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Obama to Mend Fences in Saudi Arabia, Kerry and Hagel Say U.S. Not Backing Away from Leadership Role

By Sara Sorcher (@SaraSorcherNJ) and Jordain Carney (@jordainc)

Welcome to NJ's Early Bird, a morning assembly of the best national security, defense, and foreign policy coverage from around the Web.


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Iran Talks May Extend Timeline
(The Wall Street Journal: Laurence Norman)
Negotiators of a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran will take the time needed to seal an "extremely difficult" accord even if that means going beyond the six-month objective

Obama Is Said to Plan Fence-Mending Trip to Saudi Arabia
(The New York Times: Mark Landler)
An official said President Obama would seek to reassure King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia after a period of tension over American policies toward Iran and Syria.


Kerry and Hagel Defend U.S. Engagement Abroad in Face of Criticism
(The New York Times: Steven Erlanger,Thom Shanker)
Secretary of State John Kerry expressed some exasperation with the criticism that the United States was retreating from a leadership role.

Military Makes Ethics a Priority
(The Wall Street Journal: Julian Barnes)
The U.S. military is intensifying its focus on ethics training in the wake of a series of investigations of military brass, the Pentagon's top uniformed officer said.


New Snowden Docs Show Canadian Spies Tracked Thousands of Travelers
(ARSTechnicha: Cyrus Farivar)
Documents: "New needle-in-a-haystack analytic is viable: Contact chaining across air gaps."

Obama Says James Clapper Could Have Handled His Congressional Testimony Better
(McClatchy: Anita Kumar)
The director of national intelligence, came under fire after he told the Senate Intelligence Committee in March that the United States does not collect data on millions of Americans.


NSA Designee: Individual Rights Must Be 'Paramount'
(Defense News: Zachary Fryer-Biggs)
Vice Adm. Michael Rogers said in a March 2013 interview that individual rights are "paramount."

This Company Says Its Software Could Have Prevented Snowden's NSA Leaks
(Defense One: Leo Mirani)
Government servants are hardly the best paid employees in the world, even if they are spies.


Six Powers, Iran to Begin New Nuclear Talks on February 18
(Reuters: Anna Mcintosh)
Six world powers and Iran will begin talks in Vienna on February 18 on a long-term deal for Tehran to curb parts of its nuclear program.

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How Obama Won the War on Iran Sanctions
(National Journal: Stacy Kaper)
A month ago, the president was on the outs—even among Democrats. Today, he's quelled critics and getting his chance to make negotiations work.

Iran Sanctions Backers on Hill Give Up Search for 60th Vote — For Now
(The Hill: Julian Pecquet, Jeremy Herb)
Proponents of Iran sanctions have all but abandoned their search for a highly symbolic 60th co-sponsor who would give their bill a filibuster-proof majority and reverse the push against immediate action.

IAEA Awaits 'Clarification' From Iran
(Financial Times: Sam Jones)
Six 'more difficult', technical issues remain to be resolved

Hillary Clinton Backs Obama Against Iran Sanctions Push
(Roll Call: Niels Lesniewski)
The former secretary of State strongly backs the Obama administration view opposing new Iran sanctions for now in a letter released by Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin Sunday.

Kerry Has Rare Meeting With Iran's Top Diplomat
(The Washington Post: Anne Gearan)
In a rare one-on-one meeting, Kerry says existing sanctions will stay in place as negotiations continue.

U.S. Warns Firms to Go Slow in Iran
(The Wall Street Journal: Benoît Faucon, Jay Solomon, Asa Fitch)
Officials are privately warning international executives not to commit too much as they re-engage with the Islamic Republic amid a temporary easing of sanctions.

Iran: We're Serious About Nuke Talks
(Associated Press)
Iran's foreign minister said Sunday his country is prepared to move ahead in negotiations over its nuclear program.

Iran and North Korea: The Nuclear 'Axis of Resistance'
(The Daily Beast: Josh Rogin, Eli Lake)
A new U.S. intelligence report warns North Korea could resume exporting nuclear technology and material.


Obama Makes Picks for Comptroller, Policy Posts
(The Hill: Jeremy Herb)
Michael McCord was tapped to be the next Pentagon comptroller and Christine Wormuth was selected as undersecretary of Defense for policy.

Pentagon Comptroller Bob Hale to Step Down
(Defense One: Stephanie Gaskell)
After helping the military navigate through some of the toughest budget battles in history, Pentagon Comptroller Bob Hale is stepping down.

