Fdd's overnight brief

December 2, 2021

In The News


Nuclear talks between Iran, the U.S. and other major powers resumed on Nov. 29 in Vienna for the first time in five months, with Western concerns growing about Iran’s nuclear work and expectations for a breakthrough set low after Iran’s hard-line new government repeatedly delayed the diplomacy. – Wall Street Journal  

Iran has started producing enriched uranium with more efficient advanced centrifuges at its Fordow plant dug into a mountain, the U.N. atomic watchdog said on Wednesday, further eroding the 2015 Iran nuclear deal during talks with the West on saving it. – Reuters  

Financially motivated hackers likely based in Iran are successfully targeting and stealing billions in currency from Iranian civilians through a texting campaign, new research released Wednesday found. – The Hill  

For policymakers, the reality of Iran’s regime is now clear. Instead of the dog and pony show that used to be trotted out in talks with the West, with the “moderates” on hand to talk the Western language while the “hardliners” controlled things back home, now the Iranian regime is what it appears to be. – Jerusalem Post 

On November 29, The Washington Institute held a virtual Policy Forum with Amir Toumaj and Sanam Vakil. Toumaj is an independent Iran researcher, cofounder of Resistance Axis Monitor, and author of the new Institute Policy Note “Iranian Perceptions of the U.S. Soft Power Threat.” Vakil is deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House and author of Women and Politics in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Action and Reaction (Bloomsbury, 2013). The following is a rapporteur’s summary of their remarks. – Washington Institute 

David Horovitz writes: And thus we lurch ever closer to the unthinkable denouement that Israel has tried for so long to warn the world against: the stark choice between a nuclear Iran and a desperate resort to military force to try to stop it. – Times of Israel 

Ammar Maleki and Pooyan Tamimi Arab write: Right now, the Biden administration appears to have utterly failed in reaching Iranians’ hearts and minds. The U.S. government should realize that ignoring the Iranian people’s demands for human rights and democracy, while instead focusing on dealing with an unaccountable and unpopular regime, will result in a double loss: a fragile agreement and a disappointed nation. – Middle East Institute 


As the Taliban seek international recognition for their rule, foreign media have been able to operate relatively freely in Afghanistan since the group’s takeover, though most Western media no longer keep a permanent presence there. – Wall Street Journal  

Iranian security forces and Taliban fighters clashed in a gun battle over a “misunderstanding” related to a border wall on the Iran-Afghanistan border, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported, citing an unnamed official. – Bloomberg  

The United Nations appealed on Thursday for a record $41 billion to provide life-saving assistance next year to 183 million people worldwide caught up in conflict and poverty, led by a tripling of its programme in Afghanistan. – Reuters  

Dozens of Taliban gunmen stormed the offices of Afghanistan’s Independent Bar Association (AIBA) in Kabul last week and ordered its staff to stop their work. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

The United Nations refugee agency is urging Afghanistan’s neighbors to open their borders to Afghans seeking to flee their war-torn country — even if they don’t have documentation. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 


Turkey’s central bank moved Wednesday to prop up the country’s collapsing currency, selling foreign reserves after the lira reached new lows following comments by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in defense of his unorthodox economic policies. – Wall Street Journal 

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan named a loyalist as the country’s new finance minister Thursday, after the incumbent resigned over clashes with the longtime leader’s unconventional economic policies that have intensified a currency crisis shaking the country. – Wall Street Journal 

Turkey is in contact with Ukraine and Russia to ease tensions, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday, adding that sanctions on Moscow will not solve the crisis. – Reuters  

With political discontent growing in Turkey and scattered protests breaking out, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s disregard for the value of the lira may have reached a breaking point. – Bloomberg  


Israel on Thursday called on world powers to halt their nuclear negotiations with Iran immediately, citing a U.N. watchdog’s announcement that Tehran has started producing enriched uranium with more advanced centrifuges. – Reuters 

Defense Minister Benny Gantz will travel to Washington next week for a series of meetings with top American officials amid rising tensions with Iran, his office said. – Times of Israel  

Iran on Wednesday accused Israel of “trumpeting lies to poison” ongoing nuclear talks in Vienna between Tehran and world powers. – Times of Israel  

