FP’s Situation Report: Paris won’t wait forever for Israeli-Palestinian peace push; U.S. straddles the fence in the Middle East; White House says Tikrit isn’t about Iran; and much more from around the world.
By David Francis with Sabine Muscat
Paris to push Israeli-Palestinian peace at the U.N. Washington is considering moving the peace process to Turtle Bay. But France says it won’t wait forever for President Barack Obama to press for a measure calling for an end to Israeli settlements and laying a framework for future talks. FP’s Colum Lynch: “The French would be happy to see Washington take the lead on crafting a resolution and moving it through the U.N. Security Council … But Paris will try to force Washington’s hand if the Obama administration hesitates for too long.”
The United States plays both sides in the Middle East. In Iraq, American bombs are supporting Shiite militiamen. In Yemen, the U.S. is backing Saudi Arabia’s air campaign against Iranian-backed Shiite rebels. FP’s Kate Brannen and Seán D. Naylor: “U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East amid the complex web of competing alliances was already difficult to decipher. But the morass grew this week with the Saudi-led offensive in Yemen.”
White House: Tikrit campaign isn’t about Iran. Obama administration officials insisted their bombing runs in Tikrit aren’t about countering Iran, whose clout in Iraq is growing. FP’s John Hudson: U.S. operations there are meant to “prevent another tactical victory for the Sunni terrorist group, which has fended off an Iraqi offensive on the city for weeks.”
More on the Islamic State below.
PRESS PACK: The fight for Yemen escalates.
The Wall Street Journal’s Maria Abi-Habib and Hakim Almasmari: “With Yemen’s president out of the country and its army fractured, al Qaeda is trying to define itself as the most capable force to protect the Sunni majority and gain support in what it calls a holy war against a Shiite rebel movement backed by Iran.”
The New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick: “Egypt said Thursday that it was prepared to send troops into Yemen as part of a Saudi-led campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthi movement, signaling the possibility of a protracted ground war on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula.”
The Washington Post’s Ali al-Mujahed and Hugh Naylor: “Egyptian warships were also steaming toward the Yemeni coast as part of an Arab-led offensive against Shiite rebels seeking to take over Yemen in what has become a showdown between the major powers in the Middle East.”
Bloomberg’s Eli Lake and Josh Rogin: “The U.S., which withdrew its last special operations forces from Yemen over the weekend, had only a brief warning that Saudi airpower was about to be unleashed.”
Welcome to Friday’s edition of the Situation Report, where we have our doubts about the NFL’s continuing efforts to grow the game abroad.
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WHO’S WHERE WHEN TODAY
12:00 p.m. The Middle East Institute hosts a panel on “Assessing Iran’s Intervention in the Arab World.” 1:30 p.m. The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts the “U.S.-Japan Security Seminar 2015.” 3:30 p.m. The Woodrow Wilson Center hosts a panel on “New Alliances for Asia? Prospects for Relations Between Japan, India, and the United States.”
WHAT’S MOVING MARKETS
Reuters’s Lefteris Papadimas and Karolina Tagaris: “Greece will present measures to boost tax revenues and encourage investors as part of a reforms list aimed at reaching a deal with lenders early next week to unlock aid, the government said on Thursday.”
The New York Times’ Choe Sang-hun: “South Korea on Thursday became the latest American ally to announce its intention to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank despite Washington’s qualms about the Chinese-led regional development bank.”
FP’s Keith Johnson: “Oil markets got a brusque reminder that geopolitical risk is alive and well Thursday when crude prices spiked in response to military actions by Saudi Arabia and other Arab states to contain the violence in civil-war wracked Yemen.”
CNBC’s Elizabeth MacBride: “Four countries—Mexico, Peru, Colombia and Chile—three years ago formed a free-trade bloc called the Pacific Alliance. Tiny Costa Rica joined the club in 2013. Together, they’re a bigger economy than Brazil, and they’re expected to grow three or four times faster than their huge neighbor over the next few years.”
IRAN: President Rouhani gets involved as nuclear talks enter the final phase. Meanwhile, details of a possible deal emerge.
