Fdd's overnight brief

February 1, 2022

In The News


The United States and its European allies appear on the cusp of restoring the deal that limited Iran’s nuclear program, Biden administration officials said on Monday, but cautioned that it is now up to the new government in Tehran to decide whether, after months of negotiations, it is willing to dismantle much of its nuclear production equipment in return for sanctions relief. – New York Times 

Iran has moved production of parts for advanced centrifuges, used to enrich uranium, out of a workshop only a month after agreeing to allow the U.N. nuclear watchdog to reinstall surveillance cameras there, the watchdog said on Monday. – Reuters 

Iran has executed two gay men who were convicted on charges of sodomy and spent six years on death row, a rights group reported. Homosexuality is illegal in Iran, considered one of the most repressive places in the world for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. – Associated Press 

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard killed an unidentified gunman who attacked its intelligence office Monday in southern Iran, near the Pakistani border, the country’s state-run IRNA news agency reported. – Associated Press 

An Iranian supertanker carrying about 2 million barrels of condensate this week began discharging at Venezuelan state-run oil company PDVSA’s main oil port, according to a company document and tanker tracking services. – Reuters 

A senior State Department official said on Monday that the indirect negotiations with Iran “can’t go forever because of Iran’s nuclear advances,” and that the talks are “in the final stretch.” – Jerusalem Post  


By all accounts, Makhdoom Alam was a Taliban stalwart. The 45-year-old ethnic Uzbek commander fought U.S. and Afghan forces for two decades and was held for five years in a U.S.-run prison. Last summer, his fighters seized three northern provinces, helping pave the way for the Taliban to take over the nation. With each victory, his influence grew. Two weeks ago, the Taliban arrested him. – Washington Post  

A pregnant New Zealand journalist who was stranded in Afghanistan by her home country’s COVID-19 border policy said Tuesday she will return home after her government offered her a pathway back. – Associated Press 

President Joe Biden is demanding the release of Navy veteran Mark Frerichs on the second anniversary of him being taken hostage in Afghanistan by the Taliban and their affiliates. Frerichs, a civil engineer and retired Navy diver from Illinois, was taken hostage at the end of January 2020, at about the time then-President Donald Trump’s administration signed the U.S.-Taliban peace deal that set the stage for the eventual withdrawal. He had been working in Afghanistan as a contractor for 10 years and is the only known U.S. hostage being held by the Taliban. – Washington Examiner 

Eleven days after the Taliban swept through Afghanistan’s capital in August, Hamed Ahmadi found himself far from the home he fled in Kabul eating cantaloupe, two slivers of chicken and a small piece of bread for dinner at a military base in El Paso, Texas – a meal that made waves on social media after the 28-year-old posted it to his Twitter account. – U.S. News & World Report 

George Packer writes: To Spence it seems as if the U.S. government has moved on. “Afghanistan keeps descending into hell, and what are people like us supposed to do?” she asked. […]I’m a very idealistic person in some ways, and I understand we can’t save everyone, and there are crises everywhere. But there was a 20-year war, and that changed a lot of people here. A lot of people served and went there. Our policy, our money, went there. Do we just abandon the people? I don’t think that’s who we are as a country. I don’t think that’s who we should be as a country.” – The Atlantic 


A U.S.-backed Kurdish-led force said Monday that a prison overrun by the Islamic State group in northeastern Syria was now fully under its control, thwarting a dangerous plot by the extremists to launch further, multiple attacks across the volatile region. – Associated Press 

Intense criticism has lately been heard in Syria against its ally Russia, regarding the latter’s policy vis-à-vis the attacks on Syria that have been attributed to Israel. Elements close to the Syrian regime accused Russia of collaborating with Israel and of “greenlighting” its attacks. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Danny Makki writes: The potential intervention of Saudi Arabia, with its emphasis on Arab ties, could be the boost that Assad is looking for, at least economically. It won’t, however, come cheap in terms of policy, potentially pressuring Damascus to distance itself from Tehran, and as Saudi strategy toward Syria makes clear, it won’t come easily either. – Middle East Institute 


Two Israeli military officers were being removed from their positions immediately and a third will be formally censured over the death of a 78-year-old Palestinian American man who was detained at a checkpoint in the West Bank earlier this month, the Israeli military said Monday night. – Washington Post 

