Fdd's overnight brief

December 3, 2021

In The News


Revived talks aimed at restoring the 2015 Iran nuclear deal ran into difficulties Thursday just days after they restarted, following a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran has again escalated its enrichment of uranium despite the renewed diplomacy. – Washington Post  

Iranian negotiators at nuclear talks with world powers presented draft proposals for how to overcome the biggest hurdles to reviving their 2015 nuclear accord, texts that will help determine whether the sides see the basis for a deal. – Bloomberg 

The seventh round of indirect talks between Iran and the United States on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which began this week, will end on Friday with a formal meeting of the remaining parties to the deal, European and Iranian officials said. – Reuters 

Democratic and Republican U.S. senators announced legislation on Thursday that would impose sanctions over an alleged plot by Iranian intelligence agents to kidnap Iranian-born U.S. journalist Masih Alinejad. – Reuters 

The Mossad was behind the destruction of one of Iran’s most secure and important nuclear facilities, and they did this by discreetly recruiting a team of Iranian nuclear scientists, according to a new report by the Jewish Chronicle. – Jerusalem Post  

The Mossad will thwart any attempts by Tehran to possess nuclear weapons, the chief of Israel’s intelligence agency David Barnea pledged on Thursday night as talks Vienna to revive the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal appeared to falter. – Jerusalem Post  

Israel has to do “everything it can” in order to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, if not “there may be a point when we will have no choice but to act,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Thursday. – Jerusalem Post  

Eli Lake writes: All of this is to say that Trump’s decision to leave the nuclear deal is not necessarily an open-and-shut case of foreign policy malpractice. It is true that Trump’s gamble did not pay off. But that doesn’t vindicate the 2015 deal. And while Biden has a strategy to restore the agreement, he has yet to offer a plan to address its weaknesses. – Bloomberg 

David Albright, Sarah Burkhard, and Spencer Faragasso write: Because of the risk that Iran has accumulated a stock of undeclared assembled centrifuges as well as sensitive centrifuge components, breakout timelines could be further reduced, absent some compensatory action, such as the IAEA’s verification of Iran’s declaration of major components of advanced centrifuges, ensuring it is both complete and correct. So far, Iran has shown no interest in providing such cooperation. Nonetheless, the IAEA would be expected to attempt to verify Iran’s declaration, complicating the implementation of a deal but ultimately providing more assurance of any breakout estimate. – Institute for Science and International Security 

Adam S. Boehler writes: Every good story needs a bad guy and Iran serves its purpose quite well. The regime makes scary proclamations, supports terrorism beyond their borders, appoints criminals as leaders and represses their own people. At the same time, they have inspired a fragmented region to come together, unified with strategic purpose to counter the instability terrorism creates. – Jerusalem Post  

Michael Rubin writes: The nature of dictatorship, however, means that in the short term, such sentiments will not affect policy as both Tehran and Moscow work to erode the post-World War II liberal order and U.S. dominance on the regional and global stage. – Middle East Forum 


Still, Adela Raz, who began to serve as the Afghan government’s ambassador to Washington just weeks before the Taliban took over, is trying her best to use what is left of her power (unknown), resources (virtually nonexistent) and devotion to her homeland (vast) to help displaced Afghans and thank others who have supported their cause. – New York Times 

Afghanistan is being hit by multiple crises that are “progressively getting worse,” with drought, economic collapse and displacement all pushing the population into catastrophic hunger, a senior international aid official said Thursday. – Associated Press 

When the Taliban overran Kabul in mid-August, seizing power for the second time, the years-old mystery over the whereabouts of the movement’s Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada deepened further. – Agence France-Presse  

Afghans who have illegally crossed borders in the region have been arrested, beaten, shot at, and even killed by border guards, smugglers, and criminal gangs. Others have drowned or died of illness and exhaustion. But for many Afghans fleeing the Taliban’s repressive rule and the country’s devastating economic and humanitarian crises, their dreams of safety and jobs are worth the risk. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty  

General Mark Milley, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, warned America’s adversaries not to assume that the country was weak or unwilling to take military action to defend its interests in the wake of its withdrawal from Afghanistan. – Financial Times  

