Fdd's overnight brief

December 23, 2019

In The News


Japan urged Iran to adhere to a 2015 nuclear deal as their leaders met on Friday, but Iran’s president said Washington was at fault for Mideast tensions because it pulled out of the multinational accord. – Wall Street Journal

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran met on Friday with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, as speculation intensified that Mr. Abe’s friendly relations with the Iranians and the Trump administration could create a new diplomatic opening to ease tensions. – New York Times

The secondary circuit of Iran’s Arak heavy water nuclear reactor will become operational on Monday, the country’s semi-official Mehr news agency reported.[…] U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal last year and reimposed sanctions on Iran, spiking tensions between the two countries. – Reuters

U.S. sanctions against Iran are a “reckless addiction” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a tweet on Sunday. – Reuters

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday welcomed Japan’s decision not to join a U.S.-led naval mission in the Gulf and said he had discussions on ways of “breaking” U.S. sanctions on a trip to Tokyo. – Reuters

Iran, Malaysia, Turkey and Qatar are considering trading among themselves in gold and through a barter system as a hedge against any future economic sanctions on them, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Saturday. – Reuters

European parties to the Iran nuclear deal are likely to trigger a dispute resolution process in January to force Tehran to rollback violations, but would stop short of rushing to restore U.N. sanctions that would kill off the accord, diplomats said. – Reuters

The lawyer of an Iranian-British woman convicted on spying charges in Iran has asked that she be released after serving half of her sentence, a request that was immediately rejected by the Tehran prosecutors’ office, the state IRNA news agency reported Sunday. – Associated Press

About three-quarters of Iranians surveyed in a government-backed poll said they supported the rights of protesters to take to the streets in last month’s countrywide demonstrations, a reformist newspaper reported. – Bloomberg

Reports from Tehran say the parents of Pouya Bakhtiari, a young man killed by Iranian security forces during the protests in November have been summoned to the Intelligence Ministry in Tehran on Saturday, December 21. – Radio Farda

Iran’s Prosecutor General announced that “many of those detained” in the November protests across Iran have been indicted and their trials will begin next week. – Radio Farda

Iran’ Foreign Ministry spokesman in a statement today harshly criticized the U.S. Secretary of State for his criticism of Iran’s human rights violations in a speech in Washington yesterday. – Radio Farda

Jason Rezaian writes: The U.S. government has long been opposed to sanctioning or levying other punitive measures on members of another country’s judicial system. But as a senior State Department official told me, they used available evidence to prove that Moghisseh and Salavati were not real judges since they do not act independently from the state security apparatus. […]I welcome the United States’ decision to address these abuses of power. – Washington Post


Russia, backed by China, on Friday cast its 14th U.N. Security Council veto since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011 to block cross-border aid deliveries from Turkey and Iraq to millions of Syrian civilians. – Reuters

A surge in violence Saturday left 12 civilians dead in Syria’s last major opposition bastion as aid groups warned of a humanitarian catastrophe if cross-border aid stops reaching the region. – Agence France-Presse

Syrian anti-aircraft defense on Sunday fired on Israeli missiles, shooting down one that fell outside Damascus, the official Syrian news agency Sana reported. – Agence France-Presse

Regime forces have seized dozens of towns and villages in northwest Syria from jihadists following days of violent clashes, fuelling an exodus of civilians, a war monitor said Sunday. – Agence France-Presse

Russian-backed Syrian forces have gained ground after a week-long renewed assault against the last opposition enclave in Syria’s northwest, the biggest such push in more than three months that has prompted a large civilian exodus, witnesses and residents said on Sunday. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday said Russia and China had blood on their hands after the two countries used a veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution to block cross-border aid deliveries from Turkey and Iraq to millions of Syrian civilians. – Reuters

Rockets were fired overnight at Syria’s main Homs refinery and two gas units causing minor damage and disrupting production, oil officials said on Saturday, calling it a “terrorist attack”. – Reuters

