Fdd's overnight brief

April 29, 2021

In The News


The Biden administration is considering a near wholesale rollback of some of the most stringent Trump-era sanctions imposed on Iran in a bid to get the Islamic Republic to return to compliance with a landmark 2015 nuclear accord, according to current and former U.S. officials and others familiar with the matter. – Associated Press 

Mohammad Javad Zarif may be the public face of Iran’s nuclear deal but a devastating leak this week has made clear that the military wields the most power in Tehran and that the foreign minister sometimes found out about their decisions from the US — his supposed nemesis. – Financial Times

Iran’s top diplomat expressed regret Wednesday that a recording leaked out of him making frank comments about the limits of his power in the Islamic Republic, with the country’s president describing the incident as a means to derail ongoing talks with world powers over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal. – Associated Press

President Joe Biden promised to confront Iran and North Korea with “stern deterrence” in support of diplomatic efforts to manage the rogue states’ nuclear programs, using a major address to make a clear break with former President Donald Trump’s more hawkish rhetoric. – Washington Examiner

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani claimed Wednesday that Israel “directed” the assassination of former top general Qassem Soleimani, who was killed last year in a US airstrike after arriving in Baghdad. – Agence France-Presse

While Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and negotiators from the EU and Russia have all heralded significant progress in the Vienna nuclear talks, there are still big gaps between the U.S. and Iranian positions, three U.S. and Israeli sources briefed on the talks tell me. – Axios 

China’s Middle East diplomacy has a lot to look forward to in the long run: the Belt and Road Initiative is steadily advancing; negotiations on free trade agreements between China and the six GCC countries and Israel are underway; significant achievements have been made in vaccine cooperation between China and the UAE, Bahrain, Iran and other countries; and China is playing a growing role in the Middle East on issues such as Syria and the Palestinian-Israeli issue. – Middle East Media Research Institute   

A German-Iranian human rights activist held in Iran on vague security-related charges has had her first hearing at a Revolutionary Court, her daughter and human rights groups said. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

After the U.S. Navy released footage of yet another recent encounter with Iranian naval forces, the speaker of Iran’s parliament said that his country had successfully blocked the U.S. from accessing the waters near the country’s Persian Gulf coast. – Newsweek

Lindsey O. Graham and Morgan D. Ortagus write: But the review act also provides an opportunity for the majority or minority leader in either chamber to submit legislation that would block the sanctions relief Biden is seeking to negotiate, and that legislation is guaranteed an automatic vote on the floor of the Senate and House of Representatives. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy should exercise this right and put members of Congress on record whether they support sending billions of dollars to the largest state sponsor of terrorism. – Foreign Policy

Greg Steube writes: The JCPOA was inadequate, and the next policy move must build on historically tough sanctions and promise of even tougher actions if Iran continues to pursue the dangerous hostility toward the U.S., our regional allies, and other Western interests. At an absolute minimum, any deal the U.S. offers Iran should never include an opportunity for it to develop a nuclear weapon. – Washington Examiner

Efraim Inbar and Eran Lerman write: Under these circumstances, Israel’s entente against Iran with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia may intensify. On the other hand, it also is possible that the Gulf Arabs will bandwagon with Iran when they see America withdrawing from the region and Israel’s hands tied by the US. The Biden administration clearly is less committed to the “Abraham Accords” than its predecessor. The seeds of a Saudi Arabia-Iran dialogue, brokered by Iraq, already are evident. – Jerusalem Post


Turkish warplanes were continuing on Wednesday to strike suspected Kurdish militant targets in northern Iraq, while commando troops were conducting a search and sweep operation, Turkey’s defense ministry said, as the military pressed ahead with its latest incursion into the neighboring region. – Associated Press

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday warned Turkey and other U.S. allies against buying weapons systems from Russia, saying such purchases could be subject to sanctions and strain ties with Washington. – The Hill 

Jonathan Gorvett writes: But Kanal Istanbul has triggered a debate over the country’s continued support for the treaty. That debate began back in January, when Erdogan announced that the canal would be “totally outside Montreux,” meaning that only Turkey would decide which ships could pass. And in March, the AKP speaker of the Turkish parliament, Mustafa Sentop, suggested on a pro-government TV channel that Turkey also had the right to withdrawal from the treaty if it wanted to. – Foreign Policy 

