Fdd's overnight brief

April 19, 2021

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News

Iran

Iran said Friday it had enriched uranium at 60% purity for the first time, a move that comes in response to an attack on its main nuclear facility, and which has complicated ongoing talks between Tehran and international powers in Vienna to revive a 2015 nuclear accord. – Wall Street Journal

Iran has started the process of enriching uranium to 60% fissile purity at an above-ground nuclear plant at Natanz, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Saturday, confirming earlier statements by Iranian officials. – Reuters

Iran on Saturday named a man it wants arrested in connection with a recent explosion and power outage at its main Natanz nuclear plant, as talks got underway in Vienna to try to save Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. – Reuters

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said on Monday that Tehran always welcomed dialogue with Saudi Arabia, but he did not confirm nor deny direct talks this month between the arch-rivals. – Reuters

A mysterious explosion that caused a blackout at Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility last weekend prompted suggestions from the Islamic Republic that its old foe Israel was responsible. – Financial Times

A high-ranking general key to Iran’s security apparatus has died, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps announced on Sunday. – Associated Press

The U.S. and Iran edged closer to ending their standoff over the nuclear deal abandoned by former President Donald Trump, with Washington describing talks as “constructive” and the Islamic Republic signaling that it was ready to debate the details of how the two sides can revive the stricken 2015 accord. – Bloomberg

Victoria Nuland, the Biden administration’s nominee to be under secretary of state for political affairs, avoided committing to a specific strategy to address Iran’s nuclear program while highlighting the administration’s determination to bring Tehran into compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Thursday. – Jewish Insider

Iran on Sunday marked National Army Day with a military parade. The annual event was more limited than usual due to social distancing and the pandemic. – Jerusalem Post

Iran “exerts near-complete control” over a network of tens of thousands of close allied fighters across the Middle East and has ties to tens of thousands more, posing the Islamic Republic’s most formidable challenge to the US, according to a new a research report by non-profit think tank the Rand Corporation. – Algemeiner

Kylie Moore-Gilbert writes: They are not famous political prisoners protected from the cruel excesses of prison life by name recognition and vast international campaigns for their freedom. These brave, ordinary Iranians who refuse to accept a corrupt and biased judiciary, and pit themselves, sometimes alone, against the systemic injustice which has deprived them of even their most basic rights – they are the true heroes. – The National News

Arash Aalaei writes: Accordingly, the U.S. government should urge Apple, Google, Amazon, and other app providers to remove all Iranian gambling services from their stores and cloud services. Authorities should also warn Iranian-U.S. dual citizens involved in the industry and U.S. celebrities who promote it that they could be subject to legal action related to U.S. sanctions if they continue with such activity. […]Lastly, U.S. authorities should work closely with their Turkish counterparts to determine which parts of the online gambling and banking network are tied to money laundering inside and outside Iran, dismantling any entities found culpable. – Washington Institute

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran has in the past claimed the blast was nuclear terrorism and sabotage. Another attack on the same site in July 2020 was slammed by Iran as well. How can the attack be “terrorism” and also “limited” and have one man responsible for it? Nothing in Iran’s narrative makes sense and does not appear to be part of the same narrative. It seems like Iran has several narratives, one of which presents the attack as limited, and one which presents it as “terrorism” and one which downplays it by pegging it on one person. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: It is not clear if Iran is closer to an actual nuclear device. Enriching uranium is only one aspect of creating a nuclear weapon. Without those central pillars of the “deal,” some of the reasoning behind it appear flawed. However, Iran appears to have sold the deal differently to China and Russia and it may be worth understanding what those countries think they get out of it. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: It remains to be seen which of Iran’s narratives reflects the true regime intention. Iran has long pretended that it has “hardliners” and “moderates” in dealing with the West. It does not mention these factions when dealing with Russia or China or other countries. It only uses them to get the West to talk to the “moderates.” Today Iran is saying on “hardline” thing in English and another more “moderate” position at home. Meanwhile it is pretending that an attack on Natanz was largely uneventful. – Jerusalem Post

Hezbollah

The commander-in-chief of the Iranian military said Israel would soon “disappear”, while touting Iran’s efforts to bolster the Hezbollah terrorist organization’s “plan to defeat the Zionist regime”. – Arutz Sheva

The Hezbollah terror group is preparing itself for the possibility of the collapse of the Lebanese state amid a spiralling economic and political crisis, according to a report Friday. – Times of Israel

Seth J. Frantzman writes: That seems like it is benefiting Iran, much as Iran subverted Iraq’s economy, destroyed part of Iraq and holds it hostage through armed groups. […]Western governments tend to try to prop up state institutions by arguing this will balance Hezbollah in Lebanon, but that has the affect of only empowering Hezbollah and legitimizing it by enabling the weakened state to limp along while Hezbollah increasingly creates a new, more powerful Hezbollah-state, next to the ruins of the old state. – Jerusalem Post

Syria

As Syria’s 10-year civil war has displaced millions of people, families like Abu Ramadan’s have sought refuge from a modern war behind the walls of dozens of ancient villages sprinkled across the hills of the country’s northwest, a region still out of the control of President Bashar al-Assad’s government. – New York Times

Ms. Bertawi and her family are among dozens of Syrian refugees stripped of their residency visas by Denmark and told to return to their war-torn country because the Danish government now deems Damascus—where they had previously been living—safe. – Wall Street Journal

Syria will hold its presidential election on May 26, the country’s parliament said on Sunday. – Reuters