Over 25,000 civilians fled northwest Syria’s Idlib province over the weekend as they came under increasingly heavy bombardment from Syrian and Russian forces trying to reclaim the country’s last opposition bastion. – Telegraph

Three foreign nationals, believed to be Iranians, were killed in an alleged pre-dawn Israeli missile attack in Syria, according to an opposition war monitoring group in the country. – Associated Press

Zvi Bar’el writes: But Assad’s ability to maneuver between China and Russia, and between Saudi Arabia and Iran, could be brought to a screeching halt by the law passed Tuesday by the U.S. Senate (after approval by the House). The administration may now impose sanctions on anyone involved in the harming of Syrian civilians. – Haaretz


Turkey will increase its military support to the internationally recognized government of Libya if necessary and will evaluate ground, air and marine options, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday, after the two signed a military cooperation accord last month. – Reuters

Turkey cannot handle a fresh wave of migrants from Syria, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday, warning that European countries will feel the impact of such an influx if violence in Syria’s northwest is not stopped. – Reuters

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying on Friday that Ankara would retaliate against potential U.S. sanctions over its purchase of Russian defense systems and a natural gas pipeline. – Reuters

Turkey will send a delegation to Moscow on Monday to seek a reprieve from President Vladimir Putin after Russian-backed Syrian forces stepped up an offensive on the country’s last major rebel bastion, threatening a new refugee wave. – Bloomberg


Israel has no formal diplomatic ties with most Arab countries. Though it has signed peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, people-to-people interactions are rare. Yet shifting regional interests, including a shared concern about Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East, have removed some barriers, leading to tentative hope that Israel can one day find acceptance among its regional foes. – Washington Post

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said on Friday that she had found a basis for investigating possible war crimes by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories. But she is first asking the court to confirm that it has jurisdiction there, which Israel insists it does not. – New York Times

Christians in the Gaza Strip will be allowed to visit holy cities such as Bethlehem and Jerusalem at Christmas, Israel authorities said on Sunday, reversing a decision not to issue them permits. – Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the International Criminal Court of anti-Semitism on Sunday over its chief prosecutor’s plan to pursue a war crimes probe in the Palestinian Territories. – Reuters

A prominent commodore (ret.) of the Royal Saudi Navy, Abdulateef Al-Mulhim, speculated on what if the Arab states had recognized Israel following its declaration of independence in May 1948, in which he surmises that numerous reverberating political events would not have occurred throughout the Middle East in the ensuing years. – Jerusalem Post

Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman is reportedly using his private contacts in Russia to help secure the release of Israeli Naama Issachar, The Jerusalem Post’s sister paper Maariv first reported. – Jerusalem Post

A new report into the work of Amnesty International by David Collier, commissioned by Jewish Human Rights Watch, claims the NGO is strongly biased against the Jewish state and other actors, such as India, while ignoring human rights violations by Pakistan. – Jerusalem Post

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg offered their views about Israel and the Mideast peace process during the 6th Democratic presidential debate at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles on Thursday. – Jewish Insider

Israeli officials on Sunday slammed the decision by the International Criminal Court to launch a probe into alleged Israeli war crimes against the Palestinians, calling it “diplomatic terrorism,” and a “weapon in the political war.” – Ynet

Ed Husain writes: There are enough historical and scriptural narratives of Muslim-Jewish fraternity to form the basis for rapprochement. The enmity has, historically, been a recent blip. With an assertive Iran and an uninterested West, the Arabs and Jews have a shared interest in building a lasting alliance with each other. This may yet be the decade of peace. – The Spectator


The political crisis that now confronts Iraq is as serious as any since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein 16 years ago, and its leaders appear ill-equipped to reckon with it. No consensus has emerged for a plan to reform the government to meet the protesters’ demands. – New York Times

