News Roundup and Notes: February 14, 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.

Surveillance

In a statement provided to The Hill (Rebecca Shabad), Sen. Ron Wyden said he did not support Sen. Rand Paul’s lawsuit against President Obama and the NSA. Wyden stated, “I believe that legislation, not a Senate-brought lawsuit is the only effective way to stop this behavior of the NSA.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Rand Paul dismissed claims that his lawsuit was a “political stunt.” [Politico’s Lucy McCalmont]. Speaking on CNN’s “The Situation Room” (Wolf Blitzer), Paul said, “We want to get into an open court, the Supreme Court where you can hear both sides and there will be an open debate about whether the Fourth Amendment applies here.”

According to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the ODNI lacks “reliable data on the number and type” of its intelligence contractors [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]. In a statement, Sen. Susan Collins said, “In the wake [of] Edward Snowden’s damaging leaks of classified information, the intelligence community must demonstrate that it can rigorously vet, hire, manage, and oversee the contractor workforce it relies upon to help perform its mission.”

Syria

This morning, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized the opposition and its supporters for focusing solely on creating a transitional government [Reuters].

Following yesterday’s meetings, UN chief negotiator Lakhdar Brahimi said that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov and U.S. Under-Secretary of State Wendy Sherman “promised to help here, in their capitals, and elsewhere, to unblock the [Syrian] situation, because we are not making much progress” [UN News Centre].

However, the Wall Street Journal (Stacy Meichtry) reports that according to a person close to the talks, Russia “upended talks” yesterday by rejecting discussions on the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power during any political transition.

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos has urged the Security Council to act on ensuring greater humanitarian access in Syria [BBC]. Calling for a resolution, Amos said it was “unacceptable” that all parties to the conflict have continued to “flagrantly” violate international humanitarian law.

Iran

According to the International Energy Agency’s monthly report, sales of Iranian crude oil rose by 100,000 barrels a day in January to 1.32 million, in what appears to be “a glimpse at the initial impact” of the interim nuclear deal [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone].

The Hill (Kristina Wong) reports that according to records and a Navy source, the U.S. Navy has “reduced its carrier presence in the Persian Gulf as the Obama administration seeks to complete a nuclear deal with Iran,” although the Navy has denied these claims.

And Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has called on President Obama to release the text of the Iran nuclear agreement, “[in] order for Congress to properly perform its oversight functions and for the American people and our allies to have a full and open debate on this issue” [The Hill’s Pete Kasperowicz].

Afghanistan

At a conference in Turkey, Afghan President Hamid Karzai criticized the U.S. reaction to the release of 65 prisoners deemed dangerous by the U.S. [The Guardian’s Tom Roberts]. Karzai said:

“If the Afghan judicial authorities decide to release a prisoner it is of no concern to the U.S. I hope that the U.S. will stop harassing Afghanistan’s procedures and judicial authority and I hope the U.S. will now begin to respect Afghan sovereignty.”

The Washington Post (Julie Tate) provides a list of former Afghan detainees who have since been “found to have returned to fight for the Taliban.”

According to the 2013 annual report of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, civilian drone deaths in the country tripled last year, while drone strikes accounted for at least a third of all civilian deaths in air strikes last year [Informed Comment’s Juan Cole].

Bloomberg (Gopal Ratnam and Indira A.R. Lakshmanan) reports that “[f]rustrated by Karzai’s failure to meet several U.S. deadlines for concluding a bilateral security accord,” the U.S. is now focused on ensuring that April’s presidential elections go as planned. According to current and former U.S. officials, the administration is now looking to sign the agreement with Karzai’s successor.

East Asia

Secretary of State John Kerry met Chinese President Xi Jinping this morning, “amid increasingly tense territorial rows between Beijing and Washington’s security allies Tokyo and Manila,” reports AFP.

At a press conference in Seoul yesterday, Kerry confirmed that he will “encourage China to use all of the means at its disposal” to persuade “a stubbornly resistant North Korea … to move towards denuclearization.” Kerry also rejected North Korea’s demands to delay U.S.’s joint military exercise with South Korea in order to proceed with North-South family reunifications. Kerry said there was “no legitimate excuse for linking the two.” The New York Times (Michael R. Gordon and Choe Sang-Hun), Wall Street Journal (Adam Entous) and Washington Post (William Wan) have more details.

The Economist covers why “things in Asia are not going America’s way” and notes that “[the] Obama administration is still struggling to convince Asia that its pivot amounts to much.”

The Financial Times’ Demetri Sevastopulo argues that Kerry must “reassure nervous allies that the US is a ‘resident Pacific power’ as the Chinese navy grows more assertive,” but must also “keep China onside to help tackle a host of global issues, including the antics of Kim Jong Un.”

Other developments

The Hill (Jasmine Sachar) reports that the Senate is headed for another “nuclear” fight over President Obama’s nominee to the UN Human Rights Council, Keith Harper.

Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for a bomb attack yesterday, which targeted a UN convoy outside the international airport in Somalia’s Mogadishu and has led to the death of at least seven Somalis [Al Jazeera].

Reuters reports that a confidential report of a UN monitoring group has warned of “systematic abuses” by Somalia’s government, which has allowed the diversion of weapons, some of which are believed to have been earmarked for an al-Shabaab leader.

The Washington Post (William Booth) notes that Jordan is “wary” of the Israel-Palestine peace plan, particularly that nothing will come of the Palestinian demand for refugees’ “right of return” to homes they left in 1948. Jordan is home to 2 million Palestinian refugees.

The UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo has said that armed groups have executed more than 70 men and women in the country, in an effort to “spread terror among the population” [Al Jazeera].

Gunmen attacked the main prison in Yemeni capital, Sanaa yesterday [BBC]. Seven police officers and three militants were killed in the fighting, while several prison inmates were able to escape.

The Hill (Julian Pecquet) reports that arms control advocates are frustrated by the decision of the U.S. and the four other “nuclear-weapon states”–Russia, China, France and Britain–to boycott this week’s conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has told the West not to interfere with Ukraine’s crisis, stating, “We believe Ukrainians themselves should find a way out of the political crisis … We expect all other partners of Ukraine to follow the same principle” [Reuters].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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