News Roundup and Notes: December 4, 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.

Pakistan

The U.S. military “voluntarily halted” the shipment of equipment out of Afghanistan through Pakistan yesterday, owing to protests in the country’s northwest over U.S. drone strikes [AFP]. A defense official told AFP that the situation was “getting a little too dangerous for the truck drivers.” Pentagon spokesperson Mark Wright said, “We anticipate that we will be able to resume our shipments through this route in the near future.”

The New Yorker’s Omar Waraich explores the legacy of General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who retired last week after serving six years as Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff. 

Surveillance

The Guardian’s editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger appeared before a U.K. parliamentary select committee yesterday, defending his paper’s handling of U.S. and U.K. surveillance materials leaked by Edward Snowden. The Guardian (Nick Hopkins and Matthew Taylor) reports on the key exchanges with the parliamentary committee, including on the issues of public interest, terrorism and oversight. Reuters (William James and Michael Holden) reports that according to testimony of Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick to the committee, British police are considering whether offences have been committed by The Guardian news staff or others under the U.K.’s Terrorism Act 2000.

Former President Clinton told Fusion’s “America with Jorge Ramos” yesterday that revelations of NSA surveillance  “has had a damaging effect” on U.S. relations in Latin America, Europe and Asia [The Hill’s Mario Trujillo].

Afghanistan

The U.S. and its allies continue to mount pressure on the Afghan government to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA). Secretary of State John Kerry warned yesterday:

…this is not fooling around. This is serious business. There are over 50 nations who are engaged here through NATO in trying to help Afghanistan. And those nations have budget cycles. … Those nations have equipment requirements. They have deployment requirements. And all of those things are best managed with planning.

Kerry also indicated that Afghan President Hamid Karzai did not have to sign the BSA himself; it could be signed by the Minister of Defense or someone who can “accept responsibility for this.” The New York Times (Michael R. Gordon) and Washington Post (Anne Gearan) provide more details on the latest developments.

China

A leading state-run Chinese paper said today that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden should not expect to make progress in resolving tensions over the East China Sea if he repeats his “erroneous and one-sided remarks” [Reuters’ Ben Blanchard]. Biden is scheduled to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and Vice President Li Yuanchao in Beijing today. Speaking in Tokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry said:

We, the United States, are deeply concerned by the attempt to unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea.  This action has raised regional tensions and increased the risk of accidents and miscalculation.

The New York Times (Mark Landler), Wall Street Journal (Julian E. Barnes et al.) and Washington Post (David Nakamura) have more details.

Politico’s Josh Gerstein covers whether President Obama’s “much-touted pivot to Asia — a foreign policy drive which has languished recently amidst a lack of high-level direction — could be reinvigorated by Vice President [Joe Biden’s trip this week].” And The Economist explains the history of the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea that have caused the most recent rift between China and Japan.

Iran

The Washington Post (Liz Sly) covers how a “surge of diplomacy and an outburst of violence” since the interim agreement with Iran highlight “both the promise and the peril of what could be the start of a more peaceful era in the Middle East — or the beginning of a new round of bloodletting.” While progress appears to be made regarding peace talks in Syria, violence has escalated in some parts of the region along sectarian lines, including in Iraq. The Wall Street Journal (Joshua Mitnick) also reports on the emerging signs that the deal with Iran “will hinder Israeli-Palestinian peace talks as the separate diplomatic tracks become interlinked,” ahead of Secretary of State John Kerry’s trip to the Middle East beginning today.

A group of former U.S. ambassadors to Israel and Under Secretaries of State have urged lawmakers to refrain from approving new sanctions against Iran [The Hill’s Julian Pecquet]. They wrote:

As the IAEA and the P5+1 monitor Iran’s compliance with its obligations under this agreement, it is important that the obligations undertaken by the P5+1 also be implemented faithfully.

Syria

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has expressed serious concerns in a letter to the Security Council over the safety of the international inspectors overseeing the destruction and removal of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile [Washington Post’s Colum Lynch]. He noted the addition of “security enhancements” at the mission’s headquarters in Damascus, and expressed concern that “recent fighting in the Syrian Arab Republic shows that the security situation is volatile, unpredictable and highly dangerous.”

The Wall Street Journal (Stacy Meichtry et al.) reports that the U.S. and its allies have held direct talks with Islamist rebel groups in Syria, according to Western officials, “aiming to undercut al Qaeda while acknowledging that religious fighters long shunned by Washington have gained on the battlefield.” Saudi Arabia has reportedly gone a step further by directly arming and funding one of the Islamist rebel groups, the Army of Islam.

The New York Times (Robert F. Worth and Eric Schmitt) covers the “raised concerns among American intelligence and counterterrorism officials that militants aligned with Al Qaeda could establish a base in Syria capable of threatening Israel and Europe,” amidst increasing sectarian violence across the Middle East.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos has advised the Security Council that greater efforts are required to alleviate the growing humanitarian crisis in Syria [UN News Centre].

And U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague has told parliament that U.K.’s new envoy will discuss the Syrian crisis with his Iranian counterpart in Tehran this week [Wall Street Journal’s Nicholas Winning].

Other developments

The Guardian (Owen Bowcott and Ian Cobain) reports on the first day of the hearing before the European Court of Human Rights, which is examining allegations of Poland’s involvement in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition and detention program. Lawyers for the current Guantanamo Bay detainees, al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah argued that their clients had been tortured, including being subjected to waterboarding and mock executions, in a secret CIA black-site operated in Poland.

The New York Times (Marlise Simons) covers the criticisms of the ICC’s amended Rules of Procedure and Evidence expressed by human rights groups. According to the critics, the rules pave the way for a large number of future defendants to apply for special treatment before the Court.

The House approved legislation yesterday to extend a ban on the manufacture or sale of undetectable, non-metal firearms for a further ten years [The Hill’s Pete Kasperowicz].

A high-level Hezbollah commander, Hassan al-Laqis was shot dead outside his home in southern Beirut this morning [AP]. The group blamed Israel for al-Laqis’ shooting, but Israeli officials have denied any involvement.

The Washington Post (Anne Gearan) notes that as Ukraine backs away from closer ties with the EU and moves “further into the embrace of Russia, the Obama administration is saying little about it or the resulting street protests, for fear of provoking a fracture with the Kremlin.”

Egypt’s interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi has urged all Egyptians to vote in the referendum on the revised constitution, which will be held in the next 30 days [Al Jazeera].

France has put forward a resolution before the UN Security Council that would authorize the French forces to aid African troops in containing the crisis in the Central African Republic [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone]. A vote on the resolution is expected by the end of this week.

A serving U.K. soldier has been arrested under the Terrorism Act from an army base in Germany after a nail bomb was discovered in his home [BBC].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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