Thousands took to the streets in Iraq’s capital and across the south Sunday to protest against Iran’s kingmaking influence, as the latest deadline for choosing a new prime minister loomed. – Agence France-Presse

A parked car exploded in Iraq’s western province of Anbar early on Monday, killing two soldiers and wounding an officer close to an area that was once Islamic State’s last stronghold in the country, the military said. – Reuters


Lebanon’s prime minister designate said he would work to form a government within six weeks to help pull the country out of a deepening economic crisis, dismissing accusations he would be dominated by the powerful Iranian backed-Hezbollah movement. – Reuters

Thousands of protesters demonstrated in central Beirut and elsewhere in Lebanon on Sunday against the country’s new prime minister, saying he should abandon the post because he is a member of the ruling elite. – Associated Press

Tom Rogan writes: That’s why the Trump administration’s approach here is the right one: Show support for Lebanese people’s right to set their own destiny, but make clear that American financial support will only follow if true reform occurs. This ensures that protesters know to blame Hezbollah and Iran if international aid is not forthcoming. – Washington Examiner


Weeks after forming a military partnership with Russia to share control of a land strip in northern Syria, Turkey is trying to convince the Kremlin to cooperate in another volatile country torn by civil war: Libya. – Wall Street Journal

Eight months into Libya’s worst spasm of violence in eight years, the conflict is being fought increasingly by weaponized drones — and civilian casualties are mounting. – Washington Post

Now more than ever, the conflict in Libya is being driven by the Middle East’s latest divide, pitting the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Saudi Arabia against Turkey and Qatar. Over the past four months, Turkey, Egypt and the UAE have deepened their involvement, laying bare the region’s rivalries and animosities. – Washington Post

Eastern Libyan forces seized a Grenada-flagged ship with a Turkish crew on Saturday off the Libyan coast, a spokesman said, amid rising tensions with Turkey, which supports the rival and internationally recognized Libyan government in Tripoli. – Reuters

The eastern-based Libyan National Army force said on Sunday it had monitored a Boeing 747-412 that had flown from Istanbul to Libya carrying military equipment. LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari warned other carriers against transporting weapons using civilian planes, adding that “the army will down and strike any plane” that carries weapons. – Reuters

The United States is “very concerned” about the intensification of the conflict in Libya, with a rising number of reported Russian mercenaries supporting Khalifa Haftar’s forces on the ground turning the conflict into a bloodier one, a senior State Department official said on Saturday. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are this week set to end a five-year dispute over oil fields in a territory shared between the two countries, people familiar with the matter said Sunday, paving the way for the return of half a million barrels a day of output. – Wall Street Journal

Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor announced on Monday that five people have been sentenced to death in connection with the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last year. But the two most senior officials implicated in the case were cleared of wrongdoing because of “insufficient evidence,” the prosecutor said. – Washington Post

The Egyptian military on Sunday released one of the country’s former chiefs-of-staff, nearly two years after his arrest following an announcement that he would challenge President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in the 2018 presidential vote, military officials and his lawyer said. – Associated Press

Greece’s foreign minister made a whirlwind tour of eastern Libya, Egypt and Cyprus Sunday amid tensions with Turkey following Ankara’s contentious maritime deal with the Tripoli government. – Agence France-Presse

Michael Mulroy could not have left his position as the U.S. Department of Defense’s Middle East policy chief at a more tumultuous time. […]In an interview with Foreign Policy just weeks after his departure, Mulroy addressed the U.S. response to the increased threat from Iran this summer and Turkey’s October invasion of northeastern Syria. – Foreign Policy

Korean Peninsula

American military and intelligence officials tracking North Korea’s actions by the hour say they are bracing for an imminent test of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching American shores, but appear resigned to the fact that President Trump has no good options to stop it. – New York Times

The U.N. Security Council says that this all must end Sunday, when sanctions take effect that ban countries from hosting the North’s regime-directed workforce, and that those workers must all be sent back. The U.N. clampdown seeks to block a steady flow of revenue back to Kim Jong Un’s ruling clique. – Washington Post

