Fdd's overnight brief

April 6, 2021

In The News


Officials from the United States, Iran and other signatories to the Iranian nuclear deal converged in Vienna on Tuesday in the first significant step toward reviving the beleaguered 2015 agreement that President Biden has pledged to rejoin. – Washington Post

When American and Iranian officials resume talks in Vienna on reviving the 2015 international nuclear deal, the people driving the diplomacy are a familiar cast of characters, including some of the key figures who negotiated the original accord working to put it back together again. – Wall Street Journal

Iran is neither optimistic nor pessimistic about the outcome of the Vienna nuclear talks on Tuesday, but feels confident about being on the right track to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei told reporters. – Reuters

The United States said on Monday it expected indirect talks with Iran about both sides resuming compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to be difficult, adding it did not foresee any early breakthrough. The talks begin on Tuesday. – Reuters

Iran has arrested an “Israeli spy” and a number of other people who were in contact with foreign intelligence services, Iranian state media reported on Monday, without giving the nationality of those arrested. – Reuters

South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-Kyun plans to visit Tehran “soon” to discuss billions of dollars of Iranian funds that are frozen in his country as a result of U.S. sanctions, Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman said. – Bloomberg

Ten officials have been indicted in Iran over the 2020 military shootdown of a Ukrainian passenger plane that killed 176 people, a prosecutor said Tuesday, an announcement coming just as Tehran begins indirect negotiations with the West over its collapsed nuclear deal with world powers. – Associated Press

The United States said Monday it was ready to review key sanctions on Iran if it comes into compliance with a nuclear deal ahead of European-led indirect talks aimed at salvaging the accord. – Agence France-Presse

On the eve of talks to revive the Iran deal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Tehran that it faced “grave danger” if it harmed Israel, as he recalled the battle for Jaffa in the 1948 War of Independence. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Tehran expects to score at least the appearance of a win during talks on Tuesday in Vienna with Iran deal signatories. While Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif “urged the three European parties to the 2015 nuclear agreement to honor their commitments under the historic pact and act constructively in the upcoming meeting in Vienna,” Iran’s Press TV reported, others argue that Iran has anyway defeated the West during sanctions by increasing indigenous production. – Jerusalem Post


Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday said that a joint statement by roughly 100 retired admirals appeared to incite a coup against his government. – Bloomberg

Former pro-Kurdish party leader Selahattin Demirtas, jailed since 2016 despite Western calls for his release, said the Turkish opposition should unite against rising oppression and moves to divide them, including a court case to ban his party. – Reuters

Turkish inflation accelerated for the sixth month in a row in March as the weak lira drove up the cost of imports, making it harder for the country’s new central bank governor to fulfil President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s wish to ease monetary policy. – Financial Times


Israel’s president has given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the first crack at forming a new government after the fourth deadlocked election in two years, offering him an opportunity to break the impasse and potentially put him in a better position to fight corruption charges. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. officials are downplaying reports that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused to take Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s call by saying the two sides are having “working level” conversations. – Washington Examiner

Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian man and wounded his wife in the West Bank on Monday night, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. – Haaretz

United States State Department spokesman Ned Price ducked a question on whether the Biden administration considers east Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state on Monday. – Jerusalem Post

The Palestinian Central Elections Commission has rejected the candidacy of a senior Hamas terrorist who is serving 46 consecutive life sentences and another 30 years in Israeli prison for directing three mass-casualty attacks in Israel. – Jerusalem Post

Riyad Al-Maliki, the Palestinian Authority (PA) “foreign “minister”, is working in the international arena to mobilize support for the Palestinian Arabs’ demand for elections to the Palestinian parliament to be held in eastern Jerusalem as well. – Arutz Sheva 

Two of Germany’s top athletics officials are advocating a joint Berlin-Tel Aviv bid to host the summer Olympics in 2036, so as to send “a strong signal of peace and reconciliation” a full century after the infamous Nazi-hosted Olympic Games in the German capital. – Algemeiner

Israel and Cyprus have started a two-day air defense exercise in Cyprus to test the island’s military capacity during air defense operations. – Algemeiner

Elliot Kaufman writes: The State Department’s language is cautious, and the Biden administration has expressed a desire for engagement with the Palestinian Authority. […]On March 31 the administration confirmed that it views Israel’s control of the West Bank as an “occupation,” a reversal of another Trump position. As he attempts to restart the old, moribund peace process, Mr. Biden is dealing not with Palestinian peacemakers but with the Palestinian leaders who torture them. He’s got the wrong Mr. Abbas. – Wall Street Journal

