Fdd's overnight brief

August 16, 2023

In The News


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday he could not confirm a report that Iran slowed its pace of amassing near-weapons-grade enriched uranium but would welcome any Iranian steps to de-escalate its “growing nuclear threat.” – Reuters

The US is pushing Iran to stop selling armed drones to Russia as part of discussions on a broader “unwritten understanding” between Washington and Tehran to de-escalate tensions and contain a long-simmering nuclear crisis. – Financial Times

Chinese imports of sanctioned Iranian oil are running at the highest level in at least a decade as rising global prices make the discounted crude more attractive, according to data intelligence firm Kpler. – Bloomberg

A court in Iran has sentenced prominent movie director Saeed Roustaee to six months’ prison for the screening of his film “Leila’s Brothers” at the Cannes Film Festival last year, local media reported Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse

Iranian authorities have rearrested a journalist who interviewed the father of the woman whose custody death sparked months of protests, just two days after her release from jail, activists said on Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse

The Department of State, in one of the most bizarre twists related to the Biden administration’s agreement to release five hostages held in Iran for the largest ransom in history, is implying that the Islamic Republic might have been justified in arresting and imprisoning an American who was not included in the deal. – New York Sun

Regime change in Iran will only be possible if the “silent majority,” including many traditional pragmatists, buy into revolution, and it will not succeed based merely on liberals and diaspora Iranians, an INSS position paper said. – Jerusalem Post

Bret Stephens writes: The long record of negotiating with the Islamic republic shows it never pays to pay Tehran. “The regime’s hostility toward the U.S. isn’t reactive but proactive,” Wang Xiyue, a former hostage of Tehran, has noted. “It survives and thrives on its self-perpetuated hostility against the West.” Far from smoothing the way toward another nuclear deal with Iran, as the administration hopes, the hostage agreement means Iran will raise its price, probably past what President Biden can politically afford to pay. In the meantime, other hostages are sure to be taken. – New York Times

Farhad Rezaei writes: President Biden’s decision to dispatch additional Marines and warships to the Persian Gulf is a strategic move to counter the Iranian regime’s destabilizing activities. Such a plan requires a strong commitment to retaliate against any attacks on commercial vessels in the Persian Gulf waters. If the US fails to respond decisively, it may be perceived by the regime as weak and indecisive. – Jerusalem Post

Kenneth M. Pollack writes: What all this means is that absent an active U.S. role in the region and in such an alliance, a new Israeli-Saudi coalition could both provoke greater Iranian aggression and trigger its own escalation, leading to a wider conflict that would be disastrous for the region, and potentially for the United States and the world if it affected Middle Eastern energy flows. That’s why an Israeli-Saudi alliance needs to be seen as part of a U.S. commitment to the Middle East, not a substitute for one. Iran appears to have learned a new trick. It remains to be seen if the United States can as well. – Foreign Policy

Russia & Ukraine

The U.S. is in talks with Turkey, Ukraine and Kyiv’s neighbors to increase the use of alternative export routes for Ukrainian grain, officials said, after Russia pulled out of an agreement that guaranteed the safety of food shipments across the Black Sea. – Wall Street Journal

Russia’s central bank jacked up its key interest rate at an emergency meeting to stem a sharp selloff in the ruble and resurgent inflation, a response to the mounting financial costs of Moscow’s war in Ukraine. – Wall Street Journal

Swedish bearings maker SKF (SKFb.ST) said on Tuesday its factory in Lutsk, Ukraine was hit by a missile overnight, killing three employees. Ukrainian officials said Russian air strikes had hit two western regions of Ukraine and other areas on Tuesday, killing three people and wounding more than a dozen. – Reuters

Russia’s defence minister told officials on Tuesday that Ukraine’s ability to fight had been “almost exhausted” and said the war had exposed vulnerabilities in Western weapons systems that Moscow would soon share. – Reuters

Russian drone strikes damaged grain silos and warehouses at the Ukrainian river port of Reni on the Danube, a vital wartime route for Ukrainian food exports, senior officials said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Joseph Bosco writes: Cold War II has many dimensions that, if not addressed effectively and comprehensively by clear-eyed Western governments, could metastasize the early stages of World War III into a more kinetic phase. The West will then have tragically blundered into another conflict through misguided accommodationist policies. – The Hill


Ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet sparred on Tuesday over the military’s handling of reservists protesting against his coalition’s judicial overhaul plan, as concerns mounted for Israel’s war-readiness. – Reuters

Leaders of the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the ruling Fatah faction held a rare meeting in the Gaza Strip during which they discussed ways of strengthening bilateral relations between the two sides. – Jerusalem Post

IDF and Border Police forces destroyed a lab used by Palestinian terror groups in the West Bank, as well as seven functioning explosive devices in the Balata refugee camp early on Wednesday morning. – Jerusalem Post

A man was convicted of financing Hamas with NIS 4 million over the course of a decade through a charity affiliated with both the terrorist organization and the Jordanian Wakf, the Jerusalem District Court ruled on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Jamie Hyams writes: Accordingly, we sincerely hope Israel’s government is seriously considering making public its undoubted reservations regarding Australia’s actions, aiming to discourage the Australian government from taking further counter-productive steps, such as recognizing “Palestine.” – Jerusalem Post


Amid waving flags and strict security precautions, the Taliban on Tuesday marked two years since the group stormed into the Afghan capital and upended the lives of millions of Afghans, creating a dilemma for the international community that has since only grown. – Washington Post

The Taliban view their rule of Afghanistan as open-ended, drawing legitimacy from Islamic law and facing no significant threat, their chief spokesman said in an interview marking the second anniversary of the Taliban takeover of the country. He also indicated a ban on female education will remain in place. – Associated Press

The International Criminal Court (ICC) should recognize gender discrimination in Afghanistan as a crime against humanity and investigate it with the aim of prosecuting those responsible, U.N. global education envoy Gordon Brown said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Two years after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the United States has begun easing rules that could allow commercial airlines to fly over the country in routes that cut time and fuel consumption for East-West travel. But those shortened flight routes for India and Southeast Asia raise questions never answered during the Taliban’s previous rule from the 1990s to the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. – Associated Press

Shabana Basij-Rasikh writes: Because every day these girls are in school, they chip away at the darkness that fell across Afghanistan two years ago. Every day these girls are in school, they build the possibility of a different future. For themselves and for so many other girls, so many other sisters they’ve never met. It’s been two years, and still, inside the sadness, inside the anger and the honesty, I choose to find the hope. – Washington Post


A drilling rig arrived in Lebanon’s Block 9 on Wednesday to begin oil and gas exploration, Minister of Public Works and Transport, Ali Hamie, posted on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. The start of drilling offshore Lebanon by a consortium led by France’s TotalEnergies (TTEF.PA) follows a landmark U.S.-brokered agreement last year that delineated the contentious maritime border between Lebanon and Israel to the south. – Reuters

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: In any event, one of Nasrallah’s strangest speeches to date shows how obsessed he is with following Israeli media and how hard he works to manipulate information to strengthen his destabilized position domestically. – Jerusalem Post

Alexander Langlois writes: With this in mind, the Quint could be operationalizing the early stages of an approach discussed in the last gathering in Doha. Such a plan may utilize the influence of regional states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Egypt alongside U.S. pressure to entice Lebanon’s major political players to agree on the presidency, prime minister, cabinet roles, and central bank governor. – The National Interest

Middle East & North Africa

UAE-based agribusiness Al Dahra and the Abu Dhabi Exports Office (ADEX) have signed a $500 million deal to supply Egypt with wheat, a statement said on Monday. […]Egypt, a major buyer of basic commodities, has been suffering a foreign currency crunch after the Ukraine war delivered a broad shock to its economy. – Reuters

In another sign of how the war in Ukraine is shaking up the geopolitical scene, Washington is actively seeking along with Greece to amplify its strategic reach in the Aegean Sea — a move almost certain, in time, to vex Turkey. – New York Sun

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, a key figure and possible future leader of Turkey’s political opposition, said on Tuesday he is set to run again for mayor in local elections set for March. – Reuters

Two powerful armed factions battled in Libya’s capital on Tuesday in the city’s worst violence this year, but the deadly clashes calmed after one side released a commander whose detention had triggered the fighting. – Reuters

