News Roundup and Notes: February 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. 

Surveillance

The Washington Post (Ellen Nakashima) reports that the NSA “has been exploring options” for relinquishing its records database, including “searching across phone companies’ data for numbers linked to those of suspected terrorists, and having the firms search daily against a watch list of suspect numbers,” according to those briefed on the discussions.

In an op-ed in The Guardian, Sen. Rand Paul argues that even if the NSA had been more transparent about its surveillance programs, as suggested by DNI James Clapper, the Fourth Amendment arguments would still apply.

A U.S. district court dismissed a lawsuit against NYPD yesterday over its surveillance of Muslim communities [MSNBC’s Adam Serwer]. Judge William Martini held that “[t]he motive for the program was not solely to discriminate against Muslims, but rather to find Muslim terrorists hiding among ordinary, law-abiding Muslims.”

Guantánamo

The Pentagon has released an official list identifying 71 Guantánamo detainees who are eligible to receive a hearing before a Periodic Review Board, which includes high-profile detainee, Abu Zubaydah [Al Jazeera America’s Jason Leopold].

Under a plea deal, covered in yesterday’s Roundup, Guantánamo detainee Ahmed Muhammed Haza al-Darbi will spend at least three and a half more years at Guantánamo, and then will most likely be transferred to Saudi Arabia to serve out the remainder of his sentence [New York Times’ Charlie Savage].

Iran

The P5+1 countries and Iran have set a five-month schedule for negotiating a final nuclear deal [Bloomberg’s Indira A.R. Lakshmanan]. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said yesterday that the parties had “made a good start.” However, differences remain, including on the military dimension of Iran’s nuclear activities, which the U.S. wants to include as part of the deal, but Iran insists is “outside these negotiations.”

A report from the International Atomic Energy Agency yesterday shows, for the first time in four years, a significant decline in the size of Iran’s uranium stockpile [Reuters].

Ukraine

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych announced this morning that a political settlement has been reached, following negotiations with leaders of the opposition and EU and Russian representatives. But EU foreign ministers have expressed caution, suggesting there are still differences to be resolved [France 24]. Reuters (Sabine Siebold and Natalia Zinets) reports that the opposition have sought “last minute changes” to the deal, although EU mediators still expect an agreement to be concluded today.  The deal reportedly involves a transitional government, a reformed constitution, and early elections. BBC has live updates on the developments.

The escalating violence in Ukraine yesterday was strongly condemned by the White House, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Vice President Joe Biden spoke by telephone with President Yanukovych, during which he “made clear that the United States is prepared to sanction those officials responsible for the violence.” And the EU decided “as a matter of urgency to introduce targeted sanctions including asset freeze and visa ban against those responsible for human rights violations, violence and use of excessive force” in Ukraine.

Syria

The U.S. and its European and Arab allies have agreed on unified standards for providing aid to Syrian rebel groups, classifying the groups into those who are eligible to receive arms, those who are not eligible due to extremist ties, and those whose eligibility requires further deliberations, according to officials, reports the Washington Post (Karen DeYoung). The “living document,” which will be updated as rebel alliances shift, “is designed to overcome divisions among governments that have been deeply split over which opposition groups to aid and what to supply.”

The Daily Beast (Josh Rogin and Noah Shachtman) reports that the Assad regime may have used chemical weapons as recently as January 13, according to activists, but the U.S. government does not appear inclined to investigate.

Following the collapse of the peace negotiations, the Syrian government has “forged ahead with brokering small-scale cease-fires in the suburbs of the capital in an attempt to show that it is capable of reconciliation without outside interference” [Washington Post’s Loveday Morris].

Other developments

The presidential palace in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu has been targeted by a “large” car bomb, followed by a raid by gunmen, according to police and witnesses [AFP]. A witness said there is “heavy exchange of gunfire continuing inside the building but we cannot tell what is happening.” The attack appears to bear “all the hallmarks” of militant group al-Shabaab.

ABC News (Pierre Thomas) reports that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is behind the shoe-bomb warning issued by the U.S., covered in yesterday’s Roundup. According to sources, U.S. officials are also concerned by AQAP’s plan to send American and European fighters to Syria to receive paramilitary training.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the department’s undersecretary to develop a plan for the reorganization of the Pentagon’s POW/MIA accounting effort within 30 days, in order “to increase to the maximum extent possible the numbers of missing service personnel accounted for annually, while ensuring timely and accurate information is provided [to] their families” [DoD News].

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addressed the Security Council on the crisis in the Central African Republic, and stressed the need for collective action, including the “rapid reinforcement of the African Union and French troops now on the ground with additional deployments of at least 3,000 more troops and police.”

Al Jazeera covers the low turnout at Libya’s election on a constitutional panel, due to “widespread political disillusionment and scattered violence.”

A mortar attack in a mainly Shia town in Iraq, south of Baghdad, killed at least 22 people and wounded more than 50 yesterday [Al Jazeera].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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