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News Roundup and Notes: January 13, 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.

Iran

ICYMI, yesterday, Iran and the P5+1 countries reached an agreement to implement the interim nuclear deal starting on January 20 [Reuters’ Parisa Hafezi And Justyna Pawlak]. Iran will take immediate steps to halt the progress of its nuclear program under the interim deal, in return for access to $4.2 billion in restricted Iranian assets in regular instalments over six months. Reuters has a description of the payment schedule, provided by a U.S. official on condition of anonymity.

President Obama welcomed the “concrete progress,” while warning skeptics of the nuclear negotiations:

“Imposing additional sanctions now will only risk derailing our efforts to resolve this issue peacefully, and I will veto any legislation enacting new sanctions during the negotiation.”

Secretary of State John Kerry also welcomed the progress as “a critical, significant step forward towards reaching a verifiable resolution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” He acknowledged, however, that “the next phase poses a far greater challenge: negotiating a comprehensive agreement that resolves outstanding concerns about the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.”

The New York Times (Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt), Wall Street Journal (Jay Solomon et al.) and Washington Post (Anne Gearan) have more details.

Syria

Speaking after a meeting of the 11-country “Friends of Syria” group in Paris yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry voiced optimism for the upcoming peace conference, stating:

“I am confident that the Syrian opposition will come to Geneva … And with respect to the Assad regime, we have been told that from day one they allegedly are prepared to negotiate … So I am counting on both parties, as well as the 30 or so plus other nations, to come together in an effort to try to end this violence.”

The 11-nations group issued a formal statement yesterday, reiterating their “conviction that the only solution to the conflict is a genuine political transition” and calling upon the Syrian National Coalition “to form, as soon as possible, a delegation of opposition forces to participate in the political process starting on January 22.”

The Wall Street Journal (Stacy Meichtry and Inti Landauro) and Washington Post (Karen DeYoung and Liz Sly) provide more details.

The New York Times editorial calls upon the administration to resume nonlethal assistance to Syria, which could “strengthen the moderates and encourage them to attend peace talks” and “also reassure the Saudis, who want the United States to play a bigger role in Syria.”

And CNN (Saad Abedine) reports that according to activists, nearly 700 people have been killed over the nine days of violent clashes between the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and other Islamist and rebel groups.

NSA Surveillance

According to a study by the New America Foundation, the NSA’s “[s]urveillance of American phone metadata has had no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism and only the most marginal of impacts on preventing terrorist-related activity, such as fundraising for a terrorist group.”

Foreign Policy (Shane Harris) takes a look at why Edward Snowden spent six days taking courses in computer hacking in New Delhi, including a course in “ethical hacking,” nearly three years prior to his NSA leaks.

The Washington Post (Greg Miller and Adam Goldman) covers ODNI General Counsel Robert S. Litt’s “unusually high-profile role in the aftermath of the Snowden leaks, serving as the point person in defending the massive surveillance programs to Congress and the public.”

Afghanistan

The Associated Press (Kathy Gannon) reports that “secret contacts” between members of the Afghan government and Taliban representatives are reportedly underway for a peace deal, “but neither analysts nor the insurgents see hope they will succeed.”

The Hill (Kristina Wong) covers how “mistrust between U.S. and Afghan officials deepened last week over revelations contained in former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s new memoir, and Kabul’s release of prisoners the U.S. deems dangerous.” Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s spokesperson told The Hill, “The fact that we have put conditions for the signing of the [bilateral security agreement] is to make sure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.”

In a “surprise move,” Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has asked members of his militant group Hizb-e-Islami to take part in the country’s upcoming elections [The Express Tribune’s Tahir Khan]. The group’s political role is “being seen as a key to the reconciliation process ahead of the NATO troops withdrawal this year.”

Iraq

According to senior Obama administration officials, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appears ready to take U.S. advice to reach out to his country’s Sunni minority and accept more U.S. counterterrorism assistance [Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung and Ernesto Londoño].

The Wall Street Journal (Julian E. Barnes) covers Republican lawmakers’ calls for the Obama administration to increase logistics and arms support to the Iraqi government.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, retired Army lieutenant general James M. Dubik outlines how, “for not too great an investment of troops and diplomatic attention, and within reasonable risk, the United States can help itself and Iraq.”

On the ground, at least 22 people were killed and several dozens wounded in car explosions and shootings in Iraq yesterday, including an attack on an Iraqi army base, according to the authorities [CNN’s Jomana Karadsheh and Marie-Louise Gumuchian]. And the New York Times (Kareem Fahim and Duraid Adnan) reports on the continuing clashes in the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi in the Anbar province.

Egypt

Egypt’s army chief, General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi indicated on Saturday that he would run for presidency, at “the request of the people and with a mandate from [his] army,” according to state media [The Guardian’s Patrick Kingsley].

Meanwhile Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke with al-Sisi yesterday regarding the Jan.14-15 constitutional referendum in Egypt, during which Hagel “stressed the importance of a transparent referendum in which all Egyptians have the opportunity to cast their vote freely.”

And Shadi Hamid writes that despite the nearly 30 conversations between Hagel and al-Sisi since the military takeover last July, “[there] is little to suggest that Hagel’s exhortations have had even a minimal effect on Sissi and the Egyptian government’s conduct” [Politico Magazine].

Other developments

Reactions to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ memoir continued over the weekend. Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Elijah Cummings questioned the timing of the memoir on CBS’s “Face the Nation” (Bob Schieffer). Rubio said, “My preference would be that people would refrain from writing these sorts of things until the president is out of office because I think it undermines the ability to conduct foreign policy.” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also said that Gates should have waited to release his memoir on CNN’s State of the Union [The Hill’s Jeremy Herb]. Meanwhile, Gates defended his book in an interview with CBS’s Rita Braver, stating, “I didn’t think that waiting until 2017 to weigh in on these issues, and in a comprehensive and thoughtful way, made any sense.”

Efforts to broker a ceasefire in South Sudan continue, as U.S. special envoy Donald Booth and other mediators met with rebel leader Riek Machar over the weekend [BBC].

The U.S. will withdraw one official from its New Delhi embassy, at the request of the Indian government, over the row concerning an Indian diplomat [CNN’s Jethro Mullen and Harmeet Shah Singh]. And the New York Times (Benjamin Weiser) provides an account of the “tense talks with U.S. agencies” up until the Indian diplomat departed last week.

Libya’s deputy Industry Minister Hassan al-Droui was shot dead by unknown gunmen on Saturday, marking the first assassination of a member of Libya’s transitional government [BBC].

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About the Author

is Associate Editor at Just Security. Follow her on Twitter @RParekh88.