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: China and the United States make climate, military deals; Iran and Russia make a nuclear deal; Iran has a role in the fight against the Islamic State; Kurds make gains in Kobani; and much more.

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat The United States and China sent a politically important signal by officially announcing their emissions targets for a new global climate change deal in 2015. The announcement by the world’s two biggest polluters at the APEC Summit in Beijing came earlier than expected by many experts and could rally ...

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat

The United States and China sent a politically important signal by officially announcing their emissions targets for a new global climate change deal in 2015. The announcement by the world’s two biggest polluters at the APEC Summit in Beijing came earlier than expected by many experts and could rally international support for the negotiations. "It was the signature achievement of an unexpectedly productive two days of meetings between the leaders," reports Mark Landler in the New York Times. More here.

In the climate agreement, China agreed for the first time to set a peak year for its carbon emissions while the United States promised further emissions cuts by 2025. Environmental experts call the targets too vague. China’s peak year is "around 2030" which is in line with when its emissions would naturally peak, and the United States only went a few percentage points above promised to cut by 2020 (17 percent below 2005 levels). Reuters‘ David Stanway has the in-depth analysis here.

The United States and China may be unable to resolve their strategic differences, but they agreed on steps to prevent them from spiraling into military confrontation. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping signed two agreements setting guidelines for encounters at sea and for notifying the other side of military exercises to avoid dangerous misunderstandings.

"The agreements are part of a broader effort to encourage the Chinese military to adopt international norms and to persuade other Asian nations to strike similar agreements, defense analysts said. The notification mechanism covers policy and strategy developments, and observation of military exercises and activities, while the rules of behavior include details on encounters between naval surface vessels, according to a White House statement," report the Wall Street Journal‘s Jeremy Page and Carol E. Lee. More here.

Ahead of the Nov. 24 deadline for a nuclear deal between the West and Iran, Russia and Iran strike their own nuclear deal.  After Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and EU representative Catherine Ashton failed to make progress toward a nuclear deal, Russian and Iranian officials announced that Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy company Rosatom would build up to eight new nuclear reactors in Iran. Russian officials said the agreement would bolster Iran’s negotiations with the West because it makes Tehran’s nuclear activities more transparent. However, Western diplomats said the new accord could undermine any hope for a deal.

From the Los Angeles Times’ Paul Richter: "Rosatom raised concern by adding, in its announcement, that it intended to discuss with Tehran ‘the feasibility of fabricating fuel rods in Iran, which will be used at these power units’…Although fuel rods are not components in weapons, the fabrication process could undermine the decade-old international effort to prevent Iran from building a nuclear infrastructure and someday gaining the capacity to build a bomb." More here.

Russia has had a nuclear relationship with Iran for decades. Until yesterday, it had not inserted itself so directly into negotiations. German Foreign Minister Frank Walter-Steinmeier said that the negotiations were at a "make-or- break" moment and that it could take two years to restart negotiations.

It’s also represents another bold move by Russian President Vladimir Putin on the international stage. Earlier this week, he penned a gas deal cementing ties with Asia. Yesterday, he became a last-minute player in the Iran talks. And Russia continues to cause problems in eastern Ukraine, according to NATO officials.

Iran is likely to play a role in the fight against the Islamic State. But this role has yet to be clearly defined. Writing for FP, Emad Kiyaei argues that Iran is the United States’ last best hope for defeating the Islamic State. But so much depends on the outcome of nuclear talks. "Though Obama’s engagement with Iran will surely exact a high domestic political toll on the president (and perhaps his party), a breakthrough in the nuclear talks would potentially transform the geopolitical landscape of the entire Middle East, a quagmire for Obama and his predecessors. It possesses the potential to be nothing short of a game-changer." More here.

Many American allies in the region would disagree with this assessment. But Obama has staked so much on the outcome of the Iran nuclear deal. Administration officials have said it would, along with Obamacare, define his legacy.

More on Iran and Russia below.

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of the Situation Report.