A Palestinian mob attacked two Israelis who entered Ramallah by mistake, on Wednesday night. – Jerusalem Post  

Over 140 Facebook accounts, 79 pages, 13 groups and 21 Instagram accounts linked to the Hamas terrorist group were removed by Meta in November for “coordinated inauthentic behavior” (CIB), the company announced on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post 

Middle East & North Africa

An Italian parliamentary panel on Wednesday accused the Egyptian security apparatus of the kidnapping, torturing and murder of student Giulio Regeni in Cairo in 2016. – Reuters 

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince plans to make his first trip to neighboring Oman in the coming weeks, according to two people familiar with the matter, another sign of warming ties between the two Gulf states. – Bloomberg 

Five Kurdish “Peshmerga” fighters were killed, and four wounded, in an Islamic State (ISIS) attack on Friday, according to Iraq’s northeastern Kurdistan Regional Government. – The National Interest 

Bilal Wahab writes: The Iraqi security forces and Peshmerga have conducted some meaningful reforms, but these were largely technical military matters and have yet to be matched with a political accord. Rather than excuse them, Washington should press them for results—especially the U.S.-funded Peshmerga. Unified, accountable Kurdish security forces can play a crucial role in curbing the militias’ destabilizing influence and protecting U.S. military personnel stationed in the KRG. – Washington Institute 

Korean Peninsula

The U.S. and South Korea said they would update their joint wartime contingency plans for North Korea, as the Kim Jong Un regime has kept pursuing military advances amid a stall in nuclear talks. – Wall Street Journal  

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has said the country must be prepared for a “very giant struggle” next year to continue to make progress in areas including defence, agriculture and construction, state media reported on Thursday. – Reuters  

South Korean inflation has surged at its fastest pace in almost 10 years, as the country’s consumer price index confounded economists’ expectations with a 3.7 per cent rise year on year in November. – Financial Times 


Americans listed China as the nation’s top foe and their trust in the U.S. military dropped to its lowest levels in three years, according to the first major national-security survey conducted since the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. – Wall Street Journal  

China is pressuring American companies to push back against campaigns to boycott the Winter Olympics in Beijing, amid heightened scrutiny of human rights abuses in the country. – Washington Post  

Twitter and Facebook said they have removed thousands of accounts connected to Chinese information campaigns, in the latest sign of Beijing’s ambitions to shape the global narrative around the country. – New York Times 

America’s defense chief rebuked China on Thursday, vowing to confront its potential military threats in Asia and warning that its pursuit of hypersonic weapons intended to evade U.S. missile defenses “increases tensions in the region.” – Associated Press 

China’s foreign ministry summoned Japan’s ambassador in Beijing for an “emergency meeting” on Wednesday, after former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said neither his country nor the United States could stand by if China attacked Taiwan. – Reuters  

China told Indonesia to stop drilling for oil and natural gas in maritime territory that both countries regard as their own during a months-long standoff in the South China Sea earlier this year, four people familiar with the matter told Reuters. – Reuters  

China lashed out at Estonia after two of its lawmakers visited Taiwan, where they voiced their support for democracy on the island. – Bloomberg  

The Biden administration is working with the European Union to align their strategies on dealing with China, an effort to project unity between the transatlantic allies in the face of Beijing’s “concerning” behavior, a State Department official said Wednesday. – The Hill  

The US-based Women’s Tennis Association will suspend its tournaments in mainland China and Hong Kong, raising tensions with Beijing over the handling of tennis star Peng Shuai’s allegations of sexual assault against a former top Chinese official. – Financial Times 

Alexander B. Gray writes: The Biden administration has a unique opportunity to pre-empt Chinese mischief and shore up the international system in Antarctica. […]Second, in conjunction with New Zealand and Australia, the U.S. should inspect multiple research stations in the coming Antarctic summer. American bases should welcome similar inspections by other countries. If Beijing has nothing to hide, it will do the same. – Wall Street Journal  

John Authers writes: Somehow, China’s currency doesn’t come up in conversation so much any more. The mercantilist approach of the Trump administration has been abandoned, and the level of the yuan is no longer a geopolitical flashpoint. However, perhaps we should all pay more attention. […]This can be taken as a sign that the intense economic conflict between the U.S. and China is no longer being waged on the terrain of the currency and trade. – Bloomberg  

