Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

FP’s Situation Report: A nuclear deal with Iran?; The F-35 flies once again; Why Hamas is being made stronger; Waldhauser hires Weirick; Hagel speechwriter Freedman gets hitched; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel Ahead of the July 20 deadline, the Iranians outline a deal they could accept. There was one potentially bright sign this morning in a sea of foreign policy gloom. Iran has signaled that it would accept a deal to freeze its ability to produce nuclear fuel as long as ...

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

Ahead of the July 20 deadline, the Iranians outline a deal they could accept. There was one potentially bright sign this morning in a sea of foreign policy gloom. Iran has signaled that it would accept a deal to freeze its ability to produce nuclear fuel as long as it is treated like other countries with peaceful nuclear programs. The deal would not include everything the Americans want but it was a potential reversal of a narrative about the nuclear talks in Iran that could give some lift to the Obama administration when it needs some and also a sign that diplomacy can work – sometimes. The NYT’s David Sanger from Vienna: "…The proposal, which Iran said was conveyed to the United States and five other world powers during closed-door negotiating sessions in Vienna, would effectively extend a limited series of concessions Iran made last November as part of a temporary deal to get negotiations started on a permanent accord. In return, Iran wants step-by-step relief from sanctions that have substantially weakened its economy.

"…But while American officials said [Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif] was now showing a flexibility they had not seen before, his proposal does not address, in its current form, the most central American concern. Because the proposal would leave centrifuges spinning in place, Iran would retain what is known as a ‘breakout capability’ to race for a bomb if it ever decided to produce one. Mr. Zarif contended that other elements of his plan would lengthen that period to over a year, which Secretary of State John Kerry has said is a minimum. American officials are doubtful."

"Such arguments are a reminder that this negotiation is taking place on at least two levels: a political discussion that is focused on whether two countries that have been implacable adversaries for more than 30 years can finally reimagine their relationship in the broadest terms, and a technical discussion that is both mind-boggling in its complexity and mired in distrust." More here.

Still, Congress still isn’t in love with any plan for a nuclear deal and may make what to the administration would be unrealistic demands. FP’s John Hudson: "… In a letter obtained by Foreign Policy, Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, demand that any deal allow international inspectors to probe Iranian facilities for ‘at least 20 years.’ It also says the inspections ‘must be intrusive,’ with the International Atomic Energy Agency gaining ‘access to any and all facilities, persons or documentation’ necessary to determine Iran’s compliance with the deal." More here.

Meantime, Qatar cut an arms deal with the Pentagon to counter the threat from Iran. AFP’s Dan De Luce: Qatar plans to buy US Patriot missile batteries and Apache attack helicopters in an arms deal worth about $11 billion, senior Pentagon officials said Monday. The sale would provide Qatar with roughly ten radars and 34 launchers for Patriot systems designed to knock out incoming missiles, as well as 24 Apache helicopters and Javelin anti-tank missiles… The weapons deal was the biggest for the United States in 2014 and came as Qatar weighs proposals in a fighter jet competition, with US aerospace firm Boeing vying against British and French defense companies. More here.

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So the F-35 is back up, FYI, but no word yet on whether it will go to Farnborough. After days of go/no-go speculation, the Joint Strike Fighter is flying once again, kinda proving that no matter what happens, that bird is gonna fly. Reuters this hour: "U.S. military officials have approved a limited flight clearance for the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets that mandates engine inspections and certain flight restrictions, while an investigation continues into a massive engine failure that grounded the entire fleet, the Pentagon said on Tuesday." More here.

Pentagon Pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby, in a statement: "This is a limited flight clearance that includes an engine inspection regimen and a restricted flight envelope which will remain in effect until the root cause of the June 23 engine mishap is identified and corrected. We remain hopeful that the F-35 can make an appearance at the Farnborough airshow. This information is an encouraging step, but no final decision has been made at this time."

Read FP’s Kate Brannen’s story on the "$399 Billion Plane to Nowhere" and why Congress keeps this thing going, here.

