News Roundup and Notes: December 2, 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.

Afghanistan

ICYMI, Afghan President Hamid Karzai criticized the U.S. last Thursday, following confirmation that a NATO drone strike in southern Afghanistan killed at least one civilian, a child, and badly wounded two others [New York Times’ Rod Nordland]. Karzai warned:

For as long as such arbitrary acts and oppression of foreign forces continue, the security agreement with the United States will not be signed.

The American commander of the coalition forces in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. “expressed deep regret” in a telephone conversation with Karzai and promised a joint investigation with Afghan officials into Thursday’s attacks [Los Angeles Times’ David Zucchino].

Tolo News (Shakeela Abrahimkhail) reports that despite increased calls from the Afghan public and their leaders for the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the U.S. to be signed, Karzai has remained firm in his stance of refusing to sign the BSA.

In an attempt to pressure Karzai into signing the BSA, Afghan commanders are reportedly accusing the U.S.-led coalition of withholding fuel and other support [Washington Post’s Tim Craig]. Karzai labeled this as “contrary to the prior commitment of America,” but coalition officials have strongly denied these allegations.

On ABC’s “This Week,” former National Security Adviser Tom Donilon told George Stephanopoulos that Karzai’s refusal to sign the BSA was “reckless.”

And The Hill (Mike Lillis) reports that a broad bipartisan coalition has launched a campaign to lobby Congress not to abandon Afghan civilians as U.S. troops continue to withdraw from the country. The campaign is aimed at securing congressional funding “in the face of a war-weary public and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who fear the aid will be lost to a black hole of Afghan corruption and civil strife.”

Iran

The State Department extended a six-month Iran sanctions waivers on Friday to China, India, South Korea, Turkey and Taiwan in exchange for their reducing purchases of Iranian crude oil earlier this year [Reuters’ Timothy Gardner]. Announcing the decision, Secretary of State John Kerry stated:

The United States will continue to vigorously implement our existing sanctions on Iran as the P5+1 seeks to negotiate a comprehensive deal with Iran that will resolve the international community’s concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

The Washington Post (Karen DeYoung and Joby Warrick) covers the continued efforts of the White House to urge lawmakers not to pass new sanctions against Iran. However, a bipartisan group of senior senators is spending the remainder of the Thanksgiving recess “forging agreement on a new sanctions bill that the senators hope to pass before breaking again for Christmas.”

Sen. Bob Corker slammed the interim deal as a “total victory” for Iran on CBS’s “Face the Nation” yesterday [The Hill’s Kate Tummarello]. And former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden told Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace:

We have accepted Iranian uranium enrichment. … That’s a different red line than we used to have. … Right now, the Iranians are far too close to a nuclear weapon. We have hit the pause button. Now we have got to negotiate hitting the delete button with them.

Meanwhile, the New York Times (Thomas Erdbrink) covers how Iran’s hardliners are keeping their criticisms of the nuclear pact with the West to themselves. According to experts, “They are biding their time … When the opportunity arises they will strike back, searching for pretexts and playing into possible snags during the negotiations. This is in no way a done deal.”

In Israel, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stated yesterday that Benjamin Netanyahu’s public criticism of American policies in Iran has damaged Israel’s relationship with the U.S. [AP].

AFP reports that according to an Iranian official, Iran and the U.S. are set to establish a joint chamber of commerce “in less than one month.” The Wall Street Journal (Benoît Faucon) covers how a wide set of of “European and U.S. companies – from pharmaceutical firms and medical-equipment makers to food companies and traders – also stands to regain lost Iranian trade as soon as relief measures are formally adopted next month.”

And The Economist notes that while a final deal with Iran will be hard to achieve, “enough has already been agreed to suggest that success is possible.” 

ICC

The ICC’s Assembly of State Parties reached consensus on amendments to the court’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence last week. The amended rules will allow excusal from presence at trial due to extraordinary public duties as well as the use of video technology.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power welcomed the development:

U.K.’s Foreign Office similarly welcomed the new rules, noting that the changes  “will help address Kenyan and African Union’s concerns around trial procedures, while upholding the principles of justice and accountability.”

Surveillance

According to a secret 2008 document leaked by Edward Snowden, the Australian intelligence agency offered to share data collected about Australian citizens with its intelligence partners and without imposing privacy restraints used by other countries, such as a Canada [The Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill et al.]. According to notes from a 5-Eyes intelligence conference, the Australian intelligence agency stated it could share “bulk, unselected, unminimised metadata as long as there is no intent to target an Australian national. … Unintentional collection is not viewed as a significant issue.” However, the agency acknowledged that further interrogation of the material would require a warrant.

French newspaper Le Monde reported that French intelligence services worked “very closely” with the NSA’s surveillance activities in the country, according to documents obtained from Edward Snowden [Bloomberg’s Vidya Root]. According to the report, the relationship between the NSA and French counterpart DGSE entered a “new dimension” following discussions in November 2006.

