The Cable

FP’s Situation Report: Kerry condemns reported use of chlorine gas in Syria; Bibi flips on his two-state flip-flop; Musical chairs at DoD; and much more from around the world.

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat Secretary of State John Kerry condemns reported use of chlorine gas in Syria. Human rights groups allege President Bashar al-Assad’s government has again skirted an international agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. FP’s Elias Groll: “Earlier this week, Syrian activists reported the Syrian government forces had dropped barrel ...

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat

Secretary of State John Kerry condemns reported use of chlorine gas in Syria. Human rights groups allege President Bashar al-Assad’s government has again skirted an international agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. FP’s Elias Groll: “Earlier this week, Syrian activists reported the Syrian government forces had dropped barrel bombs containing chlorine gas on the city of Sarmin. The Syrian government has — of course — denied responsibility and blamed the attack on rebel groups.”

More on Syria and the Islamic State below.

Bibi flips on his two-state solution flip-flop. First, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was for a Palestinian state. Then, earlier this week and right before his election, he was against it. On Thursday after he’d won, he changed his mind once again and says he is back in favor of one. The White House isn’t buying it, FP’s David Francis reports.

More on Israel below.

A game of musical chairs starts at the Pentagon. Michael Vickers, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, is on his way out. FP’s Kate Brannen reports his exit is the “first in what will be a series of high-profile Pentagon departures that give Defense Secretary Ashton Carter the opportunity to fundamentally reshape the department’s leadership.”

PRESS PACK: Netanyahu changes his mind — again — on the two-state solution with Palestine.

The Wall Street Journal’s Nicholas Casey and Carol E. Lee: “U.S. officials said Thursday that Mr. Netanyahu’s sharp departure on Monday from his long-held public position on the two-state plan made it difficult for President Barack Obama’s administration to accept his clarification on Thursday.”

The New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren and Michael D. Shear: “The standoff showed the lasting damage done to Mr. Netanyahu’s already-strained relationship with Washington during a divisive Israeli campaign.”

Bloomberg’s Mike Dorning: “Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Netanyahu isn’t serious about making peace.”

Welcome to Friday’s edition of the Situation Report, where we’re guessing most of your brackets are already busted. Ours is.

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WHO’S WHERE WHEN TODAY

10:00 a.m. The Wilson Center hosts a panel on “The War in Ukraine: The Roots of Russian Conduct.”

NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe Philip Breedlove, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini, and other international leaders are attending the German Marshall Fund’s annual Brussels Forum this weekend. Watch the livestream here.

WHAT’S MOVING MARKETS

The Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Dalton and Valentina Pop: “Eurozone leaders played down chances for a solution to their standoff with the Greek government during a summit scheduled for Thursday evening, saying Athens needed to stick to the agreement it struck last month with the rest of the currency bloc.”

Bloomberg’s Ewa Krukowska: “EU heads of government held their first talks about developing closer energy ties among the bloc’s 28 nations on Thursday in a push to increase security of supply, help the shift to low-carbon economy and reduce energy prices.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Brody Mullins, Rolfe Winkler, and Brent Kendall: “Officials at the Federal Trade Commission concluded in 2012 that Google Inc. used anticompetitive tactics and abused its monopoly power in ways that harmed Internet users and rivals, a far harsher analysis of Google’s business than was previously known.”

ISLAMIC STATE: Capturing Tikrit proves elusive for Iraqi troops as U.S. officials suspect Syria downed a drone. Meanwhile, the Islamic State releases a new beheading video.

The Wall Street Journal’s Matt Bradley: “Iraqi security forces’ fight to liberate the city of Tikrit from Islamic State has slowed as the battle nears the end of its third week, dimming hopes that the extremist Sunni insurgency is on the retreat.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum: “The shoot-down would mark the first time Syrian military air defenses have brought down an American aircraft, and it raises new concerns for the U.S. military campaign against Islamic State extremist forces in the Middle East.”

Reuters: “Islamic State has published a video purporting to show the beheading of three Kurdish peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq by militants who threatened to kill ‘dozens’ more of those being held captive.”

The Washington Post’s Liz Sly has former CIA chief Gen. David Petraeus’s take on the current state of things in Iraq.

IRAN: Timing of sanctions relief and centrifuge development remain major sticking points for U.S. negotiators pushing for a deal by the upcoming deadline. Meanwhile, Obama appeals directly to Iranian youth.

The Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman and Jay Solomon: “When international sanctions on Iran would be lifted has emerged as one of the largest remaining stumbling blocks to an agreement to constrain Tehran’s nuclear program by a March 31 deadline.”

The New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon and David E. Sanger: “A dispute over what limits should be placed on the development of new types of centrifuges has emerged as a major obstacle as negotiators try to work out an initial accord on Iran’s nuclear program.”

The Washington Post’s Carol Morello: “A European official familiar with the negotiations said that the March deadline is critical for the Obama administration, which is under pressure to come up with an agreement before Congress enacts laws that could complicate a final deal, such as imposing more sanctions on Iran.”