Speaking of weapons, Raytheon is to resume its warhead production, Sandy Winnefeld says. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio reported that the company "will resume production of warheads for the Pentagon’s ground-based missile defense system by July 31 after the first successful interception of a dummy incoming missile since 2008, according to [Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Sandy Winnefeld.]" More here.

Who’s Where When today – Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work provides testimony at a House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee closed hearing about the budget/overseas contingency operations… Marine Corps Gen. Jim Amos participates in a conversation at Brookings’ Center for  21st Century Security and Intelligence at 10 a.m… Pentagon Presssec Rear Adm. John Kirby is expected to brief reporters this afternoon…

Work’s testimony today will be a critical opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to debate President Obama’s $5 billion counter-terrorism funding proposal – the one that would help pay the $500 million for training and advising a moderate Syrian opposition and other initiatives. But there will be considerable discussion over whether it’s enough money to do the job, and if handing the Obama administration the money gives the White House too much latitude to do what they want. Afghanistan, and Iraq, will naturally come up, too, as the administration scrambles to defend its foreign policy and the funding to implement it.

News flash! Most of the world isn’t that in to spying. FP’s Shane Harris: "…The poll…conducted by the Pew Research Center, found huge opposition to the U.S. government monitoring the emails and phone calls of people in their own countries. Overall, 81 percent of respondents said it was ‘unacceptable’ for the U.S. to monitor citizens of their countries, and 73 percent said it was unacceptable to spy on their leaders." More here.

Reading Pincus: An oversight board says NSA data mining puts citizens’ privacy at risk but sees no abuse, here.

Hagel chief speechwriter Jacob Freedman got married this weekend. To Alice Pennington, now known as "Mrs. Freedman," according to the NYT on Sunday who said she is the lead teacher for the prekindergarten autism class at Seaton Elementary School in Washington. The couple is headed to Italy and Greece. We’re told that all the speeches – including the one from the Rabbi who officiated – noted how difficult it is to be a speechwriter – who knew? – and that guests were asked to post Instagrams with the hashtag "Freedman&wife". Best man? Jacob’s younger brother Andy. Maid of honor? Her younger sister, Hadley.

Check out the rest of the NYT item on it from Sunday that we missed picking up yesterday – with a photo credit from the Pentagon’s Carl Woog, the happy couple’s unofficial shooter, here.

Iraqis like anyone but Maliki. As northern Iraq turns into the Wild West, some Iraqis say they don’t have a problem with life under Sunni militants – or the Kurdish pesh merga. Dividing Iraq up Joe Biden-like may or may not be practical. But some don’t think there is any going back to the old Iraq. The WaPo’s Jason Motlaugh in Topzawa, Iraq: "Up until a month ago, Baraq Taqan Ali split his time between two homes and two wives in what was a unified Iraq. Now, when the 55-year-old used-car dealer makes his weekly trip, he traverses the turf of two warring factions, neither of them loyal to Baghdad. His village is occupied by Sunni militants of the al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State; his other home is in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, under the control of Kurdish soldiers known as pesh merga. Ali swears that both are preferable to the Shiite-dominated central government that has excluded and persecuted Sunni Arabs like him. If Nouri al-Maliki stays, ‘Iraq will break into 1,000 pieces,’ he said, referring to the embattled prime minister of Iraq, a Shiite Muslim. " More here.

A portrait of two Iraqis who worked for the U.S. and who now are in danger; George Packer for the New Yorker, here.

Gen. Hiftar was betrayed by Gaddafi, was approached by the CIA, moved to the USA, and now says he’ll purge Libya of jihadists. Really? Bel Trew for the Daily Beast, here.

