News Roundup and Notes: January 21, 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.

Syria

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon withdrew Iran’s invitation to the Geneva II conference yesterday, only a day after issuing the invitation [UN News Centre]. Ban Ki-moon reiterated that the Geneva Communiqué “remains the internationally agreed framework for ending the crisis.” He expressed disappointment at “Iranian public statements … that are not at all consistent with that stated commitment.”

The Syrian National Coalition, which had voted late Saturday to attend the peace talks, reacted strongly against Iran’s invitation [AP]. The State Department also called upon the UN to rescind its invitation on Sunday if Iran does not express “explicit and public support for the full implementation of the Geneva communique including the establishment of a transitional governing body by mutual consent with full executive authorities.” The New York Times (Michael R. Gordon and Anne Barnard), Wall Street Journal (Jay Solomon et al.) and Washington Post (Liz Sly and Anne Gearan) provide more details.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that Ban Ki-moon’s decision to withdraw Iran’s invitation was a mistake and that the “absence of Iran isn’t going to strengthen the unity of the world’s Muslims” [AP].

According to a new report from senior war crimes prosecutors, there is “clear evidence” that the Syrian regime is responsible for the “systematic torture and killing” of about 11,000 detainees [The Guardian’s Ian Black]. [Check out Just Security’s Beth Van Schaack’s post from last night on the report.]

The Telegraph (Ruth Sherlock and Richard Spencer) reports that according to Western intelligence, the Syrian regime has funded and co-operated with al-Qaeda-linked extremist groups–Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS–“at the expense of moderate rebel forces.”

In an interview with AFP (Rana Moussaoui and Sammy Ketz), Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said there is a “significant” chance he will seek a new term and ruled out sharing power with the opposition coalition.

The OPCW announced yesterday that a total of 14 private firms have submitted tenders to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile at commercial facilities outside of Syria.

The Economist covers how the extremist rebel group ISIS “has complicated the conflict and international policy towards [Syria]” and identifies that the main obstacle for ISIS “is that its ideology is not shared by the majority of Muslims in Syria and beyond.”

Iran

The implementation of the interim nuclear deal with Iran took effect yesterday. The White House welcomed the report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which verified that Iran has taken the initial specific steps under the agreement, including halting its production of 20% enriched uranium. Reuters has more details on the IAEA report. The Washington Post (Jason Rezaian and Anne Gearan) reports that in return, the U.S. and EU have begun to lift some of the sanctions against Iran.

A report of the Institute for Science and International Security details that Iran would have to remove 15,000 centrifuge machines and take other drastic measures under the interim agreement, illustrating “the challenge the U.S. and other world powers will face in moving over the next six months from an interim deal to a final one” [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon and Laurence Norman].

And according to a survey conducted for the Times of Israel (Stephan Miller), only one in five Israelis trust President Obama’s policies on Iran.

NSA Surveillance

ICYMI, check out Just Security’s coverage of President Obama’s proposals to reform Signals Intelligence Programs. David Cole notes the disconnect between theory and practice in Obama’s speech, Steve Vladeck comments on the possible role of the Obama administration in shaping the inevitable legislative debate, and Thomas Earnest provides an overview of Obama’s proposals.

A new poll conducted by USA TODAY and the Pew Research Center reveals that Obama’s speech “did not register widely with the public,” with 50% having heard nothing at all about the NSA’s proposed changes.

The Washington Post (Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller) covers why Obama’s proposals face a “tangle of technical, logistical and political problems that defy ready solutions and are largely beyond the president’s control.”

Media analysis and commentary continues. The Economist argues that the changes announced, if put into effect, “are significant.” Noting that parts of Obama’s speech “sounded like a plea to Congress to constrain the presidency,” the article calls upon Congress to take Obama up on his offer. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Michael B. Mukasey notes that the “new rules will severely constrict nation-security efforts while guarding against hypothetical abuses.”

Iraq

The New York Times (Kareem Fahim and Yasir Ghazi) covers how thousands of residents have fled Fallujah in recent days, after negotiations between local leaders and extremist militants to end the violence failed. As violence continues in the country’s Anbar province, seven bomb explosions killed 26 people and wounded dozens in Baghdad yesterday [Reuters].

Afghanistan

A “complex attack” on a military base in southern Afghanistan yesterday, conducted by insurgents dressed in military uniforms, has killed at least one member of the U.S.-led coalition forces [Stars and Stripes’ Heath Druzin]. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded on Sunday that the U.S. halt military operations and airstrikes in the country and resume peace talks with the Taliban in order to move ahead with the security agreement between the two countries [AP]. The comments were made in relation to a military operation in the Parwan province, which the U.S.-led coalition has said was Afghan-led and conducted at the request of the Afghan government.

Pakistan

According to a study of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, CIA drone strikes in Pakistan killed no more than four civilians last year, the lowest number of reported civilian deaths since the program’s inception in 2004 [Reuters].

Dawn News reports that Pakistan’s military fighter jets attacked suspected Taliban militant hideouts in the country’s North Waziristan region overnight, killing at least 24 people.

And a suicide bomb attack killed at least 13 people yesterday in the city of Rawalpindi, marking “the latest Pakistani Taliban attack targeting the country’s military” [Wall Street Journal’s Saeed Shah].

Egypt

An Egyptian prosecutor charged a political scientist and former lawmaker with insulting the country’s judiciary for posting a critical message on Twitter over a ruling against U.S. non-profits [New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick].

The Wall Street Journal (Tamer El-Ghobashy and Matt Bradley) covers how Egyptian Gen. Abdel Fattah Al Sisi stands to lose power under the new constitution if he becomes president.

Other developments

U.S. and Russian sources have told NBC News (Richard Engel et al.) that Russian security services may be looking for up to four “black widows” that have been sent to carry out terrorist attacks related to the Winter Olympics. [Just Security’s Fionnuala Ní Aoláin has previously posted on the not new phenomena of female suicide bombers and combatants.] And the Pentagon is reportedly planning to send two Navy warships to the Black Sea in order to evacuate Americans in the event of a terrorist attack during the Winter Olympics [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt].

According to three former officers, Air Force officers responsible for nuclear-armed missiles regularly cheated on monthly tests, while rarely facing punishment even though some commanders were aware of the misconduct [Los Angeles Times’ David S. Cloud].

EU foreign ministers have backed a military operation, including 500 troops, to the Central African Republic for up to six months to help settle the intensifying religious violence in the nation [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman and Stacy Meichtry].

The BBC covers the most recent violent clashes in Ukraine between anti-government protesters and the police. The White House reiterated its deep concern regarding the situation in Ukraine over the weekend, calling upon the government to repeal its “anti-democratic legislation signed into law in recent days.” According to the statement, the U.S. “will continue to consider additional steps–including sanctions–in response to the use of violence.”

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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