FP’s Situation Report: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula takes global spotlight; Senate threatens to scuttle Iran nuclear deal; Top U.S. war crimes diplomat steps down; and more of what you need to know from around the world.
By David Francis with Sabine Muscat
Yes-No-Maybe? AQAP claims it orchestrated the Charlie Hebdo attacks under orders by the network’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahri. That raises questions about just how much — if any — command and control core al Qaeda has over its franchises and how it manages to evade intelligence officials, who don’t know where Zawahri is holed up.
The New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi, Mark Mazzetti, and Eric Schmitt: “[I]t is still unclear what specific guidance the Qaeda branch gave to the Kouachis about carrying out an attack, though it is believed that the satirical magazine was one of the targets discussed, an American counterterrorism official said. The United States still has little concrete evidence about any travels by the brothers after 2011 or possible further contact with terrorist groups, officials said.” More here.
More on the Paris attacks below.
AQAP’s claim of responsibility also drew away global attention from its terror rival, the Islamic state militants, who have overrun parts of Iraq and Syria. Islamic militants won a smaller battle when an Austrian judge cleared the way for romance.
FP’s Elias Groll: “An Austrian judge scored a victory for young jihadi love this week when she issued a preliminary ruling that two teens who had tried to travel to Syria to marry Islamic State fighters committed no crime. The pair was picked up in Romania en route to Syria, and the Salzburg judge could find no crime on which to try them.” More here.
A split between the White House and Senate threatens to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal. Senators on both sides of the aisle have long warned they would not sit idly by as President Barack Obama made a nuclear deal with Iran without the threat of new economic punishments for Tehran. Now, with Secretary of State John Kerry meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif to push for a deal ahead of the June 30 cutoff, Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Robert Menendez are set to introduce a bill imposing escalating sanctions if Iran doesn’t agree to curb its nuclear program by the deadline or fails to live up to the terms of the deal — provisions the White House and Iran both oppose.
Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin: “Negotiations are still taking place between Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats, as well as within the Senate Republican caucus, as to how the new Iran legislation drive will play out. But several staffers said that new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is committed to moving the Kirk-Menendez bill to the floor in late February or early March, with the exact timing depending on how things play out in the Senate overall.” More here.
The Obama administration’s spotty human rights record undermines Stephen Rapp, the departing U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes. Rapp, who joined the Obama White House in 2009, is admired as a champion of human rights. He supported prosecution of international criminals at the International Criminal Court and is a key Israeli ally as the Palestinians try to move their statehood movement to The Hague. But for all his good work, Rapp was undercut by the poor human rights record of the United States laid bare in last year’s torture report as well as for what one official called his “situational” application of justice.
FP’s Colum Lynch with exclusive details on Rapp’s departure: “The administration has largely pressed the case for accountability for crimes selectively, passionately promoting the international prosecution of political rivals, from the late Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while seeking to American personnel and allies like Israel from international scrutiny for alleged crimes, according to rights advocates.” More here.
Welcome to Thursday’s edition of the Situation Report.
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Who’s Where When Today
9:30 a.m. Admiral Cecil Haney, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, speaks at the Atlantic Council on “Strategic Deterrence in the Twenty-First Century.” 10:00 a.m. Ilya Ponomarev, member of Russia’s State Duma, discusses “Russia’s Opposition in a Time of War and Crisis” at CSIS. 11:00 a.m. International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations on “What’s Next for the Global Economy.” 1:00 p.m. The Wilson Center hosts a debate on “Iranian Domestic Politics and Relations with the United States.” 2:00 p.m. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welsh III host a press briefing on the state of the Air Force in the Pentagon Briefing Room. 5:30 p.m. The McCain Institute for International Leadership hosts a discussion on “Syria: Should the United States Do More?” at the Naval Heritage Center. 7:00 p.m. President Barack Obama hosts a working dinner with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
What’s Moving Markets
The Wall Street Journal’s Alan Cullison and Andrey Ostroukh report on Russia slashing budgets: “Russia is planning steep cuts in spending across all parts of its budget, except defense, as it grapples with Western economic sanctions and a big oil-price drop while digging in for further confrontation with the West over Ukraine.” More here.