And as we noted yesterday, Bergdahl is back in the Army. But there are a few new details that floated out yesterday as an investigation continues to look into the circumstances in which he left his small outpost in Afghanistan in June 2009. The WSJ’s Felicia Schwartz and Julian Barnes: "Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is returning to regular duty, the U.S. Army said Monday, and has been assigned to a base in Texas following completion of a ‘reintegration process’ after five years as a Taliban captive. Sgt. Bergdahl will serve as a noncommissioned officer in the administrative headquarters of Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, where ‘he will essentially be doing a desk job,’ said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. Sgt. Bergdahl will live in noncommissioned officer quarters, said Army North spokesman Don Manuszewski. Typically, these facilities are occupied by two people, with two bedrooms connected by a shared bathroom. Mr. Manuszewski said the Army wasn’t releasing details on whether Sgt. Bergdahl had a roommate." More here.

Bergdahl hasn’t yet met with his parents, at least as of this weekend. When the public began refocusing on the Bergdahl story the day he was released, May 31, the appearance of Bergdahl’s parents at the now-infamous news conference with Obama in the Rose Garden hinted at a close-knit family aching to see each other after Bowe Bergdahl’s captivity of nearly five years. But Bergdahl has not yet seen his parents, Situation Report is told. One would have expected that as part of Bergdahl’s reintegration process, Robert and Jani Bergdahl would have travelled to Germany where Bergdahl was brought immediately after he was picked up along the Afghanistan border – or, at the very least, while he was undergoing care in Texas. But for whatever reason, there was no rush to reunite.

Israel accepts the Egyptian proposal for a truce, but Hamas rejects it and continues to fire rockets. The AP’s Karin Laub and Peter Enav in Gaza City: "Hamas rejected an Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire with Israel on Tuesday, moments after the Israeli Cabinet accepted the plan, throwing into disarray international efforts to end a week of fighting that has killed 192 Palestinians and exposed millions of Israelis to Hamas rocket fire. A senior Israeli government official warned that Israel would strike Gaza even harder if Hamas does not accept the truce.

"…The Egyptian cease-fire offer, which was presented late Monday, called for a halt of hostilities as of Tuesday morning, followed by negotiations on easing the closure of Gaza’s borders – a closure that has been enforced by both Israel and Egypt to varying degrees since Hamas seized the territory in 2007." More here.

Experts and insiders say that Israel’s military offensive will only further radicalize the Palestinian population — and alienate frustrated friends in the United States. Mark Perry reports for FP on why Hamas is being made stronger: "…It’s not hard to see why Hamas is thought to be on the ropes. In the wake of the June 12 kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teenagers, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) cracked down hard on the Palestinian Islamist movement in the West Bank, arresting more than 300 of its operatives and scooping up its arms caches in the territory.

"The IDF has now turned its attention to Gaza, launching Operation Protective Edge and striking more than 1,300 sites — at the cost of over 160 Palestinian lives. Even before the current outbreak in violence, Hamas’s political position looked weakened. The removal of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in a coup last summer cost Hamas an important international patron, and the new military regime in Cairo has aggressively attempted to close the tunnels connecting the Sinai Peninsula to the Gaza Strip, which are Hamas’s lifeline to the outside world. Even the creation of a new unity government with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party seemed to signal a sidelining of the Islamist group in favor of traditional PLO leadership." More of that bit, here.

Yesterday, the Israelis shot down a Hamas drone, but Israeli defense officials says that Hamas still has more drones up its sleeve. Ha’aretz’s Gili Cohen, here.

Hezbollah suffers casualties in the fight to root out rebels. Rakan al-Fakih for the Daily Star (Lebanon), here. 

Kurds are entering Syria from Turkey to fight Islamists. Reuters’ Tom Perry and Seyhmus Cakan: "A new offensive by al Qaeda offshoot the Islamic State on Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria has triggered a regional call for arms from the Kurds, and Turkish Kurds are coming to their aid. The war in Syria has already drawn in an array of regional players and the regional Kurdish involvement complicates an increasingly fragmented scene across Syria and Iraq, where the Islamic state took control of large areas last month. The hardline Sunni militants launched a new push towards the Syrian city of Ain al-Arab about two weeks ago using weaponry seized from Iraq including new missiles and U.S.-made armored Humvee vehicles, Syrian Kurdish officials say." More here.

