News Roundup and Notes: November 25, 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

ICYMI, this weekend, the P5+1 reached an interim deal with Iran on the country’s nuclear program, representing “the most important thaw between the United States and Iran in more than three decades” [Reuters’ Louis Charbonneau]. According to U.S. officials and a former Iranian official, the deal was reached following months of secret meetings held with Iran, including in Oman, “with U.S. officials using military planes, side entrances and service elevators to avoid giving the game away.”

The White House has issued a factsheet on the interim agreement. As part of the initial, six-months step, Iran has committed to, among other things, halting enrichment above 5%; neutralizing its stockpile of near-20% uranium; and refraining from advancing any activities at Arak. In return, the P5+1 have promised “limited, temporary, [and] reversible” sanctions relief. [Check out the key texts on the nuclear agreement posted on Just Security.] The New York Times (Mark Landler), Wall Street Journal (Carol E. Lee et al.) and Washington Post (Joby Warrick and Anne Gearan) have more details.

President Obama welcomed the “important first step toward a comprehensive solution that addresses our concerns with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear program.”

U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague similarly welcomed the agreement:

French President François Hollande also hailed the agreement as an “important step in the right direction,” and one that “respects the demands expressed by France in terms of uranium stockpiles and enrichment, a freeze on new facilities and international monitoring” [France 24’s Thomas Hubert].

Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that the deal has “brought us closer to a solution to one of the most complex problems in international politics.”

And Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei issued a message online stating, “The nuclear negotiating team deserves to be appreciated and thanked for its achievement” [New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink].

The Washington Post (Joby Warrick) covers how the “euphoria … gave way to sober reality Sunday as the parties clashed over a key element of the deal.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani maintained, “Let anyone make his own reading, but this right is clearly stated in the text of the agreement that Iran can continue its enrichment.” While Secretary of State John Kerry told ABC’s ‘This Week’ that “there is no inherent right to enrich” in a reference to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And the New York Times (Michael R. Gordon) covers the “more formidable challenge [the administration] now confronts in trying to roll [Iran’s nuclear] program back.”

Across the world, the Geneva deal has received mixed reactions. In the U.S., The Hill (Bernie Becker) covers the negative pushback from top lawmakers on both sides, with some willing to delay implementing further sanctions against Iran until after the six months, while others are unwilling to wait any longer. Sen. Chuck Schumer, for instance, stated that the “disproportionality of this agreement makes it more likely that Democrats and Republicans will join together and pass additional sanctions when we return in December.” The Washington Post (Ed O’Keefe) also covers reactions from lawmakers, including several announcements made on Twitter.

Positive statements were made by some lawmakers, including Nancy Pelosi, who hailed the deal as “an essential step toward meeting our ultimate objective: to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

The Associated Press, New York Times (Thomas Erdbrink) and Wall Street Journal (Farnaz Fassihi) cover the positive reactions in Iran.

Meanwhile, Israel remains deeply opposed to the progress made at Geneva, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stating on Sunday [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid]:

What was achieved last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement; it is a historic mistake. Today the world has become a much more dangerous place.

President Obama sought to counter these concerns in a phone call with Netanyahu, during which he “underscored that the United States will remain firm in our commitment to Israel, which has good reason to be skeptical about Iran’s intentions.”

The Associated Press (Matthew Lee et al.) reports that Obama formally notified Netanyahu of the secret, high-level talks between the U.S. and Iran back in September. According to Israeli media reports, however, Israel’s intelligence services were already aware of Obama’s outreach to Iran.

Many of the Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt Jordan, Turkey, and the U.A.E., issued statements expressing support for the interim agreement [Wall Street Journal’s Ellen Knickmeyer]. However, Saudi Arabia has “maintained a pointed silence.”

In the media, the New York Times editorial notes that Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani “deserve credit for resisting fierce domestic opposition and a 30-year history of animosity between the two countries to get to this point.” The Wall Street Journal editorial argues that the “reality is that the agreement in Geneva … takes Iran a giant step closer to becoming a de facto nuclear power.” The Washington Post editorial writes that while the “accord is freighted with risk, it is worthy as an interim step — and preferable to the military action that might otherwise have been deemed necessary.”