In his sharpest criticism yet of his old workplace, John Bolton suggested the Trump administration is bluffing about stopping North Korea’s nuclear ambitions — and soon might need to admit publicly that its policy failed badly. – Axios

North Korea has expanded a factory linked to the production of long-range nuclear missiles, according to a new analysis of satellite photos provided to NBC News that bolsters a growing expectation the country soon will resume testing a capability that threatens the United States. – NBC News

South Korean and U.S. special forces troops recently conducted drills simulating the infiltration of an enemy facility, U.S. military photos seen by Reuters on Monday show, as tensions with North Korea ratchet up ahead of a year-end deadline. – Reuters

It is “more important than anything” to keep up the momentum for talks between the United States and North Korea, South Korean President Moon Jae-in told Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Monday. – Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held a meeting of top military officials to discuss boosting the country’s military capability, state news agency reported on Sunday amid heightened concern the North may be about to return to confrontation with Washington. – Reuters

The spectre of new confrontation between Pyongyang and Washington hangs over meetings between China, Japan and South Korea this week, with growing risks North Korean actions could end an uneasy detente and upend recent diplomatic efforts. – Reuters

North Korea lashed back at the United States for taking issue with its human rights record on Saturday, saying Washington’s “malicious words” would only aggravate tensions on the Korean Peninsula, state news agency KCNA reported. – Reuters

President Donald Trump is pulling out all the stops to convince North Korea to return to nuclear talks – delaying military exercises, ambushing efforts to highlight the regime’s human rights abuses and sending a top envoy to the region to reassure jittery allies. – Politico

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe put the onus on Seoul to mend fraught ties between the two U.S. allies in comments made before heading to China, where he is scheduled to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. – Bloomberg

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed “total support” for President Donald Trump’s policy on North Korea in a phone conversation between the two leaders, while stressing on the importance of avoiding provocations. – Bloomberg

North Korea is planning to adopt a hard-line policy toward the United States that involves taking denuclearization off the table amid perceptions that President Donald Trump is vulnerable politically, a source familiar with the North Korean leadership’s current mindset told CNN. – CNN

James Gibney writes: To be sure, Trump deserves credit for seeking to end the stalemate that has prevailed on the Korean peninsula. But his impulsiveness, lack of vision and chaotic management style have nullified his summitry’s positive impact, leaving dashed expectations on the part of North Korea and no clear path forward for the U.S. […]Asserting Congress’s oversight over any North Korean deal — and more broadly, over this administration’s erratic foreign policy — could at least help to make those consequences less dire for the rest of the world. – Bloomberg


China will cut import tariffs for frozen pork, pharmaceuticals and some high-tech components starting from Jan. 1, a move that comes as Beijing and Washington are trying to complete a phase-one trade deal. – Wall Street Journal

The owner of a Virginia company that provides the U.S. Navy with ballistic vests, protective helmets and riot gear is facing a federal wire fraud charge, accused of misleading authorities about where the products were made. Prosecutors said Arthur Morgan, the 67-year-old chief executive of Surveillance Equipment Group Inc. and its division SEG Armor, falsely claimed the equipment was made in Hong Kong and the United States when it in fact was made in mainland China. – Washington Post

Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters rallied in solidarity with China’s Uighurs on Sunday in a move likely to infuriate Beijing as they likened their plight to that of the oppressed Muslim minority. – Agence France-Presse

Beijing Saturday slammed a new US defence act, which includes measures to strengthen Washington’s ties with Taiwan and support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protestors, saying it “blatantly interfered” in China’s internal affairs. – Agence France-Presse

China’s government warned Canada not to waste its time hoping President Donald Trump will help in the release of two foreign nationals detained by the Asian powerhouse since last December. – Bloomberg