Syria’s currency rose on Sunday in the first day of trading after the central bank raised the official price to attract foreign transfers and capital inflows from Syrian expatriates away from the black market, dealers said. – Reuters

Turkey

Greece cannot ignore its differences with Turkey over territorial disputes in the Mediterranean and other issues but while a solution is difficult, it is not impossible, its foreign minister told a newspaper on Sunday. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: They don’t always agree on Iraq or on broader regional issues. However, Ankara prefers to concentrate its talking points on the “PKK” rather than Iranian-backed groups. […]Ankara may claim the rocket attack was carried out by the PKK. Photos online show 122 mm-style rocket rail launchers. This would point to a more sophisticated Iranian connection. If that is the case, the attack on the Turkish base is a major escalation and comes amid the drone attack on the US in Erbil. – Jerusalem Post

Zvi Bar’el writes: Just as Erdogan learned his chair trick from Ayalon, it seems he’s copying from Israel the method of using wars to distract people from real problems. Some Turkish and Western analysts believe that the Istanbul Canal is meant to bolster Erdogan’s image as a leader who can beat the EU, Russia and the United States, no matter what the combination. – Haaretz

Israel

Israel and Greece have signed their biggest ever defence procurement deal, which Israel said on Sunday would strengthen political and economic ties between the countries and the two countries’ air forces launched a joint exercise. – Reuters

Israeli police clashed with hundreds of Palestinian protesters outside Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday, firing stun grenades and a water cannon to disperse the crowd, Israeli media said. – Associated Press

Israeli military intelligence and senior officials in the Mossad briefed a meeting of the nation’s security cabinet that talks in Vienna between Iran and other world powers will lead to the U.S. returning to the 2015 nuclear deal, two officials who attended the meeting told me. – Axios

Israeli ministers expressed concern about the nuclear talks between the US and Iran, following a diplomatic-security cabinet meeting on Sunday. – Jerusalem Post

Washington would not object to a Palestinian Authority decision to postpone the legislative elections set for next month, an unnamed US source told the Palestinian Al-Quds newspaper Friday, adding that the potential boost to Hamas’s power could end prospects for a two-state solution. – Times of Israel

IDF fighter jets and aircraft attacked a number of terror targets in the Gaza Strip on Friday night after a rocket landed in an open field in Israel, the military announced. – Jerusalem Post

The Biden administration has turned to Israel several times in the past few days, asking that it stops commenting on Iran, N12 reported Friday evening. – Jerusalem Post

The Biden administration must rescind the 1987 US determination that the Palestine Liberation Organization is a terror group, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told the annual J Street Conference, as he spoke of the steps to re-establish ties between Washington and Ramallah. – Jerusalem Post

Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday that the Biden administration must rescind the 1987 US determination that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is a terror group.- Arutz Sheva

Cliff Rieders writes: The PA continues to deny Israel’s right to exist, and continues its relationship with other terrorist groups, especially those in the Gaza Strip.  The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that for prior fiscal years, the USAID office “did not consistently ensure” that grants would not be passed along to terrorist groups and individual terrorists. […]By supporting those who do not share American interests and whose continuing goal is the destruction of the Jewish state, we are betraying our country’s founding values and principles. – Algemeiner

Uri Pilichowski writes: If Congresswoman McCollum’s bill prohibiting U.S. taxpayer funding to the Government of Israel from being used for the military detention of Palestinian children were to pass, America would be declaring that Fuld’s murderer shouldn’t be arrested, and Israel should conduct no efforts to deter future attacks. As an American taxpayer, I object to the consideration of such a bill, let alone its passage into law. America must support its allies in law enforcement and its efforts to stop terrorism. – Times of Israel

Yochanan Visser writes: The Mossad action in Natanz was a clear signal to the Iranian regime that Israel is watching Iran’s nuclear activities and knows how to disrupt progress in Iran’s race to obtain a nuclear weapon without resorting to conventional military action such as airstrikes. The timing of the operation in Natanz can also be seen as a clear signal to the new US Administration that Israel sees the renewed talks with Iran as useless and indeed feels it is not bound to any new agreement as Netanyahu said almost two weeks ago. – Arutz Sheva

Elior Levy writes: Hamas is indicating its anger at Israel’s moves on the West Bank, by its recent rocket fire that is aimed thus far at open fields and not at residential areas. […]The dialogue between Israel and Hamas continues to be carried out by exchanges of fire and as long-as the Palestinian election campaign is underway, the risk of increased violence on the Gaza border persists. Whether or not the elections will take place remains an open question. They may still be canceled or postponed indefinitely. – Ynet

Raz Zimmt writes: Israel’s efforts to influence the Biden administration’s position on Iran were doomed to fail from the start, when Washington realized that the only way to stop the Iranian threat is through the nuclear deal.  Even if Israel still had any chance of having any input with the U.S., the recent actions attributed to it risk that as well. The only thing helping Israel right now is Khamenei’s refusal and efforts to stop the talks. – Ynet

Iraq

Five rockets targeted an Iraqi airbase hosting US soldiers Sunday, wounding two foreign contractors and three Iraqi soldiers, in the latest attack coinciding with tensions between Baghdad’s allies Tehran and Washington. – Agence France-Presse

Islamic State claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack on two wells at the Bay Hassan oilfield in northern Iraq, according to a statement published early on Monday by the militant group’s Nasher news agency on Telegram. – Reuters