Antonio Graceffo writes: The current economic problems, while tremendous, do not signal the end of China as a global power. The country is more than likely to remain the world’s second largest economy and the primary rival of the United States. The Chinese role will change, however, in that they will be less of a driver of global growth and will no longer be speeding, inevitably, toward the position of paramount world power. – War on the Rocks  


A bid by the new Taliban government in Afghanistan and the junta ruling Myanmar to gain international recognition suffered a blow on Wednesday when the United Nations put off a decision on the rightful representatives of both countries. – New York Times 

It’s been less than a month since world leaders pledged to combat climate change at the COP26 summit in Glasgow, yet Japan is already showing signs of putting the brakes on divestment from fossil fuels. – Bloomberg  

Threats and coercion by China towards Taiwan increase the need for the United States to help Taiwan maintain a credible self-defense, the top U.S. diplomat for Asia said on Thursday. – Reuters 

An international media rights watchdog has criticized an “extremely vague” provision in a new Pakistani law that supposedly protects journalists, saying it was “tantamount to censorship and intimidation.” – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Vinay Kaura writes: While it is unlikely that current political tensions between Tajikistan and the Afghan Taliban will develop into a full-scale war, the potential for armed conflict remains high if the latter do not tone down their hostility toward inclusive governance. Afghan Tajiks have little prospect of near-term dominance or rehabilitation in the governing structures of Afghanistan, but Tajikistan will doubtless continue to exert significant political pressure on the Taliban regime to accommodate them. – Middle East Institute  


Russia ordered U.S. Embassy staff who have been in Moscow for more than three years to leave the country by Jan. 31, a move that comes a day before diplomats hold talks to address the worsening relationship between the two countries. – Wall Street Journal  

Russia has deployed its Bastion coastal missile defense system to a remote part of the Kuril island chain in the Pacific near Japan, the Ministry of Defense’s Zvezda TV channel said on Thursday. – Reuters 

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned Russia not to use force against neighbour Ukraine on Wednesday and told Reuters that Moscow knows it would pay a high price through sanctions and other steps by the West for any aggression. – Reuters  

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the U.S. remains concerned about a Russian military buildup near the Ukraine border region and called on President Vladimir Putin to be transparent about his actions. – Bloomberg 

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) says its officers have apprehended three Ukrainian nationals suspected of working for Ukraine’s intelligence agencies. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Benjamin Nathans writes: But these and similar gestures have become part of a peculiar “hybrid warfare” strategy, this one directed at Russian society rather than the West. Even as Putin pays public lip service to the victims of Soviet repression, his government is dismantling all genuinely independent sources of authority within Russia. In Memorial’s case, this involves the Orwellian tactic of invoking the battle against terrorism to prosecute an organization dedicated to documenting Soviet state-sponsored terror and to making sure nothing like it recurs. – Washington Post 

Doug Klain writes: If leaders are clear-eyed, Putin’s outrageous acts fit into a pattern. If leaders are honest, they will admit the pattern shows the acts simply will not stop on their own. As President Biden reportedly plans another meeting with Putin, while warning Moscow not to escalate with Ukraine, it is essential that leaders in Washington stop treating the Kremlin’s various aggressive acts as if they are unrelated. – The Hill  


Four people were injured after a decades-old bomb dropped from an aircraft in World War II exploded during construction works near the main train station in Munich on Wednesday, authorities said. – Wall Street Journal  

The European Union on Wednesday proposed new measures that would allow Poland and other member states bordering Belarus to suspend some protections for asylum seekers, raising concerns that they may undermine the ability of migrants to seek refuge in the bloc. – New York Times 

Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, said it has linked Belarus’s main security service, the KGB, to fake accounts on its social media platforms that criticized Poland during the countries’ recent border standoff. – Washington Post 

European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic urged Britain on Wednesday to reciprocate immediately to concessions made over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland in recent months, saying Brussels would be firm defending its interests. – Reuters  

Belarusian national carrier Belavia and Syria’s Cham Wings Airlines are among entities the European Union is planning to sanction over a migrant crisis that the bloc blames on Minsk. – Bloomberg  