Kamal Sido writes: Turkey can only be used as a bulwark against China or Russia if it ends its ongoing enmity with the Kurds – and not just with one Kurdish group, but with all Kurds, including the PKK. Turkey can only be a consistent global player if it is neither vulnerable nor susceptible to blackmail. A Turkey that is tied up at all corners by “Kurdish problems” will hardly succeed in becoming a factor of stability. Therefore, Turkey will continue its zigzag course between Russia, China, and Iran on the one hand and the West on the other. When push comes to shove, however, Turkey will not go to war alongside the West. – Jerusalem Post


The United States and Israel agreed to establish an inter-agency working group “to focus particular attention on the growing threat of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles [UAVs] and Precision-Guided Missiles produced by Iran and provided to its proxies in the Middle East region,” the White House said on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

The Islamic militant group Hamas has rejected the idea of postponing Palestinian elections ahead of a leadership meeting Thursday in which President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party is expected to push for a delay, citing a dispute with Israel over voting in east Jerusalem. – Associated Press

Israel announced on Thursday it was fully reopening the Gaza fishing zone after three days of closure, following a relatively calm night along the border. – Times of Israel

The United States on Wednesday voiced disagreement with a Human Rights Watch report alleging that Israel is committing “apartheid” against Palestinian Arabs. – Israel National News

Israel and the U.S. want to fence their disagreements over the 2015 nuclear deal off from cooperation on other Iran-related issues, a senior Israeli official told me following talks on Tuesday in Washington between White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben Shabbat. – Axios 

A new campaign on Telegram is trying to tarnish Defense Minister Benny Gantz. The campaign is an attempt to rehash an older disinformation operation that saw rumors, photos and videos of Gantz circulated online after his phone was allegedly hacked during previous election cycles. Investigators from Fake Reporter […] said that it is being carried out by a user that appeared to be a malicious online influencer with typical Iranian characteristics, and which has already been flagged by Facebook an attempt at foreign interference. – Haaretz

Ghaith al-Omari writes: The postponement of the elections will enable the Biden administration to proceed with its plans to engage the PA more thoroughly—both diplomatically and in terms of aid—and to focus on resolving some of the other obstacles facing reengagement. The administration should also explore areas in which Palestinian-Israeli cooperation can proceed quickly. – Washington Institute

Sean Durns writes: Yet, the PA’s measures seem to be for naught. It looks increasingly likely that if elections are held, the forces of the unpopular Abbas will lose. Rivals like Dahlan and Hamas have warned the PA president not to get cold feet and cancel the elections. In an effort to extricate himself from a situation of his own making, Abbas has turned to a favorite tactic: blaming Israel. – The National Interest 

David Litman writes: On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) — with its history of anti-Israel smears — released its most destructive libel yet against the Jewish State: the “apartheid” libel. The report is baseless, but HRW knows that. HRW also knows the anti-Israel, and often blatantly antisemitic, game it is playing. If you can’t wipe out the Jewish State militarily, find another battlefield. And this particular game has a long history. – Algeimeiner

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The technology needed to stop a large, fixed-wing drone that may be flying fast is different than what is needed against a slow-moving but highly maneuverable quadcopter with a grenade on it. […] The question for the US and Israel may be whether and how to settle on several technologies that mesh well. That Washington and Jerusalem are looking increasingly at how to bring all this together makes sense since Israeli defense companies already supply counter-drone technology to the US, and America has likewise supported Israeli air defense systems. – Jerusalem Post

Alon Pinkas writes: If the underlining objective was to prove and substantiate that Israel is an apartheid state, it just doesn’t hold up to serious scrutiny. Harshly criticizing occupation can be legitimate; conflating it with apartheid isn’t. If it was meant to inextricably link “Israel” and “apartheid” in world public opinion, it may unfortunately and sadly prove to be partially successful. This needs to be challenged every day, not just dismissed as “antisemitism.” – Haaretz