Writing for Foreign Policy, Mark R. Kennedy on possible trade deals contributing to Obama’s legacy: “The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in Asia and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union are central to the president’s plan to strengthen the United States’ ties with each region and to propel economic growth in America and globally. Trade momentum could also drive completion of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Doha Round.” More here.
The Wall Street Journal’s Eric Bellman on a changing of the guard: “India is on course to overtake China to claim the position as the world’s fastest growing, big economy in the next two years, the World Bank said Tuesday.” More here.
CNBC’s Katrina Bishop on the Swiss breaking with the euro: “The Swiss National Bank (SNB) stunned markets on Thursday, when it scrapped its three-year-old peg of 1.20 Swiss francs per euro.” More here.
The Associated Press on the search for Amedy Coulibaly’s potential accomplices: “A published report said a search of the house enabled police to identify a potential fourth attacker as investigators follow the money and supply systems for the three known killers, all of whom died in police raids. Police told the Associated Press that as many as six members of the same radical Islamic terror cell may be at large.” More here.
The Wall Street Journal’s Sean Carney on Europe’s eastern flank strengthening defenses against Islamic militants: “Governments in Central and Southeast Europe are moving to limit risks from Islamist militants at home following the attacks in France that ignited a broad debate about immigration and security.” More here.
The Guardian’s Dan Roberts on U.S. anti-terror funds in play in Congress: “Despite heightened security fears following attacks in Paris, Republicans placed themselves on a collision course with Barack Obama by passing five amendments to the homeland security budget that the White House has already said it would refuse to sign if they are attached.” More here.
France24 on an alarming jump in anti-Muslim acts: “[A] prominent French Muslim group said that more than 50 violent anti-Muslim acts had taken place in the past six days, citing figures from France’s Interior Ministry.… In comparison, 110 acts of anti-Muslim violence were registered from January to September of 2014.” More here.
FP’s David Rothkopf on the false optics of Obama’s failure to visit: “[N]o message the White House could have delivered by having a senior official walk arm-in-arm with world leaders through the streets of Paris is more important than the one we should be receiving as a consequence of recent events. Which is that more than 13 years after 9/11, after spending trillions of dollars on what was billed as an all-out ‘War on Terror,’ we are losing.” More here.
The Associated Press reports on 19,000 cyber attacks in France since last week. More here.
Check Foreignpolicy.com later today for updates on the breaches.
The Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum on the shortcomings of U.S. airstrikes: “More than three months of U.S. airstrikes in Syria have failed to prevent Islamic State militants from expanding their control in that country, according to U.S. and independent assessments, raising new concerns about President Barack Obama ’s military strategy in the Middle East.” More here.
FP’s David Francis on the Islamic State’s star-crossed lovers behind the Centcom cyberattack: Junaid Hussain “jumped bail to travel to Syria last year in an effort to join the Islamic State. There, he met up with Sally Jones, a 45-year-old woman from Kent he had met online back home, who abandoned her children to meet with Hussain. They were reputedly married in Syria; she now goes by the name Umm Hussain al-Britani.” More here.
Reuters’s Ahmed Rasheed and Ned Parker on Iraq asking more from the United States: “Iraq has told President Barack Obama’s envoy that the U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State needs to do more to help Iraq defeat the jihadists controlling large areas of the north and west of the country.” More here.
The New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon and Anne Barnard on U.S. support for Syrian peace talks: “Secretary of State John Kerry voiced support for Russia’s attempt to convene peace talks in Moscow between representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition, even though some leading opposition figures have said they do not plan to attend.” More here.
Deutsche Welle reports on Europe softening its tone toward Russia. More here.