Chinese leaders have long been sensitive about their communist country’s international image. Now, they are battling back — investing in diplomacy and a courtship of hearts and minds, just as the United States digs in on the Trump administration’s “America First” mindset. – Associated Press

The Trump administration on Thursday renewed a waiver for companies to wind down transactions with the Dalian unit of a Chinese tanker company on which it had imposed sanctions in September for allegedly transporting Iranian oil. – Reuters

Ian Johnson writes: In doing so, the government seems to be assuming that traditional Chinese values and beliefs are easier to control than foreign religions, and that supporting them will outweigh the costs of suppressing Islam and Christianity. But I have my doubts. – New York Times

Bill Saporito writes: NBA commissioner Adam Silver at least drew a red line of sorts, supporting the right of players and executives to express their opinions. Now, it’s the Premiership’s turn to deal with a nation that uses economic threats to censor athletes who displease it. Özil will be followed by other players with other causes. Arsenal doesn’t have to agree with anything that any one of them says. But the Gunners, and professional sports, are playing another losing game if they continue to bow before Beijing. – Washington Post

Bradley A. Thayer and Lianchao Han write: The Trump administration has recognized that Xinjiang police committed atrocities and in October blacklisted 20 police organizations and eight companies that helped build the surveillance system. But two weeks later, Hikvision announced that most of its American suppliers had resumed business with it and its revenue was not affected by the sanctions. Rather than helping the CCP to create a truly effective dictatorship, U.S. firms should be devoted to undermining it. – The Hill


Afghan President Ashraf Ghani won another five-year term in office, according to preliminary results the election commission announced on Sunday, nearly three months after votes were cast in an election tarnished by a record-low turnout. – Wall Street Journal

An American service member was killed in Afghanistan on Monday, according to military officials, bringing to 20 the number of troops who have died during combat operations this year. – New York Times

Though the city has become markedly more politically progressive in the nearly two decades it has been governed by a Western-backed democracy, Kabul is still steeped in a socially conservative Afghan culture that often relegates women to hidden or subjugated roles. – New York Times

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s “intervention” — or invasion — of Afghanistan, the beginning of a decade-long guerilla war that killed up to two million Afghans, forced seven million more from their homes and led to the deaths of more than 14,000 Soviet troops. – Agence France-Presse

Top Pentagon officials on Friday strongly pushed back against criticism that the Defense Department misled the public on the Afghanistan War, pointing out the high level of congressional, media and inspector general oversight during the past 18 years. – Politico

The International Criminal Court president has hit back at the US for retaliating over the court’s moves to probe alleged offences committed during the Afghanistan war.  – Financial Times


The activity at Dara Sakor and other nearby Chinese projects is stirring fears that Beijing plans to turn this small Southeast Asian nation into a de facto military outpost. – New York Times

A series of explosions rocked Sunday night a southern Philippine city known for Islamic State-linked violence, wounding at least 17 people including soldiers, a military official said. – Agence France-Presse

Sunday’s incident came after a reported attack on police during a demonstration in support of minority Muslim Uighurs, who have been subject to a crackdown by the Chinese government in the far western region of Xinjiang. There was no escalation beyond what have become routine weekend scuffles and arrests in the Asian financial hub. – Bloomberg


Its economy, already smaller than Italy’s, may be sputtering but, two decades after a virtually unknown former K.G.B. spy took power in the Kremlin on Dec. 31, 1999, Russia and its president, Vladimir V. Putin, have just had what could be their best year yet. – New York Times

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday that the Nord Stream 2 and Turk Stream gas pipeline projects would be launched despite U.S. sanctions, adding that Russia planned to respond to the new measures, the Interfax news agency reported. – Reuters

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday that Russia was prepared to include the heavy Sarmat missile and the Avangard hypersonic missile in a new START strategic arms reduction treaty, should it be extended, Interfax reported. – Reuters