Alex Grobman writes: Before expending time and energy on policies that have failed miserably in the past, the administration might seriously consider examining how the Arabs in Judea, Samaria and Gaza glorify women suicide bombers as role models ensuring the conflict will last for generations to come. – Arutz Sheva


Jordan’s Prince Hamzeh bin Hussein, the former crown prince who has been under house arrest after an alleged coup attempt, affirmed Monday his loyalty to his half brother, King Abdullah II, according to a letter with Hamzeh’s signature released by the royal court. – Washington Post

The house arrest of Jordan’s King Abdullah’s half-brother, Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, for actions targeting the security and stability of a key Israeli and United States ally reverberated globally and regionally. – Jerusalem Post

Jordan banned all news outlets and social media users on Tuesday from publishing any content related to King Abdullah’s half-brother Prince Hamza after the latter was accused of plotting to destabilise the country. – Reuters

 Editorial: Maybe Israel or Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has ties to Mr. Awadallah, has been meddling in Jordanian politics. […]Rather than arrest him and his allies, King Abdullah ought to be considering how he can open space for more debate and more legitimate political activity. And rather than blindly support the ruler, the Biden administration and other Western democracies ought to be telling him, quietly but firmly, that the repressive status quo is unsustainable. – Washington Post

David Gardner writes: King Abdullah is supported by the west and, ostensibly, by his western-allied neighbours. But there are visible strains with Israel and Saudi Arabia, which intersect over Jerusalem. There is suspicion in Jordan that the House of Saud wants to take oversight of the city’s Islamic sites from the Hashemites — from whom crown prince Mohammed’s grandfather took the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in 1925 — as the price of Saudi detente with Israel. There is more intrigue to come. – Financial Times

David Rosenberg writes: Going forward, Abdullah faces immense economic challenges and no easy solution. But if there is one, it lies in copying the Dubai model as best it can by turning itself into a center for logistics, tourism and high-tech by welcoming outsiders. It’s not a perfect fit, but Jordan does have a stable and well-run government, proximity to the Israeli economy and to Europe, and a decent level of human capital. You can see the day where, if Jordan’s cup doesn’t quite runneth over, it would be a lot more than half full. – Haaretz

Ghaith al-Omari and Robert Satloff write: Jordan’s stability has always been a valuable asset in advancing American regional interests, from expanding Arab-Israeli peace to countering the Islamic State. In the immediate term, then, the United States needs to continue expressing its firm support for Jordan and urging its allies—Arab states, Israel, and others—to give tangible expression to that support. A phone call between President Biden and King Abdullah would send a powerful message toward that end. Washington should also work with Amman on ascertaining any substantive foreign dimensions to the crisis, either clarifying them or laying to rest potentially damaging rumors. – Washington Institute

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The former statements regarding the controversy, which included very strong accusations, will now have to be analyzed to see if the Kingdom follows through on claims of a foreign plot that emerged on April 4, or whether this is quietly forgotten. Jordan’s other crises, such as the economy and COVID-19 would likely mean it is in the interests of Amman for this to quietly go away. Mediation and less talk of foreign plots could make that happen, and it appears to be in the making. – Jerusalem Post

Arabian Peninsula

The United States and the United Arab Emirates will work together on coordinating finance to decarbonise the economy, focusing on areas including hydrogen, renewable energy and low carbon urban design, a joint statement said on Monday. – Reuters

As part of the growing cooperation between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, the two countries have shared intelligence and information related to Hezbollah’s cyberactivities, the Gulf state’s head of cybersecurity told Haaretz on Sunday. – Haaretz 

Jewish communities on the Arabian Peninsula will host a series of events marking Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day on Thursday in a further sign of the warming ties between Gulf states and their Jewish populations. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

The Biden administration has reaffirmed that former Egyptian prime minister and International Monetary Fund representative Hazem el-Beblawi enjoyed diplomatic immunity from a federal lawsuit brought last year by a U.S. citizen seeking to hold him liable for torture. – Washington Post

Oil price volatility has increased in the past two weeks due to the blockage incident in the Suez Canal and an OPEC+ meeting earlier this month, Dr. Gil Michael Bufman, chief economist for Bank Leumi, wrote in a report by the bank released on Monday. – Jerusalem Post

Jason Rezaian writes: While Foley’s efforts were honorable and courageous, Sukhraj-Hammerl says that journalists shouldn’t be expected to do the work that is the responsibility of governments. Sukhraj-Hammerl is right. We must support her quest for answers so that those responsible for Anton Hammerl’s death, and its coverup, are not allowed to walk away with impunity. And just as importantly, so that she and her family can finally close this tragic chapter. – Washington Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: But there is little evidence that Jolani or HTS fight the Assad regime; they seem to spend most of their time policing how women dress and turning Idlib into a religious extremist sub-state. Experience has shown that such sub-states usually are breeding grounds for extremists. – Jerusalem Post

