands on negotiations with Iran.” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) has expressed an intention to introduce a bipartisan resolution that would require conditions to be satisfied by Iran before the administration can lift the economic sanctions.

Meanwhile, Obama and French President François Hollande discussed developments on Iran by phone yesterday. The White House stated that the two countries “are in full agreement regarding the P5+1’s unified proposal to Iran and the approach to negotiations.” And a statement from Hollande’s office similarly announced, “The two heads of state expressed their common will to obtain from Iran guarantees that it is definitively abandoning its military nuclear programme” [France 24].

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has continued to warn the West over Iran, stating yesterday that a “bad deal could lead to the second, undesired option” of war [Reuters]. And Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz suggested that the sanctions relief package offered by the West to Iran could be worth up to $40 billion to Tehran, claiming this would be a “very significant relief for the Iranians” [Haaretz].

However, State Department spokesperson Jennifer Psaki dismissed the Israeli assessment, stating that the figures were “inaccurate, exaggerated and not based in reality” [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon]. While declining to provide a value, Psaki said the U.S. estimate is lower than Steinitz’s figures.

And speaking yesterday, National Security Adviser Susan Rice called upon Netanyahu to defer criticism of the proposed deal with Iran as “it’s premature to judge [the deal] because the outlines have yet to be finalized” [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]. Rice emphasized that any deal the U.S. accepts will be one that “is in our interests and the interests of our allies and partners in the region and beyond.”

Department of Defense

The Air Force chief of staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, has indicated that drone combat missions may eventually be scaled back as the Predator and Reaper drones that worked successfully in Afghanistan and Iraq are not well suited to other regions [Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock].

Reuters’ Warren Strobel reports that according to defense officials, the DoD will no longer be purchasing Russian helicopters for the Afghan Air Force from the state-owned arms exporter, Rosoboronexport, which also sells arms to the Syrian government.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, former head of the Air Force’s sexual assault prevention branch, who was accused of assaulting a woman earlier this year, has been acquitted by a jury [Washington Post’s Rachel Weiner and Matt Zapotosky]. [Just Security’s Andy Wright has a post in The Pipeline on “Case Screening Reform and Sexual Assault in the Military.”]

Politico’s Josh Gerstein covers how the “the toppling of a series of generals and admirals and an ugly bribery scandal in the Navy threaten to tar the military’s image at a time when it most needs the support of the public and Congress.”

Four marines were killed yesterday during a range maintenance operation at California’s Camp Pendleton [CNN’s Michael Martinez and Larry Shaughnessy].

Surveillance

In the latest legal battle against Lavabit, the encrypted e-mail provider used by Edward Snowden, the U.S. government argues that companies offering encrypted communications cannot block a court order to hand over data on the basis that it conflicts with a company pledge to protect customers [Wall Street Journal’s Danny Yadron].

Addressing the Senate Judiciary Committee’s privacy subcommittee yesterday, DNI general counsel Robert Litt argued [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]:

The more detail we provide out there…the more easy it becomes for our adversaries to know where to talk and where not to talk. Breaking it down further, in our view, crosses the line of the appropriate balance between transparency and national security.

The Financial Times (Richard Waters) reports that Cisco Systems has warned that recent revelations of internet surveillance have prompted a “level of uncertainty or concern” among international customers, citing “emerging markets backlash on NSA leaks for sales slump.”

Syria

The Syrian government forces recaptured a suburb of Damascus yesterday, while battles continue against rebel forces over the northern city of Aleppo [New York Times’ Anne Barnard]. The BBC reports that the al-Qaeda affiliate, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has issued a statement calling upon “all brigades and Muslims to face off against the enemy” in an effort to halt the regime’s advances in Aleppo.

In an opinion in Al Jazeera America, Mary Kaldor argues that Syria’s “new war” requires a different approach, with both “top-down and bottom-up” solutions. Kaldor writes that a new model could involve an “international agreement that refuses to allow sectarian divisions to be reproduced at a geopolitical level and aims to weaken the new war economy.”

Israel-Palestine

A spokesperson for the Palestinian mission to the United Nations told CNN yesterday that the Palestinian negotiating team has resigned owing to “Israeli illegal practices, especially settlement activities” (Kareem Khadder et al.). A senior U.S. administration official has played down the news, saying that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, “the man in charge” is committed to the U.S.-brokered peace talks.

Abbas has suggested that the negotiations would continue, stating to an Egyptian TV interviewer, “Either we can convince [the team] to return, and we’re trying with them, or we form a new delegation” [Al Jazeera America].

The New York Times (Isabel Kershner) reports that a Palestinian teenager fatally stabbed an Israeli soldier yesterday, “further clouding a peace process that was already severely strained by Israeli settlement plans in the West Bank.”

And Fox News (Paul Alster) covers how Secretary of State John Kerry’s comments last week on the possibility of “a third Intifada” has required America’s ambassador to Israel to engage in “damage control mode.”

Egypt

As Egypt’s state of emergency expires, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed “the importance of respect for peaceful protest and freedom of assembly, and a commitment to dialogue and non-violence.”

Ousted President Mohamed Morsi has written a letter accusing those responsible for removing him from power of committing “treason against the whole nation” [Al Jazeera]. He stated that Egypt would not be stable until “the military coup is eliminated and those responsible for shedding Egyptians’ blood are held accountable.”

BBC reports that Russian and Egyptian ministers are holding talks in Cairo that could include a “possible arms deals that could be worth as much as $2bn.” And Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview with Al-Ahram’s Samy Omara yesterday that relations with Egypt are a “priority” for Russia.

Other developments

As noted in yesterday’s News Roundup, the State Department has now designated Boko Haram and Ansaru as Foreign Terrorist Organizations and as Specially Designated Global Terrorists as part of U.S. efforts “to help Nigeria succeed in adopting a comprehensive approach to address its domestic terrorist threat.”

The Washington Post (Carol D. Leonnig and David Nakamura) reports that two Secret Service agents were removed from President Obama’s security detail after one senior agent was found trying to force his way into a woman’s room and both agents were discovered as having sent sexually suggestive e-mails to a female subordinate.

A U.S. Federal Appeals court has upheld a Massachusetts man’s 2011 conviction of attempting to aid al-Qaida, ruling that the trial court had balanced the “fine line between national security concerns and forbidden encroachments on constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and association” [AP].

The Washington Post (Joe Davidson) covers the quality-control problems with the government’s security clearance process, based upon the testimony of the Government Accountability Office Director, Brenda S. Farrell before a House subcommittee yesterday.

Federal law enforcement officials have expressed increasing concerns about the threats posed by plastic handguns produced by using 3-D printers because they can potentially “defeat metal detection,” but are still capable of firing lethal rounds [Washington Post’s Michael S. Rosenwald].

A U.K. Cabinet Office spokesperson has denied claims that the U.S. has a veto over the disclosure of communications between Tony Blair and George W. Bush on the war with Iraq, as part of the U.K. inquiry into the conflict [BBC].

The Wall Street Journal (Yaroslav Trofimov) notes that Mullah Fazlullah’s election as the Pakistani Taliban’s new chief “marks not only a power shift within the militant network, but also threatens to ignite fresh conflict between Islamabad and Kabul.” Some Pakistani and Western officials believe that Fazlullah enjoys support from some within the Afghan intelligence services.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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