Simon Henderson and David Schenker write: Even as it encourages normalization between Riyadh and Jerusalem, Washington is probably trying to balance policies that constrain Iran, preserve U.S. diplomatic options, and address Middle East proliferation concerns—namely, the likelihood that further Iranian nuclear advances will prompt other regional countries to actively pursue their own military nuclear alternatives. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the UAE are widely believed to have the technological base for such efforts or access to it, while Russia, China, and perhaps even France may oblige with additional help. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea, commenting publicly for the first time on its nearly monthlong detainment of a U.S. soldier, claimed the American serviceman had said he faced inhuman mistreatment and racial discrimination from the U.S. Army and sought haven in the Kim Jong Un regime. – Wall Street Journal

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to strengthen relations with Russia so the two countries could continue to “smash the imperialists’ arbitrary practices and hegemony,” according to a state media report. – Washington Post

North Korea on Tuesday denounced U.S.-led plans for an open Security Council meeting on its human rights record as “despicable” and only aimed at achieving Washington’s geopolitical ambitions. – Associated Press

China opposes a planned United Nations Security Council meeting on human rights abuses in North Korea because it will only “intensify confrontation and antagonism,” a spokesperson for China’s U.N. mission in New York said on Monday. – Reuters

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said the world would never accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons power while opening the door to a possible breakthrough in cooperation on deterrence with the US and Japan when leaders from the nations meet in a landmark summit later this week. – Bloomberg


One of the most productive scientific collaborations of the 21st century is pulling apart, as deteriorating relations between the U.S. and China lead researchers to sever ties. The decoupling, which began in recent years with investigations into Chinese researchers in the U.S., has accelerated as tensions have risen between the superpowers. – Wall Street Journal

China’s authorities responded to another burst of dire news on the economy with a well-honed playbook: They cut interest rates and withheld some potentially embarrassing economic data. – Wall Street Journal

China’s defense minister vowed to strengthen military ties with a string of countries around the world, while excluding from that list the Asian nation’s biggest economic and geopolitical rival, the United States. – Bloomberg

William A. Galston writes: None of this means that the odds of a confrontation with China over Taiwan will diminish. Indeed, the odds may increase if China’s leaders increase nationalist appeals to deflect attention from the country’s economic woes. But China’s prospects of ever reaching U.S. levels of household income are certainly dimmer than they seemed at the beginning of the decade. – Wall Street Journal

Josh Rogin writes: Others argue that because these Wall Street firms are engaging in technically legal activities, Congress and the government have no right to intervene. But that’s exactly backward. It’s the job of Congress and the government to respond to national security vulnerabilities and make new laws and policies to protect Americans. – Washington Post

South Asia

Chinese and Indian military commanders pledged to “maintain the peace and tranquility” along their disputed border, China’s Defense Ministry said, in an apparent effort by the sides to stabilize the situation after a rise in tensions. – Associated Press

India and the United Arab Emirates have started settling bilateral trade in their local currencies with India’s top refiner making payment in rupees for purchase of a million barrels of oil from the Middle Eastern nation, the Indian government said on Monday. […]India in July signed an agreement with the UAE allowing it to settle trade in rupees instead of dollars, boosting India’s efforts to cut transaction costs by eliminating dollar conversions. – Reuters

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) staff team will visit Colombo in a month’s time for the first review on Sri Lanka’s loan programme, a spokesperson said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Sri Lanka on Tuesday lifted a ban on imports of trucks and other heavy vehicles for the first time since March 2020, according to a gazette notification. Sri Lanka has been gradually easing import restrictions, which were imposed as the country’s economy tottered from a financial crisis caused by a severe shortage of dollars. – Reuters


Any Chinese military action in response to stopovers in the U.S. by Taiwan Vice President William Lai would be an attempt by China to interfere in the island’s elections, Lai said during a trip to Paraguay. – Reuters

A trilateral summit this week between the leaders of the United States, South Korea and Japan should not be seen as “provocative” by China, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel said on Tuesday. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday said Washington is satisfied with Japan’s plan to release treated radioactive water from the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean. – Reuters

The Philippines seeks to bolster its ability to address threats while underlining the need to strengthen ties with allies while pursuing an independent foreign policy, under a six-year national security policy published on Tuesday. – Reuters

China has made stern representations to Japan over Prime Minister Fumio Kishida sending a ritual offering to the controversial Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Tuesday. – Reuters

China called Taiwan’s vice president a “troublemaker” whose views risk sparking a conflict, a sign that Lai Ching-te will likely have testy relations with Beijing if he becomes the island’s next leader. – Bloomberg