Korean Peninsula

North Korea said Tuesday it will not send a team to the Tokyo Olympics, citing the need to protect its athletes from the coronavirus, as concerns about the viability and safety of the massive sporting event continue to grow. – Washington Post

South Korea’s LG Electronics will close its lossmaking smartphone business after years of struggling to compete against rivals ranging from Apple to low-cost Chinese upstarts. – Financial Times

Walter Russell Mead writes: Difficult and threatening as North Korea can be, it is not the gravest threat either to human rights or to American strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific. If the U.S. must, it can and should act resolutely with allies against destabilizing North Korean actions in Northeast Asia. But quietly exploring other options is an avenue the Biden administration should not neglect. – Wall Street Journal

Zachary Faria writes: The opportunity to host the Olympics emboldens authoritarians. Putin invaded Ukraine not even a month after the closing ceremonies in 2014. […]The IOC should move forward with Australia’s bid without considering the possibility of letting North Korea leech off the prestige of a joint event with South Korea. But the IOC should have stopped giving its events to China as well, and that hasn’t stopped it before. – Washington Examiner


A thousand years ago, when money meant coins, China invented paper currency. Now the Chinese government is minting cash digitally, in a re-imagination of money that could shake a pillar of American power. – Wall Street Journal

In the wake of Western sanctions, the Chinese government has responded with a fresh wave of Xinjiang propaganda across a wide spectrum. The approach ranges from portraying a sanitized, feel-good version of life in Xinjiang — as in the example of the musical — to deploying Chinese officials on social media sites to attack Beijing’s critics. To reinforce its message, the party is emphasizing that its efforts have rooted out the perceived threat of violent terrorism. – New York Times

All in all, it’s beginning to look more and more like Beijing is probing whether President Joe Biden will take any action after pledging to work with allies in the region to deter Chinese assertiveness. Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin has blamed the Obama administration for failing to stop China during a similar incident in 2012 at the Scarborough Shoal, a precursor to President Xi Jinping’s move to build military installations throughout the South China Sea. – Bloomberg

China urged Japan to steer clear of “internal issues” including Hong Kong and Xinjiang as Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga prepares to meet U.S. President Joe Biden later this month. – Bloomberg

A Chinese carrier group is exercising near Taiwan and such drills will become regular, China’s navy said late on Monday in a further escalation of tensions near the island that Beijing claims as its sovereign territory. – Reuters

Editorial: China’s leaders believe they can crush the democracy movement in Hong Kong while preserving its glittery reputation as a bastion of Asian capitalism. But can they? In recent days, China’s puppet regime in Hong Kong has decided to curb access to a government registry that journalists, banks and others use to identify the true owners of companies and property. This is another step backward from Hong Kong’s storied transparency and a sign that authoritarianism is creeping into economic life as well. – Washington Post

Tim Culpan writes: LG Electronics Inc. may have been a pioneer, but the end of its smartphone business shows that being first-mover is rarely an advantage. Instead, its exit will open the way for Chinese brands to take a greater share of the U.S. even as the two nations go deeper into a tech cold war. – Bloomberg

Akhil Ramesh writes: Moving forward, tools of economic statecraft such as aid, supply chains, trade agreements and other carrots to Southeast Asia will provide a more effective long term solution to the South China Sea dispute than the stick of military confrontation. – The Hill

Lauren Speranza and Candace Huntington write: CEE is at a critical crossroads between Washington and Beijing. The Biden administration must take advantage of recent Chinese failures to engage with Central and Eastern Europe on a mutually beneficial security and foreign policy agenda. The opportunities are there, but it’s up to the Biden team to seize them. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Edward Lucas writes: A game played by these rules will blunt the Chinese Communist Party’s best weapon, intimidation. This works chiefly against targets whose willpower is already weak. If Western businesses are willing to give up and go home when threatened  — and are known to be ready to do that — then bullying them becomes useless. Worse, it becomes counterproductive. […]Such a hard-headed approach to China is long overdue. Amid our outrage, we should therefore also be grateful for the Chinese Communist Party’s help in highlighting the increasingly stark choices we face. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Dean Cheng writes: In Anchorage, China’s senior diplomats made clear that they could buffalo their counterparts, disregarding agreed-upon time limits, and chastising America for not treating their “guests” with more respect even while acting in an insulting manner. The South China Sea is likely to be one of the areas where Beijing probes to see whether the US is mush or steel. – New York Post

