News Roundup and Notes: November 20, 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.

Guantanamo Bay

ICYMI, yesterday, the Senate defeated an amendment that would have restricted the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to the U.S. or another country [The Hill’s Ramsey Cox and Jeremy Herb]. Adam Serwer at MSNBC also covers the development, noting that “for the first time in years, supporters of closing the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay can point to a victory in Congress.” [Check out Just Security’s Marty Lederman’s post last evening on “Heartening News from the Senate — Sections 1031-1033 of the SASC NDAA Survive.”]

Iran

The P5+1 and Iran are back at the negotiating table in Geneva today [Reuters’ Justyna Pawlak and Fredrik Dahl]. [Check out Just Security’s Ryan Goodman’s post from earlier this morning sampling expert opinion contesting the “right” of Iran to enrich uranium.]

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif expressed optimism yesterday, stating “I think there is every possibility for success” [AFP]. Zarif also sought to reassure skeptics by posting a video statement on YouTube.

President Obama adopted a more cautious tone, stating, “I don’t know if we’ll be able to close a deal this week or next week” when addressing the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council (Carol E. Lee and Michael R. Crittenden).

In “signs of behind-the-scenes progress,” a French defense source has said that the French insistence on a complete halt to work on Iran’s heavy water reactor was still being debated in Paris [The Guardian’s Julian Borger et al.]. And U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron spoke on the phone to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani:

In the U.S., Politico (Jonathan Allen) and The Hill (Julian Pecquet and Justin Sink) report on President Obama’s two-hour, closed-door meeting with senators yesterday evening, during which he asked senators to hold off on voting on additional sanctions against Iran. “In a modest concession,” senators have agreed to delay further action until after the talks this week [New York Times’ Mark Landler and Jonathan Weisman].

Debate and analysis in the media continues. In an op-ed in the New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman explains why Kerry’s efforts toward a deal with Iran is “good for us and our allies,” noting that in “strengthening more moderate tendencies in Iran,” the deal could lead to “lasting security.” Barbara Slavin explores the “long history of false starts, missed opportunities and failures to communicate” in relation to Iran, which suggests that “the same mistrust that scuttled past efforts will do so once again” [Politico Magazine].

Hossein Mousavian, former spokesperson for Iran’s nuclear negotiators, argues that sanctions did not bring Iran to the negotiating table [Financial Times]. Rather, the “real cause” is President Rouhani’s desire to “reach a rapprochement with the U.S.” and others, “alongside the fact that the U.S. red line has changed from ‘no enrichment of uranium’ to ‘no nuclear bomb.’” At CNN, Barak Seener explores why Israel and the Gulf states are wary of Iran talks, arguing that “Israel does not see the U.S. as a reliable ally.” And Max Fisher at the Washington Post analyzes Mohammad Javad Zarif’s video statement, noting Zarif’s “triple-underlined message that he repeats over and over: You have to treat us with respect.”

Meanwhile, the twin suicide blasts near the Iranian embassy in Beirut yesterday have killed more than 20 people [Al Jazeera America]. Reuters (Laila Bassam and Erika Solomon) reports that Lebanon-based Al-Qaeda affiliate, the Abdullah Azzam brigades claimed responsibility for the attack, and “threatened further attacks unless Iran withdraws forces from Syria.” The New York Times (Anne Barnard et al.), Wall Street Journal (Nour Malas and Rima Abushakra) and Washington Post (Loveday Morris and Ahmed Ramadan) have more details, including on the Syria connection.

Surveillance

Responding to an article published in Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet yesterday, the head of Norwegian military intelligence, Kjell Grandhagen has stated that allegations that the NSA collected data on telephone traffic inside Norway “is not correct” [Wall Street Journal’s Kjetil Malkenes Hovland]. Instead, Norway’s military intelligence agency gathered data “in support of Norwegian military troops’ operations in conflict areas abroad” and shared it with foreign partners.

And in the U.K, the chair of the parliamentary committee on arms export control, Sir John Stanley has warned that governments must review the electronic systems being sold by private companies to foreign governments, as the spying equipment could be used for internal repression in authoritarian regimes [The Guardian’s Nick Hopkins and Matthew Taylor].

Afghanistan

AFP reports that a “key sticking point” between the U.S. and Afghanistan has been resolved through compromise, according to an Afghan official yesterday. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s spokesperson Aimal Faizi told reporters that U.S. troops would be allowed to enter Afghan homes following NATO troops withdrawing in 2014, but only in “extraordinary circumstances” involving an urgent risk to life. Faizi also stated that President Obama would write a letter to the Afghan people acknowledging mistakes made by the U.S. in the war on terror. White House officials declined to comment on any correspondence. And spokesperson for the State Department Jen Psaki commented yesterday that while “there has been some progress made to resolve outstanding issues…We’re not there yet.”

The New York Times (Rod Nordland), Wall Street Journal (Yaroslav Trofimov and Nathan Hodge) and Washington Post (Karen DeYoung and Tim Craig) have more details.

Syria

The New York Times (Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt) reports that the U.S. is considering plans to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons at sea, according to senior U.S. officials. The destruction would take place in line with safety legislation in the U.S. and the EU, and would be monitored by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

And the Wall Street Journal (Joe Parkinson et al.) covers the “violent year” along the Syria-Turkey border, with the civil war “increasingly migrating onto Turkish soil.”

Egypt

The New York Times (Kareem Fahim) covers the “small protest” in Tahrir Square today, which “seemed to represent a breakthrough for young leftists and other revolutionary activists who have struggled to find their voice” since Mohamed Morsi was removed by the military in July.

A suicide blast in Egypt’s Sinai has killed 10 off-duty soldiers and seriously wounded at least 35 others [AP].

Other developments

The Hill (Jeremy Herb) reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stated yesterday that he will support Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s bill proposing to remove military sexual assault cases outside the chain of command. And Politico (Darren Samuelsohn and Anna Palmer) covers Sen. Claire McCaskill’s separate lobbying efforts toward reforming sexual assault policies in the military, but rejecting the complete overhaul proposed by Gillibrand.

Israel’s Supreme Court has rejected an appeal for the release of a Kuwaiti-born Palestinian who has been held in administrative detention in Israel without trial since 2010 [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner].

The Financial Times’ Borzou Daragahi covers how the “violent rivalry between militias is rendering the elected government even more powerless” in Libya.

A police station in a Somali town north of Mogadishu was attacked earlier today by al-Shabaab militants, leaving at least 28 people dead [New York Times’ Mohammed Ibrahim and Nicholas Kulish].

A series of bombs in and outside Baghdad, targeting mainly Shiite and commercial areas, have killed at least 29 people and wounded a further 104 this morning [AP].

Al Jazeera reports that the Pakistani Taliban launched two separate attacks today on security checkpoints in northwest Pakistan, killing at least 2 officers.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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