P. Michael McKinley writes: Without immediate action, however, there is the risk of a humanitarian disaster of historic proportions by mid-winter. Such an outcome would not only cause great suffering to the Afghan people but also heighten the contradictions of the 20-year international engagement in Afghanistan. We should not wait for that disaster to respond to the challenges that are evident now. The United States and its allies cannot undo the failures that led to the fall of Kabul in August. But they can ensure that ordinary Afghans know we will not turn our backs on them at a time of extraordinary need. – Foreign Affairs 


Turkey threatened to block any unauthorized search for gas and oil in its economic exclusive zone in the eastern Mediterranean after Cyprus awarded hydrocarbon exploration and drilling rights in its offshore block 5 to a venture of Exxon Mobil and Qatar Petroleum. – Reuters 

Turkey’s beleaguered currency has been plunging to all-time lows against the U.S. dollar and the euro in recent months as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan presses ahead with a widely criticized effort to cut interest rates despite surging consumer prices. – Associated Press 

The Council of Europe has notified Turkey that it intends to ask the European Court of Human Rights to rule again on the continued detention of philanthropist Osman Kavala, a case that’s being seen as a test of Turkish judicial independence. – Bloomberg 

Daniel Moss writes: It’s not inconceivable that Turkey is on the cusp of another volte face, until Erdogan wants something different again. But unless vital tenets of policy are reconciled — interest rates and inflation — the country will struggle to dismount from a carousel of purges, cuts and crashes, followed by inevitable hikes in borrowing costs and still more staff shuffles. No wonder the lira is exhausted. – Bloomberg 


Rights groups said Thursday that Israel failed to investigate shootings that killed more than 200 Palestinians and wounded thousands at violent protests along the Gaza frontier in recent years, strengthening the case for the International Criminal Court to intervene. – Associated Press 

Two Border Police officers were injured in a ramming attack in Umm al-Fahm as Israel Police arrested six Umm al-Fahm residents for their connection to riots in the city which took place throughout the early hours of Friday morning. – Jerusalem Post  

The United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution 129-11 on Wednesday that disavowed Jewish ties to the Temple Mount and called it solely by its Muslim name of al-Haram al-Sharif. – Jerusalem Post  

Leaders of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus took part in a conference on Israel’s standing according to international law, together with top members of the European Parliament on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post  

Mark Regev writes: Much can be gained from remembering a central precept of the US-Israel relationship: it is the American people’s task to elect their president, and it is the obligation of the Israeli prime minister and Israel’s ambassador to build a close as possible working partnership with whomever that choice might be, while vigorously standing up for Israel’s vital interests. That is what Meir-Rabin-Dinitz did. That is what Netanyahu-Dermer did. That is what Bennett-Herzog need to do now. – Jerusalem Post  

Arabian Peninsula

France says the United Arab Emirates has purchased 80 French-made Rafale warplanes for 16 billion euros. There was no immediate confirmation of the deal from Emirati officials. – Associated Press 

More than 60 organizations urged the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday to establish an investigative body to gather and preserve evidence of serious human rights violations during Yemen’s seven-year conflict, including possible war crimes and crimes against humanity. – Associated Press 

Saudi Arabia has agreed to keep increasing monthly crude oil production following a charm offensive by Biden administration officials that included an effort to reframe the relationship between the US and the kingdom. – Financial Times  

Middle East & North Africa

Now, as Libya prepares to hold its first-ever presidential election this month, Mami, 48, is among the many Libyans who fear that the contest may push the country back into turmoil. – Washington Post 

Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi confirmed to Lebanon’s MTV on Friday that he will announce his resignation today at 1 p.m. local time (1100 GMT). – Reuters 

The diplomatic crisis is causing anxiety among Lebanese, particularly those who work in Gulf countries, at a time when Lebanon is already enduring an unprecedented economic meltdown. – Associated Press  

Ten people were killed and one person was injured in an attack on a bus carrying workers in an oil field in Syria’s government-held areas, Syria’s state news agency reported Thursday. – Associated Press 

Egypt on Thursday concluded its second international weapons fair, as one of the Middle East’s largest armies looks to grow its arsenal while moving away from U.S. suppliers. – Associated Press 

A Libyan court ruled Thursday that a son of the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi can compete in upcoming presidential elections, overturning a decision by the country’s top electoral body to disqualify him. – Associated Press 