Hagel Calls on NATO Allies to Strategically Invest Defense Funding
(Defense News: Marcus Weisgerber)
Hagel called on European allies to invest more strategically in military projects, particularly as NATO's mission in Afghanistan comes to an end and many nations reduce defense spending.

Hagel Calls Nuclear Officers in Malmstrom Bunkers
(Associated Press: Robert Burns)
Hagel placed the calls from aboard the military command aircraft that carried him home Saturday from an international security conference in Germany.


Al Qaida Says It Has No Link With Syrian Militant Group ISIL
(Reuters: Oliver Holmes, Ali Abdelatti)
Small but powerful, ISIL has been caught up in battles with other Islamist insurgents often triggered by disputes over authority and territory, and has also clashed with secular rebels.

Washington Denies Pressing for Direct Talks with Syrian Government
State Department says U.S. offered discussions "on a staff level."

Kerry Asks Russia to Pressure Syria on Faster Chemical Arms Removal
(Reuters: Stephen Brown)
Kerry asked Russia's foreign minister on Friday to put pressure on the Syrian government to accelerate the removal of chemical weapons.

Kerry Warns Syria of Possible U.N. Action Over Chemical Arms Delay
(Los Angeles Times: Paul Richter)
Kerry warned Syria that it could face punishment by the United Nations Security Council if it fails to surrender its chemical weapons arsenal.

Syrian Helicopters Drop Barrel Bombs on Aleppo
(Associated Press)
The bombs killed at least 23 people, including a family trapped in a burning car, activists said.

Syria Talks Adjourn With Little Promise but Some Hope
(Los Angeles Times: Patrick McDonnell)
Negotiations in Geneva between Syrian officials and members of the U.S.-backed opposition bloc end, but another round is expected.

Al Qaida Fighters in Syria Kill Rival Rebel Leader
(Associated Press)
Attack likely to exacerbate rebel infighting.


Gillibrand, Outside Group Push Back Against Military Sexual Assault Report
(National Journal: Jordain Carney)
Victims advocates have pressed for the decision to prosecute a sexual-assault case be taken away from the military chain of command.


Pakistan, Taliban Talks Gain Momentum
(Los Angeles Times: Zulfiqar Ali, Aoun Sahi)
The Pakistani government's efforts to open peace talks with Islamist insurgents gathered steam Saturday.

Afghan Diplomat: The Security Agreement Will Be Signed
(The Daily Beast: Jacob Siegel, Sami Yousafzai)
The Daily Beast spoke to senior Afghan politicians, Taliban members, and tribal leaders about their feelings towards president Karzai and whether U.S. forces should stay in Afghanistan.

NATO Leaders Say Afghan Troops Need More Training
(Associated Press: David Rising)
Afghanistan's police force and army still need more training to handle the country's security on their own.

NATO Chief Doesn't See Karzai Signing Security Pact
(Reuters: Adrian Croft)
President Hamid Karzai is unlikely to sign a pact for U.S. and NATO forces to stay in Afghanistan after 2014 and will probably leave the choice for his successor.

U.S. Visa Backlog Leaves Afghan Interpreters in Limbo
(Los Angeles Times: David Zucchino)
Afghan interpreters in jeopardy because of their work for the U.S. military often have to wait years for their immigrant visa applications to be approved.

Afghan Presidential Election Campaign Kicks Off
(Associated Press)
Campaigning is officially underway for Afghanistan's presidential election, with 11 candidates vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai.


On 35th Anniversary of Diplomatic Ties With U.S., China Tries to Soften Image
(The New York Times: Rick Gladstone)
China has moved to expand friendly cultural exchanges with the United States and promote a series of prominent collaborations in music, dance and education, particularly in New York.

Japan-China Tension Has U.S. Walking a Fine Line
(Los Angeles Times: Julie Makinen)
Washington wants good relations with Japan and China, as well as South Korea. But war wounds keep animosity burning among the three.

China Making Air Force, Navy Upgrades, U.S. Officials Say
(Bloomberg: Tony Capaccio)
China's air force is fielding new precision-guided cruise missiles, long-range bombers and drones as its Navy expands its long-range punch.

Asia Experts: Obama Should Visit South Korea
(McClatchy: Anita Kumar)
A trip of Asian experts are calling on President Barack Obama to add Seoul, Korea to his upcoming April visit to Asia.

Sri Lanka Rejects 'Reckless' U.S. Criticism of Its Rights Record
(Reuters: Shihar Aneez, Ranga Sirilal)
Sri Lanka rejected U.S. criticism of its human rights record as "grossly disproportionate" on Sunday.