Israel and Lebanon are considering relaunching negotiations on their maritime border, the Energy Ministry confirmed on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post

As expected, the incident sparked widespread interest in Saudi Arabia. Although top Saudi government officials did not implicate any specific element in Lebanon for the drug shipment, the Saudi press published many articles and op-eds pointing at Hizbullah. – Middle East Media Research Institute  

Michael Hariti writes: An agreement remains of vital interest, especially for Lebanon. After all, Israel is already enjoying the economic and diplomatic fruit of the natural gas discovered in its waters, while Lebanon is facing a disastrous economic crisis. The latest confrontational move complicates things, but Lebanon might also see it as enhancing its room for maneuver in the no-holds-barred poker game with Israel. – Jerusalem Post

Arabian Peninsula

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has taken a more conciliatory public stance towards Iran, trying to balance long-held animosity with economic considerations and bridge differences with Washington over how to tackle Tehran’s regional behaviour. – Reuters

A Lebanese music composer close to the president’s party is believed to be detained in Saudi Arabia for unknown reasons, according to local media reports confirmed by two sources close to him and a security source. – Reuters

U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking will travel to Saudi Arabia and Oman on Thursday for talks with government officials about efforts to end Yemen’s civil war, the U.S. State Department said in a statement. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

A team of U.S. envoys is traveling to the Middle East this week for talks with key allies, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday, amid simmering concerns in the region about President Joe Biden’s attempt to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal. – Reuters

The U.N. special envoy for Syria said Wednesday that key global players are interested in stepped-up international diplomacy to “unlock progress” toward ending the country’s 10-year war. – Associated Press

Seth J. Frantzman writes: This rapid increase in Russia’s clout comes alongside economic initiatives, as well as arms sales such as the S-400 air defense system to Turkey, a member of NATO. The real Russian clout goes beyond Turkey and Syria. It also has opened doors throughout the Middle East where traditional U.S. partners such as Egypt, the Gulf states and Israel have listened to Russia, or consider Russia in ways they didn’t just 10 years ago. – The Hill  

Robert D. Kaplan writes: Yet, Egypt’s economy is still dominated by a steeply hierarchical and inflexible military at a time when flattened hierarchies are best positioned to take advantage of the digital age’s complexities. The establishment media is reportedly under the control of intelligence services. Sisi’s record on human rights is simply atrocious with many activists in jail and reports of disappearances and widespread torture. And because no criticism is allowed from outside the regime, Sisi’s rule threatens to be undermined by a climate of insufficient critical thinking. – Foreign Policy 

Korean Peninsula

The United States, Japan and South Korea are arranging a meeting of their foreign ministers during the G7 meeting in the United Kingdom next week, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Thursday, citing multiple government sources. – Reuters

North Korea has successfully tested its unmanned reconnaissance and attack drones, according to a Daily NK military source. The report stated that the tests on both prototypes were concluded over three days, beginning on April 10, at a test facility in the District of Banghyun, Gusong City, in North Pyongan. – Defense Post 

On Wednesday, the armed forces of South Korea delivered electrical equipment and construction materials to a US missile shield base located in the central town of Seongju. The South Korean Defense Ministry said it had informed local residents about the plan to ensure their safety while heavy materials were being transported. – Defense Post


Huawei Technologies Co. reported a steepening decline in revenue in the first quarter, as its smartphone sales tumbled and the Chinese tech giant continued to struggle under U.S. sanctions. – Wall Street Journal 

Hong Kong’s government passed an immigration law that raises concern it could be used to prevent dissidents from leaving the city. The bill passed Wednesday allows the city’s immigration director to block an airline passenger or crew member from boarding a departing plane. – Bloomberg 

China on Thursday launched the main module of its first permanent space station that will host astronauts long term, the latest success for a program that has realized a number of its growing ambitions in recent years. – Associated Press

President Joe Biden laid out his case for an economic competition, but not a military conflict, with China in his first address to Congress, promising he would build a NATO-like alliance in the Indo-Pacific “to prevent conflict” with the Asian powerhouse. – Washington Examiner

China has no business telling the Philippines what it can or cannot do within its waters, Manila’s defence ministry said on Wednesday, rejecting Beijing’s opposition to its ongoing coastguard exercises. – Reuters