Japan will send its fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighters overseas for the first time later this month to take part in exercises in northern Australia. – Defense News

Hikmet Hajiyev writes: Territorial integrity and sovereignty of every and each country is sacrosanct. A selective approach to separatism cannot be acceptable. Verbal statements from the Armenian leadership on supporting Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity should be inked within a peace treaty. Armenia should also finally cease all its territorial claims against Azerbaijan and pull out all elements of its armed forces from Azerbaijan’s territory. There is no other way forward. Azerbaijan has taken the first steps to map out the road to peace. The ball is now in Armenia’s court, with its political leadership. – The National Interest

Joseph Rachman writes: Not unexpectedly for the head of a firm trying to do business with Washington, Lacaze is bullish about U.S prospects. While she admits U.S. policy has been lacking in the past, she points to the Inflation Reduction Act and a proposed bill to generously subsidize magnet production as promising developments. U.S. hawkishness towards China means she expects these policies will stick. Still, she admits that without the generous government support being offered the United States wouldn’t be at the top of her list of places to set up a new plant. – Foreign Policy


British police have arrested five people, including at least three Bulgarian nationals, believed to have been living undercover in the U.K. while working for Russian intelligence, the latest in a series of arrests across Western countries of alleged Russian agents posing as seemingly ordinary people. – Wall Street Journal

Northern Irish police are confident that militant groups are in possession of details of officers it accidentally shared publicly last week, the region’s police chief said on Monday. – Reuters

Latvia’s defence minister ordered the army to help guard the Baltic country’s border with Russian ally Belarus on Tuesday, after 96 attempts by illegal immigrants to cross in 24 hours. […]Latvia has “information about a possible increase in hybrid threats”, the Border Guard said in a statement. Belarusian authorities were increasingly involved in organising the flow of illegal immigrants, it said. – Reuters


More than 1 million people have fled Sudan to neighbouring states and people inside the country are running out of food and dying due to lack of healthcare after four months of war, the United Nations warned on Tuesday. – Reuters

Niger’s junta on Tuesday said that it was open to talks to resolve a regional crisis caused by last month’s military coup, while Russia and the United States called for a peaceful resolution. – Reuters

West African army chiefs will meet in Ghana’s capital Accra on Thursday and Friday to prepare for a possible military intervention to restore democratic order in Niger, a spokesperson for regional bloc ECOWAS said on Tuesday. – Reuters

The coup in Niger is “a setback that aggravates the complex development challenges in the country and in the Sahel further,” German development minister Svenja Schulze said on Tuesday during a visit to West Africa. – Reuters

A parliamentary committee in Kenya has launched an inquiry into alleged human rights violations and ethical breaches by a British army training unit that has been active for decades in the country the U.K. calls “our defense partner of choice in East Africa.” – Associated Press

Twenty United Nations agencies and other international organizations called Tuesday for peace, access to humanitarian support and respect for human rights in Sudan, where a war that has led to deaths, sexual violence and food shortages reached the four-month mark. – Associated Press

Despite continued uncertainty about the future of the Wagner Group and its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, recent satellite imagery indicates that the private military company (PMC) is not only staying in Mali but is actively expanding its base capacity in Bamako and may intend to transfer additional valuable military equipment there in the near future. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Mathieu Droin and Tina Dolbaia write: In general, the European Peace Facility, as an instrument initially conceived of in Paris to support its own efforts in Africa (taking over the Africa Peace Facility) and later reoriented to support the Ukrainian Armed Forces, should be supported in a way to fund efforts in both theaters. The European Peace Facility has the potential to be a very competitive instrument, with due diligence carried out up front to ensure that arms are supplied into safe hands, for clear and shared objectives. Failing to do so could add to the sentiment of double standards and frustration in the relations between Africa and Europe. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Latin America

A “robust use of force” by a multinational police deployment and use of military assets is needed to restore law and order in Haiti and disarm gangs, U.N. chief Antonio Guterres told the Security Council in a report seen by Reuters on Tuesday. – Reuters

President Santiago Peña said Paraguay and Taiwan are “not just allies, but also brothers” when he was sworn in as the South American country’s new president on Tuesday. – Associated Press

David Adler and Guillaume Long write: Despite these difficult conditions, the dream of Latin American integration endures. It is one that the international community, particularly the United States, should share. A more integrated Latin America would mean more reliable partners, thriving economies, and resilient democracies. But the clock is ticking. – Foreign Affairs