Israel on Monday called on Amnesty International not to publish an upcoming report accusing it of apartheid, saying the conclusions of the London-based international human rights group are “false, biased and antisemitic.” – Associated Press 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the need for reform in the Palestinian Authority in a phone call on Monday with President Mahmoud Abbas in a further step to strengthen bilateral relations, the State Department said. – Reuters 

The United States is committed to a two-state resolution to the conflict, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. – Jerusalem Post 

The Israeli Navy will take part in a massive American-led naval exercise, which kicked off on Monday, alongside dozens of other nations, including some with which Israel does not have formal ties. – Times of Israel 

Clashes broke out on Tuesday after a large police force entered the Shuafat refugee camp in Jerusalem to seal the home of Fadi Abu Shkhayda, who killed Eliyahu Kay and wounded two others, in a shooting attack in the Old City last November. – Ynet 

Editorial: The Amnesty report is especially ill-timed in an era when Israel and Arab states are negotiating new deals for commerce and travel since the Abraham Accords. A fair assumption is that Amnesty’s drafters hope to block such progress by inflaming world opinion with the “apartheid” slander. Amnesty also calls on the United Nations to sanction Israel, and the International Criminal Court to investigate and hold Israelis criminally responsible. We assume the Biden Administration will denounce this calumny and oppose all efforts to use it as a cudgel against America’s best friend in the Middle East. – Wall Street Journal 

Gulf States

President Biden on Monday named Qatar as a “major non-NATO ally” of the United States, a designation that clears the way for greater security cooperation and investment in the Gulf nation at a time when Mr. Biden is seeking help boosting natural gas supplies in Europe. – New York Times 

Qatar’s foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told al Jazeera TV his country is using its open channels with Washington and Tehran to bring their views closer, the Qatari-owned network reported on Tuesday. – Reuters 

Yousef Al Otaiba and Lana Zaki Nusseibeh write: As we defend the U.A.E. and our way of life, we are determined to ease tensions and create a hopeful future. The U.A.E.’s opening of direct ties with Israel has created new possibilities. We are expanding diplomatic efforts across the region toward dialogue and de-escalation. Less shooting and more talking is the only way to build the Middle East neighborhood we all want. – Wall Street Journal 

Middle East & North Africa

The speaker of Libya’s eastern-based parliament said on Monday the chamber would choose a new interim prime minister next week, but the current incumbent rejected the move. – Reuters 

The U.N. Security Council voted Monday to extend its political mission in Libya for just three months after a dispute between the West and Russia over the appointment of a new top U.N. envoy for the North African country, which is trying to form a united government after 10 years of turmoil. – Associated Press 

Ido Levy writes: Accordingly, the United States should work with the Iraqi government to bolster border security and absorb the roughly 29,000 Iraqis at al-Hawl. It should also pressure Turkey to improve its border security, especially as it continues to occupy some portions of northern Syria and attack SDF positions. And while Washington should continue urging countries to repatriate foreign nationals detained in Syria, the time has come to spearhead an ad hoc international tribunal aimed at addressing this longstanding impasse. – Washington Institute 

Seth J. Fratnzman writes: Now Nechirvan Barzani will meet with key figures in Najaf, including Sadr. The initiative is believed to have followed a decision by Masoud Barzani, the famed Kurdish leader who heads the Kurdistan Democratic Party. The Barzanis in this story are all related, Masrour is Masoud’s son and Nechirvan is Masoud’s nephew. The political family has thus sought to bridge to important issues in the last week, one of which is to form a coalition to stabilize Iraq and also to build on relations with the UAE, which could also stabilize the Kurdish region and Iraq. – Jerusalem Post 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Where antisemitic conspiracies in Turkey once claimed that “Jews” were behind “Sufis” or the “Islamists,” today it is those linked to the Brotherhood and Hamas who push antisemitism as well, blaming Jews and Freemasons for secular conspiracies. Antisemitism shifts in each generation to always blame “Jews” for being behind whatever the rulers or current narratives see as negative. – Jerusalem Post 

Korean Peninsula

As Joe Biden spars with Vladimir Putin over Ukraine and Xi Jinping over human rights, the U.S. president now has another pressing worry: Kim Jong Un’s missiles. – Bloomberg 

North Korea confirmed Monday it test-launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. territory of Guam, the North’s most significant weapon launch in years, as Washington plans steps to show its commitment to its Asian allies. – Associated Press 