Russian state media have joined President Vladimir Putin in delivering a full-throated defense of impeached U.S. President Donald J. Trump.  – The Daily Beast

The Russian government has vowed to retaliate against U.S. sanctions on a new Russia-Germany pipeline, work on which was suspended on Saturday. – Associated Press


With a boisterous majority of Conservative lawmakers hooting and hurrahing behind him, Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday won Parliament’s backing for his Brexit deal, allowing him to forge ahead with his promise that Britain will finally leave the European Union next month. – Washington Post

Poland’s parliament passed a law giving a judicial disciplinary panel the power to fine and dismiss judges for political activities, overriding complaints from European Union officials and protesters who have called the law authoritarian. – Wall Street Journal

A British court has upheld a government policy that allows informants of the British domestic intelligence service to commit crimes when it is deemed to be in the interest of national security, in a case that judges said exposed a tension between the rule of law and public safety. – New York Times

British authorities announced Friday the wife of an American diplomat will be charged in connection with the death of teenage motorcyclist Harry Dunn. – USA Today

U.S. President Donald Trump has invited British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to visit him in the White House in the new year, British media reported on Sunday. – Reuters

A forged news report accusing U.S. soldiers in Lithuania of trying to steal a car was part of an elaborate campaign to turn NATO allies against each other, officials in the Baltic nation said. – Washington Examiner

Chechens living abroad — especially former guerrillas who battled Russian troops during Chechnya’s wars of independence — have long been in the Kremlin’s crosshairs. But Khangoshvili’s murder was something new — a brazen attack in a busy Berlin park that seemed calculated to strike terror into the Chechen community. – Financial Times

Germany on Saturday accused the United States of interfering in its internal affairs, in an increasingly angry spat over Washington’s decision to impose sanctions on companies involved with a major project to supply western Europe with Russian gas. – Agence France-Presse

The US ambassador to Berlin has defended US sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline designed to supply the EU with Russian gas as “extremely pro-European”, but Berlin condemned the legislation as “interference” in its internal affairs and Moscow threatened to “respond.” – Financial Times

The Germans have intimated that the U.S. will have a harder time holding together Western sanctions on Russia if it blocks the Nord Stream 2 (NS2) pipeline, according to three of those sources, and they suggest the American action could endanger crucial gas transit talks among Germany, Ukraine, and Russia. – The Daily Beast

Greece, Cyprus and Israel will press ahead with the development of a pipeline channeling natural gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ office said on Sunday. – Reuters

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry was compelled on Sunday by an Appeals Court to reinstate Nazi-sympathizing diplomat Vasily Marushchinets, who was fired for racist incitement and anti-Semitism. – Ynet

German prosecutors have filed terrorism charges against a German woman who allegedly joined the Islamic State group in Syria. – Associated Press


The perpetual delays are straining the young country’s close relationship with the United States, which this week announced sanctions on two top South Sudanese officials, accusing them of prolonging the country’s deadly conflict and obstructing the path to peace. South Sudan responded with its own diplomatic jab, recalling its ambassador to Washington “for consultations.” – Washington Post

French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute Sunday to the victims of Niger’s largest extremist attack in recent memory while on the last stop of a three-day visit to West Africa. – Associated Press

French forces killed 33 Islamist militants in Mali on Saturday using attack helicopters, ground troops and a drone, near the border with Mauritania where a group linked to al Qaeda operates, French authorities said. – Reuters

Somali Islamist militant group al Shabaab has claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack outside a hotel in the town of Galkayo, in the country’s Mudug region, which killed at least seven civilians, their spokesman told Reuters. – Reuters

Pirates attacked four ships in the harbour of the Gabon capital Libreville overnight, killing a captain and kidnapping four Chinese workers, the government said Sunday. – Agence France-Presse