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Who’s Where When Today

President Obama is in Myanmar for the East Asia Summit. Secretary of State John Kerry is on his way to Jordan for discussions with King Abdullah II on the situation in Jerusalem and on the fight against the Islamic State. 8:00 a.m. Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work delivers the keynote address at the CSIS Global Security Forum. 1:00 p.m. Operation United Assistance Joint Force Commander Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky conducts a call-in press briefing on the Defense Department response to the Ebola outbreak.

What’s Moving Markets

In an interview with Germany’s Handelsblatt, Richard Fisher, soon-to-retire chief of the Federal Reserve in Dallas, says there’s a risk of recession. Fisher, who is known as a hawk on monetary policy, warns of a new recession in the United States if the Fed waits too long to raise interest rates. More here.

Is DOD in an acquisition death spiral? Government Executive’s Katherine McIntire Peters: "The Pentagon has walked away from at least a dozen such programs since 2001 after sinking nearly $50 billion into weapons that will never see a battlefield." More here.

As Obama called for net neutrality, the large Internet companies have stayed on the sidelines rather than fighting for the principle, writes Farhad Manjoo in the New York Times. More here.

U.S. soldiers are suing five banks for financing terrorism during the Iraq War. More from Bloomberg’s Christie Smythe here.


The New York Times‘ Chris Buckley, on Obama meeting a Chinese leader unlike any other: "[L]ess than two years after assuming power, Mr. Xi has emerged as more than the ‘first among equals’ in the ruling Politburo Standing Committee, shaking the longstanding assumption that China would be steered by steady, if often ponderous, collective leadership." More here.

Anticipating the thaw in military relations with China, the U.S. military decided to display a Boeing C-27 cargo plane at an airshow in China this week — to the alarm of military and security officials who fear that the United States is tipping its hand to Beijing too much, writes Gordon Lubold and Marcus Weisgerber for Defense One. More here.

But China is also making conciliatory gestures at the United States. China presented its new stealth fighter jet, the J-31, at the air show in the Southern city of Zhuhai, as Bloomberg’s Clement Tan reports. "Still largely-shrouded in secrecy, the production of the fighter could add heft to China’s sea and air expansion in the region and its push-back against decades of U.S. economic and military dominance." More here.

The New York Times’ Chris Buckley quotes a number of renowned American China experts who paint a picture of a Chinese president with a "Cold War ideology." They argue Xi’s main aim is to restore China’s standing in the world — not unlike Obama’s Russian adversary Putin. More here.


The Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee, on extending the deadline for the talks: "Global powers and Iran signaled they will extend their diplomacy beyond a Nov. 24 deadline if necessary, as three days of talks aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear program failed to win any major breakthroughs." More here.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly that Iran is not a partner. From the Jerusalem Post: "Iran is not part of the solution. It’s a huge part of the problem. As I said to the United Nations a few months ago, to defeat ISIS and allow Iran to be a threshold nuclear power would be to win the battle and lose the war." More here

Writing in FP, Hossein Bastani gives his perspective on how those working for a deal with the West in Iran are vilified in Tehran. "In the past few days, hard-liners — including Friday prayers leaders throughout the country, who are appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — have suggested that Iran should follow Imam Hussein’s path with respect to the nuclear issue. ‘Obama was wrong when he said that the sanctions made Iran come to the negotiating table,’ Ahmad Khatami, the Friday prayers leader in Tehran, told worshippers. ‘We are the followers of Imam Hussein and Ashura, and our way is that of resistance.’" More here.

Islamic State

Reuters‘ Rasha Elass and Hamdi Istanbullu report that Kurdish fighters have made gains in Kobani. "The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fierce overnight clashes between Kurdish and Islamic State forces along Kobani’s southern front, combined with heavy artillery fire by the Peshmerga, yield new gains for the Kurds." More here.

Is an endgame emerging in Syria? Writing for Al Monitor, Edward Dark outlines the pivotal battles being fought: "The stakes are high, and both sides know it. As previously stalemated fronts see intense and frenzied pushes — mainly by regime forces — the momentum seems to be on the regime’s side, with the imminent siege and fall of Aleppo city, and advances into the rebel stronghold of Ghouta in Damascus." More here.