A North Korean documentary broadcast on Tuesday showed a limping leader Kim Jong Un as he tackles the impoverished country’s “worst-ever hardships” amid the coronavirus pandemic and sanctions over its weapons programmes. – Reuters 


Chinese authorities have detained activists in their homes and sent others to jail. Censors have shut down the social media accounts of prominent critics. Officials have warned Olympians that protest could bring prosecution. – New York Times 

As Western governments scramble to predict Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions toward Ukraine, one of the countries with the clearest view may be China: Putin is expected to visit Beijing for Friday’s Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies and for talks with his Chinese counterpart. – Washington Post  

The threat to the West from the Chinese government is “more brazen” and damaging than ever before, FBI Director Christopher Wray said Monday night in accusing Beijing of stealing American ideas and innovation and launching massive hacking operations. – Associated Press 

As the Chinese government tightened its grip over its ethnic Uyghur population, it sentenced one man to death and three others to life in prison last year for textbooks drawn in part from historical resistance movements that had once been sanctioned by the ruling Communist Party. – Associated Press 

The Manila mayor vying for the Philippines presidency on Monday promised zero tolerance of Chinese maritime aggression and said he would not hesitate to push Beijing to abide by international law if he triumphs in this year’s election. – Reuters 

Japan’s lower house passed a resolution Tuesday expressing concern about Uyghur human rights, in a move that may anger China three days ahead of the Olympic opening ceremony in Beijing. – Bloomberg 

A US rights monitor sounded the alarm Monday over athletes’ safety at China’s upcoming Winter Olympics, after the host threatened “punishment” for anti-Beijing comments. – Agence France-Presse 

Mia Farrow writes: The deafening silence of the Games’s corporate sponsors and the International Olympic Committee certifies complicity in the ultimate human crime — genocide. – Washington Post 

Melissa Chan writes: Taken together, “authoritarian” — used to also describe declining democratic states such as Hungary and Turkey — hardly feels enough, nor does it feel accurate. That is a disservice to the public. […]We may be facing an absence of existing terminology to properly describe contemporary China. But that behooves us to rethink our vocabulary and not dismiss the f-word out of hand. – Washington Post 


In the days after the military in Myanmar seized power on Feb. 1 last year, millions of people took to the streets to oppose the takeover, walking off their jobs in what has become an enduring nationwide civil disobedience movement and resisting the junta’s murderous violence. – New York Times 

One evening in early January, Yerlan Zhagiparov left his home to see what was happening nearby at the city’s Republic Square, a center of mass political protests. Less than half an hour later, Mr. Zhagiparov, 49, called a close friend to say he had been apprehended by the National Guard. The phone cut out after his friend heard him screaming in pain. – New York Times 

The Biden administration on Monday slapped sanctions on top members of Myanmar’s judiciary and one of its main revenue-producing ports over rights abuses since last year’s coup. – Associated Press 

Human rights groups have urged Thailand not to deport a Lao political activist arrested at the weekend, over concern he could be imprisoned by its communist government if sent back. – Reuters 

Zau Maran writes: The security council should urgently take the necessary steps to pass a global arms embargo against the Myanmar military and to impose targeted sanctions to prevent the junta from stealing our country’s revenue. The council should also refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. We are not calling on the world to save us. We are leading this fight for justice and freedom ourselves. But we are calling on the world to stop aiding and abetting this brutal regime. The history of impunity must stop here. – Washington Post  


Secretary of State Antony Blinken will speak with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday in a bid to defuse tensions over the Ukraine crisis, just hours after U.S. and Russian diplomats squared off at the United Nations in one of the most confrontational international meetings in years. – Washington Post 

The United States and Russia bitterly attacked each other over the Ukraine crisis in a diplomatic brawl Monday at the U.N. Security Council, in a session replete with acidic exchanges that could have been lifted from the Cold War era. – New York Times 

The diplomatic push to avert a wider conflict between Russia and Ukraine continued with President Emmanuel Macron of France speaking to the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, by telephone on Monday for the second time in four days. – New York Times 

In the icy trenches of eastern Ukraine, where government troops are fighting Russian-backed separatists, one of the critical issues in the standoff between Russia and the West — should Ukraine be allowed to join NATO? — seems hardly pressing or even relevant: Little about the day-to-day activities of Ukrainian soldiers suggests the kind of sophisticated, contemporary military that distinguishes NATO members. – New York Times 