Tunisia’s President Kais Saied said Thursday he would move the official anniversary of the country’s revolution, a symbolic shift indicating that the revolt is unfinished. – Agence France-Presse 

At least three civilians and seven Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters have been killed in northern Iraq in an attack blamed on the Islamic State, the forces said Friday. – Agence France-Presse 

The head of a U.N. team investigating atrocities in Iraq said that Islamic State extremists committed crimes against humanity and war crimes at a prison in Mosul in June 2014, where at least 1,000 predominantly Shiite Muslim prisoners were systematically killed. – Associated Press 

On November 30, The Washington Institute held a virtual Policy Forum with Chiraz Arbi, Yasir Zaidan, and Alberto Fernandez, moderated by Sarah Feuer, coauthor of the recent Institute paper “Washington and the Next Arab Spring.” […]The following is a rapporteur’s summary of their remarks. – Washington Institute 


Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi said it will delist from the New York Stock Exchange, a stunning reversal for the leading technology group whose hurried overseas listing in June drew a backlash from Beijing. – Washington Post  

Chinese authorities protested the departure of international women’s tennis amid concerns over the safety of star player Peng Shuai, while at the same time moving to suffocate a brief flurry of online chatter about the news. – Wall Street Journal  

China will cut to no more than 10 days the time required for approval of travel by U.S. business executives, its ambassador to the United States said on Thursday, promising to turn “an attentive ear” to concerns raised by businesses. – Reuters 

The U.S. House of Representatives is set to consider a bill as soon as next week that would ban imports from China’s Xinjiang region over concerns about forced labor, Representative Jim McGovern, the bill’s sponsor, told reporters on Thursday. – Reuters 

China’s top representative in the semiautonomous gambling hub of Macau will begin advising the former Portuguese colony’s government on national security matters, state news agency Xinhua reported on Friday. – Reuters 

China and the United States are tussling over President Joe Biden’s upcoming democracy summit, which the ruling Communist Party sees as a challenge to its authoritarian ways. – Associated Press 

Chinese e-commerce leader Alibaba Group’s role as a “worldwide partner” of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games has sparked a behind-the-scenes battle to prevent it from hosting and accessing sensitive data. – Agence France-Presse  

Editorial: It’s true that many U.S. firms invest in authoritarian countries, and investors don’t need to go out of their way to make moral pronouncements about every one of them. But China of 2021 is not the China of 1995. It’s a harsh authoritarian regime, with extraordinary state and technological power backing it up as it directly threatens U.S. interests and individual liberty on the global stage. – Wall Street Journal 

Leta Hong Fincher writes: The party derives its legitimacy in part from its ability to control and finesse (all) narratives, through censorship and other authoritarian means. But with Ms. Peng, it has lost that control. […]The party leadership is certainly spooked. Acknowledging Ms. Peng’s allegations of assault might delegitimize their hold on power. Staying the course could infuriate more people, driving them to activism. – New York Times  

Lianchao Han and Bradley Thayer write: Democracies must take concerted actions to address the CCP’s ideological threat and the illegitimacy of China’s regime. The West has passed the point of managing China’s imperial rise. Regime change would remove the threat — and should be the way to move forward — but it risks conflict escalation or requires other drastic measures, such as deep decoupling, which the West is not ready to do. The best strategic option at this moment lies in asymmetrically strengthening the existing liberal world order to counter China’s new order and undermine the regime. – The Hill 

Tom Mitchell writes: Didi Chuxing’s announcement that it will retreat from the New York Stock Exchange and list in Hong Kong following a regulatory crackdown from Beijing has made it clear that the Chinese president — not US politicians or even the market — will be the ultimate arbiter of where China’s corporate champions go public. […]In this new political and economic era, the president has made clear that what is good for him and the Communist party should be good enough for Didi. – Financial Times  


Philippine journalist Maria Ressa will be allowed to travel so she can accept her Nobel Peace Prize in person after a court gave her permission to leave the Southeast Asian country to visit Norway later this month. – Reuters 

The Army wants to shift its posture in the Western Pacific from a heavy concentration in the Korean peninsula to a more dispersed force throughout the theater, without stationing more soldiers in the Indo-Pacific, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said Wednesday. – USNI News 