Talks on finding a political solution to the deepening crisis in Mali ended on Sunday with calls for new elections but also uncertainty about the way forward as opposition groups boycotted the initiative. The gathering notably did not push for dialogue with jihadists, who have been waging a bloody insurgency in the troubled West African country for seven years. The gathering notably did not push for dialogue with jihadists, who have been waging a bloody insurgency in the troubled West African country for seven years. – Agence France-Presse

French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday said “colonialism was a grave mistake,” and called for “turning the page” on the past during a visit to Ivory Coast, a former French colony in West Africa. – Agence France-Presse

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to boost the fight against Islamic extremism in West Africa as French troops killed 33 Islamic extremists in central Mali. – Associated Press

American victims of terrorism and Congress are worried they are being left out of negotiations with Sudan to settle claims against those killed in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. – The Hill

Bernard-Henri Lévy writes: Westerners here depict the Fulani extremists as an extended, rampant Boko Haram. An American humanitarian says the Fulani recruit volunteers to serve internships in Borno State, where Boko Haram is active. Another says Boko Haram “instructors” have been spotted in Bauchi, another northeastern state, where they are teaching elite Fulani militants to handle more-sophisticated weapons that will replace their machetes. Yet whereas Boko Haram are confined to perhaps 5% of Nigerian territory, the Fulani terrorists operate across the country. – Wall Street Journal

The Americas

A prominent Canadian Jewish group raised concerns on Thursday about several “extremist” speakers scheduled to appear at an Islamic conference in Toronto this weekend. – Algemeiner

The son of a Russian spy couple who lived clandestine lives in Canada and the United States said Friday that he wants a future in Canada after the country’s Supreme Court ruled he can keep his Canadian citizenship. – Associated Press

Bolivia on Sunday announced its entry into the Lima Group regional bloc that was set up to find a way out of the Venezuelan crisis. – Reuters

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel on Saturday named tourism minister Manuel Marrero Cruz as the country’s first prime minister in decades, under a new constitution that seeks to decentralize former leader Fidel Castro’s job. – Reuters

President Jair Bolsonaro announced Friday that his US counterpart Donald Trump was scrapping planned tariffs on Brazilian steel and aluminum, following a telephone call between the two leaders. – Agence France-Presse

Mexico has extradited a son of drug lord Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada to the United States to face trial on narcotics trafficking charges, a government official and media reports said on Friday. – Reuters

Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro is bribing opposition leaders in an effort to oust Juan Guaido as interim president, a U.S. official said. – Washington Examiner

Venezuela’s defense minister said that “extremist opposition sectors” attacked a military outpost near the border with Brazil early Sunday, killing at least one soldier before being chased down. – Associated Press

Mary Anastasia O’Grady writes: Unilateral sanctions alone won’t bring Mr. Maduro down. But it would be a mistake to conclude that they are not pinching. – Wall Street Journal


But the service, ToTok, is actually a spying tool, according to American officials familiar with a classified intelligence assessment and a New York Times investigation into the app and its developers. It is used by the government of the United Arab Emirates to try to track every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound and image of those who install it on their phones. – New York Times

Facebook and Twitter on Friday said they had blocked multiple government-backed manipulation operations around the world, several of which favored US President Donald Trump, as part of a crackdown on state-sponsored propaganda efforts. – Agence France-Presse

Weeks after U.S. authorities brought a spying case against three Saudi nationals for digging up dissidents’ personal data at Twitter, the company suspended tens of thousands of accounts that appear to be linked to one suspect’s company. – Reuters

Italy’s minister for industry, Stefano Patuanelli, has called for Chinese telecoms company Huawei to be allowed to play a role in the development of the country’s 5G network. – Politico

Lawmakers locked in a nine-month fight with the White House over access to a classified 2018 directive on offensive cyber operations, known as National Security Presidential Memorandum 13, prevailed with the defense spending bill being signed by President Trump on Friday. – Washington Examiner

A White House cybersecurity research strategy released earlier this month lays out several areas where the federal government should invest research and development funding as a way to deter cyberattacks. – Fifth Domain