U.S. to Propose New U.N. Rights Resolution Against Sri Lanka
(Reuters: Shihar Aneez)
The United States will table a U.N. human rights resolution against Sri Lanka,


Netanyahu Criticizes Kerry Over Boycott Remarks
(The New York Times: Isabel Kershner)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized Kerry for warning that Israel could face more foreign boycotts if the peace process fails.

Iraqi Army Bombards Falluja in Preparation for Ground Assault
(Reuters: Suadad Al-Salhy)
The Iraqi army intensified its shelling of Falluja on Sunday in preparation for a ground assault to regain control of the city.


The New Potential Threat to Olympics: Chemical Weapons
(Foreign Policy: John Hudson)
A panel of counterterrorism experts in Washington are raising a new security concern ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

U.S. Finalizing Sochi Evacuation Contingency Plans
(CNN: Barbara Starr)
The U.S. military is putting the final touches on a series of orders that will put transport aircraft on standby status to assist in the evacuation of Americans, should that become necessary.


Kerry's First Year as Top U.S. Diplomat Yields Breakthroughs on Thorny Issues
(McClatchy: Hannah Allam)
Kerry has proven that any trepidation about following such a high-profile figure was misplaced.


W.H. Chief of Staff Defends Policy on Syria, Iran, Keystone Pipeline
(CBS News: Rebecca Kaplan)
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough defended the administration's foreign policy in Syria and Iran and outlined the next steps for the Keystone XL pipeline.


New Pledge, Same Obstacles on Gitmo
(The Hill: Kristina Wong, Jeremy Herb)
President Obama has renewed a push to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility by the end of 2014.

Obama Administration Won't Divulge Cost of Guantanamo Camp
(McClatchy: Mark Seibel)
The Obama administration is refusing to divulge how much it spent to build the secret prison facility at Guantanamo


Merger Prospects Still Murky After Murray-Ryan Deal
(Defense News: Zachary Fryer-Biggs)
One of the challenges facing US defense companies is that large amounts of that cash sit offshore and can't be used for buybacks without first paying repatriation taxes on the money.


Veterans Group Seeks Action to Cut Backlog of Claims
(USA Today: Gregg Zoroya)
The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America group recommends several ways to speed up processing, many of the ideas supported and sought by the Department of Veterans Affairs.


Air Combat Command's Challenge: Buy New or Modernize Older Aircraft
(Air Force Times: Aaron Mehta)
The Air Force is gearing up to defend what service officials have called a series of hard choices about what to keep and what to dump.

Platform, Personnel Cuts Likely in FY '15 Air Force Budget
(Air Force Times: Aaron Mehta)
A number of statements, both in public appearances and during interviews, provide a sense of direction for the Air Force's plans.

Sharpening the Raptor's Talons
(Air Force Magazine: John Tirpak)
The F-22 is the air dominance cream of the crop. USAF intends to keep it that way.

Unfunded F-16 Upgrades Put Jet's Combat Value in Doubt
(Defense News: Wendell Minnick, Aaron Mehta)
Taiwan, Singapore were banking on now-defunded program.

Air Force Looking for JSTARS Recapitalization
(Defense News: Aaron Mehta)
The US Air Force hopes to develop a new JSTARS surveillance aircraft based on a business jet, one which could be operational as soon as 2022.

McCarthy: Air Force Likely To Adopt Many National Commission Recommendations
(Inside Defense)
The chairman of the commission charged with studying the Air Force's active-duty and reserve force utilization said today that he expects the service will implement many of the panel's recommendations.


Army Program Helps Soldier Choose Life Over Suicide
(USA Today: Gregg Zoroya)
Experimental outreach program teaches troubled Afghan War vet how to cope.

The End of the Tank? The Army Says It Doesn't Need It, but Industry Wants to Keep Building It
(The Washington Post: Marjorie Censer)
That bond between the machinists and tradesmen supporting the war effort at home and those fighting on the front lines has held tight for generation.

Scout Mission Compromised by Funding Cut
(Defense News: Paul McLeary)
U.S. Army leadership is betting that an 80 percent solution to its aerial scout needs will be good enough in the coming years.


Navy Alerted to Ford-Class Carrier Reliability Issues
( Kris Osborn)
A Pentagon weapons report says technologies being developed for the Navy's new next-generation aircraft carrier.

