August 1st, 2013
07:16 PM ET

Security worries trigger embassy closings

The State Department will close a number of U.S. embassies and consulates on Sunday due to "more than the usual chatter" about a potential terrorist threat.

A senior U.S. official said that although the threat does not have a great deal of specificity about time and location, it is being taken "very seriously."

U.S. "interests" including military installations could also see additional security and protection measures. The official, and a second official as well, noted that tensions are rising with the approach of both the holy days at the end of Ramadan and the first anniversary of the September 11 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya.

Several hundred Marines in Spain, Italy and in the Red Sea could provide additional security for U.S. embassies in southern Europe, North Africa or the Middle East if requested by the State Department.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf revealed the closings but gave no details as to the locations of the affected embassies or the nature of the threat.

"The Department of State has instructed certain U.S. embassies and consulates to remain closed or to suspend operations on Sunday, August 4. The department has been apprised of information that out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting our installation, that indicates we should institute these precautionary steps. The department, when conditions warrant, takes steps like this to balance our continued operations with security and safety," Harf said.

U.S. may end drone strikes in Pakistan
August 1st, 2013
04:39 PM ET

U.S. may end drone strikes in Pakistan

The US is looking to end drone strikes in Pakistan, Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday. Kerry told a Pakistani television station that President Barack Obama has "very real timeline".

"We hope it's going to be very very soon," according to a transcript of the interview provided by the State Department.

"I believe that we're on a good track. I think the program will end as we have eliminated most of the threat and continue to eliminate it," Kerry said. He added that the cessation depends on "a number of factors" and the US is working with the Pakistani government.

After ramping up strikes in the tribal region in the first few years of Obama's presidency, the number of drone strikes in Pakistan has dropped significantly, in part due to the deterioration of al Qaeda in the country and more focus on threats from al Qaeda groups in other countries like Yemen.

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Filed under: Central Intelligence Agency • CIA • drones • Pakistan • Security Brief
U.S. commander says Iran sanctions not working
March 5th, 2013
02:53 PM ET

U.S. commander says Iran sanctions not working

By Adam Levine

Severe sanctions against Iran are not working, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East says.

Gen. James Mattis of Central Command made the statement at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday.

"In your professional opinion, are the current diplomatic and economic efforts to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability - are they working?" Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, asked.

"No, sir," Mattis replied.

Mattis later told Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, that Iran's "nuclear industry continues."

"I think we have to continue sanctions, but have other options ready," Mattis replied.

Mattis said Iran might be able to be swayed by "a purely cost-benefit ratio." FULL POST

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Filed under: Iran • Middle East • Military • Sanctions
March 5th, 2013
11:28 AM ET

White House to give senators targeted killing documents

By Adam Levine

The White House has agreed to provide senators sitting on the intelligence committee with additional legal opinions related to targeted killings of Americans, the chair of the committee said Tuesday.

The legal opinions, written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), set out the justification for lawfully targeting Americans overseas who are involved in terror-related activities that threatened America or American interests. The statement from Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said the opinions would be provided “in a way that allows members to fulfill their oversight responsibilities.”

The White House had already provided some information regarding the justification to Congress.

The agreement could help assuage some senators’ concerns raised about the targeting killing program and the involvement of CIA Director-nominee John Brennan.

“I am pleased the administration has made this information available. It is important for the committee to do its work and will pave the way for the confirmation of John Brennan to be CIA director,” Feinstein said in a statement.

The committee is expected to vote on the Brennan nomination this afternoon. But Brennan’s nomination is still being challenged by several Republicans seeking other answers from the White House. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is demanding the White House respond to whether it would ever seek to use its targeted killing program to go after Americans within the U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is demanding further answers on the administration response to the attack in Benghazi. Both have threatened to block the nomination.

March 3rd, 2013
09:44 PM ET

Iran is open to direct talks with U.S., its UN ambassador says

By Adam Levine

Iran would be willing to sit down for direct talks with the United States, the country's ambassador to the United Nations said in an interview broadcast on CNN.

"I can confirm it here with you, and also for your distinguished audience, that Iran will come negotiation and direct talks with the United States provided that we make sure that U.S. is serious and do not act differently," Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee told CNN's Fareed Zakaria in an interview that aired on Fareed Zakaria GPS.

Khazaee said Iranians felt that at last week's negotiation with the United States and other aligned nations, "both sides are getting closer to each other."


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Filed under: CNN Programs • Fareed Zakaria GPS • Iran • Middle East
Gen. Allen retires rather than press on with nomination
February 19th, 2013
01:05 PM ET

Gen. Allen retires rather than press on with nomination

Gen. John Allen informed the president he will retire rather than move forward with the nomination to become the supreme allied commander of NATO, the White House announced Tuesday.   The president accepted the resignation, according to a statement from the president (see below).