The Economist argues that while the deal is “not yet even the beginning of the end,” it is a “modest first step” and compared with the situation only a few months ago, the deal “does properly deserve to be described as ‘historic’.” Mark Goldberg notes why the deal with Iran is a “hugely significant breakthrough,” including that it has the potential to “remake regional politics” [UN Dispatch]. And Richard Haass writes why the interim deal is “overwhelmingly better than the alternatives” [Financial Times].

Syria

Earlier this morning, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced that the Geneva II peace conference will convene on January 22, 2014, “thus bringing the Syrian Government and opposition to a negotiating table for the first time since the start of the Syrian conflict.”

The Washington Post (Michael Birnbaum) covers how “getting rid of [Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile] could be far trickier and might require giving military-grade assistance to the Syrian government.”

CNN’s Tim Lister reports how al-Qaeda-backed fighters are advancing in Syria, “one town at a time, and are “consolidating their grip on a swath of northern Syria.”

Surveillance

The Wall Street Journal (Siobhan Gorman) reports that NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander offered to resign in the wake of Snowden’s revelations in June, according to a senior U.S. official. According to some critics of reform, the forced overhaul of NSA programs in the post-Snowden era “run the risk of overcorrecting, leaving the agency unable to respond to a future crisis.”

The New York Times (James Risen and Laura Poitras) reports on an NSA document from February 2012 that outlines its strategy for surveillance. While noting that American laws were not adequate to meet the NSA’s requirements, the documents cites as its objective: to “aggressively pursue legal authorities and a policy framework mapped more fully to the information age.”

In an opinion in The Star, Bunn Negara covers how “a queue seems to be forming in various secret locations in Russia” to meet Edward Snowden, with Indonesian officials now following in the footsteps of their Brazilian and German counterparts.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s loya jirga strongly backed the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the U.S. yesterday, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai remained vague about whether he would sign the deal into law [Reuters’ Hamid Shalizi and Mirwais Harooni]. In his concluding remarks to the gathering, he stated:

If there is no peace, then this agreement will bring misfortune to Afghanistan. Peace is our precondition. America should bring us peace and then we will sign it.

The New York Times (Rod Nordland), Wall Street Journal (Yaroslav Trofimov and Nathan Hodge) and Washington Post (Tim Craig) provide more detail on this development.

Secretary of State John Kerry reacted yesterday:

Very significantly, the Loya Jirga also urged that the BSA should be signed before the end of the year. I can’t imagine a more compelling affirmation from the Afghan people themselves of their commitment to a long term partnership with the United States and our international partners.

The New York Times editorial comments on the recent revelations that the agreement with Afghanistan could allow up to 12,000 troops to remain until 2024, noting that President Obama has not offered “any serious accounting to the American people for maintaining a sizable military commitment there or offering a clue to when, if ever, it might conclude.”

Egypt

Egypt’s interim President, Adly Mansour has signed into law a bill that restricts public protests and requires Egyptians to seek permission prior to any protest [Al Jazeera’s Gregg Carlstrom]. The law, which will come into force later this week, also grants police officers latitude to use force against protestors.

The Associated Press reports that in “a sharp escalation in tensions,” Egypt expelled Turkey’s ambassador from Cairo, while Turkey responded by “downgrading relations with Egypt to the same level.” A statement of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry claimed, “This [Turkish] leadership has persisted in its unacceptable and unjustified positions by trying to turn the international community against Egyptian interests.”

Other developments

Foreign Policy’s The Cable (David Kenner) notes that following the attack against the Iranian embassy, the rise of al-Qaeda-linked militants in Lebanon is being viewed as an “increasingly dangerous threat,” according to U.S. intelligence officials.

Politico (Anna Palmer and Juana Summers) warns that the sexual assault debate could “fizzle out” as the “pair of amendments are being held hostage in the fight over the number of amendments to be considered as part of the annual defense policy bill.”

The Herald (Philip Molnar) reports that a leaked diplomatic cable from 2010, in which Hilary Clinton said Saudi Arabia was a “critical financial support base” for terrorism, allegedly triggered the Army to restrict access to the Guardian news website in May this year.

The Washington Post editorial argues that the Obama administration is “too quiet on China’s crackdown on dissent,” noting that national security adviser Susan Rice’s major address on Asia last week contained “no message about worsening repression in China.”

Clashes between troops and militants in Libya’s Benghazi earlier today has killed at least three people and wounded a dozen more during a military operation [Reuters].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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