RICE DECLINES SENATE REQUEST TO TESTIFY ON RUSSIAN HACKING
Susan Rice, the former national security adviser under President Obama, has declined a request to participate in a Judiciary subcommittee hearing next week on Russian interference in the U.S. election. A letter from Rice’s lawyer, addressed to Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, and senior Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, explained the decision not to testify.
“Senator Whitehouse has informed us by letter that he did not agree to Chairman Graham’s invitation to Ambassador Rice, a significant departure from the bipartisan invitations extended to other witnesses,” Ruemmler wrote. “Under these circumstances, Ambassador Rice respectfully declines Senator Graham's invitation to testify.” Rice considered the invitation a “diversionary play” to distract attention from the investigation into Russian election interference.
As Russia Investigation Widens, U.S. Lawmakers Get Rare Access to Raw Intel
Tillerson calls for balancing U.S. security interests, values:
Translating the Trump campaign slogan “America First” into diplomatic policy, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that the United States cannot always afford to condition its foreign relationships and national security efforts on countries adopting U.S. values like human rights. In remarks before State Department personnel, he pledged that diplomats would emerge from the agency’s changes with “a much more satisfying, fulfilling career.” Tillerson did not provide any details about the 2,300 jobs he plans to eliminate from the department or how his proposed cut of roughly a quarter of the State Department budget might affect operations. Associated Press
TURKEY AND RUSSIA PUSH FOR SAFE ZONES IN SYRIA
Russia and Turkey are expected to push for the creation of safe-zones in Syria as talks between the Syrian government and the opposition resume in Kazakhstan today. In a meeting on Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin said they hoped the Syrian government and the opposition would adopt the proposal for safe “de-escalation.” The proposal would apply to Syrian government and rebel forces in the four main areas of the country where insurgents unaffiliated with ISIS still hold significant territory.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry said Damascus is “fully backing” the Russian initiative. But the opposition remains suspicious of Russian guarantees, as the proposal does not specify measures to prevent air attacks by Syrian government forces, and instead pushes for a nationwide ceasefire.The opposition suspended its participation at the talks on Wednesday in protest against government strikes on opposition-controlled areas. They reportedly returned to the talks today. Al Jazeera
, New York Times
, Washington Post
The Russia-Turkey-U.S. Tussle to Save Syria Will Still Get Very Messy
Mosul offensive moves forward:
The U.S.-backed Iraqi offensive to take back Mosul from ISIS gained fresh momentum on Thursday as an armored division advanced into the city from the north. The Iraqi army has opened a new front against the militant group in the northwestern corner of Mosul where ISIS militants are besieged. Reuters
Somali government minister killed in Mogadishu:
Somali security forces shot dead Minister of Public Works Abbas Abdullahi Sheikh Siraji in his car on Wednesday after mistaking him for an Islamist militant. Siraji was the youngest minister to serve in the current cabinet of Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire and was among the first Somali refugees to return to the country last year from Kenya. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmajo said he ordered security chiefs to “immediately get to the bottom of this unfortunate tragedy.” Reuters
, BBC News
, Voice of America
Pakistan, Iran agree to boost border security:
Pakistan and Iran have reached an agreement to strengthen security along their shared border after gunmen killed ten Iranian border guards last week. On Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited Islamabad for talks with Pakistani leadership, where he raised the border incident. Washington Post
ARAB YOUTH DISAPPROVE OF TRUMP, VIEW HIM AS ANTI-MUSLIM
A majority of young Arabs see Donald Trump’s election as the factor most influencing their region in the next five years and are concerned that he is anti-Muslim, according to a recent survey by Dubai-based public relations firm ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller. The survey of 18-24 year-olds across 16 Arab countries found that 64 percent of respondents viewed the Trump presidency with “concern, anger or fear.” Half of the respondents said Trump’s proposed travel ban would make it easier for militant groups to recruit young Muslims.
In addition, 21 percent of respondents said that Russia was their country’s top ally, up from only 9 percent in 2016. The United States dropped from 25 percent to 17 percent. Reuters
, Financial Times
, Buzzfeed News
LE PEN AND MACRON CLASH OVER COUNTERTERRORISM
Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron clashed over their vision of France’s future and strategies to fight terrorism in a televised debate on Wednesday before Sunday’s run-off vote for the presidency. Le Pen accused Macron of being complacent in confronting Islamist fundamentalism, saying he has no plan and is “ indulgent with Islamist fundamentalism.” Macron responded that terrorism would be his priority if he is elected and accused Le Pen of offering false solutions to the problem.
Also on Wednesday, seven former top French counterterror officials endorsed Macron. The officials said it would be wrong to respond to terrorism with tougher emergency measures that would infringe on civil liberties and democratic values and would feed ISIS propaganda. “This red line must never be crossed,” they wrote. “By crossing it, Mrs. Le Pen is playing into the hands of jihadist groups, and it’s our country she’s putting at risk.” New York Times
UK student found guilty of planting homemade bomb on London tube:
Damon Smith, a student from Devon in southwest England, was found guilty of planting a homemade bomb filled with ball bearings on the London tube in October of 2016. Smith pleaded guilty but claimed his actions had been a prank -- a claim the jury rejected. The Guardian
, BBC News
UK police given more time to question Westminster suspect:
Police have been granted another week to question a terror suspect arrested near the British Houses of Parliament. Khalid Mohamed Omar Ali was arrested on suspicion of offences under the Terrorism Act and possession of offensive weapons on April 27. Police said he remains in custody and can be questioned until May 11. BBC News
Algeria votes for new parliament:
Algerian voters head to the polls today to elect a new parliament amid fears of voter apathy and opposition calls for a boycott. The polls are the first since Algerian politicians amended the constitutional law in 2016 to give more power to the legislature. More than 12,000 candidates are competing for the 462 seats of the People’s National Assembly. Al Jazeera