The Cable

FP’s Situation Report: There’s wiggle room on today’s Iran nuclear deadline; A tough job awaits U.S. Special Ops in Jordan; Bergdahl’s case wades into rare legal territory; and much more from around the world.

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat It’s deadline day for an Iran nuclear deal, except it’s not. Diplomats set March 31 as the day a preliminary agreement had to be in place. But under the terms of current negotiations, both sides really have until the end of June to reach a comprehensive deal. FP’s John ...

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat

It’s deadline day for an Iran nuclear deal, except it’s not. Diplomats set March 31 as the day a preliminary agreement had to be in place. But under the terms of current negotiations, both sides really have until the end of June to reach a comprehensive deal. FP’s John Hudson and Colum Lynch: “Because of that wiggle room, Iranian negotiators have refrained from making big concessions. But the American negotiators, who need a framework agreement to present to a skeptical Congress next month, don’t have time on their side.”

More on Iran below.

U.S. Special Forces face a tall task in Jordan. The same operators who dislodged the Taliban in Afghanistan are starting to train Syrian rebels to take on the Islamic State. But the White House might be putting the Army’s 5th Special Forces Group in a position to fail. FP’s Seán D. Naylor on the challenges that await: “They include finding and vetting enough moderate rebels to make a difference on the battlefield; potential friction with the CIA, which has its own rebel training program going on in Jordan; the Obama administration’s refusal to let special operations forces fight alongside the rebel forces they have trained; and a confusing chain of command that none of the relevant American military headquarters seem willing or able to explain.”

More on the Islamic State below.

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, accused of desertion, also faces an unusual “misbehavior before the enemy” charge. The latter is a more serious allegation and could land him life behind bars. But it’s unclear how the prosecution will pan out. FP’s Kate Brannen: “The misbehavior charge is so rare that there aren’t many examples of how the military justice system has handled it in the past.”

Bonus from Brannen on the Fort Meade shooting that left one dead: “The FBI is helping the investigation, and its office in Baltimore said it does not believe the incident is related to terrorism. NSA police and other law enforcement agencies are also involved in the probe.”

PRESS PACK: It’s deadline day in Lausanne.

The New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon and David E. Sanger: “With a deadline just hours away, negotiators from the United States, Iran and five other nations appeared on Tuesday to move closer to a preliminary political accord to limit Tehran’s nuclear program, but there were signs that several of the most difficult issues would be deferred for a final agreement in three months.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon and Laurence Norman: “U.S. and European officials said nuclear negotiations were imperiled by deep uncertainty over whether Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would sign off on the necessary concessions for a deal.”

The Independent’s Kim Sengupta: “Both Israel and Saudi Arabia have repeatedly claimed that Tehran is intent on acquiring a nuclear arsenal, regardless of whatever pledges it makes, and that its hand will merely be strengthened by the lifting of economic sanctions as part of an agreement.”

The Washington Post’s Scott Clement and Peyton M. Craighill: “By a nearly 2 to 1 margin, Americans support the notion of striking a deal with Iran that restricts the nation’s nuclear program in exchange for loosening sanctions.… But the survey — released hours before Tuesday’s negotiating deadline — also finds few Americans are hopeful that such an agreement will be effective.”

The New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick: “As America talks to Iran, Saudi Arabia is lashing out against it. The kingdom, Iran’s chief regional rival, is leading airstrikes against an Iranian-backed faction in Yemen; backing a blitz in Idlib, Syria, by jihadists fighting the Iranian-backed Assad regime; and warning Washington not to allow the Iranian-backed militia to capture too much of Iraq during the fight to roll back the Islamic State.”

The Washington Post’s Carol Morello: “In a strong indication that an agreement may be imminent, Russian Foreign Sergei Lavrov announced in Moscow that he was flying back to Lausanne to take part in the last hours of talks.”

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of the Situation Report, where it’s clear disparaging recently deceased Singaporean founding father Lee Kuan Yew is a bad idea.

Contact me at and follow me @davidcfrancis, and spread the word about SitRep — your destination for global security news and Washington whatnot. Like what you see? Tell a friend. Tell your colleagues. Don’t like what you see? Tell me. Or holler with tips, reports, or anything else the world needs to know, and I’ll try to include it.


9:00 a.m. Swedish Foreign Minister Stefan Löfven speaks at the Brookings Institution. 11:00 a.m. Former Mexican President Vicente Fox discusses “Mexico’s Energy Revolution, the Continuing Crisis in Venezuela, and the Upcoming Summit of the Americas” at the Heritage Foundation. 3:30 p.m. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks on “The United States and Central Asia” at the Brookings Institution.


The New York Times’ Liz Alderman: “With the prospect of a default looming in Greece, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is preparing to meet next week with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia as a European deal to give more aid to Athens falters.”

Reuters’s Joyce Lee: “South Korea chose on Monday Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd, which expects to partner Lockheed Martin Corp, to develop a mid-level fighter jet that will cost around [$7.88 billion].”

ISLAMIC STATE: Shiite militias reportedly get reassurances that U.S. airstrikes in Tikrit are over even as parts of the city remain under Islamic State control.