Top Tester Tells Navy To Test Carrier, Destroyer Defenses With Real Missiles & Explosions
(Breaking Defense: Sydney Freedberg Jr.)
You'd expect the nation's top weapons tester to be a stickler about testing. But there's "rigorous testing" and then there's "let's shoot cruise missiles at you and see what happens."

Navy Launches Trade Study Competition For Sub-Launched, Hypersonic Weapons
(Inside Defense)
The Navy is moving ahead with plans to explore a submarine-launched weapon with hypersonic speed.

Navy Plans to Employ Riverine Command Boat in CARAT Exercises
(Sea Power Magazine: Richard Burgess)
The U.S. Navy anticipates using riverine command boats in future bilateral exercises with navies of Southeast Asian countries.

Navy Suicides Drop From Peak in '12
(Navy Times: Mark Faram)
The Navy made great strides in driving down the number of sailor suicides last year.


New Investigator Probes Alleged Marine Corps Cover-Up
(Foreign Policy: Dan Lamothe)
An investigation into whether senior Marine Corps officers attempted to cover up their own misconduct while prosecuting war crimes in Afghanistan has suddenly roared back to life.


Probe Widens Into Dealings Between Finance Firms, Libya
(The Wall Street Journal: Joe Palazzolo, Michael Rothfeld, Justin Baer)
Justice Department joins probe on possible violation of antibribery laws by banks, funds.

General Says More Marines Could Be Based Throughout Africa
(Marine Corps: Gina Harkins)
Lt. Gen. Steven Hummer said these units would likely be similar to the Special-Purpose Marine-Air Ground Task Force Crisis Response based at Morón Air Base in Spain. 

Libya's Cache of Toxic Arms All Destroyed
(The New York Times: Eric Schmitt)
The United States and Libya in the past three months have discreetly destroyed what both sides say were the remnants of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's arsenal of chemical arms.


EU, U.S. Working on Ukraine Aid Package
(The Wall Street Journal: Laurence Norman, Adam Entous)
The EU and U.S. are working on a plan for significant short-term assistance for protest-torn Ukraine, says EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton.

U.S. Ready To Assist Poland With Indigenous Missile Defense System
(Defense News: Marcus Weisgerber)
The U.S. wants to partner with Poland as the Eastern European nation pursues its own missile defense system separate from the American system already planned for the region.


Making Surveillance a Little Less Opaque
(The New York Times)
Communications companies should be allowed to disclose government demands for private data.

Assad's Chemical Charade
(The Wall Street Journal)
White House claims of victory are greatly exaggerated.

Syria Must Stop Stalling on Its Delivery of Chemical Weapons
(The Washington Post)
No one should be surprised that the international effort is behind schedule.

A Tiny Glimmer From North Korea
(The New York Times)
Its unpredictable leader agrees to family reunions between citizens of South Korea but goes full tilt on his nuclear program.

Boston Marathon Bombings: The Death Penalty Still Isn't Appropriate
(Los Angeles Times)
Despite the emotional devastation, the government is wrong to seek that punishment in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

The End of American Exceptionalism
(National Journal: Peter Beinart)
The very attributes conservatives say make America special—religiosity, patriotism, and mobility—are ones they've inadvertently undermined. Is it any wonder millennials are less impressed with their country?

A Wonderful Country
(The New York Times: Thomas Friedman)
Why the success of John Kerry's peace mission is so important.

Exceptionalism Doesn't Work That Way
(National Journal: Peter Berkowitz)
Yes, some hallowed American habits are changing. That doesn't mean conservatives are to blame.

Abbas's NATO Proposal
(The New York Times: Thomas Friedman)
In an interview, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, stepped up his call to use NATO forces to secure a future peace deal.

China Thinks It Can Defeat America in Battle
(War Is Boring: David Axe)
But Beijing doesn't seem to take into account U.S. submarines.

Military Force vs. Diplomacy: Can You Have One Without the Other?
(Defense One: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon)
At Tuesday's State of the Union President Barack Obama promised the American people that the era of large-scale military interventions is over.

National Journal's Early Bird is not produced by or officially sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Defense. It was created to serve the defense community upon U.S. DoD's announcement, on Nov 1, 2013, of its decision to discontinue the much-beloved Early Bird news report.

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Don't Miss Today's Top Stories

Keeps me informed about national leadership concerns."

Senior Military Officer

The best!"

Mark, Compensation Analyst

Timely and informative."

Dave, HR specialist

I can browse over breakfast or while on the metro."

AJ, US Army Officer

Sign up form for the newsletter
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