Is an Iranian nuclear deal going to happen? Four days before a scheduled deadline in talks, the answer to that question is as unclear as ever. Foreign Policy carries the comments of US Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken, who said that while reaching a deal by the deadline was “not impossible,” he thinks “it’s going to be difficult to get to where [we] want to go.”
The New York Times reports that in an effort to consolidate the Western position on the talks, US Secretary of State John Kerry flew to France today for talks with his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius. While the British position, as articulated by UK Foreign Minister Philip Hammond, appears open to the idea of reaching a “partial understanding” and pushing back the deadline to March, it is unclear if that sentiment is shared in Paris. As Fabius said: “important points of difference remain.”
Reuters has more on the diplomatic jockeying and another potential spoiler to a deal: a statement by UN nuclear chief Yukiya Amano today that Iran has “yet to explain” suspected nuclear research to the UN’s nuclear agency.
Foreign Policy reports that Pentagon officials have sent Congress new details on their plan to train and equip Syrian rebels in an effort to secure funding for the project. The article writes that the Defense Department intends to use an initial procurement of $225 million to train the first few classes of moderate fighters, each of which will have around 300 members.
At Defense News, Paul McLeary writes that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey made the case yesterday for significantly increasing the defense budget. The Congress’ current cap on the budget is approximately $535 billion, and some officials in the DoD say they hope to get as much as $60 billion more.
Rich Miller of Bloomberg reports that the glut of new oil production worldwide is tilting the geopolitical map towards the US. He writes that in light of “surging” US oil production, Washington and its allies have been able to impose crushing sanctions on Tehran without fearing much about their impact on the global price of crude. Furthermore, it is gaining additional leverage over Putin, whose economy is still struggling to deal with lower revenues from energy exports.
At the BBC, Lucy Williamson examines why so many Frenchmen are joining ISIS.
In the New York Times, Tim Arango writes that more than a battle, the struggle for Kobani has become a “publicity war.” For ISIS, capturing the town could portend a significant boost for its regional ambitions and a potent recruiting tool. For the US-led coalition, the battle’s result is a “crucial public test” of Obama’s strategy of combining US airpower with local ground forces.
Speaking of US strategy, Defense One quotes Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey as saying that while the current US strategy is “sound,” it may change in the future.
Also, Roll Call reports that outgoing House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said yesterday that his greatest fear was that ISIS would acquire enough cash to acquire a nuclear device.
The Times of Israel reports that Israeli police have busted a huge shipment of weapons at Ashdod Port. In a box marked as containing Christmas lights, officials found 18,000 firecrackers, 5,200 knives, 5,000 electric shock devices and 1,000 swords, among other items, all reportedly en route to rioters in East Jerusalem. For more on the evolving situation in the Holy City, click here.
At the Atlantic, Adam Chandler examines whether or not Israel’s revamped practice of using home demolitions as a deterrent against would-be terrorists is effective. Relatedly, the Jerusalem Post reports exclusively that the IDF arrested three Palestinians who were allegedly planning to assassinate Israeli FM Avigdor Lieberman using a RPG. Although the three have been captured, Israeli consider the report concerning, in large part because none of the three had affiliations with militant groups and appear to have operated as an isolated cell.
According to Bloomberg, Russian President Vladimir Putin has “stunned” his advisors by supporting a high-profile crackdown on corruption. Reportedly in reaction to the country’s continuing economic downturn at the hands of Western sanctions, Putin has backed an initiative, dubbed “economic liberalization,” that will seek to ease the financial burden of corruption on enterprises. Putin is scheduled to announce more about the initiative in a speech next month, which will use the threat of harsher prosecution to crack down on bureaucratic bullying that costs the economy tens of billions of dollars a year.
Elsewhere in the Russian capital, the Guardian reports that the US’s new envoy to Moscow, John Tefft, received a chilly welcome from the Kremlin. Tefft presented his credentials at the Kremlin just a day after Putin publicly said that the US wants to “subjugate” Russia, but would never succeed.
In Foreign Policy, James Stavridis, a retired 4-star Navy Admiral, asserts that Putin hates the US-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which is exactly why the two blocs need to get it done.
Reuters reports that Kiev has ruled out direct talks with pro-Russia separatists. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk rejected Russian calls for “stable communications” between Kiev and the rebels, and said the Kremlin would not push Ukraine into recognizing the separatists. According to the BBC, almost 1,000 people have died since a “ceasefire” in the conflict was announced on September 5th.
Hungary’s controversial Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, said yesterday that his country would choose its “own path” in relations with Russia and the EU, and would not be drawn into the “Cold War-style standoff” in Europe. Orban, who is seen by some in the West as cozy with the Kremlin, did say that Hungary was “united” with the EU regarding Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
The BBC has a lengthy report covering China’s first World Internet Conference, which focused (naturally enough) on “internet governance.”
Business Insider writes that a Chinese state firm has signed a $12 billion deal to build a railway along Nigeria’s coast.
The New York Times reports that even if lawmakers allow Section 215 of the Patriot Act to expire next June, a little known provision of the law may allow President Obama to keep the NSA’s bulk telephony metadata collection program running.
According to the BBC, a data watchdog group is warning the public about a Russia-based website that appears to contain thousands of live-feeds to baby monitors, stand-alone webcams and CCTV systems. Click here for more on the troubling revelation.
Finally, the New Yorker carries a piece by Elliot Ackerman on “Assassination and the American Language.”
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