South Asia

Russia’s foreign minister is to arrive Tuesday in Pakistan for a two-day visit expected to focus on efforts to bring peace to neighboring Afghanistan. – Associated Press

Pakistan’s army chief has launched talks with nemesis India to secure an eventual meeting between the neighbouring countries’ prime ministers, according to three people with direct knowledge of the matter. – Financial Times

Zabulon Simantov, the last known Jewish person living in Afghanistan, is leaving for Israel more than two decades after his family moved there and left him behind. – Ynet


Japan’s foreign minister called on his Chinese counterpart to take action to improve human-rights conditions for Uyghurs and stop a crackdown in Hong Kong, according to an official Japanese account of a call between the officials. – Wall Street Journal

Myanmar’s ruling junta stepped up its campaign against celebrities who support nationwide protests against its seizure of power, publishing wanted lists in the state press and warning against using their work. – Associated Press

Opponents of Myanmar’s military junta sprayed red paint on roads in the country’s biggest city on Tuesday to mark the deaths of hundreds of “martyrs” killed by troops, as the crisis dragged on with no clear diplomatic solution in sight. – Reuters

The presence of Chinese vessels at a disputed reef off the Philippines could ignite “unwanted hostilities”, a top aide to President Rodrigo Duterte warned Monday, intensifying a diplomatic spat over the ships. – Agence France-Presse

Pierre Morcos writes: A new window of opportunity is now opening as American, French, and Australian approaches to the Indo-Pacific are gradually converging. On the one hand, the Biden administration is advocating for a more balanced posture toward China, one that combines competition and collaboration in a manner resembling the French and Australian strategies. On the other hand, China has flexed its muscles amid the pandemic, forcing Paris and Canberra to adopt a tougher stance toward Beijing. Harnessing the full potential of this renewed strategic alignment will be pivotal to ensuring a stable, law-based, and multipolar order in the Indo-Pacific. – War on the Rocks


Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law that could keep him in office in the Kremlin until 2036, the government said on Monday. – Reuters

The United States finds reports of Russian military movements on Ukraine’s border “credible,” has asked Moscow to explain the “provocations” and is ready to engage on the situation, the U.S. State Department said on Monday. – Reuters

As ice thaws in the Arctic, Russia is building up a military presence unseen since the end of the Cold War, as revealed by recent reports and confirmed by the Pentagon on Monday. Russia’s military buildup along its Arctic coastline is threatening a key strategic route that could be used by the United States to protect the homeland. – Washington Examiner

Recent ceasefire violations by Russian-backed forces in Ukraine and reinforcements of regular troops on the Russian side of the border don’t mean Moscow is preparing a major advance or even seriously trying to move the line of conflict, Ukraine officials and experts said. But they do show Vladimir Putin’s continued efforts to exercise control over Kiev’s affairs and peel off its international support. – Defense One

Rich Lowry writes: The Russians are never going to stop running their information campaigns against the West, which date back to the Soviet Union. But they must occasionally be tempted to stand back in envy and awe at all that the US promoters of woke narratives have been able to accomplish without them. – New York Post


A terrorist-inspired Maoist group is engaged in an ongoing harassment campaign against the Toronto Jewish community. Last Wednesday, during the Passover holiday, graffiti was discovered at the entrance to a train station that attacked the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, bearing the name of the Revolutionary Student Movement (RSM). – Algemeiner 

A chilling spectacle of children’s dolls splashed with fake blood alongside dozens of flyers promoting the infamous antisemitic “blood libel” was discovered at a Jewish cemetery in the Danish city of Aalborg on Sunday night. – Algemeiner 

Two Ukrainian servicemen were killed by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine over the past 24 hours, Ukraine’s military said on Tuesday, adding to already escalating tensions. – Reuters

Tom Rogan writes: Put simply, BIden’s tough-on-Putin rhetoric is most certainly not passing its most serious early test of reality. It’s a real problem. U.S. interests in Ukraine center on the consolidation of a pro-western democracy, and the restraint of Putin’s strategic effort to subjugate periphery states under the Kremlin’s kleptocracy. As evinced by Putin’s rapidly increasing influence in Belarus, Georgia, and Hungary, this concern is serious. – Washington Examiner


A fierce attack on a U.N. peacekeeping base in northern Mali last week killed four peacekeepers and at least 23 attackers, and injured another 34 peacekeepers, the United Nations said Monday in an updated report. – Associated Press

The United Nations raised the alarm on Monday over reports that Tanzania forcibly returned hundreds of Mozambicans fleeing jihadist raids last month. – Agence France-Presse

More than 1,800 inmates have escaped after a heavily armed gang attacked a prison in southern Nigeria using explosives, correctional authorities said Monday, in one of the West African country’s largest jailbreaks. – Agence France-Presse

