News Roundup and Notes: March 27, 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.

Abu Ghaith trial

The New York Times (Benjamin Weiser) and Wall Street Journal (Charles Levinson and Christopher M. Matthews) report that Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, has been found guilty of conspiring to kill Americans and providing material support to terrorists. Check out Daphne Eviatar and Thomas Earnest’s posts on Just Security providing details and analysis.

Attorney General Eric Holder welcomed the conviction, stating:

“We never doubted the ability of our Article III court system to administer justice swiftly in this case, as it has in hundreds of other cases involving terrorism defendants. It would be a good thing for the country if this case has the result of putting that political debate to rest.”

Similarly, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein announced:

“This successful prosecution again shows that the criminal justice system is not just a valid way to prosecute al-Qaeda terrorists, but a better and more reliable way.”

Ukraine

CNN’s Security Clearance (Barbara Starr) reports that a new classified intelligence assessment concludes there is a greater likelihood than previously believed that Russian forces will enter eastern Ukraine. This has reportedly prompted eight Republican members on the House Armed Services Committee to write a letter to Obama, urging him to “share available intelligence information with the government of Ukraine” [The Hill’s Jeremy Herb].

Reuters (Mark Hosenball) reports that Russia has deployed more than 30,000 military and militia troops along its border with eastern Ukraine, according to U.S. and European officials. The Associated Press covers how the Crimean peninsula is still reliant on Kiev for its electricity and water needs, with Crimean officials accusing Ukraine of halving electricity supplies in the region.

The International Monetary Fund has announced agreement on a $14-18 billion standby credit for Kiev “in return for tough economic reforms that will unlock further aid from the European Union, the United States and other lenders [Reuters’ Natalia Zinets and Elizabeth Piper].

In a key speech delivered in Brussels last evening, President Obama made an extensive case for U.S. and European unity in dealing with the Ukraine conflict. While stressing “this is not another Cold War,” Obama warned that sanctions “will expand” if Russia stays on its “current course.” In a press conference with the Presidents of the European Council and European Commission, Obama expressed “some concerns about a diminished level of defense spending among some of our partners in NATO.” He reminded partners, “if we’ve got collective defense, it means that everybody has got to chip in” and noted that Ukraine demonstrates “that our freedom isn’t free.” The New York Times (Michael D. Shear and Peter Baker), Wall Street Journal (Carol E. Lee) and Washington Post (Scott Wilson) have more details.

An EU-U.S. joint statement notes “the need to reinforce energy security in Europe” owing to the situation in Ukraine, and welcomes “the prospect of U.S. LNG exports in the future since additional global supplies will benefit Europe and other strategic partners.”

The Washington Post editorial notes that the “West must prepare for a long struggle with Russia” and states that “[t]he most important means of containing the threat, however, will be economic and political.” In an op-ed in the New York Times, Ian Bremmer explores the U.S.’s “tortured policy” toward Russia, noting that “the Obama administration’s rhetoric about Russia and Ukraine goes far beyond what it will be willing and able to enforce.” And The Economist covers how “Russia’s annexation of Crimea has given NATO renewed purpose.”

Secret Service 

The Washington Post (Carol D. Leonnig et al.) reports that the U.S. Secret Service’s director “had admonished supervisors after two counter-sniper officers suspected of drinking were involved in a March 7 car accident during a presidential visit to Miami.” Thus, when the Secret Service arrived in the Netherlands last weekend, “managers were already on high alert to avoid any further em­barrassing incidents involving agents.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney has confirmed that Obama was briefed on last weekend’s incident and supports the agency director’s “zero tolerance approach” on these matters [Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown].

Syria

Assistant Secretary Anne W. Patterson outlined the administration’s efforts on Syria before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, and maintained that “[t]he only sustainable solution to the Syria crisis is a negotiated political settlement.”

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has said in a report to the UN, obtained by the Associated Press (Cara Anna and Edith M. Lederer), that the total percentage of chemicals either removed from or already destroyed inside Syria is now at 53.6 percent.

Israel-Palestine

Secretary of State John Kerry met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last evening “in a bid to salvage foundering Mideast peace talks” [AP].

And in a communiqué issued earlier in the day, the Arab League expressed its “absolute and decisive rejection to recognising Israel as a Jewish state” [The National’s Hugh Naylor].

Other developments

A report of the House Committee on Homeland Security finds missed opportunities to deal with accused Boston Marathon bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev for over a year before the explosions, when Tsarnaev was already on U.S. and Russian intelligence radar [Wall Street Journal’s Jon Kamp and Jennifer Levitz].

A Transport Security Administration (TSA) report calls for greater airport police support to make TSA agents more secure, but does not endorse the arming of its own workers [The Hill’s Keith Laing].

The 17 Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have called upon Chairman Darrell Issa to end his investigation into the 2012 Benghazi attack [Politico’s John Bresnahan].

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has appointed Rear Adm. Margaret Klein as the first Senior Advisor for Military Professionalism, who will report on “issues related to military ethics, character, and leadership.”

Iran issued a warning to Pakistan after reports emerged that one of the five Iranian soldiers who had been abducted by Sunni extremists in Pakistan had been executed [AFP]. Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson has condemned the killing of the Iranian soldier, but maintained that the guards are not being held within Pakistani territory [Dawn].

Pakistani government representatives and the Pakistani Taliban have resumed direct talks, “five weeks after preliminary contacts were suspended over continued violence” [Wall Street Journal’s Annabel Symington].

The UN Security Council will be holding a closed-door session later today to discuss North Korea’s latest missile launches, according to UN diplomats [Reuters’ Louis Charbonneau].

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the Egyptian general who ousted Mohamed Morsi last July, has declared his candidacy for the presidential election “to defend the nation” [Al Jazeera]. And Secretary of State John Kerry has expressed concern over the mass trials and sentencing in Egypt, urging the interim government “to reverse the court ruling and ensure due process for the accused.”

Reuters (Hamid Shalizi and Jessica Donati) reports that the growing violence in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province ahead of next week’s presidential election “highlights a rift between Pashtun tribes that could tip the country back into civil war.”

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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