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Today’s Headlines and Commentary

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Monday, September 16, 2013 at 10:54 AM

In breaking news, a gunman opened fire in the Washington Navy Yard this morning and is believed to be hiding in one of the buildings on the installation in Southeast Washington. The Washington Post reports that 10 people (update: 13) have been killed; hundreds of police officers have converged on the scene. Details are still forthcoming. See the Wall Street Journal for live updates on the lockdown.
The Syrian saga hit all sorts of landmarks this weekend.
On Saturday, after three days of talks in Geneva, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced they had successfully hammered out a deal to seize and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. Check out coverage from the Washington Post and the New York Times.
 In a joint statement, Kerry briefly outlined six key steps in the agreement, including timelines and consequences of noncompliance; the State Department has issued a framework for weapons elimination. Don’t have time to read either? Eli Lake of the Daily Beast tees up four key takeaways from the proposed deal.
According to this story by Karen DeYoung of the Post, it’s a deal that almost didn’t happen. An anonymous State Department official offers this “riveting and self-serving” account of the sausage (almost not) being made:

In the end, the deal was written entirely by the U.S. side. The Russians agreed to it in an impromptu poolside conversation between Kerry, Lavrov and their deputies, who dragged over chairs to join them. Kerry made final edits to the draft on an iPad in his hotel room.

This is not exactly how Russia is telling it. Crowed Alexei Pushkov, head of the State Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee, in the Moscow Times, “The military trump card has been knocked straight out of U.S. hands, although they are still trying to hide it up their sleeve.” France wants some credit for making the agreement a reality, writes the LA Times. And Syria is declaring itself the real victor, reports Reuters.
Though this compendium of tweets from Politico seems to suggest an overall positive reaction from members of Congress, it appears that lawmakers can’t agree on whether Russia “outfoxed” the U.S., writes the Associated Press. Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast blasts the right for its “sickening” whine.
In a Friday interview with ABC, which aired yesterday, President Obama expressed high praise for what was then still a deal in the works. Here is the video; here is the transcript; here is the New York Times. In the interview, President Obama defended his approach to Syria—what the Wall Street Journal is calling a “head-spinning reversal“—and suggested that what he lacked in “smooth and disciplined and linear” style he has made up for in substance.
Amy Davidson of the New Yorker offers the President the benefit of the doubt, suggesting it is less than fair to deem him a bumbler. And what President Obama lacks in support from his own he may have from leading Arabic broadcasters. See this Politico op-ed on their “surprisingly positive coverage” of the Obama administration.
President Obama called Iran’s nuclear weapons the bigger threat in his ABC interview, and warned the country not to misinterpret the U.S. as a political pushover following diplomatic developments in Syria, but also stated that he had exchanged letters with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani about a possible meeting. Here is the Jerusalem Posthere is the Washington Post. In light of that potential encounter, the Guardian wonders whether the chemical weapons deal has “opened new space for global diplomacy.” The art world probably thinks so: after a delay over Syria-related anxieties, Italy is going to loan Israel that Botticelli work it has been eyeing, reports the AP and the Times of Israel.
The AP reports that Kerry was in Israel yesterday to brief Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the agreement—which, if implemented, will make Israel happy in a way it hasn’t been since Syria first started amassing its 1,000-ton stockpile, write Amy Teibel and Jonathan Ferziger over at Bloomberg.
Now that Assad has—in principle—agreed to give up the chemical weapons he previously denied he had, the trick lies in making sure he doesn’t pull a Moammar Gaddafi, circa 2003, as Joby Warrick reminds us in the pages of the Post. Former United Nations weapons inspector Charles Duelfer tells NPR what it will take to ensure the weapons’ discovery and destruction. The issue is the Chemical Weapons Convention wasn’t designed to deal with this kind of crisis, writes Yochi Dreazen in Foreign Policy. “Compliance will be in the eye of the beholder,” declares the Economist. “Whether this agreement works depends largely on what you think Russia’s intentions are.”
The New York Times editorial board writes that this “remarkably ambitious” pact has a better chance of deterring chemical weapons use than military strikes. But as the Guardian points out, for all the self-congratulation, current civilian suffering on the ground remains an enormous issue unresolved by the U.S.-Russia pact. This Guardian story describes an open letter to be published by a group of distinguished doctors and medical professionals later this week, warning that deliberate attacks on medical facilities and personnel have pushed Syria’s healthcare system to the point of collapse. In his first TV interview, which aired yesterday on 60 Minutes, former CIA former No. 2 Mike Morell stated that he fears the country’s wholesale disintegration. And Reuters reports that on Saturday, 809 Syrian refugees were rescued from the choppy seas off Italy’s southern coast; an estimated 3,300 Syrians have escaped to the country since August.
As for the paperwork, yesterday the UN formally announced it had accepted Syria’s application to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, effective October 14, writes the Nation. Sometime today the UN is scheduled to release a much-anticipated report containing the “overwhelming” results of its investigation into the use of chemical weapons in Syria; it should be posted here.
Missile strikes may not be happening, but Nicholas Kristof can still defend his support for them. He takes outraged readers head-on in this Q/A.
And now some non-Syrian news.
Like her predecessor, the highest-ranking female police officer in Helmand province was gunned down in front of her home, possibly by the Afghan Taliban, reports the AP. The Pakistani Taliban are claiming responsibility for killing Maj. Gen. Sanaullah Khan Niazi and two other soldiers by roadside bomb yesterday near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, writes Reuters.
Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post explains the massive logistical challenges involved in withdrawing from Afghanistan. Undisclosed circumstances are forcing the U.S. military to fly huge amounts of equipment out of the country, at staggering costs.
South Korean soldiers have shot a man dead for trying to swim the wrong way—to the North, reports the BBC.
Reuters notes that the Snowden disclosures may end up helping rather than hurting the U.S. technology industry’s performance overseas. John Naughton of the Guardian has a gloomier outlook on what the revelations will mean for U.S. cloud providers.
Yesterday former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden stood at a church pulpit and declared Gmail the number one online service provider…for terrorists. So says the Post. Abby Ohlheiser of the Atlantic Wire is unmoved by this latest defense of the NSA’s PRISM program.
Are you a small business? A record number of cyber attacks are targeting you, writes Forbes, summarizing findings from Verizon’s latest data breach report.
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