The United States is looking into reports of human rights abuses and atrocities in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the U.S. State Department said on Monday. – Reuters

Sudan’s government has declared a state of emergency in West Darfur state after at least 40 people were killed and 58 injured in three days of tribal clashes in its capital El Geneina, according to the United Nations. – Reuters

The Americas

Venezuela has created a special military unit for an area on its border with Colombia that has been the center of clashes between troops and illegal armed groups since last month, the defense minister said on Monday. – Reuters

The United States is pushing in the G20 to adopt a global minimum corporate tax to stem the erosion of government revenues, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Monday. – Agence France-Presse

Gideon Rachman writes: But the debate is unlikely to be that straightforward. The global promotion of American ideas on racial equality is not always the best way of winning friends overseas. Even some US allies regard it as a new form of American cultural imperialism. Emmanuel Macron, president of France, has complained that an alien ideology of group identity is being imported into France from US universities — trampling over France’s own republican tradition which downplays racial identities and stresses common citizenship. – Financial Times


The recent move by Russia’s internet censor to start slowing Twitter was a sign of Moscow’s resolve to take on Silicon Valley and marked a test of its new infrastructure for a “sovereign internet” less dependent on western tech companies. – Financial Times

After a decade of fierce litigation, the Supreme Court handed Google a win over Oracle on Monday in a closely-watched copyright dispute that has huge implications for how companies build software to work across platforms. The justices ruled 6-2 that Google’s use of 11,000 lines of Oracle’s software code in developing its Android mobile operating system was legal under “fair use” provisions of copyright law. It is a key ruling on how that law applies to APIs, software code that enables programs to work with each other. – Politico

Editorial: The Supreme Court on Monday handed Google a victory in its decade-long copyright feud with Oracle. Don’t be dazed by the case’s technical argot. By declaring Google’s code-cribbing fair use, the 6-2 majority has weakened intellectual property protections. – Wall Street Journal


The U.S. Air Force has decided to retire the planes used for nearly three decades to fly monitoring missions over Russia, taking a step that raises questions about whether President Biden plans to rejoin a treaty with Moscow that dates to the end of the Cold War. – Wall Street Journal

The US Navy’s Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group (TRCSG) entered the South China Sea on April 4 to conduct routine operations, the US Navy said on Tuesday. – Reuters

A plan to keep the Navy’s guided-missile cruiser fleet operating through the end of the 2030s is struggling as the ships show there’s a very real cost in time and money to keep old platforms around for the sake of having a larger fleet. The Navy’s Ticonderoga-class cruisers pack a punch with their 122 vertical launching system cells packed with guided missiles, but today their most important role is hosting a carrier strike group’s air defense commander and staff during carrier strike group deployments. – USNI News

Drones that hovered around U.S. destroyers for hours off the California coast remain unidentified more than a year and a half after the episode, the Navy’s top officer says. – NBC News

The Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie drone successfully launched an even smaller unmanned aircraft from inside its internal weapons bay on March 26, the U.S. Air Force announced Monday. – C4ISRNET

The U.S. Army is embarking on a competitive prototyping effort to acquire a new, all-terrain vehicle that can operate in the Arctic, with evaluations to take place in Alaska this year, according to Tim Goddette, the program executive officer of the service’s combat support and combat service support. – Defense News

Lockheed Martin on April 5 appointed a new leader for the F-35 program who has experience in overseeing the jet’s sustainment enterprise, amid public criticism over the Joint Strike Fighter’s operations and maintenance costs. – Defense News

Long War

The attack bore all the hallmarks of the Islamist insurgents that have terrorised Mozambique’s far northern Cabo Delgado region for the past three years. Gunmen converged on a refugee-filled town. They waited, cutting off access by road. Then, at about 4pm on March 24, they opened fire. – Financial Times

Two Yemeni men on the FBI’s terror watchlist were arrested in recent months for illegally entering the US from Mexico, federal authorities said Monday. – New York Post

Disturbing new images show the aftermath of a bloody attack by ISIS terrorists in the African country of Mozambique last month. – New York Post

Chuck Rosenberg writes: Three months ago, rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol seeking violently to overturn the results of a valid presidential election. Not all of the rioters were domestic terrorists, but domestic terrorists were among the rioters. […]Domestic terrorism is a grave threat to the national security of the United States. Because the FBI and the Justice Department are responsible for protecting us from that threat, we need to ask whether officials there are using all of the lawful tools at their disposal, whether the FBI is properly aligned to the threat, and whether the FBI’s culture helps or hinders that effort. – Washington Post