Eric Sayers writes: America’s position in the Indo-Pacific is tied in many ways to stability across the Taiwan strait, and China’s growing ability to seize Taiwan is not a problem we can put off. […]The level of attention Washington is now devoting to Taiwan and stability across the strait is encouraging. The challenge now for policymakers is to devote their newfound focus to a set of policies that can be effective and imminent. – Defense One  


OPEC and a group of Russia-led oil producers agreed to continue pumping more crude, betting that pent-up demand in a post-lockdown world will outweigh any hit to economic activity by the recent permutations of Covid-19. – Wall Street Journal

Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Moscow on Thursday to abandon plans for a potential invasion of Ukraine, calling for a peaceful resolution to an intensifying showdown between Russia and the West. – Washington Post  

For years, Russian authorities have expanded their crackdowns: curbing freedom of speech, sweeping away activists, pressuring rights lawyers, and jailing Putin’s opponents. […]Now they are arresting comedians — seeking to muzzle any edgy comedy that might offend Putin loyalists or be seen as mocking Russian patriotism. – Washington Post  

The United States is tracking enough indicators and warnings surrounding Russian military activity near Ukraine to trigger “a lot of concern” and Russian rhetoric appears increasingly strident, the top U.S. military officer said late on Thursday. – Reuters 

At a business awards ceremony in February 2019 at the Kremlin, a young cybersecurity entrepreneur named Ilya Sachkov chatted with Russian President Vladimir Putin. […]In a dramatic reversal of fortunes, the once-globetrotting executive is now languishing behind bars after being arrested in September and accused of treason. Sachkov, 35, denies the charges. He faces up to 20 years in a labor camp. – Bloomberg 

Editorial: Given the likely consequences in lost lives and economic growth, invading Ukraine is not an idea that should pass a rational cost-benefit analysis. […]There may still be time to convince Mr. Putin that his best hope lies in a diplomatic solution, as Mr. Blinken again proposed in a meeting with his Russian counterpart on Thursday. For U.S. diplomacy to succeed, though, it must be backed up with political, economic and military strength. – Washington Post  

Tom Rogan writes: The U.S. should reject Russia’s arguments without qualification. There is no prospect of nations such as Georgia or Ukraine joining NATO in the near future. But if, one day, the circumstances for those accessions are reached, it should be up to NATO and to those nations, not to Russia, to decide whether to proceed with accession. – Washington Examiner 

Toomas Hendrik Ilves and David J. Kramer write: Nobody wants military conflict with Russia, and the Ukrainians are not asking American soldiers to fight their war for them. But we should not sacrifice our principles, and a partner country’s sovereignty, in the vain pursuit of preventing conflict. The objective is to prevent another Russian invasion while preparing to use targeted economic, military and diplomatic measures short of all-out conflict in case Putin is not bluffing. We must stand with Ukraine and stand up to Putin. Easier said than done, for sure, but much better than doing the aggressor’s bidding. – Politico 


United States and its allies, including the European Union, on Thursday imposed sanctions against dozens of individuals and entities in Belarus in a coordinated move to escalate punitive action against President Alexander Lukashenko and his government. – Reuters 

Reports suggesting a US decision to maintain tariffs on British steel is linked to Brexit and Northern Ireland are a “false narrative”, trade minister Penny Mordaunt has said. – Agence France-Presse  

The Serb member of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s tripartite presidency, Milorad Dodik, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on December 2 for talks that reportedly included discussion of an infrastructure project to receive Russian gas. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

The European Union, the United States, and key Western allies have further expanded their sanctions against Belarus’s political and economic elite over alleged antidemocratic behavior, rights violations, and the exploitation of migrants by strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty  

The European Council has adopted assistance measures to strengthen the military and defense capacities of Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine over three years. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty  

Top U.S. and European Union officials are readying a new channel for dialogue on defense and security issues, as both sides of the Atlantic stare down similar challenges, a senior EU military official said. – Defense News 

Jan Kallberg writes: The increasing European release of public data — and the subsequent addition to the pile of open-source intelligence — is becoming concerning in regard to the sheer mass of aggregated information and what information products may surface when combining these sources. […]NATO and the EU have a common interest in mitigating the risks with massive public data releases to an acceptable level that still meets the EU’s goal of transparency. – C4ISRNET 