China is preparing a substantial fine for Tencent Holdings as part of its sweeping antitrust clampdown on the country’s internet giants, but it is likely to be less than the record $2.75 billion penalty imposed on Alibaba earlier this month, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said. – Reuters

Editorial: This brain drain is a tragedy for Hong Kong. But it’s no surprise that the same people who were willing to fight for their freedom in 2019 are now willing to flee for it as Communist control tightens. The U.S. should follow Britain’s lead and welcome Hong Kong’s refugees. – Wall Street Journal 

Wendy Cutler writes: The past three years have proven that it’s far easier to impose tariffs than to lift them. With a little creativity, though, the Biden administration should be able to reduce the burden on U.S. companies and workers without sacrificing its leverage over China. Amid a mutually destructive trade war, that would count as a win. – Bloomberg


President Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that first propelled the United States into conflict, has prompted deep fears about the Afghan security forces’ ability to defend what territory remains under government control. The attack on Captain Saleh’s forces foretells a potential reckoning for the entire nation. – New York Times 

Just days before the 10th anniversary of U.S. special operations forces killing al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, President Joe Biden told a joint session of Congress it is time to leave Afghanistan. – Washington Examiner

The State Department issued a “Level 4: Do Not Travel” advisory for Afghanistan yesterday, ordering all but the most essential U.S. Embassy staff in Kabul to leave the country, and urging Americans still in Afghanistan to consider departing “as soon as possible on available commercial flights.” – Washington Examiner

James L. Creighton writes: Leaving Afghanistan this September will compromise the gains achieved to date and render useless the sacrifices of thousands of soldiers, international aid workers, civilians, and young Afghanis striving to rebuild their country. The decision must be weighed against the very real threats of what will ensue—another humanitarian crisis, expanding safe-havens for terrorist organizations, and the return of Taliban rule. – The National Interest 

South Asia

Facebook Inc. temporarily blocked posts containing hashtags calling on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to resign, then reinstated them on Wednesday, saying the action had been taken in error. – Wall Street Journal 

Myanmar government forces launched airstrikes against ethnic minority guerrillas in two areas of the country on Wednesday, local reports said. – Associated Press

Myanmar authorities are seeking to file charges of murder and treason against one of the main leaders of the protest campaign against military rule, the state broadcaster said on Wednesday. – Reuters

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators on Tuesday urged the Biden administration to slap more sanctions on the military junta in Myanmar, including choking revenues to a state energy company, in response to its coup and violent crackdown on protesters. – Reuters

As coronavirus rages across India, its neighbour China has made repeated offers of help. Some are asking whether this could be an occasion to ease the tense relations between the world’s two most populous countries following last year’s border skirmishes. – The Guardian


Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s team is renewing the Trump administration’s support for Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Assembly, citing the island democracy’s counter-coronavirus charity in defiance of the mainland Chinese regime. – Washington Examiner

In an exclusive interview, Joseph Wu said that China had “been conducting misinformation campaigns, hybrid warfare, and recently they have increased their grey zone activities against Taiwan”. “And all these seem to be preparing for their final military assault against Taiwan,” he added. – Sky News (UK) 

Australia’s top intelligence chief says a terrorist attack remains likely within the next year as federal police warn gaps in the law limit early intervention. – Australian Associated Press 

China and Japan accused each other of inappropriate behaviour after a Chinese government official posted a tweet of an iconic Japanese woodblock print manipulated to show nuclear waste being poured into the sea, launching a new diplomatic spat. – Reuters

Michael O’Hanlon writes: Even after these military attacks begin, the goal of course should remain a negotiated outcome. It is not credible to envision with any confidence a decisive, permanent military victory in any U.S.-China war—unless the two countries collectively wind up in Armageddon. And yes, the United States can realistically commit to this kind of strategy now. – The National Interest 

