The Cable

Situation Report: No deal with Iran just yet; Islamic State wins/loses social media; defense industry looking solid in Middle East; Turkey rattles swords; Syria chemical weapons in the news; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Waiting game. Things have temporarily quieted down in Vienna, where late last week and over the weekend, world powers and Iran were frantically hashing out details on a deal to limit Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for relaxing harsh international sanctions on the Islamic Republic’s economy. So far the ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Waiting game. Things have temporarily quieted down in Vienna, where late last week and over the weekend, world powers and Iran were frantically hashing out details on a deal to limit Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for relaxing harsh international sanctions on the Islamic Republic’s economy. So far the only thing we know for certain is that we won’t know anything by June 30, the previous deadline that has now been pushed back to the first week of July.

Tehran’s foreign minister and chief negotiator, Mohammad Javad Zarif, hastily flew home Sunday to confer with leadership about the next steps. While huge gaps between the two sides remain over proposed inspections of Iranian military sites and the pace and scope of the rollback of sanctions, the end — for better or worse — appears to be in sight. It has been a long, complicated road to get this far, with Iran and the U.S. coordinating on freeing prisoners from American jails, passing diplomatic notes through intermediaries in Oman, and other preliminary moves before even agreeing to sit down for formal talks, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon.

But there are still plenty of ways for the talks to fall through. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, jumped into the fray last week with a series of demands, including speeding up of the lifting of sanctions, and calling for curbs on the inspection of Iranian sites. FP’s David Francis also reminds us that a very skeptical U.S. Congress also has a big say in the deal. But German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said over the weekend that “I am convinced that if there is no agreement, everyone loses.”

Well, not everyone. FP’s Paul McLeary takes a look at the future of high-tech, high-dollar missile defense systems made by U.S. contractors, and the eager clients in the Middle East who seek to spend billions on them whether there’s a deal with Tehran or not. Key allies like Saudi Arabia and the UAE are unhappy with Washington’s outreach to Tehran, and they’ve been snatching up expensive insurance policies in the form of Patriot missile defense systems, the latest long-range radars, and other technologies that can knock Iranian ballistic missiles out of the sky. The six-nation GCC alliance in the Persian Gulf also recently pledged to build a regional radar system with components from each country, but it still has a long way to go — politically and technologically — before it’s ready to sweep the sky for Iranian missiles.

Going in? The recent victories by Kurdish forces against the Islamic State in Syria appear to have touched off another round of reports and speculation that the Turkish military may launch a ground campaign in Syria. The People’s Protection Units have taken a handful of towns away from the Islamic State with the help of U.S. airstrikes, raising fears in Turkey that the successes could help birth a Kurdish state along its border — an outcome that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech this weekend that he would “never accept.”

Reminder: Congress is taking this short holiday week off, so sparring over defense budgets, Russia, Ukraine, Iraq, and Iran will be conducted from their home districts until after the July 4 weekend. Lucky them.

We’re ready to move into July over here at the  Situation Report, and as always, thanks for coming along for the early morning ride. Summers are supposed to be “slow” in Washington, but no one seems to have informed the rest of the world to stop making news. So please do send along tips, reports, think tankery, or anything else of interest to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com, or on Twitter: @paulmcleary.

Syria

Rebel gains in Syria are also making senior U.S. intelligence officials wonder whether Bashar Assad’s regime may use chemical weapons once again if it continues to suffer losses on the battlefield. Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons to international inspectors in 2013 in a last minute deal to stave off an American attack after Assad’s forces used sarin in rebel-held territory near Damascus. The Wall Street Journal reports on the existence of a new intelligence assessment, which says the regime may tap a small reserve of nerve agents concealed from inspectors as a last resort if rebel advances come close to toppling the government.

Islamic State

There has been lots of hand-wringing over the Islamic State’s skill at using social media to recruit and push its agenda. But if you strip away the buzz over the new social spaces being created by Twitter and Facebook, what you see is a centuries-old recruiting tactic: preying on the lonely and the isolated. Whether the Islamic State and others are social media wizards or not, the New York Times brings home the story of “Alex,” a woman in rural Washington State who was lured into an online relationship with jihadis as an example of homegrown risks and their strategy limits.

Play Station

The Defense Department’s chief of personnel, Brad Carson, kicked off an unusual wargame designed to sketch out how the Pentagon can attract and manage top talent in the labor market of the future. The event, which featured 100 participants drawn from the private sector, think tanks, and the ranks of former government officials, tackled a scenario in which the military of 2025 is faced with a funding shortfall and a plunge in morale — all while trying lure those with in-demand skills away from the private sector. The outsiders seemed aghast at the Pentagon’s haphazard and archaic tools for personnel management, recommending that DoD use technology to track recruits’ skills and match them to open positions.

Leaked

Those purported Saudi diplomatic cables recently published by WikiLeaks — which the Saudis claim are forgeries — continue to rile. The latest on the docs is that they show high-level dealings between Riyadh and Nasiruddin Haqqani, the chief fundraiser for the Haqqani network, one of the deadliest terrorist groups in Afghanistan. U.S. and Afghan forces have fought Haqqani fighters for years in Afghanistan’s mountainous east, making the alleged outreach problematic for U.S.-Saudi relations.

Space

Since October, three rockets have blown up trying to resupply the International Space Station, including the latest on Sunday. The mishap is bad news for futurist tech guru Elon Musk, whose SpaceX company has been working hard to win U.S. government space contracts, particularly with the U.S. Air Force. The road has been rocky, however, with SpaceX at one point even suing the Air Force over rocket contracts. FP’s David Francis has a bit more, along with video of the explosion.

Defense Industry

The U.S. Navy said last week it’s paying $80 million to a private contractor to fly surveillance flights over Colombia and parts of Central America for the U.S. Southern Command. The Maryland-based firm, Airtec Inc. will provide its own Bombardier DHC-8/200 surveillance planes and pilots, with most of the work being done in Colombia. Southcom also runs the Operation Martillo counter-narcotics program that monitors drug runners in the Caribbean and Atlantic Ocean so Airtec will likely fly those missions as well.

When the dark days for defense budget first dawned following the recession of 2009 and the cutbacks it later spawned, the Pentagon warned that the climate could have an acute impact on small businesses, viewed by some as more efficient and innovative than their larger cousins in the defense industry. But a new report from the Defense Department’s purchasing arm and the Small Business Administration finds that small businesses have actually fared very well, thanks to policies aimed at preserving and cultivating them. Roughly a quarter of all Pentagon prime contracts went to small businesses last year, the highest percentage since 1997.

Twitter

Admit it: None of your selfies will ever look this cool.

Who’s Where When

9:00 a.m. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosts

Stephen Kappes, the CIA’s former deputy director, in a chat with Washington Post columnist David Ignatius for a discussion on the fight against the Islamic State.

11:00 a.m. Fresh off his European trip, Defense Secretary Ash Carter rolls out the red carpet for  Brazilian Minister of Defense Jaques Wagner on the Pentagon River Entrance steps.

2:00 p.m. The Atlantic Council hosts a full slate of diplomats, including Rachad Boulal, the ambassador from Morocco; Ashok Kumar Mirpuri, ambassador from Singapore; and Juan Gabriel Valdes, ambassador from Chile to talk about “Diplomacy Beyond the Nation-State,” with the State Department’s Thomas Perriello, who serves as the special representative for the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.

Reading List

Joshua Hammer headed to Nigeria to deliver a long, detailed piece for the New York Review of Books on Boko Haram, by way of writing an essay about Mike Smith’s book, Boko Haram: Inside Nigeria’s Unholy War.

 

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