The Washington Post (Anthony Faiola) covers how the scrutiny of The Guardian by British authorities’ for allegedly jeopardizing national security is “testing the limits of press freedoms in one of the world’s most open societies.”

According to officials speaking on the condition of anonymity, DNI James Clapper recently told senior national security officials that he was in favor of splitting the leadership between the NSA and the U.S. Cyber Command [Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima]. Reportedly, officials also appear inclined to appoint a civilian as the next NSA director.

Egypt

The 50-member committee tasked with writing Egypt’s constitution has approved the text of the draft, which may result in a change of order for the presidential and legislative elections [Al Jazeera]. The phrasing gives interim President Adly Mansour the last word on which elections will be held first. The draft constitution will be put to a national referendum in January. The New York Times (Kareem Fahim and Mayy El Sheikh) provides more details, including on the growing unrest in the country that has “highlighted the gap between official rhetoric about human rights and the state’s longstanding repressive tactics.”

China

The Hill (Kate Tummarello) reports that a State Department spokesperson stated that the government expects U.S. airlines to comply with China’s rules regarding it’s newly-declared air defense zone (ADIZ), but clarified that this “does not indicate U.S. government acceptance of China’s requirements for operating in the newly declared ADIZ.”

The Wall Street Journal (Yuka Hayashi and Andy Pasztor) covers how Japanese officials “played down publicly—but complained privately—that the U.S. isn’t following Tokyo in rebuffing Beijing’s demands.” Japanese politicians are set to voice their concerns with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden tomorrow, as Biden begins his visits to East Asia today [Financial Times’ Jennifer Thompson et al.].

In the media, the New York Times’ David E. Sanger analyzes how, “as in the Cold War, the immediate territorial dispute seems to be an excuse for a far larger question of who will exercise influence over a vast region.” Robert Kelly covers the possible reasons why China may have declared the new ADIZ, including belligerence and domestic legitimacy purposes  [Asian Security Blog].

Andrew Hammond warns that Beijing must “intensify efforts to be seen as a responsible, peaceful power” and “match this rhetoric with actions” in the aftermath of this latest diplomatic turbulence [CNN]. And The Economist notes that China’s recent move “suggests a worrying new approach in the region” and argues that “the region must work harder to build some kind of architecture where regional powers can discuss security.”

Syria

The U.S. has offered to destroy Syria’s priority chemical weapons at sea, after “Washington was unable to enlist other countries to undertake the task on their own soil” [Wall Street Journal’s Naftali Bendavid]. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons made the announcement on Saturday, noting that under the U.S.-Russia agreement, Syria’s priority chemicals are to be removed from the country by December 31st:

Meanwhile, Syrian government helicopters reportedly dropped explosives on a rebel-held town near Aleppo, killing at least 50 people in two attacks over the weekend [AP].

And the Associated Press reports on the splintered Syrian opposition, noting, “with a fractured opposition, many have little hope for strong negotiations with emissaries of President Bashar Assad.”

Other developments

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Susan Stellin raises concerns about the government’s main terrorist watch list that “has grown to at least 700,000 people, with little scrutiny over how the determinations are made or the impact on those marked with the terrorist label.”

The Washington Post (Abigail Hauslohner and Karen DeYoung) reports that the U.S. and its allies are preparing to fill Libya’s “festering security vacuum” by training a General Purpose Force. The recruits, many of whom will be drawn from existing militias, will be trained outside of Libya in an attempt to “‘shift attitudes and create new allegiances’ to the central government.”

The Washington Post editorial writes that, despite the Obama administration’s “modest signs of progress” toward closing Guantanamo Bay, the “sad reality” is that the detention center is likely to remain open, with any measures cleared by Senate unlikely “to survive a conference committee with the Republican-controlled House.”

Leaders of the Congressional intelligence committees, Rep. Mike Rogers and Sen. Dianne Feinstein told CNN’s State of the Union that the U.S. is not safer from threats of terrorism today.

The Air Force responded to a report by the Associated Press about troubles within the Air Force’s nuclear missile force [DoD Buzz’s Michael Hoffman]. Air Force spokesperson Brig. Gen. Les Kodlickin attacked the “errors of omission and exaggeration” in the original AP report in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

The U.K.’s anti-terror law watchdog, David Anderson QC has issued new advice, including that police should no longer be allowed to detain people at U.K. borders without any suspicion of wrongdoing [The Guardian’s Rowena Mason]. The current broad power, under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, was used to detain Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda earlier this year.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has pledged to support Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s attempts at “an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process” with the Taliban [NDTV’s Amitabh Pashupati Revi].

According to an Israeli official, Israel is set to join the UN Human Rights Council as a member of the body’s Western European and Others Group [AFP]. Israel cut all relations with the Council in 2012 following the body’s intended investigation into Israeli settlements.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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