Obama opens up on drones, Guantanamo in major speech

May 24, 2013

Obama announces limitations on drone use, Syria’s divided opposition scrambles toward peace talks, and Abe returns as Japan’s prime minister with a new plan. Today is Friday, May 24, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.  

President Barack Obama speaks about his administration’s counterterrorism policy at the National Defense University at Ft. McNair in Washington, May 23, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Obama plans to limit drone strikes. President Barack Obama outlined a plan to scale back the targeted-killing campaign against al Qaeda and its allies, adding that he intends to take more steps to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba:

Faced with criticism about civilian casualties in attacks by unmanned aerial vehicles, Obama said the United States would only use those drone strikes when a threat was “continuing and imminent,” a nuanced change from the previous policy of launching strikes against a significant threat. Under new presidential guidance signed by Obama this week, the Defense Department will also take over some lethal drone operations from the CIA. That would subject drone attacks to more scrutiny from Congress and might lead to the Pentagon taking over drone operations in Yemen, but not in Pakistan, where the CIA is likely to continue to run the program.

Obama’s opponents in Congress likely will try to prevent the closure of Guantanamo Bay and protest the repeal of the Authorization for use of Military Force resolution, which was passed after the September 11 attacks and is the legal basis for most of the U.S.’s war on terror. The president’s speech resonated in Pakistan, where there have been hundreds of drone strikes since 2004, according to reports from the New America Foundation. The Pakistani foreign ministry said it appreciated Obama’s acknowledgement that terror could not be defeated by force alone. Obama spoke one day after the U.S. government acknowledged for the first time that it had killed four American citizens in drone strikes.

Syria peace talks hit another snag. Syrian opposition forces attempt to unify ahead of an international conference after neglecting to back a transition plan proposed by their outgoing leader, as the civil war rages on:

A major assault by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces on a rebel held town over the past week is shaping into a pivotal battle. It has drawn in fighters from Assad’s Lebanese allies Hezbollah, justifying worry that a war that has killed 80,000 people would cross borders at the heart of the Middle East. Washington and Moscow have been compelled to revive diplomacy by developments in recent months, which include new reports of atrocities, accusations chemical weapons were used and the rise of al Qaeda-linked fighters among rebels.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet privately on Monday to discuss ways of solving Syria’s crisis, according to U.S. and Russian officials. Opposition leaders said they would attend the talks, which many fear will be fruitless, although they do not expect a deal on Assad’s removal from power. Russia said that the Syrian government agreed to participate in talks.

Abe before “Abenomics.” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to the premiership with surprising vigor after a short stint as prime minister in 2007. However, the signature economic plan of monetary easing, stimulus spending and a focus on deregulation that bears his name was not initially an integral part of his campaign:

Abe’s unlikely comeback was engineered by a corps of politicians who called themselves the “True Conservatives,” many of whom share his commitment to loosening constitutional constraints on the military and restoring traditional values such as group harmony and pride in Japanese culture and history.

Abe learned from his failed first term that the Japanese public was more concerned with their economy than changes in the constitution and a return to patriotism.

Nota Bene: Secretary of State John Kerry says Israelis and Palestinians face a difficult road to peace and questioned the credibility of Iran’s upcoming election during his visit to Israel.


Assad’s calculus – Reuters columnist David Rohde warns that the U.S. may not be able to shift Assad’s political calculations. (Reuters)

No Wild Turkey – Turkey’s parliament approved a controversial bill restricting alcohol sales. (BBC)

Fight for Orwell’s home – A small group of George Orwell admirers are lobbying Myanmar authorities to restore the writer’s home and garden. (The New York Times)

Ukraine pride blocked – A Ukrainian court cancelled a gay pride parade for the second year running. (The Guardian)

Atheists in heaven – The Pope sparks debate over his comments on atheists’ good deeds. (The Washington Times)

From the File:

  • British security services in spotlight after murder
  • Taliban attack U.N. compound in Afghan capital: police
  • North Korea says will take ‘positive steps’ for peace
  • Spain’s Princess Cristina faces new tax probe
  • UK fighters escort Pakistan plane to airport, two arrests


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