Heyrsh Abdulrahmani writes: Dealing with Iraq will prove to be a huge challenge for the Biden administration. It will take time. The first step in that process should be the administration’s disengagement from a corrupt bunch of Iraqi leaders while looking for other options, like strengthening government institutions, and applying sanctions on corrupt political figures to send them a message that they should start packing their bags, that their time has passed. This way, the US could hope to see new leadership in Iraq, including the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. – Jerusalem Post

Jordan

Kan News reported today (Sunday) that high-end Jordanian officials have expressed their concern regarding the upcoming Palestinian Authority elections and their aftermath. – Arutz Sheva

Osama Al Sharif writes: When the late King Hussein faced an uprising in 1989 in the wake of the collapse of the national currency and lifting of subsidies on bread, he chose to respond by restoring democratic life after more than 20 years of suspension. […]Thirty years on that transition appears to have stopped dead in its tracks. Young Jordanians, who make up the majority of the population, are pushing for more freedoms and new terms between the ruling monarchy and its citizens. The pressing question now is will King Abdullah take the initiative and use the latest crisis to put his country on a genuine democratic path? – Middle East Institute

Alex Fishman writes: Israel’s patriotic-right-nationalist government also finds it difficult to comprehend that collaboration with Jordan over Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, which is home to Jewish and Muslim sites under Jordanian management, is an existential – not religious – issue for Amman. Recent talk in Israel about the possibility of transferring responsibility for the Temple Mount to Saudi Arabia is yet another slap in the face for the Jordanian royal house. Furthermore, Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan is several times more important to its security than these new agreements with the Gulf states. – Ynet

Mehul Srivastava and Andrew England write: Despite his public vow of allegiance, Prince Hamzah remains a potent symbol, and the government has few options to defuse the economic and social pressures that are pushing young Jordanians to openly criticise the king, and reject the palace’s narrative of a foreign-linked seditious plot. “This is an opportunity for the regime to reconsider how dangerous the situation is, and look for the path to reform,” says a political activist in Ma’an who asked not to be identified. “Things can change slowly, or change suddenly — like in the Arab spring. Until then, Hamzah is like The Man in the Iron Mask.” – Financial Times

Arabian Peninsula

Senior Saudi and Iranian officials have been holding direct talks in a bid to repair relations between the two regional rivals, five years after they cut off diplomatic ties, according to three officials briefed on the discussions. – Financial Times

Yemen’s Houthi movement has attacked King Khalid air base in the Saudi Arabian city of Khamis Mushait with explosive drones, the Houthis’ military spokesman said on Twitter on Saturday. – Reuters

A pair of Democratic senators introduced a bill Friday aimed at restricting the sale of F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates after the Biden administration announced it is moving ahead with the Trump-era deal. – The Hill

Middle East & North Africa

Israel, the UAE, Greece and Cyprus said they would seek to deepen their cooperation in fields ranging from energy to fighting COVID, saying budding ties could change the face of a region more synonymous with conflict. – Reuters

Tunisian President Kais Saied said on Sunday that his powers as commander of the armed forces also cover the internal security forces, not only the army, in the latest escalation of his dispute with the prime minister. – Reuters

Herb Keinon writes: Israel lost an important strategic partner when the ties with Turkey fell apart, and in addition to losing a large market for its arms, it also lost the ability for the air force to train in Turkish airspace. […]The addition now of the UAE to an Israeli-Greek-Cypriot axis further demonstrates that not all is lost when one door closes in Israel’s regional relationships, and that it is possible – with creative thinking and common interests – to open up another. – Jerusalem Post

Korean Peninsula

Pride and jealousy have driven North and South Korea to engage in propaganda shouting matches and compete over who could build a taller flagpole on their border. Now that one-upmanship is intensifying a much more dangerous side of their rivalry: the arms race. – New York Times

South Korea raised concerns over Japan’s decision to release contaminated water from its crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea with visiting U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, its foreign ministry said, but Kerry reaffirmed Washington’s confidence in the plan’s transparency. – Reuters

Ken Dilanian, Carol E. Lee and Dan De Luce write: Ever since North Korea began building nuclear weapons in the 1990s, the policy of the United States has been clear: Give up those bombs or face international isolation. After three decades of sanctions, threats of force and diplomacy — including President Trump’s theatrical summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — North Korea now has more nuclear weapons than ever, plus ballistic missiles that intelligence officials say could deliver a warhead to the U.S. And because of the global pandemic, the hermit kingdom has shuttered its borders, halting imports of food and medicine in a way more punishing than international sanctions could ever be. – NBC News

China

The U.S. and China, the world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, said they would work together to set more ambitious goals to tackle climate change, a rare statement of agreement at a time of heightened bilateral tensions. – Wall Street Journal

China hit back at the U.S.-Japan show of alliance during talks between President Joe Biden and Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, calling it an “ironic attempt of stoking division.” – Associated Press

A top Chinese diplomat said Friday that U.S. policy toward China is “too negative” and that cooperation could be critically important as the Biden administration focuses on combatting COVID-19 and promoting economic recovery. – Associated Press

China sought to allay fears it wants to topple the dollar as the world’s main reserve currency as Beijing makes bigger strides in creating its own digital yuan. – Bloomberg

House Republicans are introducing legislation that would push President Joe Biden to extract a more aggressive emissions reduction pledge from China before reengaging in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. – Washington Examiner