Ryan D. Martinson writes: Instead, the best option for other Southeast Asian states may be to do as the Philippines government has done — to publicly document the activities of China’s new Spratly fishing fleet. This puts China on the defensive — forcing them to issue weak, unconvincing denials — and limits its ability to portray itself as the victim if and when an incident occurs. Ultimately, this approach could undermine Beijing’s favorite defense for new assertive behavior in the South China Sea (i.e., “they started it”). If Xi likes big boats, other Southeast Asian nations can at least create conditions in which he cannot lie. – War on the Rocks

Tom Cheshire writes: The US has been steadily increasing its ties with the island and President Biden has said American commitment to Taiwan is “rock solid”. That has enraged Beijing, which views Taiwan as purely an internal affair. The worry is that strategic ambiguity will eventually become unsustainable. – Sky News (UK)


Bulgarian prosecutors said Wednesday that they are looking at whether four explosions at weapons depots over the past decade are part of a Russian effort to disrupt the flow of arms from Eastern Europe to battlefields in Ukraine and Georgia. – Washington Post

President Joe Biden told a joint session of Congress on Wednesday that he will be tough on Russian President Vladimir Putin and prevent Moscow from threatening national security by responding to aggressive acts with proportionate moves — and cooperating when possible. – Washington Examiner

U.S. President Joe Biden has communicated his concerns about Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as the U.S. commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Russia tested a new anti-ballistic missile that can fly four times faster than a bullet from an AK-47 rifle. The launch happened at the Sary-Shagan test site in Kazakhstan Monday. – Newsweek 

The S-400 is Russia’s flagship missile defense system, leveraging its diverse suite of compatible missiles and advanced tracking features to offer effective performance in a wide range of combat situations. The system can operate from short to very long ranges and can target manned aircraft, some types of drones, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles at a range of up to four hundred kilometers. – The National Interest 

Russia’s top diplomat said Wednesday that relations with the United States are now even worse than during the Cold War times because of a lack of mutual respect. – Associated Press

Russia on Wednesday ordered a total of seven diplomats from three Baltic nations and Slovakia to leave in a quid pro quo response to the countries’ expulsion of Russian Embassy workers. – Associated Press

Melinda Haring and Damon Wilson write: Moscow views nongovernmental organizations as seditious and responsible for organizing street protests (even though that isn’t even remotely part of our job description). Think tanks and nongovernmental organizations are in a unique position. We may have ties to our own government, but we are also independent and free to criticize. That’s something the Kremlin, seeing the world in its fun-house mirror of conspiracy and coercion, will never understand, let alone appreciate. They will keep targeting us. Let’s work together to make their job a touch harder. – Washington Post

David J Kramer writes: Just because Putin has not so far killed Navalny, nor launched another full-scale invasion of Ukraine, he should not be praised, nor should not crossing those thresholds be all that’s required for granting Putin a meeting with the American president. In his first week in office, Biden spoke with Putin by phone and both sides agreed to renew the New START Treaty, demonstrating that a sit-down with Putin is not required to get some important business done. – Center for European Policy Analysis 

Edward Lucas and Bobo Lo write: So far, though, there is little sign of trouble between them. Russia and China have achieved an implicit modus vivendi. Their relationship is defined neither by cooperation nor competition, but by compartmentalization and distancing. It helps that the region is of peripheral importance to Beijing, while Moscow feels unthreatened by the level of Chinese activity. For both sides, success is judged principally by the avoidance of negative outcomes. – Center for European Policy Analysis 


Ukrainian officials and security analysts say Russia’s recent troop buildup near the border was aimed at pressuring Mr. Zelensky and warning him off his objective of joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It was also designed to test the Biden administration’s support for Ukraine, which Russia has long regarded as part of its historic sphere of influence, they say. – Wall Street Journal 

The government of French President Emmanuel Macron aims to deploy algorithms and other technology to monitor the web-browsing of terror suspects amid growing tensions over a group of retired generals who recently warned the country was sliding toward a civil war. – Wall Street Journal 

Germany’s domestic intelligence service said on Wednesday that it would surveil members of the increasingly aggressive coronavirus denier movement because they posed a risk of undermining the state. – New York Times 

European Union leaders, their British counterparts and European businesses expressed hope Wednesday that the final ratification of the post-Brexit trade deal will open a new, positive era of cooperation despite the many divisive topics remaining between the former partners. – Associated Press