So far, Mr. Putin has left Western leaders guessing about whether he would stage a major invasion of Ukraine and provoke a possible breakdown in ties with the West, or whether he would be satisfied with wringing a few concessions from an expansive list of demands he has put forth. These include that NATO guarantees that it won’t give membership to Ukraine. – Wall Street Journal 

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is set to make an official trip to Russia in February, said on Monday he hopes the current crisis with Ukraine will be solved “in harmony”. – Reuters 

The situation in Kharkiv, just 40 kilometers (25 miles) from some of the tens of thousands of Russian troops massed at the border of Ukraine, feels particularly perilous. Ukraine’s second-largest city is one of its industrial centers and includes two factories that restore old Soviet-era tanks or build new ones. – Associated Press 

The infamous Wagner Group—run by one of President Putin’s closest associates—is pulling dozens of battle-hardened mercenaries out of Africa to send them to Eastern Europe where Russian forces are threatening Ukraine, The Daily Beast has learned. – The Daily Beast 

Russian military forces used a drone to attack Ukrainian troops in the eastern Ukrainian region wracked by conflict since 2014, according to a senior Ukrainian diplomat. – Washington Examiner 

Editorial: One reason sanctions haven’t been more effective against Mr. Putin is because Western governments have blinked when they get pushback from domestic interests. That’s certainly true in the U.K., where banks and financial interests like doing business with Russian oligarchs. […]But the biggest land war in Europe since World War II, and whatever an emboldened Russia does next, would be a lot worse for markets. – Wall Street Journal 

Adam Taylor writes: Despite foreign policy disputes with Moscow on Ukraine and a string of apparent assassination attempts of Kremlin foes on British soil, the British fight against illicit Russian money has been half-baked. The most notable move was a 2017 law that granted courts the power to issue “unexplained wealth orders” that compel those investing in Britain suspected of overseas corruption and criminality to explain the source of their money. – Washington Post 

Gideon Rachman writes: That exuberant handshake between Putin and MBS goes to the heart of the international cult of Putin. The Russian leader’s biggest admirers are often those, like Duterte and MBS, who share his taste for violence and his contempt for human rights. That is why the current confrontation between Russia and the west is about more than Ukraine’s independence, important though that is. […]If Putin faces down the western democracies, his thuggish strongman style of leadership will look like the wave of the future. – Financial Times 

Glenn Nye and Mike Rogers write: Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine is a challenging stress test on NATO and the world’s resolve to coalesce around a potent array of powerful levers. […]Lenin declared the best test of an adversary’s resolve was “probing with bayonets. If you find mush, proceed. If you find steel, withdraw.” As Putin employs this test, a creative and coordinated allied response to his provocation could be just the right kind of steel. – The Hill 


As the crisis over Ukraine has brewed, there are few European Union leaders on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s official call list. – Washington Post 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will vow to uphold Ukraine’s sovereignty on a visit to Kyiv on Tuesday as part of the West’s diplomatic efforts to stop a possible Russian invasion which Moscow says there is no proof it is planning. – Reuters 

The Pentagon said on Monday it is in active discussions with Eastern European allies about possible U.S. troop deployments to NATO’s eastern flank, as Washington moves to reassure jittery NATO allies in the face of a Russian military buildup near Ukraine. – Reuters 

The United States on Monday ordered the family members of its government employees in Belarus to leave the country as it warned against travel there amid tensions between Washington and Russia over Ukraine. – Reuters 

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan will visit Ukraine on Thursday for talks with President Volodymry Zelenskiy that are meant to ease tensions between Kyiv and Russia, a senior Turkish official said on Monday. – Reuters 

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signed a decree on Tuesday to increase the size of Ukraine’s armed forces by 100,000 troops over three years and raise soldiers’ salaries, but said it did not mean war with Russia was imminent. – Reuters 

Ambassador Bridget Brink is the front-runner as President Joe Biden’s choice for ambassador to Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the choice that would put in place a career diplomat with broad experience in Eastern Europe as tensions between Kyiv and Moscow soar. – Bloomberg 