Simon Hankinson writes: But there’s still hope. As common threats to countries in the Americas become more pressing, our ability to collaborate toward a solution is increasing also. The Carvalho Dialogue revealed that free, sovereign peoples can and must resist the repressive, anti-democratic agenda of socialism. Working together, though not necessarily through their present governments, the people of the United States and Latin America can build durable, democratic societies that cooperate for mutual economic prosperity and security. – Heritage Foundation

North America

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Tuesday he will sit down with his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden in November during a meeting between Pacific and Asian countries to discuss development in the Americas. – Reuters

A former high-ranking FBI counterintelligence official pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiring to violate sanctions on Russia by going to work, after he retired, for an oligarch he once investigated. – Associated Press

David Ignatius writes: Even at a moment when American politics seems to be in free fall, this administration has kept its feet on the ground in foreign policy. That should reassure people who care about American interests — at home and abroad. – Washington Post

Robert B. Zoellick writes: The Biden theorists imagine a national economy that Washington designs without foreign involvement. Their industrial policy uses tariffs, rules of origin and “Buy American” requirements to block foreign competition. They send a destructive message to our partners: Join the race to subsidize. If you are a poorer developing country, too bad. – Washington Post

John Barrett writes: A protracted war between China and the United States would be a globally cataclysmic event that would shape our world for generations. But can the United States prepare its industrial base to potentially deter an adversary? Increased industrial capacity, capability, resilience, and a demonstrated commitment to fight the long war would go a long way to signaling resolve. – War on the Rocks


And across Latin America, online frauds and cyberattacks are at an “all-time high,” says cybersecurity company Tenable, posing an urgent problem for a well-connected region. Latin America’s recent progress on technological inclusion has created new opportunities for scams, experts say, with the pandemic fueling a trend toward mobile banking and shopping using payment systems like Brazil’s hugely popular PIX. – Reuters

The latest attempts by hackers to spy on government agencies in NATO countries include a variant of the Russia-linked Duke malware, according to new research. – The Record

A House lawmaker says his personal and political emails had been stolen by the same suspected Chinese hackers that breached the inboxes of the U.S. State and Commerce departments. – The Record

Klon Kitchen writes: As a nation we are just beginning to unearth the promise of AI, and, as we do so, we are becoming increasingly aware of the risks. The road to global AI leadership requires rigorous public-private partnership and an acknowledgment that we must all work together to chart a sensible path through the ambiguity which often accompanies innovation, without stifling forward momentum. – American Enterprise Institute


As Adm. Mike Gilday handed command of the U.S. Navy over to Adm. Lisa Franchetti — who joins a growing list of acting service chiefs — top Navy and Pentagon leaders said the service is on the verge of a technological and operational overhaul. – Defense News

One of the U.S. Army’s electronic-warfare weapons will get a demonstration later this year. The service in September plans to study its Terrestrial Layer System-Brigade Combat Team in a test of its combined cyber, jamming and signals intelligence capabilities, according to Brig. Gen. Ed Barker, the program executive officer for intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors. – Defense News

A congressionally mandated commission on Tuesday took its first shot at convincing the Pentagon and Congress to reform its budget planning process. – Defense News

John Hoehn and Paul Cormarie write: To restore the U.S. military’s primacy, it requires budget certainty. We are not arguing for a particular funding level, but the Pentagon should have clear guidance on budget authority. And where continuing resolutions have cost a substantial amount of time, the Defense Department should have timely appropriations. – The Hill

Long War

Indonesia’s counter-terrorism unit on Tuesday announced the arrest of an alleged Islamic State (IS) loyalist suspected of planning an attack on the headquarters of the police’s security division. – Reuters

Jeff Goodson writes: Islamic jihad is the only true forever war. Now, exactly two years after the fall of Kabul, with the world’s attention focused on Ukraine, Taliban-run Afghanistan is again fertile ground for those who would launch 9/11-type terrorist attacks on us and our allies. – The Hill

Natasha Hall and Emma Beals write: Using negotiations over humanitarian access to achieve political ends tends to entrench power structures that drive conflict. It winds up assisting the warring parties and their great-power benefactors while the broader population suffers. Countries trying to help should deploy humanitarian aid that is true to their principles and serves to end, rather than prolong, conflict. – Foreign Affairs