Antisemitism incidents in Austria rose last year to the highest level since the Jewish community’s official records began 19 years ago, with protests against coronavirus restrictions helping to fuel the rise, a report showed on Monday. – Haaretz

The European Parliament is due on April 29 to vote on a resolution threatening action against Russia over its treatment of jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, its military buildup on Ukraine’s border, and what lawmakers describe as “Russian attacks in the Czech Republic.” – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Arlene Foster is to step down as Northern Ireland’s First Minister at the end of June, bowing to pressure from members of her Democratic Unionist Party unhappy at her leadership over Brexit and social issues. – Reuters

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster laid out her plan to quit, sparking further upheaval at a time when London and Dublin are seeking to calm tensions in the region. – Bloomberg

Spanish postal workers intercepted a death threat letter with two bullets enclosed that was mailed to the conservative head of the Madrid region, the Interior Ministry said late on Tuesday, just days after her hard-left rival in an election for the regional assembly received a similar threat. – Reuters

The United Nations said on Thursday there was not enough common ground to resume negotiations on war-divided Cyprus, after a three-day summit attempting to break a four-year impasse in peace negotiations. – Reuters

Peter Rough writes: These signals come at a precarious moment. European leaders, reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, are already tempted to subordinate defense spending to more popular priorities despite Chinese and Russian saber rattling. Moreover, for large swaths of Europe, China is now seen as the key to economic recovery. Against this backdrop, the Biden team is risking catastrophic success: a reset with Europe that tempts U.S. allies to do less in an era that demands more. – Foreign Policy 

Rachel Sanderson writes: But for Italy there is no Plan B, nor is there for Europe. If this plan fails in Italy, European fiscal policy fails too. That would provide all the fodder euroskeptic campaigners need to reinvigorate a case they’ve pursued in Germany’s constitutional court to get the EU’s pandemic recovery fund declared illegal. – Bloomberg 


The U.S. will carry on negotiating with Kenya for its first free-trade agreement with a sub-Saharan economy, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. – Bloomberg 

Ethiopia has swept up thousands of ethnic Tigrayans into detention centers across the country on accusations that they are traitors, often holding them for months and without charges, the AP has found. – Associated Press

Rampant corruption has seriously damaged South Africa’s economy and people’s trust in the government, President Cyril Ramaphosa testified Wednesday at a judicial inquiry into graft in the county. – Associated Press

Members of Somalia’s opposition on Wednesday refused to withdraw from fortified positions in the capital after the president tried to defuse an armed standoff by promising to appear before parliament to debate a proposal to extend his term by two years. – Reuters

The capital of Chad appeared calm on Wednesday morning, with security forces deployed in large numbers and burning tyres still smouldering in the streets, a day after at least five people were killed in clashes between protesters and the army. – Reuters

A Southern African leaders meeting that was scheduled for Thursday to address the Islamic State-linked insurgency in Mozambique has been postponed, Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s office said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Mozambique’s government, which is facing a growing Islamist insurgency, will create a special unit in the attorney general’s office to investigate and prosecute cases of terrorism, the attorney general said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Kjetil Tronvoll writes: Although Abiy personally may not endorse this territorial realignment by force, he appears to be in no position to confront the Amhara political elite on this issue, as he is fully dependent on their support to stay in power. After being brought to the premiership thanks to the momentum generated by the Qeerroo protest movement on an Oromo nationalist ticket, Abiy soon deserted his own ethnic base and shifted to an Ethiopian nationalist policy. Aiming to recentralize political power under a reformed federal system, Abiy’s vision aligns with the interests of Amhara nationalists, who have so far given him conditional support. – Foreign Policy 

Stephen R. Weissman writes: The DRC’s December 2018 presidential and parliamentary elections were a long-awaited chance for Congolese to replace the unpopular, corrupt, and repressive government of then-President Joseph Kabila with one that would serve their interests. Kabila had designated Emmanuel Shadary as his preferred successor. Martin Fayulu and current Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi were the leading opposition candidates. – Foreign Policy

