News Roundup and Notes: April 8, 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.

Ukraine

Kyiv Post (Olga Rudenko) reports that Ukrainian police have taken control of the government center from pro-Russian separatists in Kharkiv, and have arrested around 70 suspects. Pro-Russian groups are still holding buildings in the eastern cities of Luhansk and Donetsk. In response to Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov’s pledge of launching “anti-terrorist measures,” the Russian Foreign Ministry has called on Kiev to stop the operation, warning that it “could lead to an outbreak of civil war” [Al Jazeera]. And pro-Russian protesters in Luhansk and Donetsk demanded that referendums be held on whether to join Russia [Reuters’ Richard Balmforth and Lina Kushch].

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by phone to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday, noting that the developments in eastern Ukraine “do not appear to be a spontaneous set of events.” Kerry called on Russia “to publicly disavow the activities of separatists, saboteurs, and provocateurs … [and] to refrain from agitation in Ukraine.” He also made clear that “any further Russian efforts to destabilize Ukraine will incur further costs for Russia.”

White House spokesperson Jay Carney also suggested that “outside forces, not local forces, were participating in the effort to create [the] provocations” in eastern Ukraine [ABC News’ Jane Cowan]. Carney noted, “What’s clear is that this is a result of increased Russian pressure on Ukraine.”

The Wall Street Journal (Matthew Karnitschnig) covers how the German government “is quietly pursuing a more conciliatory course with Russia, a shift that reflects a strategy to protect national business interests and assuage a public increasingly wary of antagonizing Moscow.” The Washington Post (Griff Witte and Anthony Faiola) reports that the “showdown with energy-rich Russia” has increased calls in Europe to start fracking.

In an op-ed in The Guardian, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov argues that “[i]t’s not Russia that is destabilising Ukraine.” Lavrov writes, “The west has been needlessly whipping up tension–if we don’t co-operate soon, chaos may take hold.” The New York Times editorial warns that “events taking place in Donetsk and elsewhere in eastern Ukraine are very similar to those that led up to the Russian annexation of Crimea.” And in the Wall Street Journal, Gerald F. Seib writes how “the crisis in Ukraine is pushing foreign policy back to the center of American political debate.”

Iran

The Senate passed a bill yesterday that would allow President Obama to bar Iran’s new UN ambassador from entering the U.S. [The Hill’s Ramsey Cox]. Sen. Ted Cruz, who introduced the legislation, said Iran’s decision was “deliberately insulting and contemptuous,” as Iran’s new envoy, Hamid Abutalebi is believed to have played a role in the 1979 hostage crisis in Tehran. Sen. Lindsey Graham also welcomed the vote, stating that this legislation was required “[g]iven Iran’s behavior as the leading state sponsor of terrorism.”

Meanwhile, U.S. officials are convinced they can conclude a final nuclear deal with Iran by the July 20 deadline, despite significant hurdles, reports the Wall Street Journal (Jay Solomon and Laurence Norman).

Guantanámo Bay

Lawyers for the last British resident at Guantanámo, Shaker Aamer, have filed a motion seeking his release on the grounds of ill-health [BBC].

The Guantánamo parole board is set to consider the release of Yemeni detainee Ghaleb al-Bihani today. Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg provides further details of Bihani’s case.

And a military officer convicted of sexual misconduct at Guantanámo Bay has been sentenced to two years in prison following a court-martial in Texas [AP].

Surveillance

The Supreme Court has declined a request to review the legality of the NSA’s bulk collection program [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]. The case will go through the ordinary appeals process, while lawmakers “battle over reform proposals.”

A District Court judge who has refused a number of search warrants for email records out of concern that they were overly broad has rejected a Justice Department proposal which appeared designed to address his concerns [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]. Judge John Facciola wrote in yesterday’s ruling, “The government is unwilling—for whatever reason—to give up its policy of seizing large quantities of e-mails and other Fourth Amendment protected data even after this Court has repeatedly warned it against doing so.”

Al Jazeera (Jason Leopold) reveals that the NSA “has been flooded with thousands of Freedom of Information Act requests from journalists, civil rights groups and private citizens who have asked the agency to turn over the top-secret records that former contractor Edward Snowden leaked to the media.”

Israel-Palestine

Reuters (Jeffrey Heller) reports that yesterday’s negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian teams ended with no sign of a breakthrough, but an Israeli official said the parties have agreed to meet again. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has warned the Palestinians that the planned prisoner release will not take place as long as they pursue their “provocative” bid to join UN agencies [AP]. Meanwhile, a senior Palestinian official has said that the Palestinians are ready to sign up for additional UN agencies and treaties if the U.S.-brokered peace talks fail after the April 29 deadline [Al Jazeera].

The Wall Street Journal (Nicholas Casey) reports that according to some former officials from both sides, it may be “time to consider a ‘Plan B’ with the less ambitious goal of living peacefully and leaving the tough choices for another day.”

And the New York Times (Jodi Rudoren) covers how Palestinian prisoner Marwan Barghouti “has become the Palestinian parallel to Jonathan J. Pollard,” with Palestinian leaders renewing demands for his release as part of the deal to save the Middle East peace talks.

Other developments

The Wall Street Journal (Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes) reports that while Secretary of State John Kerry “has been pushing for the U.S. military to be more aggressive in supporting [Syria’s] rebel forces,” the Pentagon has pushed back against military intervention, according to senior officials.

The New York Times (Manny Fernandez and Alan Blinder) and Wall Street Journal (Nathan Koppel) have more details on the Fort Hood shooting, which were released by military officials yesterday. And the Washington Post editorial explains why “[m]ore weapons on military installations isn’t necessarily a good idea.”

The New York Times editorial argues that the success of Afghanistan’s presidential election on Saturday “is a further sign that the time has come to end America’s combat role there after 13 years of conflict.”

In a blog post, the USAID spokesperson seeks to clarify the “significant inaccuracies and false conclusions” in the Associated Press report on its “Cuban Twitter” program.

Al Jazeera America reports that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his Chinese counterpart “faced off [today] over Beijing’s escalating territorial disputes in the region.” The meeting also focused on building stronger ties between the two countries.

Senate Democrats have criticized former CIA Director Michael Hayden for describing Sen. Dianne Feinstein as “emotional” over her committee’s torture report [Politico’s Burgess Everett].

The Long War Journal (Thomas Joscelyn) reports that Thirwat Salah Shehata, who long served as a top deputy to al-Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri, has been arrested in Egypt.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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