The Washington Post’s Carol Morello: “In an indication that the talks are heating up in the rush to a March 31 deadline, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani sent a letter to President Obama and the heads of the other five countries negotiating with Iran, explaining Iran’s stance.”
The Associated Press: “The United States is considering letting Tehran run hundreds of centrifuges at a once-secret, fortified underground bunker in exchange for limits on centrifuge work and research and development at other sites.”
ISLAMIC STATE: U.S. planes shake up the fight for Tikrit as U.S. weapons end up in unintended places.
The New York Times’ Rod Nordland and Helene Cooper: “Thousands of Shiite militiamen boycotted the fight in protest, others threatened to attack any Americans they found, and Iraqi officials said nine of their fighters had been accidentally killed in an airstrike.”
The Washington Post’s Missy Ryan: “American officials suggest that militias may have acquired U.S.-made weapons, such as the M16A2 rifle, on the open market. But they also acknowledge that it is difficult on Iraq’s crowded battlefield to prevent weaponry or vehicles from being used by various forces.”
The New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt: “The federal authorities in Illinois arrested an Army National Guardsman who they say tried to travel to Libya to fight on behalf of the Islamic State and was helping his cousin plot an attack on an American military base.”
AFGHANISTAN: Afghanistan sees its economic future in regional ties with Europe, Asia, and the Middle East—leaving the United States out.
Quartz’s Tim Fernholz: “It’s a plan that could leave the US with diminishing influence, even as it bears the costs of the country’s security.”
UKRAINE: There’s no easy way out of this crisis.
The New York Times’ Steven Erlanger: “Hardly anyone expects Ukraine to get better before it gets worse, or for the latest set of commitments in last month’s cease-fire agreement to be kept.”
ARGENTINA: Decades-old drama in Argentina continues.
AFP’s Liliana Samuel: “An Argentine appeals court on Thursday upheld the decision to dismiss a case against President Cristina Kirchner on accusations that she shielded Iranian officials from prosecution over a 1994 Jewish center bombing.”
GERMANWINGS DISASTER: German pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately crashed the plane.
FP’s David Francis: “Prosecutors said co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, a 27-year-old German citizen, locked the plane’s captain out of the cockpit, then sent the Airbus A320 into a descent that ended in a pile of debris scattered across the side of a mountain.”
NIGERIA: Boko Haram’s year of devastation in northern Nigeria is tallied as the State Department sends in a monitor for the country’s presidential election. Meanwhile, Chadian President Idriss Déby plays a key role in the fight against the group.
The Associated Press: “A leading human rights group says Nigeria-based Boko Haram has killed more than 1,000 civilians this year and forced hundreds of abducted girls and women to convert to Islam and marry fighters.”
Reuters: “The top U.S. diplomat for Africa will travel to Nigeria for Saturday’s elections, the State Department said on Thursday, amid concerns over the possibility of violence.”
The New York Times’ Adam Nossiter: “Without Mr. Déby and his battle-hardened soldiers, analysts and diplomats say, there would be nobody on the ramparts in this vulnerable part of Africa.”
EBOLA: A vaccine might be close.
Quartz’s Annalisa Merelli: “The whole virus vaccine has been proven effective on macaques, which are considered the ‘gold standard’ for trial on Ebola vaccines and suggest effectiveness on humans too.”
HOMELAND SECURITY: No. 2 Alejandro Mayorkas didn’t break the law but didn’t act ethically on visas.
FP’s David Francis: A Homeland Security inspector “concluded Mayorkas’ actions influenced decisions on visas in a number of cases — but what he did was legal.”
Dan Smith is stepping down as head of International Alert, a European peacebuilding charity. He’ll become director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Peter Lavoy, a partner at Monitor 360, is being appointed as the senior director for South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council, a well-placed tipster told SitRep. He’ll be joined by Joshua White, co-director of the South Asia program at the Stimson Center, who will serve as Lavoy’s deputy.
The same tipster says the NSC is getting rid of its Af-Pak directorate and reintegrating all of South Asia — India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other South Asian nations — under one senior director. The White House did not return a request for comment on the reshuffle.
AND FINALLY, the Secret Service isn’t the only one with a prostitute problem. The DEA has some explaining to do, FP’s David Francis reports.