Guy Chazan and Max Seddon write: In the first crisis of the post-Merkel era, Germany is floundering. The complex legacy of the second world war is weighing on its efforts to craft a coherent policy on Russia. A new government in office for only seven weeks is being pulled in one direction by its powerful pacifist lobby and in the other by Washington. – Financial Times 

Harlan Ullman writes: However, should Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky be convinced, cajoled or coerced to postpone requests for NATO entry provided Russia withdraws its forces and makes other concessions, a compromise could arise. Afghanistan failed because of fundamental misunderstandings. Yet, understanding what drives Putin and reviewing the pre-1997 European security framework surely cannot make matters worse. And both could create a means to bridge the currently unbridgeable divide. – The Hill 

Kurt Volker writes: Ukrainians are standing up for Western values and defending their country. When they ultimately prevail — and prevail they will — they will remember who took a risk to stand with them, and who stood aside. If “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” then we in the United States and Europe must indeed do something. Now is the moment. – Center for European Policy Analysis 


Mali’s ruling junta on Monday ordered the French ambassador to leave the West African country, accusing France of undermining its legitimacy amid mounting tensions between Mali and its African neighbors and European partners. – Associated Press 

The African Union has suspended Burkina Faso from all its activities in response to last week’s military coup, effective until constitutional order is restored, the AU said on Monday. – Reuters 

Prince Ngoma was just about to depart a mining site in Central African Republic’s (CAR) eastern village of Aïgbado when heavily armed Russian mercenaries in a pickup truck drove in, opened fire, and burned down the houses in the area. – The Daily Beast 

David Pilling writes: The chances of a corrupt system reforming itself are slim. But if Nigeria’s ruling class cannot manage it, any remaining faith Nigerians have in their system of government will evaporate. That way lies disaster. – Financial Times 

The Americas

International human rights groups called on Monday for authorities in El Salvador to open an investigation into allegations that journalists and activists had their phones hacked and implanted with the sophisticated spyware Pegasus. – Reuters 

Peru’s prime minister Mirtha Vásquez resigned on Monday after less than four months in the job, plunging the turbulent leftwing government of president Pedro Castillo into a fresh crisis. – Financial Times 

Thirteen U.S. states and two Latin America and Caribbean nations on Monday threw their support behind a lawsuit from Mexico that accuses several major U.S. gun makers of facilitating the trafficking of weapons to drug cartels, leading to thousands of deaths. – Reuters 

United States

The largest U.S. labor organization said Monday it strongly supported a U.S. House of Representatives bill designed to improve competition with China, boost U.S. semiconductor production and reform key trade provisions. – Reuters 

Roughly 7,600 Afghan refugees still reside on three military bases within the United States. The Department of Homeland Security announced last Thursday the final refugees at Camp Atterbury and Holloman Air Force Base had departed, leaving only three operational. At the time, there were approximately 9,000 refugees left at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin; Fort Pickett, Wisconsin; and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. – Washington Examiner 

A synagogue and an affiliated Jewish school in Chicago were vandalized over the weekend with swastika images and antisemitic graffiti, officials said. – Associated Press 

An anti-Zionist student group at the University of Chicago implored students last week to boycott courses about Israel and Israeli academic fellows. – Algemeiner 

The family of a Kansas woman charged with joining the Islamic State group and leading an all-female battalion says they want nothing to do with her, a prosecutor said Monday. – Associated Press 


Twitter (TWTR.N) has taken legal action against a rule, coming into force in Germany from Tuesday, that obliges social media firms to block or delete criminal content quickly and report particularly serious criminal offences to the police, a German court confirmed on Monday. – Reuters 

Grindr has been removed from the Chinese version of Apple’s app store and is no longer available in the country’s Android marketplace. – Washington Examiner 


The Navy is preparing salvage operations for an F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter lost last week, U.S. 7th Fleet told USNI News on Monday. – USNI News 

The U.S. Defense Department has finished fielding the first batch of new logistics systems for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, replacing an older, flawed system that has caused program headaches for years. – Defense News 

The F-15EX Eagle II — the latest version of the Air Force’s fourth-generation fighter — fired a weapon for the first time last week. – Defense News 

The intelligence community now has a tool that allows English-speaking users to search through foreign language text and speech for information. – Defense News 

The Air Force saw a dip in fatal jet crashes and those that rendered aircraft unusable in fiscal 2021, a win for aviation safety as the federal government tries to bolster oversight of military mishaps. – Defense News