Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: Obama writes a secret letter to Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei; U.S. claims gains against the Islamic State; 600 service members exposed to chemical weapons in Iraq; Ukraine inches closer to war with Russia; and much more.

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat Obama writes a secret letter to Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei as a nuclear deadline looms. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that President Obama had opened a secret line of communication with Khamenei to broker a nuclear deal for U.S. assistance in fighting the Islamic State. From FP’s David Francis ...

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat

Obama writes a secret letter to Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei as a nuclear deadline looms. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that President Obama had opened a secret line of communication with Khamenei to broker a nuclear deal for U.S. assistance in fighting the Islamic State.

From FP’s David Francis and Yochi Dreazen, on how the fight against the Islamic State makes strange bedfellows: "The Obama administration’s escalating campaign against the Islamic State has left the United States in the strange and uncomfortable position of working with Russia to prop up the beleaguered Iraqi military and forging a de facto alliance with Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, who is battling the Islamic State on the ground while the United States bombs the militants from the air.

"But Thursday’s disclosure of a secret White House letter to Tehran is a reminder that the fight against the militants can’t be won without Iran — and that the president is willing to privately make moves that seem to be at odds with the public comments of one of his top advisors." More here.

The report comes at a key time in the negotiations. There are rumors that both sides are closing in on a deal. The Journal’s report also contains a key point: American allies in the region who opposed a deal, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, were not told of the correspondence in advance. In recent days, Iran has made public gestures to suggest that the sides aren’t in agreement. However, the possibility of economic reprieve after years of sanctions might be enough incentive for Tehran to relent.

More on Iran below.

U.S. general claims military gains made against the Islamic State. Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of U.S. Central Command, said Thursday that the U.S. airstrikes aimed at destroying the group are working. His comments come after a campaign against the Khorasan Group reportedly killed a key Islamic State bomb maker.

However, the fight against the Islamic State is going to have to be fought on the ground and will require uncomfortable alliances. Writing for FP, Susannah George says Hadi al-Amir, leader of the Badr Organization, "a Shiite militia infamous during Iraq’s civil war for its brutal tactics, which has now transformed into a political party that maintains a military wing…has become increasingly central in Baghdad in recent months, as the Iraqi government has been forced to rely on his Shiite fighters in the war against the Islamic State.

"His rise illustrates one way the struggle against the jihadist group is transforming politics in Baghdad: He is unabashedly pro-Iranian, focused on building up his network of Shiite loyalists rather than reconciling with his Sunni enemies, and lately more inclined to portray himself as a battlefield commander than a politician." More here.

More on the Islamic State below.

President Obama is set to meet with a bipartisan group of congressional leaders today at the White House. Obama has struck a conciliatory tone since the GOP won the midterms earlier this week, and this meeting is his first attempt to build bridges with Republicans on a host of issues. Much has been made of the contentious relationship between Obama and congressional Republicans in the past, but this meeting could signal a new spirit of cooperation on issues from the Islamic State to Iran.

As The New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman reports, there is ample opportunity to compromise on the economic front, notably on international trade agreements. "After years of clashes and a grudging truce, fiscal and economic policy was brought back to center stage by the wave of Republican electoral victories on Tuesday, with President Obama and the new congressional leadership expressing hope that they could reach deals to simplify the tax code, promote trade and eliminate the budget deficit." More here.

This meeting is especially important given Obama’s upcoming schedule. He’s set to fly to Beijing for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, where the U.S. and 11 Asian Pacific countries are expected to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal – while China wants Apec to put a competing regional trade deal on the agenda. The projection of economic power in the region is just as important — or more important — as  military strength. A united front could also compel China to curb territorial grabs for the sake of economic growth.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of the Situation Report.

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Who’s Where When Today

9:15 a.m. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel meets Danish defense minister Nicolai Wammen. 12:40 p.m. President Obama and Vice President Biden meet with Congressional leaders. 1:00 p.m. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power speaks on peacekeeping reform at AEI. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Beijing for the APEC summit.

What’s Moving Markets

From the Atlantic’s Matt Schiavenza, on a confident China ahead of Obama’s visit: "It’s clear that Xi Jinping is approaching the bilateral relationship with more confidence than before. Xi has said repeatedly that he seeks a ‘new model for a great power relationship,’ an indication that he no longer wishes China to be the junior partner." More here.

From Teresa Welsh at U.S. News & World Report: large pending U.S. trade agreements could see passage under Republicans. "The Obama administration has negotiated two such agreements — the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — but the president hasn’t found backing from Senate Democrats, the chamber responsible for approving trade agreements." More here.

The U.S., Australia and Japan will hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Brisbane, which could be perceived as a snub by China, reports Phillip Coorey in the Australian Financial Journal. "Revelations of the meeting, which will discuss concerns about China’s growing military power and trade issues, come a day after it emerged that U.S. President Barack Obama would use his trip to Brisbane to deliver a speech on the importance of the American leadership in the Asia-Pacific region." More here.

Climate change cooperation has been one of the few bright spots in the U.S.-China relationship this year, and the Obama administration hopes to make further progress at the APEC summit and prior to international climate talks in Lima in December. But the ascent of climate change skeptics in Congress after the midterm elections might make it harder for the United States to convince China that it can make good on its promises, report Sabine Muscat for China Dialogue. More here.

Iran and the Islamic State

From Barak Ravid in Haaretz on Israel being kept in the dark about the letter from Obama to Khamenei: "The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the report. But if Israel really wasn’t informed about the letter to Khamenei, and learned of it only from The Wall Street Journal, that is liable to deepen the already severe lack of trust between Jerusalem and Washington on an issue — Iran — that is critical to their relationship." More here.

