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A curated weekday guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
RUSSIA AND UKRAINE
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that President Biden will “likely” speak directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin “in the near future,” as part of an effort to prevent what Western officials fear could be a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Michael Crowley reports for the New York Times.
Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed seemingly irreconcilable positions prior to and following their meeting yesterday. Blinken told reporters that during the meeting he had communicated “clearly and directly” to Lavrov U.S. concerns about Russia’s recent threatening action towards Ukraine, and warned that the U.S. would work with allies “to impose severe costs and consequences on Russia if it takes further aggressive action against Ukraine.” Lavrov insisted Russia did not want any new military confrontation, while adding that the U.S. should make good on an offer to establish a direct channel between Moscow and Washington outside of the Normandy format being used for negotiations on eastern Ukraine. David M. Herszenhorn reports for POLITICO.
Lavrov described the West as “playing with fire” by denying Russia input into NATO expansion into former Soviet Union countries. Ukraine’s President has pushed for Ukraine to join NATO, which has held out the promise of membership without committing to a specific timeline. Lavrov warned that his country regarded the eastward expansion of the NATO military alliance as a “fundamental security threat.” Ellen Knickmeyer and Vladimir Isachenkov report for AP.
Gen. Mark Milley, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that the U.S. is tracking indicators surrounding Russian military activity near Ukraine that warrant “a lot of concern.” Milley stressed the importance of Ukrainian sovereignty to the U.S. and NATO, but declined to speculate about the options the U.S. might consider in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. Phil Stewart reports for Reuters.
A video call between Putin and Biden is in the process of being organized, the Kremlin has said. Reuters reports.
Negotiations to revive the 2015 nuclear deal hit another roadblock yesterday following a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran is continuing to expand its uranium enrichment. In a report distributed to negotiators late Wednesday the IAEA said Iran is enriching uranium to 20% purity using advanced centrifuges at its Fordow facility — a place where the original 2015 deal prohibited any enrichment. Liz Sly and Karen DeYoung report for the Washington Post.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said yesterday that Iran’s recent actions and rhetoric risk collapsing the nuclear talks. Binken also said that whether Iran is participating in good faith in the indirect negotiations in Vienna will be clearer in the “next day or so.” Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.
The seventh round of nuclear talks with Iran will end today with a formal meeting of the remaining parties to the 2015 nuclear deal, European and Iranian officials have said. Reuters reports.
Lawyers for different groups of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks are considering make claims against the $7 billion in Afghan central bank funds deposited at the New York Federal Reserve — money the Taliban now claims is theirs. Various lawsuits that groups of Sept. 11 attack victims filed against al-Qaeda and others they said provided support to the terrorists, like the Taliban, obtained default judgments against the defendants years ago, which at the time seemed merely symbolic given the inability to obtain the money awarded. However, the Taliban’s military takeover of Afghanistan has raised the possibility that the victim groups could try and seize the Afghan government funds in New York. Charlie Savage reports for the New York Times.
Abu Zubaydah, a Guantánamo detainee who has been held without charge for nearly 20 years, has petitioned a federal court for his release on grounds that the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and with al-Qaeda are over. A filing with the U.S. district court in Washington DC has called for Zubaydah’s immediate release, describing his treatment over the past two decades, which includes being tortured close to death by the CIA, as a “parade of horribles.” Ed Pilkington reports for the Guardian.
Afghanistan’s ambassador to Washington, Adela Raz, who began her tenure just weeks before the Taliban took over Afghanistan is continuing to try and help displaced Afghans. Jennifer Steinhauer reports for the New York Times.
Three villagers and 10 Kurdish soldiers have been killed in an attack by Islamic State (IS) militants on a village in northern Iraq, officials in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region have said. Reuters reports
The international community has reached a “turning point” in pursuing justice for atrocities committed by the IS terrorist group in Iraq, Special Adviser Christian Ritscher, the head of a U.N. investigative team, has told the U.N. Security Council. UN News Centre reports.
Ritscher also told the U.N. Security Council that evidence has shown that IS committed crimes against humanity and war crimes at a prison in the northern city of Mosul, Iraq, where at least 1,000 mostly Shia Muslim prisoners were systematically killed seven years ago. Al Jazeera reports.