Allen was the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan for nearly two years. But he was caught up in a scandal over embarrassing e-mails with Tampa socialite Jill Kelley that came to the public's attention during the same investigation that brought down former CIA Director David Petraeus.  After several months, Allen was cleared of wrongdoing, and the White House initially indicated that President Barack Obama would proceed with the nomination.

Allen informed some of his staff he was considering the retirement, CNN's Chris Lawrence reported last week.

Here's the president's statement: FULL POST

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Filed under: Military
February 7th, 2013
01:52 PM ET

White House opposed plan backed by Pentagon, State, CIA to arm Syrian rebels

By Elise Labott and Adam Levine

The White House knocked down a proposal last summer from top national security leaders, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and CIA Director David Petraeus, to arm Syrian rebels, according to U.S. officials, one of whom said the issue appears dead for now.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey said in testimony to a Senate committee on Thursday that they also backed the plan to provide weapons to opposition fighters.

But officials, who requested anonymity to speak freely about a sensitive subject, said the White House rejected the idea.

"The reason we have not armed them is because the White House has no appetite for it," a U.S. official familiar with the deliberations told CNN.

The official said the ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, was among those in the State Department who "advocated for it pretty strongly."

The issue of arming the rebels "is dead in the water for now because folks are resigned to the fact that White House will not budge," the official added.

The Obama administration has resisted arming the rebels, citing concerns about the infiltration of extremists groups who could possibly use those weapons against other targets.


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Filed under: Middle East • Military • Syria
January 29th, 2013
01:50 PM ET

U.S. to establish military presence next to Mali

By Jamie Crawford and Chris Lawrence

The United States has signed a deal with the central African nation of Niger to host American troops and surveillance drones to keep tabs on Islamic militants in the region, officials from those countries said Tuesday.

Niger is next door to Mali, where France joined the fight against Islamic rebels earlier this month

Pentagon spokesman George Little said the role of U.S. troops in Niger "has not yet been defined" - but Niger's ambassador to the United States, Maman Sidikou, told CNN that his government has agreed to let U.S. drones operate from its territory.

Sidikou says his understanding of the agreement is the drones will be unarmed and used for surveillance to monitor extremist movements. He refused to discuss where in the country the drones would be based or when they will be operational.

France: "We are winning in Mali"

Niger lies to the east of Mali, where French troops and warplanes are fighting alongside government troops to push back Islamist fighters who seized much of the former French colony in 2012.

The rebels took advantage of the chaos that followed a revolt by Touareg separatists and a military coup, and banned music, smoking, drinking and watching televised sports in the territories under their control. FULL POST

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Filed under: Africa • Benghazi • Libya • Mali • Niger
'You can hear the artillery outside the president's office'
CNN's Ivan Watson walks with Ambassador Robert Ford through a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey
January 24th, 2013
01:29 PM ET

'You can hear the artillery outside the president's office'

The U.S. ambassador to Syria says the Syrian regime is slowly starting to crumble.

Ambassador Robert Ford said in an exclusive interview with CNN's Ivan Watson while touring the Islahiye refugee camp in Turkey that it is a slow process, but the signs are pointing toward decline.

"Members of the regime, little by little, are flaking off," Ford said, noting that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's mother had fled the country and is now in the United Arab Emirates.

The former Foreign Ministry spokesman is now a refugee in the United States, Ford said. (Update, 9:11 p.m. - Senior administration officials tell CNN that the ambassador misspoke and that the Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman is not in the U.S.)

How Syria's bloodshed drove a peaceful protester into the battle lines

Ford said it is a slow process, but al-Assad’s government is falling apart.

"You can see, little by little, the inner core is weakening," Ford said. "But again, it's a gradual process."

Ford said when the U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met with al-Assad in December, the closeness of the fighting was evident.

"He told us that you could hear artillery outside the president's office," Ford told Watson. "The fighting is getting that close now to the inner circle itself. And so you can imagine what that does to their own spirits, their own morale."

Syrian refugees continue to flood Jordan amid warnings of crisis

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Filed under: Assad • Robert Ford • State Department • Syria
January 14th, 2013
04:48 PM ET

U.S. looks to support France's Mali offensive

By Chris Lawrence

The United States military could provide logistical and intelligence support in the French effort against Islamist rebels in Mali, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday.

The U.S. will "provide whatever assistance it can" as part of what Panetta said was the U.S. global efforts against al Qaeda.

"We have a responsibility to go after Al Qaida wherever they are. And we've gone after them in the FATA. We're going after them in Yemen and Somalia. And we have a responsibility to make sure that Al Qaida does not establish a base for operations in North Africa and Mali," Panetta told reporters traveling with him to Europe.


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