Is the Khorasan group attempting to execute a terrorist merger in Iraq and Syria? The Daily Beast’s Jamie Dettmer: "The merger, if it comes off, would have major ramifications for the West. It would reshape an already complex battlefield in Syria, shift forces further against Western interests, and worsen the prospects for survival of the dwindling and squabbling bands of moderate rebels the U.S. is backing and is planning to train." More here.

Al Arabiya reports Iraqi President Fuad Masum is set to meet with King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, the highest-level talks between Iraq and Saudi Arabia in years. More here.

From Reuters, Secretary of State Kerry to visit Jordan as tensions in the Middle East rise: "Kerry will travel to Jordan on Wednesday for discussions with King Abdullah about tensions in Jerusalem and the fight against the Islamic State militant group in the region, the State Department said." More here.


The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris reports that thousands of Putin’s troops are now in Ukraine. "The steady, and by several accounts heavy, buildup of troops and military equipment along Ukraine’s border with Russia has U.S. officials on alert ahead of a possible new offensive by Russian-backed separatists in the country’s restive east." More here.

FP’s David Francis on the European reaction to the collapsing cease-fire in Ukraine: "German Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled out imposing new economic sanctions, the European Union’s main source of leverage over Moscow now that gas supplies are in place for the winter." More here.


Al Jazeera’s Gregg Carlstrom on tensions after more violence in the West Bank. "The shootings followed a pair of stabbings on Monday that killed two Israelis, one at a Tel Aviv train station, and the other at a junction in Gush Etzion, a bloc of illegal settlements in the West Bank. Demonstrators gathered at the scene of both attacks, chanting ‘death to terrorists’ and ‘no Arabs, no terror attacks.’" More here.

Barak Ravid in Haaretz: "Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israeli security forces would take a number of steps to ‘uproot the terror from inside the country,’ and urged Israeli Arab citizens ‘not to get dragged into incitement.’" More here.


From the New York Times’ Declan Walsh, on corruption in Afghanistan. "[I]n interviews with a wide array of Afghan and foreign officials who live with the issue, a picture emerges of such rampant bribery and extortion that corruption can no longer be described as a cancer on the system: It is the system, they say. And it is deeply enmeshed with Afghan politics." More here.

The Washington Post’s Tim Craig, on what Marines left behind at Camp Leatherneck: "The Marines’ departure from Leatherneck — the largest base closure to date of the United States’ longest war — offers a view of the decisions U.S. military leaders are making as coalition forces withdraw from Afghanistan. Mindful of Afghan forces’ limitations — and seething over the Islamic State’s seizure of former American military compounds and equipment in Iraq — the forces departing Afghanistan appear to be stripping bases to the basics." More here.

The New York Times’ Rod Nordland reports on record levels of opium cultivation and production. More here.

Lame Duck Congress

FP staff breaks down the foreign policy issues Congress is addressing during the lame duck session. More here.


The United States is revising its policy on how prisoners are treated. The New York Times’ Charlie Savage: "A treaty ban on cruel treatment will restrict how the United States may treat prisoners in certain places abroad, the Obama administration is expected to tell the United Nations on Wednesday, according to officials." More here.


According to the New York Times’ Somini Sengupta, the U.N. wants a more flexible response to Ebola: "The most prominent international efforts have so far been focused on building large treatment centers. But by the time they are completed, they may not be where they are most needed." More here.

There’s a new case of Ebola in Mali. More here.

North Korea

Writing for FP, Van Jackson on Pyongyang’s dangerous drone fleet: "[I]t’s the low-performance qualities of North Korea’s drones that enable them to evade South Korean defenses, which are optimized for more traditional threats from bigger, faster, higher-altitude aircraft." More here.

And finally, hundreds of thousands of people attended last night’s Concert for Valor on the National Mall. Highlights here.


More from Foreign Policy

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