US defends right to pursue threats, no matter the country
September 16th, 2011
05:05 PM ET

US defends right to pursue threats, no matter the country

By Jennifer Rizzo in CambrIdge, MA and Adam Levine in Washington

The United States reserves the right to pursue terrorists unilaterally in other countries, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said Friday night in a speech at Harvard Law School.

"The United States does not view our authority to use military force against al Qaeda as being restricted solely to 'hot' battlefields like Afghanistan.  We reserve the right to take unilateral action if or when other governments are unwilling or unable to take the necessary actions themselves," Brennan told a conference on "Law, Security & Liberty After 9/11: Looking to the Future."

"That does not mean we can use military force whenever we want, wherever we want. International legal principles, including respect for a state's sovereignty and the laws of war, impose important constraints on our ability to act unilaterally - and on the way in which we can use force - in foreign territories."

The U.S. intelligence and military communities have used various means to go after terrorists, both in cooperation with countries and, in certain circumstances, unilaterally. The U.S. Joint Special Operations Command is increasingly active in Somalia and Yemen, U.S. officials tell CNN. FULL POST

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Filed under: 9/11 • Afghanistan • Al Qaeda • Anwar al-Awlaki • CIA • Military • Panetta • Pentagon • Somalia • Yemen
A key friendship at the center of US-Pakistani relations
September 16th, 2011
04:25 PM ET

A key friendship at the center of US-Pakistani relations

By Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr

After more than two dozen face-to-face meetings in recent years, Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, are having their final meeting this weekend before Mullen retires at the end of the month.

The meeting is taking place in Spain, where Kayani was invited to brief NATO members' military leaders on Pakistan's ongoing counterterrorism efforts.

The two men are not expected to break new ground, according to a senior U.S. military official, but to continue talking about ongoing operations in Pakistan's border region, improved military cooperation, and the growing threat posed by the Haqqani network.

U.S. officials increasingly believe Haqqani operatives are moving unfettered across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and are responsible for several recent high profile attacks in Kabul, including this week's attack against the U.S. Embassy.

The senior U.S. military official - who declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of U.S. military relations with Pakistan - said that even in a final meeting, Mullen will continue to press for U.S. security priorities.

"At no time when he meets with General Kayani does he waste the opportunity to speak about substantive issues," the official said. FULL POST

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Filed under: 9/11 • Al Qaeda • CIA • drones • Military • Pakistan
US "assured" Iran will release hikers
September 16th, 2011
01:57 PM ET

US "assured" Iran will release hikers

US officials have been "assured" that the two jailed Americans will be released by Iran, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said on Thursday night.

Clinton and Panetta were appearing at a press conference with their Australian counterparts in San Francisco

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were arrested while hiking on the Iran-Iraq border in 2009. Sarah Shourd, Bauer's girlfriend, was also arrested but she was released by the Iranians last year. Clinton said that the hope is the two will be released but recent delays are not concerning US officials.

READ a timeline of the hikers' ordeal

Last week, Iran's president told NBC in an interview that the two others would be released within days on humanitarian grounds. But comments from other Iranian officials started to cast doubt it would happen that quickly.

"We have received word through a number of sources, publicly and privately, that the decision will be executed on and that we will see their return to their families," Clinton told the assembled media. "So I’m not going to speculate on what the reasons are or what it might mean or might not mean, but I’m going to count on the Iranian Government fulfilling the announcement that was made by the leadership of the country, and hope that it can be expedited and we can see their release very soon."

Appearing alongside her at the media briefing, Panetta said while trying to discern what the political battles are within Iran is difficult, the US has "been assured that steps will be taken to make that happen, and we hope that does – that is the case."

Filed under: Iran
Iran's nuclear power plant: threat or distraction?
A satellite image of the Bushehr plant from September 2010. (GeoEye Satellite Image)
September 16th, 2011
12:54 PM ET

Iran's nuclear power plant: threat or distraction?