Latin America

President Joe Biden’s administration has a number of concerns about Mexico’s performance and commitment to its free trade deal with the U.S. and will discuss them with the nation in the coming weeks, America’s top negotiator said. – Bloomberg 

Thousands of protesters answered calls from Colombia’s biggest unions to come out on streets around the country on Wednesday in protest against a controversial tax reform proposal. Forty people were arrested for alleged vandalism, the government said, and 42 police officers were injured. Police in major cities deployed tear gas amid some isolated disturbances. – Reuters

Some 1,600 former FARC guerrillas will have been murdered by the end of 2024 if current levels of targeted killings continue, Colombia’s transitional justice tribunal said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Ivelaw Lloyd Griffith writes: The latest decree is one of the most provocative of Venezuela’s moves, given the vast amount of Guyanese waters it claims and the oil reserves now known to exist there. Significantly, the area’s much-touted petroleum extraction and exploration are poised to be an economic game changer for Guyana and its investors. Since the new decree, the Maduro government has ramped up its intimidation in this potentially lucrative maritime space. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

United States

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Samantha Power to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Senators voted 68-26 to confirm Power, who served in the Obama administration as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. – The Hill 

A Chinese national living in the United States on an immigrant visa pleaded guilty to violating a U.S. blacklist and illegally exporting $100,000 worth of U.S. goods to a Chinese military university that works closely with the People’s Liberation Army on the advancement of its military capabilities, the Justice Department announced on Wednesday. – Washington Examiner

Elliott Abrams writes: That is why today I am joining with 75 other national security scholars and practitioners to launch the Vandenberg Coalition, a new network committed to advancing a strong and proud American foreign policy. The coalition brings together people representing diverse approaches, experiences and political views. – Wall Street Journal 

Andreas Kluth writes: One of the subtlest tools in the diplomatic kit is the concept of strategic ambiguity. In the right circumstances, it can achieve more foreign-policy goals than strategic clarity, even preventing war. In the wrong situation, ambiguity can backfire and cause disaster. The question is which context currently applies to the standoffs in Ukraine and the Taiwan Strait. – Bloomberg  

Armin Rosen writes: Think tanks are often most powerful as external validators of decisions an administration has already made, or as employment programs for the party out of power, than as shapers of policy. But their perceived guardianship of foreign policy groupthink does help explain the appeal of an institutional critic like Quincy, which has tried to position itself as a truth-teller within a fundamentally corrupt industry. – Tablet


A group of bipartisan lawmakers in the House and Senate on Wednesday rolled out legislation that would create a National Guard-style program to help defend critical systems against increasing cyberattacks from nation states and criminals. – The Hill 

An FBI operation that gave law enforcement remote access to hundreds of computers to counter a massive hack of Microsoft Exchange email server software is a tool that is likely to be deployed “judiciously” in the future as the Justice Department, aware of privacy concerns, develops a framework for its use, a top national security official said Wednesday. – Associated Press

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing to create a civilian reserve corps of cybersecurity experts to help defend national security interests, amid concerns about growing digital threats to public and private networks and infrastructure. – Air Force Times 

A rideshare delay has pushed back the launch of the U.S. military’s new experimental navigation satellite to 2023, but the Air Force Research Laboratory says it can use the extra time to reduce risks and conduct more ground testing. Navigation Technology Satellite 3, originally set for launch in 2022, will help guide future GPS satellites, a priority area for the military as the technology has become easier to spoof and jam. – C4ISRNET

A federal judge on Wednesday declined the Pentagon’s request to toss out Amazon Web Services’ political interference allegations against former President Donald Trump in its controversial enterprise cloud contract, leaving the future of the program uncertain. – C4ISRNET 

A proposed multi-billion pound British class action against Google, which alleges the internet giant secretly tracked millions of iPhone users, is not viable and should not be allowed to proceed, the Supreme Court was told on Wednesday. – Reuters

Government and industry officials confronting an epidemic of ransomware, where hackers freeze the computers of a target and demand a payoff, are zeroing in on cryptocurrency regulation as the key to combating the scourge, sources familiar with the work of a public-private task force said. – Reuters

Google is facing a lawsuit after a privacy vulnerability in its contact tracing system left users’ data exposed. – Business Insider