Two journalists were wounded when police opened fire on a protest outside the provincial parliament in Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern city of Bukavu on Thursday, local media and a Reuters reporter at the scene said. – Reuters 

Uganda’s chief legal officer urged the Finance Ministry to refrain from renegotiating the terms of a $200 million Chinese loan as it is able to meet its debt obligations. – Bloomberg 

Two soldiers were killed and several more wounded when Islamist militants attacked a border security post in northern Benin on Wednesday night, the army said. – Reuters 

The Americas

The Biden administration has reached a deal with the Mexican government to restart the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” program that requires asylum seekers to wait outside U.S. territory while their claims are processed, U.S. and Mexican officials said Thursday. – Washington Post  

The Mexican government threatened legal action Thursday over provisions of U.S. President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act that would give subsidies of up to $12,500 for purchases of union-made, American-made electric vehicles. – Associated Press  

European Union electoral monitors are being kicked out of Venezuela days before their scheduled departure amid a clamp down by the government of Nicolas Maduro following last month’s elections. – Bloomberg 

United States

The United Nations headquarters in New York City was locked down for several hours Thursday after a man was seen pacing outside one of its main gates with a loaded shotgun, holding it under his chin at times, police said. – Associated Press 

The IMF on Thursday urged advanced economies in the G20 to extend and improve their debt relief initiative, warning that many countries face a dire crisis without the help. – Agence France-Presse 

The US Congress approved a stopgap funding bill Thursday in a rare show of cross-party unity to keep federal agencies running into 2022 and avert a costly holiday season government shutdown. – Agence France-Presse 


The U.S. plans to work with other countries to limit exports of surveillance tools and other technologies that authoritarian governments can use to suppress human rights, an alleged practice in China. – Wall Street Journal 

Nearly all U.S. freight and passenger rail systems will be required to report certain cybersecurity incidents to the Department of Homeland Security within 24 hours of discovery under new directives published Thursday by the Biden administration. – Wall Street Journal 

Neo-Nazis and far-right activists are coaching followers on how to use a new Twitter rule to persuade the social media platform to remove photos of them posted by anti-extremism researchers and journalists who specialize in identifying episodes of real-world hate. – Washington Post  

Zoe Weinberg writes: If it becomes as all-encompassing as some predict, the metaverse may foster virtual communities, networks and economies that transcend borders and national identities. Individuals might one day identify primarily with metaverse-based decentralized autonomous organizations with their own quasi-foreign policies. Such a transition could mandate the reconceptualization of geopolitical affairs from the ground up. – New York Times  


The U.S. Marine Corps is focused on bringing synthetic training systems to its infantry members, acknowledging that advanced threats and operational changes under the Force Design 2030 adaptation effort necessitate a change from traditionally prized live training events. – Defense News 

The Defense Logistics Agency has ordered another $315 million worth of GPS modules that can utilize a new anti-jam signal, bringing the total value of the contract with BAE Systems to $641 million. – Defense News   

Amid a global shipping crisis, a congressionally-mandated investigation into the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy yielded 67 recommendations for improvements to everything from the academy’s facilities to its curriculum. – Defense One  

The prototype for the Navy’s unmanned refueling tanker is now aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier ahead of at-sea testing. – USNI News  

The aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman and its carrier strike group kicked off a scheduled deployment Wednesday, departing from Norfolk, Virginia and Mayport, Florida. – Military Times  

House Democrats on Thursday offered a two-month budget extension which includes $7 billion in new funding for evacuating U.S. allies out of Afghanistan but not enough money to offset the cost of the military pay raise set to go into effect Jan. 1. – Military Times  

The annual defense spending bill is usually passed and signed by the president by now, but not this year. Senate Republicans voted against ending the debate on their version of the National Defense Authorization Act on Monday, creating an obstacle for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer , who had waited until late November to bring it to the floor. – Washington Examiner 

Kris Osborn writes: Volume matters when it comes to hypersonic weapons for both tactical and strategic reasons. The only real way to prevent a large incoming salvo would be to deter it with an equally powerful response. This is true when it comes to both conventional and nuclear weapons options. That truth underscores the need for accelerated production of new missiles. – The National Interest