According to Bloomberg‘s Tony Capaccio, Obama will ask for $3.2 billion to fight the Islamic State: "The request is likely to draw intense scrutiny, coming after Obama said today that he will seek congressional authorization for the fight already under way against the group that has seized a swath of Iraq and Syria." More here.

Julia Amalia Heyer of der Spiegel interviewed French families who have lost their children to the jihad in Syria: "More than 1,000 young people from France have joined extremist groups in Syria and Iraq, more than from any other European country. The recruits are no longer just coming from the margins of society." More here.

The Daily Beast‘s Tim Mak reports on the mystery surrounding the size of the Islamic State’s force: "Gen. Lloyd Austin’s estimates of ISIL’s numbers ranged from a low of 9,000 to a high of nearly double that figure — 17,000. The CIA had previously estimated up to 30,000 fighters in ISIS’s ranks…The truth is that the United States lacks the intelligence to form a trustworthy estimate of the group’s strength. Austin’s low estimate is just a third of what the CIA suggested their numbers could be, just a few short months ago." More here.

Also from The Daily Beast, Shane Harris and Jamie Dettmer on the dangers of the United States opening another front in Syria against the Islamic State: "In meetings of senior Obama administration officials before the first airstrikes began in Syria on Sept. 22, which hit both ISIS and al Qaeda positions, U.S. intelligence officials warned that any additional American attacks against al Nusra could drive a wedge between the group and their erstwhile allies in the American-backed, moderate opposition." More here.

The New York Times‘ C.J. Chivers on U.S. service members’ exposure to chemical weapons in Iraq: "More than 600 American service members since 2003 have reported to military medical staff members that they believe they were exposed to chemical warfare agents in Iraq, but the Pentagon failed to recognize the scope of the reported cases or offer adequate tracking and treatment to those who may have been injured, defense officials say." More here.

Election Fallout

Writing for FP, Michael A. Cohen on how the election wasn’t a referendum on Obama’s foreign policy: "The global stage is the only place left where Obama has any flexibility and hope for significant policy achievements. Rather than slow up, he should move forward aggressively on everything from free trade to an Iran nuclear deal." More here.


FP’s Keith Johnson on how Hungary is undermining NATO’s Russia strategy: "Hungary’s latest move was to authorize construction Monday of the South Stream pipeline, a pet project of Putin’s which is meant to offer an end-run around Ukraine for Russian natural gas exports headed for Europe. In the wake of the annexation of the Crimean peninsula and Russian armed disturbances in the eastern part of Ukraine, Europe slammed the brakes earlier this year on the $70 billion project. Europe is afraid the pipeline violates EU competition law and will only serve to increase reliance on Russian gas." More here.

Christian Neef in der Spiegel reports stagnation and infighting take hold in Eastern Ukraine: "Television stations in Moscow continued unperturbed last week with their venomous attacks on neighboring Ukraine. The spin was also designed to dispel any doubts about the legality of another election, the one separatists held on Sunday in which they confirmed separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko as the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic." More here.

FP’s David Francis on a deal to stop France from selling Russian war ships: "A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers has now made a political decision of their own: to step up their campaign to pressure NATO into buying the ships, allowing France to reap the financial benefits of the sale without having to worry about further strengthening Vladimir Putin’s war machine. The lawmakers first pitched the idea last spring, with no success." More here.

Secretary of State John Kerry is set to have talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in China, Reuters reports. More here.

Bloomberg‘s Kateryna Choursina and Daryna Krasnolutska: "Dozens of tanks and other military vehicles crossed the border into Ukraine from Russia, the government in Kiev said, as tensions between the former Soviet republics threatened to escalate into open war." More here.


The infighting among members of SEAL Team 6, the unit that took down Osama bin Laden, continues to get uglier. More here.


The Washington Post‘s Anne Gearan and Adam Goldman on an investigation into a longtime U.S. diplomat/Pakistan expert: "Two U.S. officials described the investigation as a counterintelligence matter, which typically involves allegations of spying on behalf of foreign governments. The exact nature of the investigation involving [Robin] Raphel remains unclear. She has not been charged." More here.


Daniel Finnan of Radio France International checks out a transit hub in Sierra Leone: "Freetown port, one of Sierra Leone’s vital facilities in the fight against the Ebola virus, remains in action as one of the mainstays of the economy. While there are concerns about the epidemic affecting the port’s day-to-day functioning, specifically over fears of vessels docking in Freetown transmitting the virus, a tour around the port reveals a different picture." More here.

FP’s David Francis on American federal workers slated to treat Ebola in West Africa: "Few outside of those in the public health universe are likely to have heard of the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. According to HHS, the corps is comprised on 6,500 health care workers trained to respond to public health crises across the federal government. They have doctors, environmental experts, dentists, and veterinarians in their ranks, among other health professionals." More here.

Gen. Martin Dempsey says Ebola mission will last 18 months. More from Stars and Stripes here.

25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

The fall of the Berlin Wall was much less influenced by U.S. policy than many Americans like to believe until this day. In an op-ed for The New York Times, professor Mary Elise Sarotte explains how history was mostly driven by events taking place in East Germany. More here.

Writing for the Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash reflects on his experience reporting on the fall of the wall: "It is not yet clear what broader political vision this generation represents, how it will change Europe and whether it will appeal to a wider world. Indeed, if it is to succeed, this cannot just be a western generation, in the way the 39ers and 68ers largely were. As important, probably more so, are the 89ers in Beijing, Delhi and São Paolo." More here.

"When Germany celebrates the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, young people probably won’t be paying much attention," writes Jane Paulick for Deutsche Welle. "It means little to the children of the generation whose lives it changed the most." More here.

McClatchy’s Matthew Schofield on how Germany remains divided, 25 years later. More here.

And finally, from FP’s Elias Groll, on your new favorite holiday: Vasectomy Day. More here.



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