The New York Times’ Rod Nordland: “During a two-day visit to Tikrit, a strategic city in Iraq’s central Sunni heartland, it was clear that after four weeks of the government offensive the Islamic State’s fighters are more numerous and still hold much more territory here than officials had previously allowed, even with heavy American airstrikes added in.”

The Washington Post’s Loveday Morris: “Any decision to halt the strikes to allow forces dominated by Shiite militiamen to march into Tikrit is likely to rile Washington, which has been wary of being perceived as aiding the Iranian-backed paramilitary groups.”

YEMEN: Some 40 are dead after strikes hit a refugee camp in northwest Yemen, and the Saudis set up a naval blockade.

The BBC: “State media said Saudi planes were responsible, but the Yemeni foreign minister said ‘artillery strikes’ by Houthi rebels were to blame.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Hakim Almasmari and Ahmed Al Omran: “Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri, the coalition spokesman, told reporters in Riyadh that naval forces were blocking ports to prevent weapons and fighters from bolstering the Houthi ranks.”

UKRAINE: A Dutch investigation is looking into whether pro-Russia rebels are responsible for downing a commercial airliner with a missile supplied by Moscow last summer. Meanwhile, NATO’s chief calls for greater cooperation with the European Union as Russian troops roll into Ukraine.

AFP: “The video shows images of a lowbed truck-and-trailer transporting the alleged BUK missile system through various locations near where MH17 was shot down, before being allegedly taken back to Russia.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Naftali Bendavid: “NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told the European Parliament that the EU and NATO, as two organizations whose members share territory and values, must face the new threats together.”

Newsweek’s Damien Sharkov: “22 Russian tanks crossed into Ukraine’s separatist-held eastern territories over the weekend.”

AFRICA: A lawyer going after al-Shabab is killed as President Barack Obama is set to visit Kenya, his father’s home country.

The BBC: “Joan Kagezi, the top Ugandan state prosecutor in the trial of 13 men accused of a deadly al-Shabab bomb attack, has been shot dead in Kampala.”

AFP’s Andrew Beatty: “During the much-delayed visit, Obama will attend a summit to encourage entrepreneurship and meet the country’s controversial leader Uhuru Kenyatta.”

NIGERIA: Former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari is building a wide election lead over incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Meanwhile, U.S. and British concerns grow over “political interference” in the election.

The Wall Street Journal’s Patrick McGroarty and Heidi Vogt on Buhari’s lead: “Such an upset in this nation of 170 million would be a stinging rebuke to a ruling party many voters said failed to tackle corruption and allowed a deadly insurgency to take root in Africa’s top economy.”

FP’s Lara Jakes: “Election monitors said balloting equipment malfunctioned, leading to delays in ‘many’ of the more than 100 polling stations across 25 local governments where international observers with the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute were located. The NDI also said a number of polling stations opened late.”

G20: The White House is looking into a report of a leak of Obama’s passport information at the G20 summit in Brisbane.

The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs: “A bureaucrat in the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection accidentally sent the passport numbers, visa details and other personal information of Obama and 30 other world leaders to organizers of the Asian Cup, a soccer tournament held in Australia in January 2015.”

FBI: A former agent gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

The Salt Lake Tribune’s Jennifer Dobner: “A federal judge on Monday sentenced a former FBI counterintelligence agent to 10 years in a federal prison for scheming to defraud the U.S. government of tens of millions dollars through military contracts in Afghanistan.”

CHINA: China’s censors appear to be attacking foreign websites as Beijing challenges the U.S. Navy. India and Japan strengthen their defense relations to counter China.

The New York Times’ Paul Mozur: “The main target of the recent barrage is GitHub, a popular website that acts as a library of code for programmers. While it is indispensable for tech companies in China, it also hosts several pages that enable users to view sites blocked in the country.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Jeremy Page: “Washington faces the dilemma of dealing with China as both a partner and a potential adversary challenging U.S. naval dominance in Asia.”

The Times of India’s Rajat Pandit: “While the annual defence dialogue (AAD) between defence minister Manohar Parrikar and his Japanese counterpart Gen Nakatani in Tokyo on Monday took a slew of decisions to strengthen defence ties, sources said the two sides also discussed the proposed exchange of maritime information.”

MILITARY PAY: Retirement benefits take a hit.

The Washington Times’ Dave Boyer: “President Obama said Monday he supports the recommendations of a military commission that would reduce the size of traditional military retirement pay by about 20 percent and offer a new defined-contribution benefit for troops who leave before 20 years of service.”

EBOLA: Sierra Leone isn’t out of the woods yet.

Reuters: “A three-day lockdown in Sierra Leone has exposed hundreds of potential new cases of Ebola, aiding efforts to bring to an end an epidemic that has already killed 3,000 people in the country.”

The AP’s Boubacar Diallo: “Guinea closed its border with Sierra Leone on Monday as part of new efforts to stamp out Ebola.”

AND FINALLY, FP staff on Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R-Ark.) poor attempt to translate his controversial letter to Iranian politicians warning a nuke deal wouldn’t stick: “Unfortunately for Cotton, the Farsi version of his letter was a bungled mess, poorly translated, and reads a lot like a middle schooler’s attempt at an essay on U.S. constitutional law and the nuclear negotiations with Iran.”

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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