From Suzanne Maloney, Brookings Institution, for CNN

EDITOR'S NOTE: Suzanne Maloney is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution where studies Iran, the political economy of the Persian Gulf and Middle East energy policy. She served as an external advisor to the State Department from 2010 to 2011 and was a former U.S. State Department policy advisor during the George W. Bush administration.  She has also counseled private companies on Middle East issues. Maloney recently published a book titled Iran's Long Reach: Iran as a Pivotal State in the Muslim World.

Washington greeted this week's inauguration of Iran's first nuclear power plant with a chorus of concerns about the Iranian threat and the prospects of proliferation across the Middle East. This alarmism is neither unexpected nor unjustified. However in the case of the Bushehr reactor, it is somewhat misdirected.

Bushehr and its tortuous history offer a testament to the past missteps and more recent successes in the long American effort to block Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

The notion of oil-rich Iran opting for nuclear energy predates the 1979 revolution that ousted the country's pro-American monarchy and replaced it with a religious regime with deep animosities toward Washington and many of its neighbors. Bushehr's groundbreaking took place in 1975, and its path to completion has been prolonged by revolutions and war, technical and financial challenges, sanctions and sabotage.

For decades, Bushehr has served as the focal point of American anxieties about Iran's nuclear ambitions. The facility itself was not the primary source of suspicion, since the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty permits power generation and the light-water reactor bears only limited utility for a weapons program. Rather, Bushehr became the symbol of the world's persistent mistrust in the Iranian leadership.

Even at its inception, when U.S.-Iranian friendship was at its apex, Washington viewed the reactor as a stalking horse for the Shah's unsubtle aspirations for nuclear weapons to bolster his regional primacy. Fifteen years later, as major construction resumed in the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war, Bushehr emerged as a harbinger of the intersection between rogue regimes and nuclear proliferation - a seemingly legal avenue for acquiring or developing illegal weapons. FULL POST

Filed under: Diplomacy • Iran
September 16th, 2011
11:34 AM ET

In Medal of Honor battle, senior officers failed

By Pentagon Producer Larry Shaughnessy

Sgt. Dakota Meyer is wearing the iconic blue ribbon and gold star of the Medal of Honor for his actions in Afghanistan two years ago. But while that day was the pinnacle of Meyer's service in the Marine Corps, it may have been the nadir in the careers of three unidentified U.S. military officers involved in the incident.

Instead of medals, those three unidentified officers have received letters of reprimand, almost certainly meaning their careers are over.

President Barack Obama awarded Meyer the nation's highest military decoration on Thursday for risking his life to save 36 U.S. and Afghan troops caught in a blistering firefight. But an investigation by the military found Meyer may not have needed to act if some of the officers overseeing his mission from the rear had done their jobs properly.

READ the investigation report findings

An investigation into the mistakes made during the September 9, 2009, ambush found that "actions of key leaders at the battalion level were inadequate and ineffective."


Palestinians seeking statehood: What's at stake
September 16th, 2011
10:00 AM ET

Palestinians seeking statehood: What's at stake

By CNN National Security Producer Jamie Crawford

With Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over a future Palestinian state going nowhere, the Palestinians are expected to submit a formal request for statehood to the United Nations next week. The move is likely to set up a collision course with the United States and Israel and unleash a new reality with an uncertain outcome.

While the United States and others continue to seek a last minute compromise to head off any vote next week, analysts say the Palestinian government has come too far at this point to turn back.

"The Palestinian leadership understands very well the limitations of the U.N. statehood strategy," Haim Malka with the Center for Strategic and International Studies told CNN in an interview this week. "But they have put their political credibility to some degree on this strategy, and to backtrack at this point would be a blow to the Palestinian leadership's domestic credibility."

The Palestinians hold "observer" status in the United Nations, which allows their representative to speak in the General Assembly but not vote. Essentially, the Palestinians have a choice of taking their membership bid either to the Security Council or to the General Assembly. Both routes come with their own challenges and limitations.