Fdd's overnight brief

April 8, 2021

In The News


The United States is prepared to remove sanctions on Iran to resume compliance with the Iran nuclear deal, including those that are inconsistent with the 2015 pact, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday, without providing details. – Reuters

Diplomats from major powers met separately on Wednesday with Iran and the United States to discuss how to bring both back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal that Washington abandoned three years ago. – Reuters

Iran has made 55 kg of uranium enriched to up to 20% – the point at which it is highly enriched – indicating quicker production than the 10 kg a month rate required by an Iranian law that created the process in January, Iranian authorities said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Talks between the U.N. atomic watchdog and Iran aimed at prising answers from Tehran on unexplained uranium traces have been delayed, narrowing a window to make progress or risk undoing a wider push for detente with the West, three diplomats said. – Reuters 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that talks in Vienna on rescuing a troubled 2015 nuclear deal had opened a “new chapter”. – Agence France-Presse

A senior Chinese diplomat endorsed Iran’s negotiating position during a high-stakes meeting about the rehabilitation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, even as President Joe Biden hopes Beijing will be a “partner” in these negotiations. – Washington Examiner

Editorial: It’s no secret that Obama officials envisioned a realignment in the Middle East away from traditional alliances with Israel and Arab Gulf states toward a region in which Iran is more influential. […]Either way, it is clear that when Washington and Tehran eventually sit down for direct talks, the latter will have the upper hand, undermining U.S. regional allies and making it easier for Iran to achieve its nuclear ambitions and threaten the world. – National Review

Eli Lake writes: Even as it negotiated the JCPOA, Iran was not only holding blueprints for a nuclear weapon, but also maintaining a constellation of physical sites where it could eventually build one. This is what’s wrong with the current talks in Vienna: The best the Biden administration can hope for from these negotiations is Iranian compliance with a flawed bargain. In exchange for that compliance, Araghchi is demanding the U.S. lift the very sanctions that are its best leverage to get Iran to come clean to the IAEA. That’s not a deal any U.S. president should make. – Bloomberg

Wilfried Buchta writes: Although there is no solid evidence at present to support the revived rumors that Khamenei’s son is making his “claim to the throne,” nor that the Supreme Leader’s health is rapidly deteriorating, the possibility of a future power grab by Mojtaba should not be ruled out. And one thing is clear: it would not bode well for Iran if Mojtaba were to win a succession contest and become Supreme Leader by relying on his father’s authority. – Washington Institute

Noah Rothman writes: Iran and the United States are back at the nuclear negotiating table. Talks have so far been described as “constructive,” which translates from Diplomatese to English as “fruitless.” Seeing as these negotiations are being conducted by European intermediaries who literally shuttle themselves from the hotel where the Iranian delegation is situated to another where the Americans are lodged, it would be a miracle if a breakthrough were reached. – Commentary Magazine

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: The U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA, Iran’s progress, and the increasing level of instability in the region have all changed these conditions. This does not necessarily mean that the JCPOA should not be revived, but it does mean that the JCPOA should be addressed in very different terms. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: Biden wants to rejoin the nuclear deal to remove a source of instability and instead focus his energies on fighting the coronavirus and bigger foreign policy challenges like China and Russia. […]Rouhani and Biden will do what they can to move toward a deal – even an interim one: Rouhani to save his legacy and Biden to clear off his table to deal with other issues. In the meantime, Netanyahu will do all he can to undermine such a deal. – Jerusalem Post


The White House acknowledged the meeting in October, but said little about it. New details have emerged in interviews The Associated Press conducted in recent weeks with people familiar with the talks, some of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. The AP has also learned about U.S. attempts to build goodwill with Syria well before the talks took place, with Patel describing how an unidentified U.S. ally in the region offered assistance with cancer treatment for the wife of President Bashar Assad. – Associated Press

Four Syrian soldiers were injured and material damage was reported after an alleged Israeli airstrike targeted Damascus on Wednesday night, according to Syrian state news agency SANA. – Jerusalem Post

A veteran US diplomat who served in various high-level positions related to Syria revealed Wednesday that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad said he was willing to end his alliance with Iran and Hezbollah and broker an Israeli-Lebanese peace treaty, if Israel returned the Golan Heights in their entirety. – Algemeiner


A Turkish court on Wednesday jailed 32 former soldiers for life in a mass trial involving nearly 500 military defendants implicated in a failed 2016 bid to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. – Agence France-Presse