The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which would stop the importation to the U.S. of products connected to abuses of Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang region, is stuck in Congress after passing the Senate unanimously in July. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman reportedly told co-sponsor of the bill Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) to slow down the approval of the bill, indicating that President Biden’s administration prefers a more targeted approach to determining which goods are the products of forced labor. Josh Rogin provides analysis for the Washington Post.
The U.S. annual defense bill (the National Defense Authorization Act or NDAA), which sets the policy agenda and authorizes funding for the Pentagon, is also stalled in the Senate in part because of a disagreement over Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’s push to include an amendment that would place more import restrictions on Chinese goods manufactured by Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang province. Republicans and Democrats are rejecting Rubio’s demand because they say it violates a constitutional requirement that legislation that raises revenue originate in the House. Ellie Kaufman and Ted Barrett report for CNN.
Twitter has shut down thousands of state-linked accounts in China that seek to counter evidence of human rights abuses in Xinjiang. The accounts were part of what experts have described as a propaganda operation, which used photos and images, shell and potentially automated accounts, and fake Uyghur profiles, to disseminate state propaganda and fake testimonials about their happy lives in Xinjiang. Helen Davidson reports for the Guardian.
Didi Global Inc. plans to delist its shares in the U.S. and pursue a listing in Hong Kong, as authorities in Beijing wrap up a cybersecurity probe into the company. Jing Yang reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has “reconfirmed” that she is safe and well given the “difficult situation” she is in, in a second call with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the organization has said. Peng publicly accused a former top Communist Party official, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, of coercing her into sex at his home three years ago in a since-deleted social media post dated November 2. Amy Woodyatt, Ben Morse, Nectar Gan, Emmet Lyons and Alicia Lloyd report for CNN.
The IOC has faced criticism for how it has dealt with the concerns around Peng Shuai and the role of the Chinese state. Kelley Currie, former U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, described the IOC’s approach as “typical IOC: take the Chinese Communist Party at its word despite all evidence to the contrary.” Alexander Smith reports for NBC News.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
The U.S., the U.K., Canada and the E.U. have imposed coordinated additional sanctions on Belarus, in relation to human rights abuses and a migrant crisis on Belarus’s border with the E.U., which is attributed to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. The sanctions blacklist entities and individuals that “support the regime and facilitate its repression,” Blinken said in a statement. They include targeting three aircraft as blocked property and designating 32 individuals and entities, including Belarusian state-owned enterprises and government officials. Laura Kelly reports for The Hill.
A new review by intelligence officials has not found any hard evidence that points to a common cause for the mysterious “Havana syndrome,” the chronic ailments that intelligence officers and diplomats have reported. No microwaves, other readings of energy pulses or any other weapons that could be to blame, have been detected, and there have been no intelligence intercepts implicating an adversarial spy service. Julian E. Barnes and Adam Goldman report for the New York Times.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
The Court of Appeals in the Philippines has allowed journalist Maria Ressa to travel to Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, after the Philippines government sought to block her from attending the ceremony. Ressa was awarded the prize in October along with Dmitri A. Muratov, a Russian investigative journalist, for “their courageous fight for freedom of expression.” The Philippines government called Ressa a flight risk because her “recurring criticisms of the Philippine legal processes in the international community reveal her lack of respect for the judicial system.” Sui-Lee Wee reports for the New York Times.
The U.S. intends to work with other countries to limit exports of surveillance tools and other technologies to authoritarian governments which may use the tools to suppress human rights. President Biden’s administration will be launching an initiative with other nations to establish a code of conduct for coordinating export-licensing policies. “The effort would also see participating nations share information on sensitive technologies used against political dissidents, journalists, foreign government officials and human rights activists, administration officials said,” Yuka Hayashi and Alex Leary report for the Wall Street Journal.
Human rights organizations have called on the E.U. to impose global sanctions on the Israeli spyware company NSO Group and to take “every action” to prohibit the sale, transfer, export, and import of the company’s Pegasus surveillance technology. A letter, signed by 86 organizations, said that the E.U.’s sanctions regime gave it the power to target entities that were responsible for “violations or abuses that are of serious concern as regards to the objectives of the common foreign and security policy, including violations or abuses of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, or of freedom of opinion and expression.” Stephanie Kirchgaessner reports for the Guardian.
A Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report highlighting serious concerns around cybersecurity vulnerabilities in U.S. critical infrastructure and warning that these systems are “in jeopardy” if the government fails to take action. The report argues for the need for the federal government to take steps, including implementing a national cybersecurity strategy and enhancing federal protection of critical infrastructure. Maggie Miller reports for The Hill.
The Los Angeles chapter of Planned Parenthood was subject to a ransomware attack in October that compromised the personal information of about 400,000 patients. According to a breach notification the organization, the unidentified perpetrator stole documents from the Planned Parenthood affiliate. Aaron Schaffer, Joseph Marks and Hannah Knowles report for the Washington Post.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
Members of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack have said that Mark Meadows, the former chief of staff of former President Trump, may have damaged his case for executive privilege by divulging secret details in his forthcoming book, due to be released next week. “It’s…very possible that by discussing the events of Jan. 6 in his book, if he does that, he’s waiving any claim of privilege. So, it’d be very difficult for him to maintain ‘I can’t speak about events to you, but I can speak about them in my book,’”said committee member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA). Kyle Cheney and Nicholas Wu report for POLITICO.
U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Congress has given final approval to a short-term spending bill, which will keep the government funded through mid-February and provide $7 billion for the care and resettlement of Afghan refugees, after Republicans dropped a threat to force a shutdown over President Biden’s administration’s vaccine mandates. Emily Cochrane reports for the New York Times.
Far-right activists and Neo-Nazis are using Twitter’s new rule against posts sharing people’s private information to persuade the social media platform to remove photos of them posted by anti-extremism researchers and journalists. Advocates have expressed fears that Twitter’s new “private information policy,” which allows someone whose photo or video was tweeted without their consent to request that Twitter take it down, will suppress efforts to document the activities of the far-right and be a gift to the movements eager to keep their identities concealed. Drew Harwell reports for the Washington Post.
Five House Democratic caucus chairs, along with 36 members of the progressive Caucus are calling for Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) to be stripped of her committee assignments following her “anti-Muslim” attacks, including against Rep. Illan Omar (D-MN). “There must be consequences for vicious workplace harassment and abuse,” the Democratic chairs wrote in a letter, which also criticized House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) for not properly disciplining Boebert for her attacks. Mariana Alfaro, Marianna Sotomayor and Felicia Sonmez report for the Washington Post.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) wants to reestablish a civilian military force in Florida that he, not the Pentagon, would control. DeSantis has proposed the idea as a means to further support the Florida National Guard during emergencies. DeSantis also said this unit would “not [be] encumbered by the federal government,” and that the force would give him “the flexibility and the ability needed to respond to events in our state in the most effective way possible.” Steve Contorno reports for CNN.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the leading Republican on the Senate judiciary committee, has blocked a request from Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) to proceed on gun control legislation in the Senate following the Michigan school shooting this week. Maya Yang reports for the Guardian.
The coronavirus has infected over 48.83 million people and has now killed over 785,900 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 264.30 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.23 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
It is still too early to tell whether Covid-19 caused by the new Omicron variant is milder or more severe than that from other strains, doctors tracking a rapidly growing outbreak in South Africa have said. South African doctors have however said that there is early evidence that the variant is more transmissible and presents high reinfection risk. Gabriele Steinhauser reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Five cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in New York state, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced yesterday. New York is now the fourth state to detect a case of the new variant, following California, Minnesota and Colorado. Mychael Schnell reports for The Hill.
Just Security has published a piece by Matiangai Sirleaf titled ‘Omicron: The Variant that Vaccine Apartheid Built.’
The state of Oklahoma has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to stop President Biden’s administration from mandating Covid-19 vaccines for the National Guard. “The complaint, which names President Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin as defendants, asks the court to declare the mandate unconstitutional and to enjoin the government from enforcing it or withholding funding from the Oklahoma National Guard or its members,” Jordan Williams reports for The Hill.
Any one of six different Covid-19 vaccines work well as boosters for people who have received initial vaccinations with either the Pfizer/BioNTech or AstraZeneca vaccines, U.K. researchers have reported. Maggie Fox reports for CNN.
A map and analysis of the vaccine roll out across the U.S. is available at the New York Times.
A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. is available at the New York Times.
U.S. and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post.
A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.
Latest updates on the pandemic at the Guardian.