News Roundup and Notes: April 10, 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

Ukraine’s acting President Olexander Turchynov has said Ukraine will not prosecute the pro-Russian activists occupying official buildings in two eastern cities if they surrender their weapons [BBC]. The Washington Post (Will Englund) notes that a new regional poll shows limited support for the building occupations in eastern Ukraine, with “even pro-Russian party leaders [beginning] to suggest that the agitators should call it a day.”

Reuters reports that the Russian Foreign Ministry has accused NATO of using “the crisis in Ukraine to rally its ranks in the face of an imaginary external threat … and to strengthen demand for the alliance.” Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he hopes for a “positive outcome” at next week’s talks between Russia, Ukraine, the U.S. and EU, but warned that Ukraine’s interim government should not do anything that could not “be fixed later” [The Guardian’s Shaun Walker]. Russia has also threatened to restrict supplies of natural gas to Ukraine, and reiterated that Ukraine owes it more than $16 billion in debts [New York Times’ David M. Herszenhorn].

Finance officials from the G-7 are meeting today to consider increasing sanctions against Russia, according to those familiar with the matter [Wall Street Journal’s Ian Talley and Lukas I. Alpert]. NATO’s top commander in Europe, Gen. Philip Breedlove has told the Associated Press he wouldn’t “write off involvement by any nation, [including] the United States,” when asked about deployment of troops to NATO countries closest to Russia. And in the U.S., The Hill (Kristina Wong) reports on calls from lawmakers for the administration to share U.S. intelligence with Ukraine on Russia’s activities.

The Daily Beast (David Patrikarakos) covers how, “[w]ith thousands of Putin’s troops ready to support them, pro-Russian protesters in Donetsk mock the authorities’ vows to use force against them.” The New York Times (Neil MacFarquhar) reports that according to political analysts, Kremlin allies and diplomats, “Moscow’s goals are more subtle … focused on a long-range strategy of preventing Ukraine from escaping Russia’s economic and military orbit.”

The Economist explores the variety of possible invasions, noting that to think about a Russian invasion only in terms of tanks rolling across borders is “a dangerously narrow way to think about invasion, if also a temporarily convenient one.” And former U.S. ambassador Nicholas Burns discusses the Russia-Ukraine crisis in a Political Wire podcast [The Week].

Senate torture report

In a letter to President Obama, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein asks the White House to “take the lead in the declassification process” of her committee’s CIA report. She asks Obama to declassify the documents, “quickly and with minimal redactions.”

Politico (Josh Gerstein) reports that a federal judge is “gauging the legal fallout” from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s declassification vote. District Court Judge James Boasberg has ordered the parties in a pair of FOIA lawsuits to advise him on whether the committee’s vote changes the posture of the cases. The government argued previously that the CIA report is not subject to FOIA because it remains a Senate document.

Surveillance

Politico (Darren Samuelsohn and Jake Sherman) covers how “Congress is awash in ideas for revamping the government surveillance programs,” but that “the path and timing for reform remains far from clear.”

UK’s surveillance watchdog, the Interception of Communications Commissioner has concluded that the country’s spy agencies do not carry out “random mass intrusion into the private affairs of law abiding UK citizens” [The Telegraph’s Tom Whitehead]. The conclusions also dismiss claims that the GCHQ accessed individuals’ details through the NSA in order to circumvent UK laws.

Iran

A former Iranian vice president has called on the country’s choice for UN ambassador to step down [Bloomberg’s Kambiz Foroohar]. However, the Iranian government has restated its intention to appoint Hamid Aboutalebi, who has been linked to the 1979 Tehran hostage crisis, as its next UN envoy, “complicating efforts by Tehran and Washington to improve relations” [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon].

The New York Times (Rick Gladstone) and Wall Street Journal (Laurence Norman) provide details on the third round of talks with Iran on a comprehensive nuclear deal, which ended yesterday. In a joint statement, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif said a “lot of intensive work” remains to “bridge the gaps in all the key areas.” The State Department also provided a background briefing on the talks. The next meeting will be held on May 13.