A Turkish Air Force aerobatic jet crashed in central Turkey on Wednesday, killing its pilot, Turkey’s defense ministry said. – Associated Press

W. Robert Pearson writes: Relations between the United States and Turkey have never been worse, but the two countries still must deal with each other, and so President Joe Biden and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may talk this week. Each will review his list of issues. Both will commit to better relations and to best efforts to reach peaceful solutions to global, regional, and bilateral issues — and very little will change. – Middle East Institute


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a sharp warning Wednesday night to the international community and implicitly to the United States that any agreement with Iran that allows it a path to develop nuclear weapons will not be binding on the Jewish state. – Jerusalem Post

A meeting of senior government echelons on how to react to the International Criminal Court’s announced intention to probe alleged Israeli war crimes, ended inconclusively on Wednesday, two days before the deadline to respond. – Jerusalem Post

Mossad spy agency chief Yossi Cohen will travel to Washington in the coming days for meetings with top officials in the White House and the American intelligence community, Channel 13 news reported Wednesday It will be the first high-level visit by an Israeli official since US President Joe Biden took office in January.. – Times of Israel

Israel’s envoy to the UN on Wednesday reacted angrily to the US State Department’s announcement that it was restoring aid to the Palestinians — including a $150 million sum for a UN agency that is dedicated solely to the descendants of Palestinian refugees and which has been denounced by Israel for propagating antisemitism. – Algemeiner


In confidential interrogation reports, Iraqi detainee M060108-01 is depicted as a model prisoner, “cooperative” with his American captors and unusually chatty. At times, he seemed to go out of his way to be helpful, especially when offered a chance to inform on rivals within his organization, then known as the Islamic State of Iraq. […]Meanwhile, the detainee, U.S. officials say, would go on to become famous under a different name: Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi — the current leader of the Islamic State. – Washington Post

Britain carried out several air strikes against Islamic State (IS) militants in northern Iraq last month as part of a coordinated 10-day operation with local ground forces, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said on Thursday. – Reuters

The United States agreed in talks Wednesday with Iraq to remove all remaining combat forces deployed to fight Islamic State extremists, although US forces will still provide training. – Agence France-Presse

Iraq’s prime minister asked Iran’s leaders to rein in Iran-backed militias in Iraq and in a strongly worded message to Tehran, suggested he would confront the factions, two Iraqi officials said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Middle East & North Africa

King Abdullah II of Jordan broke his silence Wednesday night over the unusually public rift with his half brother, Prince Hamzah, justifying the steps he had taken to curb his brother’s contact with the outside world, while asserting that the prince’s “sedition has been nipped in the bud.” – New York Times 

Talks between officials from Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan hosted by the Democratic Republic of Congo ended without an agreement on Tuesday, sparking a new round of heated rhetoric between the two countries. Egypt’s president on Wednesday hinted at the possibility of conflict with Ethiopia, but said he preferred cooperation on the issue. – Wall Street Journal

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun said on Wednesday the central bank bore responsibility for the country’s financial collapse and for stalling an audit which is a key condition for foreign aid the country badly needs. Reuters

President Biden spoke with King Abdullah II of Jordan on Wednesday, offering “strong U.S. support for Jordan,” according to a statement released by the White House. – The Hill


Beijing has increased its military harassment of what it considers a rogue territory, including menacing flights by 15 Chinese warplanes near its shores over recent days. In response, Biden administration officials are trying to calibrate a policy that protects the democratic, technology-rich island without inciting an armed conflict that would be disastrous for all. – New York Times

In a secretive military facility in southwest China, a supercomputer whirs away, simulating the heat and drag on hypersonic vehicles speeding through the atmosphere — missiles that could one day be aimed at a U.S. aircraft carrier or Taiwan, according to former U.S. officials and Western analysts. – Washington Post

The Internet has become an unbearable place for Vicky Xiuzhong Xu, a 26-year-old analyst based in Australia. Over the past week, she was shocked to see her name trending on Chinese social media, with millions of views and thousands of negative comments. – Washington Post

A port city in eastern China has launched an ambitious plan to build the country’s fifth rocket launch site, under a longer-term goal to ramp up space infrastructure to meet the demands of an expected boom in commercial missions. – Reuters 

The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on April 14 on a bipartisan measure to bolster U.S. technology research and development efforts in a bid to address Chinese competition. – Reuters

President Xi Jinping told German leader Angela Merkel during a phone call Wednesday that he hoped Europe would “make positive efforts with China”, Chinese state media reported, following an international row over the treatment of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. – Agence France-Presse