Fred Hiatt writes: Yet Hoja and her colleagues continue to report because, she told me, “20 million of our people are voiceless over there, and every day under attack.” The question is whether the rest of us — our democratic governments, our companies doing business in western China, our Beijing 2022 Olympic athletes and sponsors — will honor the sacrifice of the truth-tellers and their families. – Washington Post

Gabriel Crossley and Yew Tian write: China has responded angrily to shows of unity by Washington’s allies, with its diplomats dubbing Japan a “vassal” and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a “running dog” of the United States. China’s strategy to weaken this unity revolves around encouraging U.S. allies to engage independently with Beijing, and put the economic benefits first, while punishing them if they engage in joint-action against China. – Reuters

Jenny Wang writes: The U.S. government – along with democracies around the world, civil society and international corporations – must stand in solidarity with these courageous dissidents and take strong action to hold the CCP accountable for their egregious abuses and intimidation tactics. After all, these activists are not doing anything wrong — they are simply exercising their fundamental freedoms. – The Hill

Kevin Mooney writes: Well, the Biden administration is pursuing wind and solar energy projects and potential electric vehicle mandates. Since China has the corner on rare earth minerals used to manufacture renewable energy, there’s an obvious problem. President Joe Biden could put the U.S. in a position in which it must rely on Chinese supply chains. […]We should demand greater transparency of where and why money is flowing to Chinese interests at the expense of U.S. energy independence. – Washington Examiner

Linette Lopez writes: Perhaps it’s a coincidence that Kerry’s and Suga’s meetings fall at the same time, perhaps it’s not. Both are meant to address exigent situations that demand cooperation at highest levels of government and both must be had. Until the day comes when we are serious about ending the US-China relationship — and that day very well may come — we should continue to seek cooperation where it benefits the people and institutions of the United States of America. Anything else is an exercise in fantasy, or worse — just posturing. – Business Insider

Afghanistan

Here is a look back at the war that has run more than 19 years, longer than World War I, World War II and the Korean War combined. – Wall Street Journal

The New York Times spoke to many Afghan women — members of civil society, politicians, journalists and others — about what comes next in their country, and they all said the same thing: Whatever happens will not bode well for them. – New York Times

Wardak’s conflicting reactions to news of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan reflect the uneven and often contradictory impact the last two decades of U.S. military presence has had here.  – Washington Post

The military and intelligence agencies are racing to refine plans for countering extremist groups in Afghanistan following President Biden’s planned troop withdrawal, but current and former officials warn it will be far more difficult to head off threats to U.S. security from afar. – Washington Post

President Biden’s decision to remove all U.S. troops from Afghanistan ran counter to the recommendations of his top military commanders, who feared it could undermine security in the country. – Wall Street Journal

Shifting U.S. security priorities and a dispersed terrorist threat justify President Biden’s planned pullout this year of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, senior administration officials said Sunday. – Wall Street Journal

Secretary of State Antony Blinken in an interview broadcast Sunday pushed back on criticism of President Biden’s plan to remove U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan, arguing that the U.S. had fulfilled its mission to end al Qaeda’s ability to strike at the U.S. – The Hill

President Biden’s decision to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by September would be a historic achievement closing a 20-year chapter of U.S. history that saw more than 2,300 troops killed and cost upward of $1 trillion. – The Hill

The U.S. will likely increase its troop presence in Afghanistan temporarily over the coming weeks and months in order to fulfill President Joe Biden’s order to safely withdraw all forces from the country by Sept. 11, the Pentagon said Friday. – Associated Press

The White House says that the intelligence community does not have conclusive evidence that Russian intelligence operatives encouraged the Taliban to attack American troops in Afghanistan. – Associated Press

Germany will not let down its Afghan staff as the international military mission in the country winds down after nearly two decades of war, Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer pledged on Sunday. – Reuters

No one can offer guarantees about Afghanistan’s future after U.S. troops leave, a top White House official said on Sunday, even as he stressed the United States would stay focused on terrorist threats emanating from the country. – Reuters

The US leaves Afghanistan at a time when the Kabul government is fragile, beset by corruption and poisonous internal rivalries. – Financial Times

President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan this year foreshadows a surge of violence in the country that could put pressure on America’s rivals and foes in the region if Taliban forces try to execute a military takeover. – Washington Examiner

Britain’s top soldier has voiced his dismay at the announcement by U.S. President Joe Biden that American troops were being pulled out of Afghanistan. – Defense News

Former President Donald Trump on Sunday praised withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan, while knocking his successor’s timeline for doing so. – CNN

When you add up the cost of Defense and State Department funds sunk into Operations Enduring Freedom and Resolute Support, then throw in the cost of caring for the conflicts’ veterans and the interest on the money borrowed to cover it all, you’re looking at over $2 trillion, according to a report released Friday. – Military Times

Editorial: When the choice boils down to all or nothing, the least bad is probably the latter. But there is a third option — to retain America’s modest presence on the ground and in the air. Last year ten US troops were killed in combat in Afghanistan. Each loss is tragic. But the result of America’s departure risks being far more tragic for Afghanistan and the world. – Financial Times

Max Fisher writes: This left the United States pursuing dual missions — eradicating the Taliban and installing a new, highly centralized state — that were not, at least at first, irreconcilable. But a series of choices put them increasingly at odds, engineering what became a fatal contradiction into the American effort, which President Biden announced he is ending after 20 years of war. – New York Times

