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September 29, 2016

Daily News Brief

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TOP OF THE AGENDA

Obama Calls Veto Override on 9/11 Legislation a 'Mistake'

U.S. President Barack Obama called a congressional override of his veto of legislation that would allow victims of the 9/11 terror attacks to sue Saudi Arabia "a mistake" (CNN). A number of national security experts have criticized the bill, saying it could provoke counter-measures in other countries against the United States on a wide range of charges. The vote was the first (Guardian) veto override of the Obama presidency. The legislation would allow U.S. courts to seize Saudi assets to pay for judgements obtained by victims' families; Saudi Arabia has threatened to sell off hundreds of billions in holdings in the United States in response to the move. The legislation amends (NYT) a 1976 law that grants foreign countries broad immunity from U.S. lawsuits and allows suits to proceed if countries are found to have played a role in terrorism on U.S. soil.

ANALYSIS

"The bill is not written specifically about Saudi Arabia or the 9/11 attacks. As it is currently drafted, it could be invoked to allow suits against states for international terrorism that causes harm to U.S. plaintiffs, even when the U.S. government does not consider that state to be a sponsor of terrorism. For example, could Palestinian-Americans try to use JASTA to sue Israel in the United States? Language in the bill could cut both ways. A ton of problems could prevent those suits from going anywhere, but the plaintiffs could try," Stephen I. Vladeck said in this CFR interview.

"The bill succeeded not with significant congressional debate or intense pressure from voters, but rather through the sheer will of the victims’ families, who seized on the 15th anniversary of the attack and an election year to lean on members of Congress. That effort was aided by lawmakers’ waning patience with the kingdom in recent years," Jennifer Steinhauer, Mark Mazzetti, and Julie Hirschfeld Davis write for the New York Times.

"The 9/11 families strongly believe this is a legalistic way of saying that America places its diplomatic relationship with Saudi Arabia above justice for American citizens. The European Union has backed up the Obama administration in its decision, as have an array of top national-security officials from Republican and Democratic administrations. ... In the end, however, all of the lobbying from the 9/11 families, and the millions of dollars spent by the Saudis in return, obscure an important fact about JASTA: the legislation is far more symbolic than anything else. Any teeth the bill had were taken out when senators amended the legislation to make it more palatable to the Obama administration," Daniel D. Depetris writes for the American Conservative.

PACIFIC RIM

Duterte Announces End of Joint Exercises With U.S.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said that joint military drills with the United States next month would be the last such exercise (WSJ) and that he would end joint naval patrols in the South China Sea. He said the decades-old military partnership between the two countries would be maintained. Duterte made the comments during a visit to Vietnam (Reuters).

This CFR Backgrounder examines the history of the U.S.-Philippines defense alliance.  

CHINA: China announced a no-coal zone for factories and households around Beijing in an attempt to decrease air pollution in the city (SCMP)

SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA

Pakistan Downplays Indian 'Surgical Strikes' Announcement

The Indian military announced that it had carried out "surgical strikes" to target alleged terrorists in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir (NYT), a claim Pakistan downplayed, calling the incident cross-border fire that killed two Pakistani soldiers. Tensions between the two countries has heightened since an attack on a military base in India by militants, which India blamed on Pakistan (BBC).

This CFR Global Conflict Tracker discusses the history of the disputed Kashmir region.

PAKISTAN: Gunmen in the northwestern city of Peshawar kidnapped (RFE/RL) the executive director of a prominent Pakistani media group that publishes English and Urdu newspapers and controls a top TV station.

MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

Obama to Send 600 Additional Troops to Iraq

U.S. President Barack Obama authorized an additional six hundred U.S. troops to be sent to Iraq (NYT) to assist local forces in retaking the city of Mosul from the self-proclaimed Islamic State in an offensive that could happen as early as October. The move will increase the number of U.S. troops in the country to 5,000.

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA

Somali Officials Accuse U.S. of Killing 22 Soldiers

A regional Somali defense official said a U.S. air strike in northern Somalia killed as many as twenty-two of his soldiers (Reuters). He said officials from a rival neighboring region requested the strike, claiming the targets were from the Islamist militant group Al-Shabab. A Pentagon spokesman said the United States would look into the reports.

SUDAN: Amnesty International accused the Sudanese government of using chemical weapons (Al Jazeera) in Darfur at least thirty times this year, killing up to 250 people. The rights group used satellite images, interviews with locals, and expert analysis of victims' wounds to back the claim (Guardian).

EUROPE

Report: Brexit Negotiations Cost Taxpayers $65 Million

Brexit negotiations cost British taxpayers up to $85 million, according to (Guardian) a new report from the London-based non-profit Institute of Government. The report cited the need to hire extra 500 additional civil servants as a major cost.

This CFR Backgrounder covers what's behind the Brexit vote.

TURKEY: The Europe director of the UN refugee agency said that none (EU Observer) of the Syrians returned to Turkey in a March EU-Turkish migration deal have been granted temporary protected status. EU officials said protected status was part of the deal, which aims to stem the flow of migrants to the EU. A UN representative also said Turkey blocked access by UNHCR officials to shelters where Syrians are temporarily housed.

This CFR Backgrounder discusses Europe's migration crisis.

AMERICAS

Maduro: Top U.S. Diplomat to Visit Venezuela

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said that U.S. special envoy Thomas Shannon would soon visit Venezuela (LAHT). Maduro also said he had invited U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who met with Maduro on the sidelines of a Colombian peace agreement signing; the State Department did not confirm (AP) whether Kerry would visit the country.

This CFR Backgrounder explores Venezuela's economic fractures and political turmoil.

GLOBAL

OPEC Producers Agree to Cut Production

Oil-producing countries met in Algeria (BBC) and agreed to a preliminary deal to cut production in the first such agreement in eight years. Members discussed cutting their collective output (WSJ) from August levels of 33.2 million barrels a day to 32.5 million a day, but will not complete a deal until November.