News Roundup and Notes: January 7, 2014

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.

Iraq

The White House defended its strategy in Iraq yesterday, with press secretary Jay Carney dismissing the notion that a small contingency of U.S. troops could prevent sectarian conflict in the country [The Hill’s Justin Sink]. Carney said, “if members of Congress were suggesting that there should be American troops fighting and dying in Fallujah today, they should say so. The president doesn’t believe that.” Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki by phone yesterday, during which al-Maliki “affirmed the importance of working closely with Iraq’s Sunni leaders and communities to isolate extremists” [AP].

Pentagon spokesperson Army Col. Steven Warren emphasized that the U.S. remains committed to helping the Iraqi government [DoD News]. Warren stated, “We’re also continuing to accelerate our … foreign military sales deliveries with an additional 100 Hellfire missiles ready for delivery this spring … [which] are one small element of a more holistic strategy.”

Meanwhile, al-Maliki has issued a statement, appealing to the “tribes and people of Fallujah to expel the terrorists from the city in order to spare themselves the risk of armed clashes” [Al Jazeera] While government forces have launched strikes against militant fighters, tribesman in the area appear to be fighting on both sides.

And the Washington Post (Liz Sly) covers how the latest violence is “threatening to undo much of what U.S. troops appeared to have accomplished before they withdrew, putting the country’s stability on the line and raising the specter of a new civil war in a region already buckling under the strain of the conflict in Syria.”

Syria

The UN has sent out invitations to the Geneva II conference to member states, but Iran is not among the first round of nations invited [UN News Centre]. A spokesperson confirmed yesterday that the UN Secretary General “is in favor of inviting Iran, but discussions between the initiating States have not produced final results yet.” Agreement on Iran’s participation is expected next week, when US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are scheduled to meet. However, Kerry’s suggestion over the weekend that Iran could play a role on the sidelines was dismissed by Iran [Al Jazeera]. An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson reportedly told IRNA news agency that such an arrangement would not respect the country’s “honor.”

Al Jazeera reports on the latest developments on the ground, as a coalition of moderates and Islamist opposition fighters seek to drive out the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (“ISIL”). Rebels in northeastern Raqqa province were able to free 50 Syrian prisoners held by the al-Qaeda-linked ISIL yesterday. Local activists have reported that the extremist group has left behind a mass grave with mostly civilian corpses in Syria’s central Hama province [McClatchy DC’s Roy Gutman]. And the Associated Press reports that at least ten civilians have been killed in a government airstrike in a rebel-held town in Syria’s north.

NSA Surveillance

Rep. Peter King accused Sen. Rand Paul of creating “hysteria” by trying to file a lawsuit against the NSA on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” (Joe Scarborough). King said Paul was misleading Americans by “resorting to fear.”

In an op-ed in The Guardian, Matt Blaze argues that the NSA’s recently disclosed Tailored Access Operations presents a promising “middle ground” in that it offers “a way to be safe and get good intelligence without mass surveillance.”

Iran

Reuters (Timothy Gardner) reports that according to Senate aides, U.S. senators pushing a new sanctions bill against Iran have gained support since the legislation was introduced last month. However, Senate Banking Committee chairman Tim Johnson said last evening that his committee would not consider a new Iran sanctions bill while diplomatic talks continue, and that supporters of additional sanctions would have to take their bill straight to the Senate floor [Politico’s Burgess Everett].

An EU spokesperson has announced that Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi will meet the top EU negotiator in Geneva later this week to discuss implementing the interim nuclear deal [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman and Vanessa Mock]. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier indicated yesterday that the interim deal could be in place by the end of this month.

And the New York Times (Thomas Erdbrink) covers how despite the nuclear negotiations, the U.S. and Iran “find themselves on the same side of a range of regional issues surrounding an insurgency raging across the Middle East,” including Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

Israel-Palestine

Israeli officials have pointed to negative statements made about Israel in official Palestinian Authority media and textbooks, and are relying on this “incitement” as the key obstacle to “genuine peace” [New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren].

Despite the “seemingly insurmountable challenges” to the peace process, the Jerusalem Post editorial board praises Secretary of State Kerry, who has “managed singlehandedly and with prodigious exuberance to breathe life into what many thought was a hopeless undertaking.”

And the Washington Post editorial notes that while there has been “no visible progress toward a comprehensive peace deal,” Kerry has “however, succeeded in putting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the spot.”

Other developments

White House press secretary Jay Carney has stated that the Bilateral Security Agreement with Afghanistan must be finalized in “weeks and not months” as “the clock is ticking … [and we] can’t contemplate a continued presence” in the country without an agreement [The Hill’s Kristina Wong].

The New York Times (Anne Barnard) notes that while Saudi Arabia’s recent $3 billion grant to Lebanon demonstrates Saudi’s concern at Hezbollah’s staying power, the aid package is “intended as much to send a message to the United States as to shift the military balance” in the country.

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Gerald F. Seib calls for the U.S. to rethink its role in the Middle East in the wake of the “regional transformation launched by the Arab Spring.” Meanwhile, Jeffrey Goldberg argues that “Obama’s inaction isn’t destroying the Middle East” [Bloomberg]. Goldberg notes that “ultimately, the U.S. is a bystander” and it “did not create the problems that plague the Arab Middle East.”

The American woman who called herself “Jihad Jane” has been sentenced to ten years in prison by a federal judge for conspiring to aid terrorists, including a plot to kill the Swedish cartoonist whose images of the Prophet Muhammad had enraged many Muslims [Wall Street Journal’s Ashby Jones].

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon warn that the U.S. must act against the creation of a new al-Qaeda in Egypt. They note that the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood threatens “to spawn a new wave of attacks against Western targets just as the anti-Islamist crackdown that began in the late 1970s aided the rise of Al Qaeda.”

South Sudanese rebels and a government delegation started peace talks earlier this morning in Ethiopia, with the aim of achieving a ceasefire [Reuters]. Meanwhile, South Sudan and Sudan are “in consultations about the deployment of a mixed force to protect the oilfields in the South” from the ongoing violence [Al Jazeera].

The UN has warned that there is a “very real risk” that the violence in the Central African Republic “could spread beyond the country’s borders and further destabilize the region” [UN News Centre]. Aid organizations report that almost a million people have been internally displaced by the violence [CNN’s Azadeh Ansari].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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