Lindsey Graham and Jack Keane write: President Biden has made what appears to be a political decision that will harm U.S. national security. There are no great choices when it comes to Afghanistan—only difficult ones. Unfortunately, President Biden chose the riskiest option. […]Many Americans are tired of fighting radical Islam, but radical Islam isn’t tired of fighting us. More likely than not, Americans will have to return to Afghanistan someday to protect our interests. We have two choices: fight in their yard or fight in ours. – Wall Street Journal

Andrew Exum writes: The withdrawal is not without risks. It will be harder to continue training Afghan troops and harder still to launch special operations raids there. But the president’s team will feel those risks can be mitigated. Harder to mitigate are the risks to Afghans themselves: the Taliban will feel encouraged by Biden’s announcement, and the Afghan government will defend itself by any means available, including largely indiscriminate air strikes. – Financial Times

Harlan Ullman writes: As the Biden order is carried out, what are some of the more obvious consequences that might be considered and so far have not even been raised? […]The decision to leave has been made. But, so far, the consequences for good or ill have been deferred or ignored. On these issues the fate of Afghanistan will rest. – The Hill

Hal Brands writes: And although the war in Afghanistan has been mildly unpopular for years, views on the wisdom of withdrawal could shift rapidly if the result is something like the Saigon scenario — a collapse of the Afghan government, followed by a humiliating withdrawal of the U.S. embassy — and the empowerment of America’s jihadist enemies. In that case, Biden’s new counterterrorism paradigm could prove fragile indeed. – Bloomberg

Jonah Goldberg writes: Again, I feel the exhaustion too. And I sincerely hope Biden is right. But feelings and hope aren’t arguments. The more likely scenario is that a civil war will come soon, Kabul will fall with Saigon-like rapidity and horror, and this president or the next will have a worse problem to contend with than maintaining a token force that has kept the Taliban at bay for 20 long years. – The Dispatch

South Asia

A hard-line Islamist group on Sunday took six Pakistani security personnel hostage after days of deadly clashes in the northeastern city of Lahore over a French satirical newspaper’s publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad and the arrest of the group’s leader by Pakistani authorities. – Washington Post

Eleven Pakistani police officers seized by supporters of a radical Islamist group as part of their campaign to get the French ambassador expelled have been released, officials said Monday. – Agence France-Presse

Pakistan’s foreign minister has welcomed mediation efforts by the United Arab Emirates between his country and India but told UAE newspaper Khaleej Times that he was not planning to meet his Indian counterpart in the country. – Reuters

Western governments should treat people who insult the Prophet Mohammed the same as those who deny the Holocaust, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said Saturday. – Agence France-Presse

Pakistan briefly blocked access to all social media on Friday after days of violent anti-French protests across the country by radical Islamists opposed to cartoons they consider blasphemous. – Associated Press

Pakistan has begun talks with an extremist group it banned last week, in a bid to control religious violence that’s becoming a major challenge for Prime Minister Imran Khan as he struggles to revive the economy. – Bloomberg

Asia

A Hong Kong judge sentenced newspaper publisher Jimmy Lai to 14 months in jail after he was convicted on charges related to his involvement in two large but peaceful protests in 2019. – Wall Street Journal

For many in Myanmar, the turning point came on March 27, when the security forces killed at least 150 people. It was the deadliest crackdown since the coup, according to a human rights group tracking the killings.  – New York Times

President Biden and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan pledged on Friday to work jointly on the rapid development of 5G communications technologies to prevent one of China’s leading companies from dominating the global market, a symbolic first move at shoring up an alliance that withered during the Trump administration. – New York Times

Myanmar’s newly formed government of national unity urged neighbouring countries to not recognise the junta that seized power in February and to negotiate with it instead as part of any attempt to solve the crisis that began with the coup. – Reuters

Myanmar’s junta released 23,184 prisoners from jails across the country on Saturday under a New Year amnesty, a Prisons Department spokesman said, though few if any democracy activists arrested since a Feb. 1 coup were thought to be among them. – Reuters

Taiwan has never sought to use foreign exchange rates to gain an unfair trade advantage, the central bank said on Sunday, after the U.S. Treasury said Taiwan tripped thresholds for possible currency manipulation under a 2015 U.S. trade law. – Reuters

New Zealand said it is “uncomfortable” with expanding the role of the Five Eyes, a post-war intelligence grouping which also includes the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada, recently criticised by China. – Reuters

Japan has urged Myanmar authorities to release a Japanese journalist in custody at a Yangon prison, one of at least 65 reporters arrested during the junta’s crackdown on anti-coup protests. – Agence France-Presse

Editorial: On that pretext, the originators of one of the world’s most civilized pro-democracy movements will now be tarred as convicted criminals. […]The solemn promise of “one country, two systems,” under which Hong Kong’s rule of law and free speech were to be preserved until at least 2047, has been trashed. It’s a crime that may not be as grave as the genocide the Xi regime is carrying out against the Muslim population of the Xinjiang region, but it is stunning in its brazenness. – Washington Post

Michael Rubin writes: Enumerating the similarities between Hussein and Aliyev is not just an intellectual exercise, but rather a warning. While the State Department debates its strategies toward other countries, seldom does it recognize that dictators have their own strategies to distract and deceive the United States with charm, charisma, caviar and cocktails. […]Should American officials continue to calibrate policy to the style of Azeri officials rather than the reality of their policies, however, the world will likely see another war of aggression by Azerbaijan, just as Hussein launched his own against Kuwait more than three decades ago. – The National Interest