A Vietnam-based hacking group is learning from China’s playbook, using increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks to spy on competitors and help Vietnam catch up to global competitors, according to cybersecurity experts. – Bloomberg

The Pentagon is urging US telecoms equipment makers to join forces on 5G technology in a drive to offer a homegrown alternative to China’s Huawei. – Financial Times


The Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) is now deployed after picking up Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) on Thursday, a defense official confirmed to USNI News. – USNI News

Just before leaving for a winter break, Congress approved the Fiscal Year 2020 agreements for funding and authorizing military operations while giving the Navy a mixed-message on how to build a planned new class of frigates. – USNI News

As questions continue to swirl about the vulnerability and reach of aircraft carriers, Congress has gutted funding for the U.S. Navy’s research effort into a next-generation fighter to replace the relatively limited range F/A-18 Super Hornet, an effort experts say could decide the continued relevance of the aircraft carrier in the 21st century. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy will get its two Large Unmanned Surface Vessels in 2020 after all, but lawmakers want the service to proceed with caution. – Defense News

With a wave of his pen, President Donald Trump signed the Space Force into being on Dec. 20. “This is a very big and important moment,” Trump said during a Friday ceremony at Joint Base Andrews where he signed off on the fiscal 2020 defense authorization bill, which establishes the Space Force as a sixth military service under the Department of the Air Force. – Defense News

The Air Force wrapped up Dec. 18 the first test of its new Advanced Battle Management System, a key technology the service is banking on to connect the information collected by various platforms into a complete picture of the battlespace. – C4ISRNET

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday plans to sign legislation that would make it more difficult for him to leave a landmark, 34-nation reconnaissance treaty, even as he is weighing leaving it. – Defense News

The Senate confirmed three of President Donald Trump’s Pentagon picks Thursday, just as five senior officials at the department are leaving. – Defense News

Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett says the new Space Force will be “rolled out” in tranches over the next 18 months — a schedule that other senior service officials say is faster than originally planned. – Breaking Defense

The Navy will buy a dozen fewer ships, slash its shipbuilding budget, and possibly decommission 12 more hulls over the next four years as part of a bold cost-cutting proposal submitted to the White House for its fiscal 2021 budget. The proposals would not move the service any closer to its goal of having 355 ships by 2034, as the fleet would actually end up slightly smaller in five years than it is today. – Breaking Defense

A vice-like time crush of demands on Army company leaders is putting their family lives, careers and unit readiness in jeopardy. – Army Times

The Pentagon has seen an exodus of top officials this month, prompting concerns from lawmakers and experts alike as the Defense Department struggles to fill roles ahead of a contentious election year that will leave little room for staffing critical jobs. – The Hill

Trump Administration

Lawmakers signaled Sunday they believe congressional leaders will reach a deal that will prompt the House of Representatives to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate soon, amid a standoff over the rules and additional witnesses in President Trump’s trial. – Wall Street Journal

The House impeachment of President Trump moves next to the Senate, where questions remain about how a trial will be handled, and to the heart of the 2020 campaign, where the battle lines have been drawn. – Wall Street Journal

After meeting privately in July 2017 with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Trump grew more insistent that Ukraine worked to defeat him, according to multiple former officials familiar with his assertions. – Washington Post

An official from the White House budget office directed the Defense Department to “hold off” on sending military aid to Ukraine less than two hours after President Trump’s controversial phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, according to internal emails. – Washington Post

Trump’s boasting of Putin’s support comes a day after The Washington Post reported that White House advisers feared Trump’s belief that Ukraine, not Russia, was responsible for interfering with the 2016 election was spurred by conversations Trump had with Putin. – Washington Post

Washington state Republican lawmakers urged one of their own to resign after a state report found that he engaged in “domestic terrorism” against the United States by participating in armed conflict through the right-wing militia movement. – Reuters