The New York Times’ David E. Sanger: “President Obama has issued a missive of his own: A video directed at Iran’s young people, urging them to pressure their leaders to accept the deal on the table.”

TUNISIA: The Islamic State claims credit for the tourist massacre, but evidence is scarce as extremist groups want in on a successful attack.

The Washington Post’s Erin Cunningham: “In an audio recording distributed online, the Islamic State said the two gunmen, both said to be Tunisians, struck ‘citizens of the Crusader countries’ in the attack Wednesday.”

The New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick: “The eagerness of the Islamic State and other jihadists to associate themselves with the killings in Tunis underscored the looseness of their proliferating networks, recalling the distant ties to both the Qaeda and Islamic State networks among the assailants who attacked the magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris two months ago.”

CNN’s Faith Karimi and Tim Lister: “Two extremists who attacked a museum in Tunisia, killing 23 people, got weapons training at camps in Libya … The suspects were activated from sleeper cells in Tunisia.”

RUSSIA: Did Putin make a deal with the devil? The European Union says sanctions are here to stay.

The New York Times’ David M. Herszenhorn profiles Ramzan A. Kadyrov, the strongman of Chechnya, who is in the middle of the mystery surrounding the death of opposition politician Boris Y. Nemtsov: “Critics of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin have warned that he has allowed Mr. Kadyrov, 38, to effectively create the Islamic republic that Chechen separatists had dreamed of.”

Reuters’s Adrian Croft and Elizabeth Pineau: “European Union leaders agreed on Thursday that economic sanctions imposed on Russia will stay in place until a Ukraine peace deal is fully implemented, effectively extending them to the end of the year if need be.”

AFGHANISTAN: Plans to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan past Obama’s drawdown date evolve. Meanwhile, a U.S. drone targets a Taliban leader.

The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti and Matthew Rosenberg: “The Obama administration is nearing a decision to keep more troops in Afghanistan next year than it had intended, effectively upending its drawdown plans in response to roiling violence in the country and another false start in the effort to open peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.”

Reuters’s Saud Mehsud: “The strike killed Pakistani Taliban commander Khawray Mehsud, who possessed ‘great militant skills,’ the Taliban said in a statement.”

AFRICA AND THE MIDDLE EAST: Fighting heats up in Yemen as Libya’s only functioning airport is no longer functioning. Meanwhile, Chadian soldiers provide an inside look at the fight against Boko Haram.

The New York Times’ Saeed Al Batati and Kareem Fahim: “In a major escalation of Yemen’s civil conflict, rival factions in the southern city of Aden fought for control of the international airport and a security base, leaving at least three people dead.”

The Washington Post’s Hugh Naylor: “Intense clashes erupted Thursday in southern Yemen between forces loyal to the beleaguered president and the Shiite rebels whose assaults have pushed the Arabian Peninsula country into chaos.”

The Associated Press: “A Libyan security official says an airstrike, believed to have been carried out by the air force loyal to the country’s elected government, has hit the only functioning airport in the capital, Tripoli.”

The New York Times’ Adam Nossiter: “The Chadians ushered a small group of journalists around for a brief look at their handiwork this week, offering a rare glimpse into the group’s northern Nigerian stronghold, and into the dimensions, and difficulties, of a cross-border, four-nation fight against the Islamists.”

CHINA: China and Japan try to resolve their territorial issues in talks. Leading U.S. senators sound alarm over China’s activities in the South China Sea, echoing a report by the U.S. Navy that draws sharp criticism from Beijing.

The BBC: “China and Japan are holding their first high-level security talks in four years, following recent tensions over territorial and historical issues.”

Reuters: “In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Republican Senators John McCain and Bob Corker and Democrats Jack Reed and Bob Menendez said that without a comprehensive strategy ‘long-standing interests of the United States, as well as our allies and partners, stand at considerable risk.’”

Xinhua Net: “China hopes that the United States will stop making irresponsible remarks on maritime disputes between China and other countries, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Wednesday.”

EBOLA: The hunt for cases continues.

The Washington Post’s Kevin Sieff: “Scientists are more anxious than ever to figure out why the virus has flared in some places but not others.”

SURVEILLANCE: Washington warns Germany on Snowden leniency.

The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald: “German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said this week in Homburg that the U.S. government threatened to cease sharing intelligence with Germany if Berlin offered asylum to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden or otherwise arranged for him to travel to that country.”

SECRET SERVICE: Agency head Joseph Clancy offers his most forceful pushback to date.

The New York Times’ Michael D. Shear: “The head of the Secret Service told lawmakers on Thursday that news accounts of two agents crashing a car into a White House barricade this month were overblown and exaggerated.”

CYBER: The NSA plays good cyber defense, but its offense is lacking.

FP’s David Francis: “That’s the message Adm. Michael Rogers, director of the U.S. National Security Agency, delivered to lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday morning.”

REVOLVING DOOR

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction announces a number of new hires.

David Recordon, former engineering director at Facebook, will serve in the newly created position of director of White House Information Technology.

AND FINALLY, FP’s Justine Drennan documents some of the world’s more unusual fights over textbooks.

 

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