Eric B. Brown, John Lee and Thomas J. Duesterberg write: Just as the PRC is employing military, economic and technological approaches in its bid to remake the world and achieve dominance, the Quad countries need to do the same to implement an effective balance and counter. In this sense, the focus on the geo-technological front is a complement to other forms of collective action, and essential to promoting a free, open, and prosperous future in the Indo-Pacific. – Hudson Institute

Russia

Russia said it would expel 10 U.S. diplomats and bar a number of senior U.S. officials from entering the country in response to measures against Moscow over alleged election interference, cyberattacks and other damaging activity, raising the stakes in relations between the two nations. – Wall Street Journal

A day after the government of the Czech Republic blamed operatives from Russia’s military intelligence agency for a series of mysterious explosions at an ammunition depot in 2014 and expelled 18 Russian diplomats, the Russian government announced on Sunday that 20 Czech diplomats would be ejected in response. – New York Times

Growing concerns over the health of jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny have sparked calls for mass protests this week in cities across Russia to demand his release as well as a warning on Sunday from the U.S. that there will be consequences if he dies. – Wall Street Journal

Over the past month or so, Russia has deployed what analysts are calling the largest military buildup along the border with Ukraine since the outset of Kyiv’s war with Russian-backed separatists seven years ago. – New York Times

“Allow a doctor to see my dad.” The plea, tweeted Saturday by Alexei Navalny’s daughter, came amid a global wave of dismay over Russian authorities’ refusal to let President Vladimir Putin’s leading critic see his physician as his condition has reportedly worsened. – Washington Post

Russian authorities are ramping up the use of facial recognition technology to track opposition protesters to their homes and arrest them — a powerful new Kremlin tool to crush opposition. – Washington Post

Russia’s FSB security service said on Saturday that it had detained two Belarusian citizens in Russia for what it said was an attempted coup and assassination attempt against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. – Reuters

Russia accused a Ukrainian diplomat on Saturday of trying to obtain classified information and ordered him to leave the country by April 22, prompting a like-for-like response from Ukraine as border tensions simmer. – Reuters

Russia and Britain are both sending warships to the Black Sea as tensions between Moscow and Ukraine simmer following dueling diplomat expulsions over the weekend. – Politico

A doctor for imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is in the third week of a hunger strike, says his health is deteriorating rapidly and the 44-year-old Kremlin critic could be on the verge of death. – Associated Press

The Biden administration’s sanctions against Moscow sparked a brief wobble in Russia’s financial markets on Thursday, but foreign analysts and investors expect the country to dodge more lasting damage. – Financial Times

Russian President Vladimir Putin is restricting access to a sea that is home to an important Ukrainian port city in an apparent bid to strengthen his military’s ability to threaten those areas, according to NATO officials and Ukrainian observers. – Washington Examiner

Editorial: The free world—if we can still use that locution in the Age of Woke—needs to find its voice again on behalf of courageous dissenters like Alexei Navalny and Jimmy Lai. They should become global household names, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov were during the Cold War. And let’s hope the White House is serious about “consequences.” – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: The facts of Mr. Navalny’s condition cannot be verified independently. That, of course, is the point — any “official” report from prison authorities would have zero credibility, given the August attempt on his life. It is imperative that Dr. Vasilieva and her team of doctors be allowed to promptly examine Mr. Navalny and get him into intensive care if necessary. If Mr. Navalny dies, there is no question who should be held responsible, and the cost will be high. – New York Times

Garry Kasparov writes: It’s pleasant to talk about diplomacy, but diplomacy has never changed the behavior of a dictator. The U.S., combined with its allies in the free world, has the ability to threaten an overwhelming response to Mr. Putin’s invasions, hacking, election meddling and assassinations. What it has always lacked is the will to do so. – Wall Street Journal

Tom Rogan writes: Biden is playing the game well. He even asked Putin for a summit in a phone call this week! And when, on Thursday, Biden introduced limited new sanctions against the Kremlin, he was quick to qualify his actions. “Now is the time to de-escalate,” the president said, “the way forward is through thoughtful dialogue and diplomatic process.” This overt hesitation is not a very clever tactic for negotiating with the Russians. Putin finds rhetoric very cheap. The weakness abides. – Washington Examiner

Elisabeth Braw writes: Biden’s response cocktail demonstrates what targeted countries can do beyond the standard diplomat expulsions. Blocking Russia from access to US capital will also cause the country trouble on international capital markets, but the move is hardly so offensive that Russia would feel compelled to retaliate. In fact, precisely because there are no rules of engagement in the grayzone, targeted countries have a rare opportunity to create new ways of responding. If your country is targeted by cyber aggression, why not retaliate in a completely different area, using only legal tools? – American Enterprise Institute

Vladislav L. Inozemtsev writes: The difference between the United States and Russia lies in the fact that the first still secures its top position as the world’s leading technological, military, and economic power, while the latter is constantly declining economically, socially, and demographically. […]Therefore, I would reiterate my earlier message: The best way for the West is to use a “wait and see” approach, refraining from any attempts to transform Russia faster than it changes itself. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Europe

President Biden is facing growing pressure from Congress as his administration wrestles with whether to use U.S. sanctions powers against Nord Stream 2, a Russian natural-gas pipeline project to Europe. – Wall Street Journal

Few Europeans thought it was a good idea for Montenegro to take a mammoth loan from China to build a highway. Now the tiny, mountainous country is asking the European Union for help to repay the debt — and the answer, so far, has been no. – Washington Post