U.S. officials have arrested the alleged main operator of the cryptocurrency money-laundering website Bitcoin Fog. Roman Sterlingov, a citizen of Russia and Sweden, was detained in Los Angeles on April 28 on three money-laundering-related charges. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Natalie Thompson, Zoe Peach-Riley and Laura Bate write: When it comes to international capability in cyberspace, U.S. civilian agencies should take the lead. While the Defense Department has a huge role to play in keeping the country safe in cyberspace, U.S. diplomats are better positioned to advance U.S. cyber security interests in foreign capitals. Ensuring that all tools of international engagement — including military, diplomatic, and foreign assistance — are aligned is imperative to strengthening the credibility of America’s actions in cyberspace, and the Bureau of International Cyberspace Policy is a good focal point for that coordination within the State Department. – War on the Rocks 

Tate Nurkin writes: The process of identifying which targets in this proliferated architecture to transmit to may slow down the communications process, reducing one of the main advantages these technologies provide. The DoD should consider funding an intelligent, space-based optical router that will allow satellites to rapidly locate and then switch beam direction to communicate with different satellites in the architecture to resolve this challenge. – Defense News 


Point Blank Enterprises is the most recent nontraditional business to come out of the woodwork as a competitor for the U.S. Army’s concept vehicle design phase to replace the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle. The company announced April 26 on its website that it had submitted a bid. The announcement comes almost two weeks after the Army’s deadline for solicitations. – Defense News 

The U.S. Air Force’s principal hunter-killer drone, used for counterterrorism operations for more than a decade, is expanding its sea legs. – Military.com 

Defense contractors would be required to tell the Pentagon if China, Russia, Iran and North Korea made any of the printed circuit boards in systems they were supplying, under legislation Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., introduced on Wednesday. – Defense News 

As the U.S. Navy grapples with outdated maintenance facilities and a fleet stretched by maintenance backlogs, a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers are proposing a $25 billion cash infusion for public and private shipyards timed for Congress’ debate on a massive infrastructure package. – Defense News 

The Babcock-led Team 31 has completed the Whole Ship Critical Design Review (WSCDR) for the UK Royal Navy’s (RN’s) new Type 31 frigate, paving the way for the start of production later this year. – Jane’s 360 

Two weeks after ordering all U.S. troops to begin leaving Afghanistan, President Joe Biden told Congress that the terrorist threat the military was sent to fight there two decades ago is now dispersed around the world, including in America. – Defense One 

Lolita C. Baldor writes: That decision reflects the broader Pentagon strategy to prioritize China and Russia, which are rapidly growing their militaries and trying to expand their influence around the globe. U.S. defense leaders believe that two decades of war against militants and extremists have drained resources, causing America to lose ground against Moscow and Beijing. – Associated Press

Missile Defense

The Navy is set to debut its first at-sea hypersonic missiles aboard one of the service’s three Zumwalt-class destroyers in four years, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said on Tuesday. – USNI News 

A new photo of the Marine Corps’ shore-based anti-ship missile vehicle reveals how the service mounted a Raytheon Naval Strike Missile on a modified unmanned Joint Light Tactical Vehicle. On Wednesday, Raytheon issued a photo of the Navy-Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS) that took part in a November test in Point Mugu, Calif. – USNI News 

The following is the April 26, 2021 Congressional Research Service report, Hypersonic Weapons: Background and Issues for Congress. – Defense News 

AeroVironment will integrate its Switchblade 600 loitering missile system onto US Naval Special Warfare (NSW) combatant craft under a USD26.1 million contract awarded by the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). – Jane’s 360

Long War

The French police on Wednesday arrested seven former members of Italian left-wing extremist groups who had been convicted of terrorism crimes in Italy decades ago, but were given refuge in France. – New York Times 

At least seven people were killed and more than 11 others wounded when a vehicle exploded outside a police headquarters in Somalia’s capital, police and health officials said Wednesday. – Associated Press

The European Parliament Wednesday reaffirmed its commitment to ensure EU funds do not reach anyone affiliated with terrorists. It also rapped UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, for inciting hate and violence in its textbooks. – Jerusalem Post