News Roundup and Notes: December 13, 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.

NDAA

The House approved a compromise version of the NDAA yesterday, sending it to the Senate to consider next week [Politico’s Austin Wright and Juana Summers].

Daily Beast’s Daniel Klaidman notes that the bipartisan deal is the first time that Congress has moved to make it easier to close Guantánamo and examines the “many factors that led to this rare bit of tangible progress on Gitmo.”

Yemen 

ICYMI, yesterday, Yemeni security officials announced that a U.S. drone strike killed at least fifteen people in a wedding party, allegedly mistaken for an al-Qaeda convoy [Reuters]. [Check out Just Security’s Daphne Eviatar’s post yesterday calling for U.S. transparency on its drone campaign in Yemen, which is “evidently being stepped up.”] 

Syria

The United Nations Mission investigating the chemical weapons allegations in Syria has published its final report [UN News Centre]. The report concludes that “chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties” and that there is “clear and convincing evidence that chemical weapons were used also against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale” in Damascus’ Ghouta area on 21 August 2013. On the Khan Al Asal attack in March, the UN experts “collected credible information that corroborates the allegations that chemical weapons were used … against soldiers and civilians.”

According to updated information from the State Department, the commander of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, Gen. Salim Idriss had not fled Syria, but was in Turkey when the Supreme Military Council’s headquarters was seized by the Islamic Front [Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous and Rima Abushakra].

The Washington Post (Karen DeYoung) reports that according to a senior U.S. official, the administration is willing to consider an expanded opposition coalition that would include Islamist groups, “provided the groups are not allied with al-Qaeda and agree to support upcoming peace talks in Geneva.”

The Economist writes that the UN-OPCW joint mission “has already achieved a lot in a very short time,” but notes that removing the chemical weapons requires “working closely with a regime that has done terrible things to its own people.”

And Amnesty International has issued a report criticizing the international community, which “has failed miserably” to support the Syrian refugees.

Iran

The Obama administration won a “key endorsement” yesterday when Senate Banking Committee chairman Sen. Tim Johnson agreed to holding off on additional sanctions against Iran [Reuters’ Patricia Zengerle]. During a hearing with Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, Johnson stated:

We should make sure that if the talks fail, it was Iran that caused their failure. We should not give Iran, the P5+1 countries or other nations a pretext to lay responsibility for their collapse on us.

Sen. Bob Corker also acknowledged that no further sanctions could be expected, stating, “I realized we’re sort of going through a rope-a-dope here in the Senate and that we’re not actually going to do anything.”

However, in line with the administration’s stance that it is not backing down on Iran, the Treasury Department blacklisted several companies and individuals accused of assisting Iran evade the current economic sanctions regime [Washington Post’s Joby Warrick]. According to a senior administration official, the designations “demonstrate our continued commitment to vigorously impose sanctions on those who evade or attempt to evade our sanctions.”

AFP reports that in response, Iranian negotiators have halted nuclear talks with the P5+1 to return to Tehran for consultations following the administration’s blacklist move.

In a separate development, the Associated Press reports an American who disappeared in Iran nearly seven years ago “was working for the CIA on an unapproved intelligence-gathering mission that … produced one of the most serious scandals in the recent history of the CIA.”

Surveillance

According to officials, the presidential advisory committee tasked with examining the NSA’s surveillance operations is expected to conclude that the program should continue, but under new restraints to enhance privacy protections [New York Times’ David E. Sanger]. Among other recommendations, the panel is expected to recommend that senior White House officials personally review the monitoring of foreign leaders. 

Israel-Palestine

The Washington Post (William Booth and Anne Gearan) reports that Secretary of State John Kerry “is struggling to convince Israel and the Palestinian Authority to accept a security arrangement that could leave Israeli troops stationed inside a future Palestinian state.”

Other developments

Reuters (Mark Hosenball) reports that the CIA is continuing to dispute findings of a draft report of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is highly critical of the agency’s counter-terrorism practices, including waterboarding. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, William H. Taft calls for the public release of the Senate’s report, which would mark “a significant step in establishing the full truth of U.S. practices of torture and cruelty” and would “better position us to avoid this ignoble path in the future.”

The House also approved a bipartisan budget pact on Thursday [New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman and Jeremy W. Peters]. However, Sen. Lindsey Graham took to Twitter to express his concerns on the deal:

A senior agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, accused of taking bribes in the Navy corruption scandal, has agreed to plead guilty in “a major break in a case that has ensnared half a dozen Navy officers and threatens to tar more” [Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock].

The European Court of Justice’s Advocate General Cruz Villalón has issued an opinion on the validity of an EU data retention law, ruling that the mass collection and retention of data from electronic communications of citizens is a “serious interference with the privacy of those individuals.”

The Democratic Republic of Congo has signed a peace deal with the M23 rebels, which requires the dissolution of M23 as an armed group [France 24].

In an opinion in the Washington Post, Michael Gerson argues that the peacekeeping efforts in the Central African Republic require U.S. financial and logistical support, and notes that peacekeeping operations “promote stability, serve our interests and save innocent lives without sending in the Marines.”

According to a Kenyan parliamentary committee report, corrupt border guards may have assisted the terrorists responsible for the Westgate mall attack in entering the country from Somalia [Wall Street Journal’s Idil Abshir and Patrick Mcgroarty].

The announcement that Kim Jong Un’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek has been executed was criticized by the State Department as “another example of the extreme brutality of the North Korean regime” [The Hill’s Julian Pecquet].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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