The White House said Wednesday that it is not in talks with its allies over a joint boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics, amid Western concerns over Chinese human rights violations in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. – Agence France-Presse

The United States on Wednesday warned China against what the Philippines and Taiwan see as increasingly aggressive moves, reminding Beijing of Washington’s obligations to its partners. – Agence France-Presse

Twitter Inc. has thrown its support behind the Milk Tea Alliance of democracy movements in Hong Kong, Taiwan and other parts of Asia, defying China at a time when Beijing is punishing western companies for commenting on what it considers internal matters. – Bloomberg

China has warned the U.S. that it would have a “robust response” if the U.S. decides to boycott the 2022 winter Olympics in Beijing over concerns of human rights violations. – Newsweek

Alexander B. Gray writes: As Washington looks to counter Beijing’s ambitions, one good idea is to unleash the U.S. Coast Guard, which could and should play a larger role in preserving order in the Pacific. The recent appearance of a 200-ship Chinese “fishing” flotilla in the South China Sea, loitering in Beijing-claimed waters and intimidating regional states, shows the urgency of addressing China’s maritime predations. – Wall Street Journal

Nicholas Kristof writes: As for the Beijing Games, here’s my bottom line: Athletes should participate and television should broadcast the competition, but government officials and companies should stay out of it. And I hope athletes while in Beijing will use every opportunity to call attention to repression in Xinjiang or elsewhere. – New York Times


With the final votes tallied on Thursday, candidates from the right-leaning People Power Party easily won mayoral races in the country’s two-largest cities, steamrolling opponents from Mr. Moon’s ruling party. It wasn’t close: the margin of victory eclipsed 18 percentage points in Seoul, while it hit nearly 30 percentage points in Busan. – Wall Street Journal

Myanmar’s ambassador to Britain, Kyaw Zwar Minn, was locked out of his own embassy on Wednesday, apparently in retaliation for criticizing the country’s military, which seized power in February and has since launched a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. – New York Times

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday met Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and the country’s army chief for talks on the troubled peace process in Afghanistan, where both countries have long histories of involvement. – Reuters

Without coming right out and saying it, President Joe Biden seems ready to let lapse a May 1 deadline for completing a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Orderly withdrawals take time, and Biden is running out of it. – Associated Press

Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan said the government will protect the country’s sovereignty and national interest, in response to a warning from China’s ambassador that it will “respond in kind” if Canberra joins sanctions on officials accused of human rights abuses. – Bloomberg

A U.S. guided-missile destroyer transited the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday, days after the Chinese Navy announced a carrier strike group was operating near the island. – USNI News

Manjari Singh writes: For India, this growing influence of a regional rival in a region vital to India’s economy and, increasingly, its national security, should be a powerful motivator for New Delhi. Indeed, as India builds on its policy of Indian self-reliance, building a long-term policy that bolsters Indian engagement in the Gulf through investment, technology, and military cooperation is a proactive way to support these goals, especially given the interest China is already demonstrating. – Washington Institute

Michael Mazza writes: Indeed, all of the steps that the Biden Administration took in March were designed to deny China a free hand in the Taiwan Strait. Publicizing allied concern for Taiwan’s security, reinforcing Taiwan’s formal diplomatic relationships, deepening America’s engagement with Taiwan, and supporting Taiwan’s own efforts to enhance its security—all make it more difficult for Beijing to isolate and effectively intimidate Taipei. Thus far, the Biden Administration appears to be taking its Interim National Security Strategic Guidance quite seriously. – Global Taiwan Institute


The health of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is deteriorating as he keeps up his hunger strike in prison, his lawyers said Wednesday, with US President Joe Biden’s administration saying it is “disturbed” by the reports. – Agence France-Presse

The United States appears unlikely to rejoin the 34-nation Open Skies Treaty over its concerns about Russian noncompliance, with the Biden administration telling international partners in a recent diplomatic memo obtained by Defense News that doing so would send the “wrong message” to Russia. – Defense News

A year after Western leaders largely stayed away from the 75th anniversary celebrations in Red Square, the Kremlin said Wednesday that no foreign guests will be invited to the 76th anniversary festivities next month. – Washington Times


Greenland’s left-wing environmentalist party, Inuit Ataqatigiit, won a victory in general elections on Tuesday after campaigning against the development of a contentious rare earths mine partly backed by China. – New York Times 