Writing for Foreign Policy, Danielle Moylan on the continuing refugee crisis: “[F]or the Afghan people, the conflict is far from over. In fact, at no point since 2001 has it been more dangerous to be an Afghan.” More here.
The New York Times’ Nick Cumming-Bruce on a new round of U.N. talks on Libya: “The talks, aimed at reaching a political settlement, including a national unity government, are seen as a last chance to end months of fighting among rival militias that has plunged Libya into deepening insecurity and economic chaos and destabilized surrounding countries.” More here.
The Guardian’s Jon Boone on arrests in connection with the school massacre in Peshawar: “Five Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) fighters were captured on Monday inside Afghanistan, according to an official from Afghanistan’s national directorate of security.” More here.
Thwarted U.S. Terror Plot
The Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz on an alleged terror plot in Washington: “Federal authorities on Wednesday arrested an Ohio man who espoused support for the Islamic State and who allegedly plotted to attack the U.S. Capitol in a military-style assault, according to court documents.” More here.
Associated Press’s Ben Fox: “Five men from Yemen were freed from the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after more than a dozen years of captivity and sent to Estonia and Oman for resettlement, U.S. officials said Wednesday.” More here.
Reuters’s Sanjeev Miglani and Tommy Wilkes: “A French delegation will visit New Delhi this month to salvage an agreement to supply 126 Rafale fighter jets to the Indian Air Force that has hit a snag over the local assembly of the planes, threatening to derail one of the world’s biggest defence deals.” More here.
The BBC’s Stephen Evans on capitalism making inroads into North Korea: “Prof Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University in Seoul told the BBC that there are now enterprises which are capitalist in all but name. Technically, they are owned by the state but in fact they are run by a manager or managers who maximise profit and keep much of what they make.” More here.
The South China Morning Post’s Danny Lee on Chinese President Xi Jinping planning to visit the U.K. this year despite strained bilateral relations after the protests in Hong Kong: “Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire, who has oversight on relations with China including Hong Kong, revealed the upcoming visit while he testified in front of the Foreign Affairs Committee as part of an inquiry into post-handover affairs in Hong Kong.” More here.
The Diplomat’s Shannon Tiezzi reports on the arrest of ten Turkish citizens who are accused of helping Uighur terror suspects leave China. More here.
The New York Times’ Edward Wong on China trying a new role as peacemaker between Afghanistan and Pakistan: “Late last year, two Afghan Taliban officials traveled with Pakistani officials to Beijing to discuss a potential peace process among Afghanistan’s warring parties, according to three current and former Afghan officials.” More here.
The Washington Post’s Josh Hicks on a GAO report highlighting the lack of cybersecurity in the U.S. government: “Federal buildings are unprepared for potential cyber attacks on their security systems, elevators, heating and cooling networks and other critical operations because the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t have a handle on the risks.” More here.
P.M. News on reports from the Nigerian military that soldiers repelled a Boko Haram attack in the city of Biu: “Civilian vigilantes and soldiers pursued the militants into the bush and youths armed with makeshift weapons set up barricades across the town to prevent them from returning.” More here.
Boston Marathon Bomber Trial
Reuters’s Scott Malone: “A U.S. judge on Wednesday rejected the latest plea by lawyers for accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to pause jury selection for his trial due to the recent attacks in Paris.” More here.
Writing for Foreign Policy, Brian Castner asks U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky whether the fight against Ebola has been won: “[H]e is cautiously optimistic that the disease will be brought under control soon, his criterion for determining mission success is not whether Ebola is gone, but whether Liberia has the capacity to fight Ebola on its own.” More here.
And finally, NASCAR’s Kurt Busch believes his ex-girlfriend is an assassin: “Testifying about a request for a protective order against him, race car driver Kurt Busch told a Dover, Del., court this week that his former girlfriend is an assassin. Patricia Driscoll, who dated Busch for four years, requested the order last November, shortly after their relationship ended.” More here.