French President Emmanuel Macron said the international community has to “define clear red lines with Russia,” in an interview extract released Saturday, adding that countries must be ready to impose sanctions in case of “unacceptable behavior.” – Agence France-Presse

Britain stands in “full support” of the Czech Republic which has exposed the lengths Russian intelligence services will go to, foreign minister Dominic Raab said on Sunday after Prague expelled 18 Russian embassy staff. – Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Friday pressed for four-way peace negotiations that included Russian President Vladimir Putin to ease tensions following the build-up of Russian troops along their shared border. – Reuters

Pope Francis on Sunday voiced apprehension over a recent Russian troop buildup near the border with Ukraine and called for efforts to ease tensions in the 7-year conflict in eastern Ukraine pitting Ukrainian forces against Russia-backed rebels. – Associated Press

A top European Union politician is encouraging the U.S. to sanction a Russian gas pipeline headed for Germany, as part of efforts to push back on Moscow’s destabilizing efforts more broadly. – The Hill

The EU’s Brexit chief has said he is convinced solutions can be found to “minimise” the disruption of Brexit on Northern Ireland, calling for a “good faith” approach to applying new trading rules in a way that can reduce tensions. – Financial Times

France, Germany and Ukraine have called for Russia to reverse a recent build-up of military forces along the Ukrainian border to ease rising tensions in the region. – Financial Times

According to a Norwegian government report, the country managed to achieve only one goal in Afghanistan, namely being a good ally of the US. – AMN

French President Emanuel Macron expressed support on Sunday for the country’s Jewish community and its efforts to bring the killer of Sarah Halimi to trial, following a ruling by France’s highest court that Kobili Traore was not criminally responsible due to having smoked marijuana. – Times of Israel

Vuk Vuksanovic writes: It is not unnatural that Serbian leadership wants to capitalize on its current advantages and boost its regional sway. Doing so through vaccine diplomacy is a major improvement compared to the nationalist history that Vučić and his allies have from the 1990s. What is worrisome about Vučić is not vaccine diplomacy, but the ease with which he makes a switch. When it suits his purpose, Vučić can quickly flip from being a vaccine donor to a nationalist willing to provoke tensions with the neighbors to score domestic points. For now, let us enjoy his generosity. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Africa

The United States has ordered its non-essential staff in Chad to leave the African country as rebel fighters approached the capital on Sunday after early election results showed President Idriss Deby on course to extend his three-decade rule. – Reuters

Gunshots rang out late on Friday in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, witnesses said, when government troops approached the home of the city’s former police commander who was sacked for opposing a move by the president to extend his term. – Reuters

Eritrea told the United Nations Security Council on Friday that it has agreed to start withdrawing its troops from Ethiopia’s Tigray region, acknowledging publicly for the first time the country’s involvement in the conflict. – Reuters

Two people died and a third was critically injured in an explosion in Ethiopia’s capital on Sunday, Addis Ababa’s police said. – Reuters

Sudan denied on Friday reports that it would send its a first delegation to Israel months after a deal for ties between the two countries, and two Sudanese sources said Khartoum had scrapped a planned visit. – Reuters

A woman who served a 10-year sentence in U.S. prison for lying about her role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide to obtain American citizenship, and then lost her bid for a new trial, has been deported to the East African nation and is likely to face prosecution there. – Associated Press

The Americas

Mexico increased detentions and deportations of migrants in March as the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador steps up law enforcement against a wave of illegal immigration that has created havoc for the Biden administration. – Wall Street Journal

Raúl Castro said he is stepping down as chief of Cuba’s ruling Communist Party, leaving behind a demoralized country running on little but post-revolutionary fumes as it struggles with growing food shortages and rising discontent. – Wall Street Journal

Cuban dissidents accused authorities of cutting their web access and preventing them from leaving their homes during the Cuban Communist Party Congress where leaders denounced renewed U.S.-backed attempts at “counterrevolution” using online platforms. – Reuters

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Sunday the government has made a second payment to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVAX initiative to access around 11 million COVID-19 vaccines. – Reuters

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s special immigration initiative for Hong Kong residents received over 500 applications in its first three weeks, a spokesman for Canada’s immigration ministry said on Friday. – Reuters

The defense team for Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, will ask a Canadian court to delay upcoming hearings in her U.S. extradition case, the court said on Friday. – Reuters

Marcell Felipe writes: No matter what the headlines suggest, political change is not imminent in Cuba. […]A system of free and fair elections with respect for civil rights and the rule of law can come only when Cuba’s military dictatorship is eradicated and a constitution based on democratic principles takes its place. Anything less is a show staged for the Castro regime’s apologists in the international community. As always, they will demand the lifting of sanctions against the regime that has oppressed the Cuban people for 62 years. – Wall Street Journal

United States

Three months after taking office, President Biden has reestablished the formal decision process, which his predecessor seemed determined to destroy, that has guided U.S. administrations through foreign policymaking since the Second World War. – Washington Post

President Joe Biden this past week found himself in search of a foreign policy sweet spot: somewhere between pulling a screeching U-turn on four years of Trumpism and cautiously approaching the world as it is. – Associated Press

Hunter Biden dodged questions about his efforts to strike a business deal with a Chinese Communist Party-linked company, saying in a new interview that he could not recall emails about payment proposals with references to his family. – Washington Examiner

The Justice Department said Friday that a Nazi sympathizer who stormed the US Capitol on January 6 poses a threat to Jewish residents in his native New Jersey and therefore shouldn’t be released from jail. – CNN