Rioters set a hijacked bus on fire and hurled gasoline bombs at police in Belfast in the fourth night of violence in a week in Northern Ireland, where Brexit has unsettled an uneasy political balance. – Associated Press

The U.K. said it will spend 43 million pounds ($59 million) to help the settlement and assimilation of Hong Kongers arriving under a new immigration route introduced after China imposed sweeping security powers over the former British colony last year. – Bloomberg

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he’s deeply concerned by ongoing violence in Northern Ireland, which has seen more than 40 police officers injured in rioting in recent days. – Bloomberg

The White House is in talks to appoint a special envoy to lead negotiations on halting the construction of Russia-to-Germany gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, current and former U.S. officials said, as the Biden administration grapples with how to stymie a nearly completed energy project that would serve as a major financial and geopolitical boon to Moscow. – Politico

Tom Rogan writes: Namely, that is that Merkel is tripling down on the prioritization of German exports to China above any and all other foreign policy concerns. As Xi noted during the call, China has been Germany’s largest trade partner for the last five years. His observation of that fact wasn’t just a side comment. Albeit subtly, Xi is reminding Merkel that Germany’s continued export access to China is dependent on her deference in other foreign policy spheres. – Washington Examiner


The Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate has fallen, its fighters have dispersed and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has been killed. But two years after it suffered stinging defeats in Syria and Iraq, the terrorist group has found a new lifeline in Africa, where analysts say it has forged alliances with local militant groups in symbiotic relationships that have pumped up their profiles, fund-raising and recruitment. – New York Times

Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi on Wednesday said Islamic State-linked insurgents had been forced out of Palma, a northern town hit in a brazen raid last month that left dozens of dead and forced thousands from their homes. – Agence France-Presse

Five days of fighting in Sudan’s West Darfur region has left at least 87 people dead, medics said Wednesday, with thousands fleeing the latest outbreak of violence. – Agence France-Presse

Somalia’s federal government failed to reach an agreement with regional states to end an ongoing disagreement over elections. – Bloomberg

Amr Adly writes: The failure of the latest negotiations over the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam bodes ill for the stability and security of northeastern Africa. In the absence of a clear agreement that explicitly guarantees Egypt and Sudan access to fresh water while allowing Ethiopia to exploit the river for power generation, the Blue Nile basin could become the theater of a riparian cold war, with an ever-present possibility of direct confrontation between the three states. – Bloomberg

The Americas

A Honduran delegation began talks in Washington on Wednesday to seek economic help for devastating hurricanes which have ravaged the Central American country and helped spur a jump in immigration that has tested U.S. President Joe Biden. – Reuters

The United States has sanctioned two suspected members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) accused of helping organize an attack last year on Mexico City’s police chief and the murder of a former governor of the Jalisco state. – Reuters

Taiwan worked with other democracies to help its diplomatic ally Paraguay get COVID-19 vaccines after China put pressure on the South American country to ditch Taipei in exchange for shots, and India stepped in to help, Taiwan’s foreign minister said. – Reuters


TikTok was fined by a Russian court Tuesday after federal censors said the social networking service refused to remove content that illegally encouraged minors to participate in unauthorized protests. – Washington Times

The US Department of Defense’s artificial intelligence (AI) directorate is weighing whether to link its new AI technology development platform with other similar Pentagon and service-led platforms in an effort to create a unified system of systems that will drive future advances in military AI. – Janes

Biden administration officials have completed an intelligence review of alleged Russian misdeeds such as election interference and the SolarWinds hack, setting the stage for the U.S to announce retaliatory actions soon, according to three people familiar with the matter. – Bloomberg


The Pentagon is keeping for now a Trump administration policy that loosened restrictions on the use of landmines by the U.S. military, as the Biden administration weighs whether to re-impose tougher rules. – Washington Times

The Navy continues to learn more about a pair of directed energy weapons, as the service installs the fourth and fifth dazzler system this year and begins land-based testing of a high-energy laser weapon, the program executive officer for integrated warfare systems told USNI News. – USNI News

The U.S. Air Force’s newest F-15EX variant will be called the Eagle II, the service announced Wednesday. Lt. Gen. Duke Richardson, the service’s top uniformed acquisition official, announced the official designation during a rollout and naming ceremony at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. – Defense News

The U.S. Air Force awarded Raytheon Technologies a $15.5 million contract to deliver an upgraded version of its dune buggy-mounted laser weapon system, which the company says will inform requirements for a future program of record. – C4ISRNET