News Roundup and Notes: March 25, 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 New York Times (Charlie Savage) is reporting that the Obama administration is preparing to announce a legislative proposal, under which “the N.S.A. would end its systematic collection of data about Americans’ calling habits,” according to senior administration officials. Under the proposal, records would remain in the hands of phone companies, “which would not be required to retain the data for any longer than they normally would” and the NSA could obtain specific records only with permission from a judge. For more Just Security coverage, check out David Cole’s and Thomas Earnest’s posts from last night.

Ukraine

The G-7 leaders have announced they “will not participate in the planned Sochi Summit.” According to the Hague Declaration:

“We will suspend our participation in the G-8 until Russia changes course and the environment comes back to where the G-8 is able to have a meaningful discussion and will meet again in G-7 format at the same time as planned, in June 2014, in Brussels, to discuss the broad agenda we have together.”

The G-7 leaders also warned they “remain ready to intensify actions including coordinated sectoral sanctions that will have an increasingly significant impact on the Russian economy, if Russia continues to escalate this situation.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters he saw “no great tragedy” if Moscow was expelled from the G-8 group [BBC]. However, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson was quoted as saying today, “The Russian side continues to be ready to have such contacts at all levels, including the top level” [Reuters]. Lavrov said he met his Ukrainian counterpart yesterday, and reportedly urged reforms to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine [Wall Street Journal’s Anton Troianovski].

Secretary of State John Kerry also met Lavrov at the margins of the Hague nuclear summit, during which he “urged Foreign Minister Lavrov to deescalate the situation and pursue a dialogue with the Ukrainian government” [The Hill’s Rebecca Shabad].

The Senate advanced the Ukraine aid and sanctions package last evening, but “a final deal is being bogged down by a controversial push to reform the International Monetary Fund” [Politico’s Seung Min Kim and Burgess Everett]. U.S. lawmakers will hear testimony today from those in favor of easing restrictions on liquefied natural gas exports so that U.S. supplies could help reduce Ukraine and Europe’s dependence on Russian gas [Reuters’ Ayesha Rascoe]. And Pentagon press secretary John Kirby has told reporters that comments of Afghan leader Hamid Karzai backing Russia’s annexation of Crimea were “clearly not helpful” [Reuters].

The Kyiv Post (Mark Rachkevych) highlights the “many questions” that remain in Ukraine’s military retreat from Crimea. The Wall Street Journal (Jeanne Whalen and Alan Cullison) covers Ukraine’s efforts toward rebuilding a depleted army, including seeking donations from the population to fund its army. CNN (Marie-Louise Gumuchian) considers Russia’s next moves, particularly in Transnistria.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board explores NATO’s “military decline,” which means that “if Vladimir Putin sets his sights on NATO’s eastern periphery—by targeting the Baltic states, for example—the alliance may not have the capability to resist even if it has the political will.” The Economist takes a look at whether Putin will succeed in his goal of a “divided Ukraine.” And in an opinion piece in the Washington Post, Ian J. Brzezinski outlines three ways in which NATO can bolster Ukraine’s security.

Guantánamo

Uruguayan President José Mujica said in an interview that any Guantánamo detainees his country takes will be treated as refugees and will “in no way” be prevented from traveling, notwithstanding any U.S. restrictions [AP].

Two Guantánamo guards have been accused of sexually assaulting junior soldiers [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]. The courts martial are scheduled to take place next month.

Afghanistan

The Wall Street Journal (Margherita Stancati) covers how rural defense forces set up by the U.S. to counter the Taliban “are becoming increasingly untethered from Kabul, raising security fears just as American troops return home.”

The New York Times (Azam Ahmed) reports on fears of Afghan interpreters who supported U.S. troops that the time for U.S. visas has run out.

Other developments

One sailor and one civilian suspect have been killed in a shooting at Naval Station Norfolk, a U.S. naval base in Virginia. Naval security forces killed the civilian suspect.

The White House issued a press briefing on yesterday’s events at the Nuclear Security Summit in the Hague. Important announcements included Japan “taking an historic step to get rid of an enormous quantity of highly-enriched uranium and plutonium.”

The Wall Street Journal (Charles Levinson) covers the closing arguments at the trial of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. Jurors are expected to begin deliberating the criminal counts today.

The State Department has issued a factsheet outlining U.S. support to regional efforts in central Africa to counter the Lord’s Resistance Army and to secure the “apprehension or removal” of warlord Joseph Kony.

Politico (Josh Gerstein) reports that prosecutors are urging a federal judge to approve a 13-month sentence for a former State Department contractor, who has admitted leaking details of a classified report on North Korea to Fox News.

The Washington Post editorial board calls for “more reform” of the military justice system, noting that “the process along the way [in the two recent sexual assault cases] was so flawed that it’s hard to have any confidence that justice was done.”

Army officials defended their intelligence processing system—the Distributed Common Ground System-Army—ahead of a House Armed Services Committee hearing today [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]. The system can “take intelligence from multiple sources such as drones, satellites and radars, and then process and analyze that data for users across the entire intelligence community.”

The Economist comments on the developments in Syria, with Assad’s forces having “regained the initiative on the most crucial of the country’s multiple battlefronts, the region around the capital, Damascus.” However, in other areas, government forces made “only minor advances … despite the outbreak of full-scale warfare between two rebel factions.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly told President Obama yesterday that the U.S. should adopt an “objective and fair attitude” on the East and South China Seas, where China is involved in a series of territorial disputes [Reuters]. The two leaders met on the sidelines of the nuclear summit in the Netherlands.

The New York Times (Mark Landler) covers the “three months of intense behind-the-scenes American diplomacy” leading up to this evening’s “trilateral” meeting between President Obama and the “estranged leaders” of Japan and South Korea at the Hague.

Indonesia’s counter-terrorism chief Ansyaad Mbai discusses the shifts in Islamic radicalism in his country, which has seen police becoming targets of attacks [Wall Street Journal’s I Made Sentana].

Thirteen heads of states have gathered in Kuwait for the annual two-day Arab League summit, “amid an unprecedented diplomatic fallout among the Gulf countries and tension over the crisis in Egypt and the conflict in Syria,” reports Al Jazeera.

The New York Times editorial board argues that Egypt’s latest court verdict—sentencing 529 Islamists to death for the killing of a single police officer—“represents an outrageous escalation of the military-led government’s ruthless crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist supporters of … Mohamed Morsi.”

Twenty Yemeni soldiers have been killed in an attack on a checkpoint in the country’s eastern province, which some sources are attributing to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula [AFP].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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