An Obama phone call to Abdullah Abdullah prevented chaos in Afghanistan.  Secretary of State John Kerry’s role in brokering a deal between the warring candidates in Afghanistan was seen as a positive development and one that could set the tone for U.S. engagement going forward. But Obama played a role, too. The NYT’s Carlotta Gall and Matthew Rosenberg: "It was the Germans who uttered the first alarm that a potentially deadly power struggle might be brewing, after weeks of Western officials’ staying on the sidelines as the Afghan election crisis deepened. Just over a week ago, they threatened to withdraw funding and training troops from Afghanistan if a powerful regional governor declared a breakaway government led by the presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah.

"… But as Western officials scrambled to respond, what was not being said aloud was that the Abdullah camp’s threats had already gone beyond talk to a plan of action…What followed was as tumultuous a six-day stretch for Afghanistan as any since the American invasion in 2001…" According to an Abdullah aide "… and others it was a call from President Obama to Mr. Abdullah just after dawn last Tuesday that helped stop a headlong rush into a disastrous power struggle. Mr. Obama warned Mr. Abdullah not to even consider seizing power and to keep calm over the three days until Secretary of State John Kerry could get to Kabul." More here.

The loser in the Afghan election will have a seat at the table in the new government. The WaPo’s Karen DeYoung, here.

An editorial from the English language Outlook Afghanistan: "Electoral Deadlock; Handle with Care Now": "The news of the breakdown of the political deadlock resulting from the visit of John Kerry has been warmly welcomed by all and it also made very pleasant effects on people and economy. Soon after the news, people and especially the traders and investors had a sigh of relief as it has paved way for the overall hope from the economy and the country. It was the reason why, the dollar price sharply declined and this decrease is still in progress. The decision of the political forerunners to count all the ballots has been welcomed by international community and termed it a historic moment for the country, paving its way towards democratic stability and economic prosperity." More here.

How do the problems in Iraq affect Afghanistan? We won’t know for awhile if the disintegration of security across northern Iraq – which was largely predicted by military and intelligence officials when the U.S. pulled completely out of Iraq – could affect the Obama administration’s plans for Afghanistan, where the number of troops will drop altogether by 2016. The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin on how things look a little differently in Afghanistan in the wake of Iraq, here.

Remember Marine Maj. James Weirick, who filed the complaint against Commandant Gen. Jim Amos? Just got a new job – in Norfolk – thanks to Lt. Gen. Tom Waldhauser. Long story, but an interesting development. Read the WaPo’s Dan Lamothe’s bit here.

Responsibility to protect the bad guys: A man who devoted his life to preventing atrocities is now defending a government that commits them. FP’s Colum Lynch: "Francis Mading Deng, a South Sudanese diplomat, scholar, and writer, built a reputation over the past 35 years as one of the world’s leading champions of humanity’s most forsaken, a pivotal figure in the modern anti-atrocities movement, and, until three years ago, the United Nations’ point man for the prevention of genocide.

"But today, Deng’s legacy is at risk of being tarnished as his own country has devolved into the kind of mass ethnic cleansing that he had devoted much of his life to preventing. As South Sudan’s first ambassador to the United Nations, Deng, 76, now finds himself in the position of representing, and defending, a government that stands accused by the United Nations of committing mass atrocities." More here.

The South Sudan crisis and the risk to up to four million people is worsening during the rainy season. Al Jazeera’s Simona Foltyn, here.

Could Obama’s forpol get any worse? The WaPo’s Dana Milbank’s lede: "President Obama has described his foreign-policy doctrine as an attempt to hit singles, doubles and the occasional home run. But at this stage of the game, it looks as though he has popped out, grounded into a double play and been hit by a pitch." More here.

Time’s eight weirdest ways people use a drone, here.


Gordon Lubold is a senior writer at FP and author of Situation Report  with help by Nathaniel Sobel, director of research at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. Follow him @glubold and him @njsobe4.

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