Meanwhile, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has expressed support for the nuclear talks, but said that the “activities of [Iran] in the field of nuclear research and development won’t be halted at all” [BBC].

In an opinion piece in the Washington Post, retired General David H. Petraeus and Vance Serchuk explore how the U.S. can plan “for the day after an Iran deal.” They caution that “a successful nuclear deal could result in the United States and our partners in the Middle East facing a better-resourced and, in some respects, more dangerous adversary.”

Israel-Palestine

In “an unusually pointed rebuke,” Israel said yesterday that it was “deeply disappointed” by Secretary of State John Kerry’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that appeared to blame Israel for the crisis in the Middle East peace talks [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner]. Later in the day, Kerry met Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Washington, where he said that he does not blame Israel, but was merely recounting the chain of events, according to officials in Lieberman’s office [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid].

Arab League foreign ministers have renewed their commitment to give $100m in monthly aid to Palestine, hours after Israel partially suspended high-level contacts with the Palestinians [Al Jazeera]. However, the ministers expressed continued commitment to the U.S.-brokered peace talks.

And the Washington Post (William Booth) covers how the releases of Jonathan Pollard  and Marwan Barghouti “could be the diplomatic gestures that allow the collapsing Middle East peace talks to continue,” according to Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.

Syria

The United Nations refugee agency and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) have completed a “rare and risky” operation to deliver aid to an area in eastern Aleppo, following agreement with the Syrian Government and the opposition [UN News Centre].

Two car bombs have exploded in the Syrian city of Homs, killing at least 25 people, while a rebel-held town north of Damascus is reported to have been captured by government forces [BBC].

And Al-Monitor covers how “[i]n a bid to reach Saudi youth, al-Qaeda recently used the Syrian revolution as a pretext to spread its extremist ideas through its numerous Twitter accounts.”

Other developments

An inspector general report has found that the Russian government declined to provide the FBI with information about Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, which would have most likely led to extensive scrutiny of him at least two years prior to the attack [New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt and Eric Schmitt].

Transcripts of a secret session at the Guantánamo military commission reveal that defense lawyers want a list of the countries where the CIA secretly detained alleged USS Cole bomber, al Nashiri [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

The Department of State has designated Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis—created in 2011 and “responsible for attacks on Israel and security services and tourists in Egypt”—as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity.

The New York Times (Matt Apuzzo) notes that Attorney General Eric Holder’s revisions to the Justice Department’s racial profiling rules “would allow the FBI to continue many, if not all, of the tactics opposed by civil rights groups, such as mapping ethnic populations and using that data to recruit informants and open investigations.”

The Wall Street Journal (Michael R. Crittenden) reports that a bipartisan group of senators “plan to introduce a measure this week that would extend the government’s terrorism-insurance program for seven years,” according to a Senate aide familiar with the deal.

Concerned that “the steady stream of British Muslims traveling to fight in Syria could pose a threat on their return,” the UK government is seeking to pass legislation that would keep terrorist suspects from re-entering the country and stripping them of their citizenship, even if they are naturalized citizens with no other citizenship [New York Times’ Katrin Bennhold].

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has discussed with Chinese President Xi Jinping his continued cooperation “with the international community to achieve a complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula in the face of the growing threat posed by North Korean nuclear and missile developments.” The Wall Street Journal (Dion Nissenbaum) has more details.

Reuters (Maria Golovnina) reports that one of the frontrunners in the Afghan presidential race, Abdullah Abdullah has ruled out forming a coalition government so as to avoid a second-round runoff. And the Washington Post (Kevin Sieff) covers how about 800 square miles of land in Afghanistan are littered with U.S. explosives, including undetonated grenades, rockets and mortar shells.

After returning several hundred grams of weapons-grade plutonium, Japan is pursuing a nuclear recycling program that would produce new stockpiles of plutonium, which could create a proliferation risk in future decades [New York Times’ Hiroko Tabuchi].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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