President Joe Biden’s announcement that the 2,500 U.S. forces in Afghanistan will come home by Sept. 11 drew a mixed reaction from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, with mostly Republican critics warning the country would again become a launchpad for terror attacks. – Defense News

US Justice Department prosecutors, in a court filing on Friday, said that a known Nazi sympathizer and army reservist who was arrested in connection to the January 6 Capitol insurrection should not be released while awaiting trial, because he poses a threat to the Jewish community of New Jersey. Algemeiner

By using American banks as a cudgel against Russia, Joe Biden has shown his willingness to weaponise the US financial system against foes, continuing a tactic honed during the Obama years and dramatically ramped up under Donald Trump. – Financial Times

Editorial: Under Biden and Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. will not be a reliably strong voice for human rights. It will offer the world’s worst human rights abusers a defense by allowing them to say the U.S. is no better than they are, by the very admission of Thomas-Greenfield. A self-shaming America at the U.N. will be embarrassing for the public and a blow to human rights. – Washington Examiner

James Andrew Lewis writes: In the previous era of globalization, it made sense to see production migrate to low-cost centers. China’s provocative behavior calls for a reassessment of risk, but this risk should not be generalized beyond China. Suppliers located in North America or in allies like Japan, Israel, and the Netherlands (or neutral countries like Ireland) face less risk of interference of any kind. […]Reshoring and renationalizing only make economic and strategic sense as part of a larger strategy to diversify the semiconductor supply chain and reduce reliance on China. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Ted Bromund writes: The U.S. treaty process is not an end in itself. It is a vital part of negotiating good agreements. Regrettably, in the case of the Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean, the U.S.’s failure to respect this treaty process runs a serious risk of causing the agreement to fail to achieve its desirable goal. The U.S. should seek to repair this fault by negotiating a treaty that can both pass the scrutiny of the Senate and make the best possible effort to fulfill that goal. – Heritage Foundation

Frank Fannon writes: America’s next energy diplomat has a tremendous responsibility, but also the opportunity to advance U.S. security and that of our partners and allies around the world. The energy transition is well underway. The U.S. can help lead the world. We must recognize the needs of each partner nation, and leverage America’s values-based comparative advantages, our world-leading innovators, and entrepreneurial private sector. – The Hill

Cybersecurity

President Biden’s decision this week to punish Russia for the SolarWinds hack broke with years of U.S. foreign policy that has tolerated cyber espionage as an acceptable form of 21st century spycraft, analysts and former officials said. – Wall Street Journal

The Department of Defense recently embarked on an ambitious Digital Modernization Strategy, aiming to maintain a competitive advantage in the modern battlespace. – C4ISRNET

America’s and the Pentagon’s race to harness a new generation of powerful quantum computers could get a boost from a bipartisan pair of senators, fueled in part by a fear of growing competition with China. – C4ISRNET

Ben Buchanan writes: Despite its history of major breaches, the United States remains an able competitor in the arena of cyber-espionage. But sooner or later—and probably sooner—the familiar story will play out once again: foreign intruders will compromise important U.S. computer networks, exposing government and corporate secrets and prompting an investigation. Calls for a response will follow, despite the lack of good options, as will calls for a strategic shift that enables greater cyber-competitiveness—even though such a shift is destined to sometimes fail. And so the drumbeat of cyber-espionage will continue, beating ever faster as it does. – Foreign Affairs

Defense

President Joe Biden has selected Mara Karlin, a well-known figure in Washington defense circles, to serve as assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities, the White House announced Friday. – Defense News

Three vendors demonstrated capabilities to destroy small drones using low-collateral effects interceptors at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, earlier this month as part of a bigger Pentagon effort to develop enduring systems capable of combating the growing and evolving threat, an Army official told Defense News in an April 15 interview. – Defense News

Two House lawmakers on Friday introduced legislation that, if passed, would keep the long-standing independent report on Navy ships going in perpetuity. – USNI News

The Navy commissioned a new Littoral Combat Ship on Saturday in Oakland, Calif. The service commissioned USS Oakland (LCS-24), an Independence-class LCS, in a virtual ceremony broadcast from the pier. – USNI News

The Navy and Marine Corps are testing radically new ways of operating in the Pacific by sending experimental unmanned ships into an ambitious exercise next week. – Breaking Defense

International telecommunications standards will set the stage for future electronic warfare, so the US must actively engage in writing those standards at the UN, Frederick Moorefield, the Pentagon’s Deputy Chief Information Officer, says. – Breaking Defense

Editorial: Barack Obama never financed his pivot to the Asia-Pacific, and Mr. Biden may make the same mistake. The President anticipates immediate political benefits from gigantic domestic social spending, but the perils of shortchanging defense could become apparent sooner than he thinks. Fortunately Congress gets a vote, and it can protect the national interest by overriding his short-sighted plan. – Wall Street Journal

Long War

The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001 because that is where al Qaeda plotted its attack on America. Then, for nearly two decades, denying terrorists an Afghan foothold served as a key justification for what has become America’s longest war. – Wall Street Journal

Nineteen civilians were killed when armed men raided a village in west Niger close to the border with Mali, a local official told AFP on Sunday, in the latest bloodshed in the troubled region. – Agence France-Presse

Kurdish authorities in northeast Syria on Sunday handed over 34 orphaned children, whose parents were suspected of belonging to the Islamic State group, to a Russian delegation to be repatriated. – Agence France-Presse