French President Emmanuel Macron urged the U.K. to work with the EU to resolve post-Brexit issues, as he called the divorce deal’s Northern Ireland protocol a matter of “war and peace for Ireland.” – Politico  

Editorial: Western leaders have consistently underestimated Mr. Putin because they misjudge his ambitions. […]Ukraine is the biggest prize, and Mr. Putin would like it to become a satellite dictatorship like Belarus. His problem is that most Ukrainians see a better future aligned with the West, even if it would take decades to join the EU or NATO. Mr. Putin is looking for the right time and means to make his move, and he will if he thinks the costs will be acceptable. – Wall Street Journal  


Congolese authorities on Wednesday sought to allay concerns about the arrival of Ugandan troops in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo for an ongoing joint operation against a militia linked to Islamic State. – Reuters  

Ethiopian government forces and their regional allies have recaptured the town of Lalibela, a United Nations World Heritage Site, from Tigrayan forces, the prime minister’s office said on Wednesday, the latest in a string of towns the military says it has retaken. – Reuters  

Nigeria’s Lagos State rejected findings by a judicial panel that security forces carried out a “massacre” of unarmed protesters last year, maintaining that only one person suffered a gunshot wound, according to a paper issued by the government this week. – Reuters  

Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo have announced joint operations against an Islamic State-linked militia based in eastern Congo, which is blamed for a string of recent bombings in Kampala and killing hundreds of Congolese civilians. – Reuters 

The Americas

“Recent developments in Guatemala regarding threats and spurious legal actions against journalists, human rights defenders and anti-corruption champions are cause for concern,” Zeya said in a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala on Wednesday evening. – Reuters  

A team from Argentina’s economy ministry and central bank will meet in Washington with staff from the International Monetary Fund starting this weekend to continue discussions over a new program, the government and the Fund said on Wednesday. – Reuters   

Argentina’s ex-president Mauricio Macri was charged Wednesday with ordering the illegal surveillance, as head of state, of relatives of 44 sailors who died when a navy submarine sank in 2017. – Agence France-Presse 

Dana Frank writes: Biden now must demonstrate a commitment to the democratic will of the people. Hondurans want to see their aspirations flourish, without interference. Castro might reach out to Washington for support, but a new dynamic must take root based on mutual respect and sovereignty. – Washington Post 


House lawmakers signaled Wednesday they would press forward with legislation to make internet platforms more accountable to online users, in what is expected to be a showdown between Washington and Silicon Valley. – Wall Street Journal  

Facebook (FB.O) has removed a network of accounts from its platform which it said targeted Vietnamese activists who were critical of the country’s government, an official at Facebook’s parent company Meta said on Wednesday. – Reuters  

Google will not accept election advertisements in the Philippines ahead of the 2022 presidential vote, replicating a move in the U.S. designed to limit false messaging. – Bloomberg  

Facebook’s parent company Meta said Wednesday it had derailed an anti-vaccine campaign that harassed medical workers, journalists, and elected officials, in a signal of the ongoing pressure from coronavirus pandemic-tied misinformation. – Agence France-Presse 


Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Wednesday night blocked a quick deal for votes on amendments to a sweeping defense policy bill, the latest setback for hopes of passing the legislation this week. – The Hill  

Shooting down an aircraft or blowing up a target might not be the pinnacle of winning in future conflicts. Rather, sowing confusion among adversaries might be more associated with triumph on the battlefield, according to an Air Force official. – Defense News 

The U.S. Navy hopes to train more competent aviators for less money, officials say, as they eye using simulators to speed the process of training the fundamentals and then focus live flying on the high-end tactics that will help them win against an adversary like China. – Defense News 

The United States is in the process of upgrading Shahid Muwaffaq al-Salti Air Base near Al-Azraq in Jordan to turn it into a more permanent base, according to a solicitation released on 29 November. – Jane’s 360 

Editorial: The Administration has made diplomatic progress in the Pacific, notably with the Aukus pact and reaching an agreement with the Philippines to continue hosting U.S. forces. But the information the Pentagon has made public about its review suggests it sees little urgency in China’s regional military dominance and threatening behavior. – Wall Street Journal