Fdd's overnight brief

February 8, 2022

In The News


Talks to revive Iran’s tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers are resuming on Tuesday after breaking off for a bit over a week for diplomats to return home for consultations. – Associated Press 

Iran said on Monday that Washington had to make a “political decision” regarding lifting sanctions on the Islamic Republic as Tehran’s demand for their full removal to revive a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers was non-negotiable. – Reuters 

Russia’s chief nuclear negotiator Mikhail Ulyanov told the Moscow newspaper Kommersant that talks to revive an accord between Iran and world powers are on the finish line with a final document already on the table. – Bloomberg 

Iran will be one of the world’s largest arms exporters if US sanctions are lifted, claimed Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Mohammad Bagheri during a ceremony on Monday, according to the Iranian Young Journalists Club. – Jerusalem Post 

Against the backdrop of the current talks between Iran and the Western powers in Vienna,  Saudi political analyst Faisal Ibrahim Al-Shammari, who specializes in American affairs and writes a column in the Makkah daily, compared Iran to Nazi Germany and the nuclear agreement with it to the Munich Agreement signed with Germany in 1938. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Iran “wants some type of agreement” over its nuclear program as a way to lift sanctions on the regime, but Tehran views its ballistic missile arsenal “as their crown jewels” not to be bargained away, the senior American commander in the Middle East said Thursday. – USNI News 


Al-Qaida’s past ties to the recently empowered Taliban have the potential of making Afghanistan a safe haven for extremists, and “terrorist groups enjoy greater freedom there than at any time in recent history,” U.N. experts said in a report circulated Monday. – Associated Press 

An avalanche in a remote mountainous corner of northeast Afghanistan killed at least 12 people, a provincial spokesperson said Monday. Another nine were injured. – Associated Press 


Israeli authorities launched a state inquiry on Monday into allegations that the country’s police illicitly used spyware to hack the phones of political activists, senior government bureaucrats and people close to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. – Wall Street Journal 

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday said he is treading cautiously regarding Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s renewed interest in strengthening ties with Israel. – Jerusalem Post 

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett claimed Monday that United States President Joe Biden had accepted Israel’s “freedom to act” against Iran even in the event of a renewed nuclear agreement. – Iran International

Mehul Srivastava writes: Israel has reminded Israelis that whatever is decided in Vienna, the Jewish state isn’t bound by the agreement. It is thus, theoretically, free to keep sabotaging Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. – Financial Times 

Gulf States

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen has invited the Red Cross and a U.N. agency to discuss its deadly attack on a detention centre holding hundreds of pre-trial detainees and migrants, a site it says was not on a no-target list agreed with U.N. agencies, state media said on Monday. – Reuters 

Iraqi lawmakers failed to elect a new head of state Monday, as key factions foiled the attempt by boycotting the parliament session. – Associated Press 

The U.S. plans to deploy a squadron of Lockheed Martin’s F-22 fighter jets in addition to moving guided-missile destroyer USS Cole to help the United Arab Emirates fend off attacks from Yemen’s Houthi rebels. – Bloomberg 

Nikolay Kozhanov writes: Firstly, in order to obtain Qatari gas, the EU must prohibit the resale of any LNG supplied outside Europe to avoid competing with Doha’s own direct supplies to Asia or elsewhere. Secondly, Brussels is expected to close the investigations into Qatar’s market policies in Europe that began in 2018. Thirdly, Doha insists on trading on contractual principles, and not on the principles of spot trading. – Middle East Institute 

John Hannah, Eric Edelman, and Jonathan Ruhe write: Conspicuously absent from the administration’s early priority list, however, was expanding the Abraham Accords, the flurry of peace deals that Donald Trump forged between Israel and four Arab states in the final months of his presidency. But with so many of Biden’s first-year initiatives now faltering or—as in Afghanistan—ending in outright debacle, his administration would be wise to turn its attention to the accords as a potential success story in an otherwise bleak foreign policy landscape. – The Dispatch 

Korean Peninsula

North Korea began this year with a record-breaking spate of missile launches, but  stopped short of a truly provocative step: ending its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests. – New York Times 

The United States called on North Korea on Monday to defund its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and prioritize the needs of its own people, as Russia and China blamed sanctions for worsening the humanitarian situation in the hermit Asian state. – Reuters 

North Korea’s parliament pledged to develop the economy and improve people’s livelihoods in the face of a “persevering struggle” against international sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic, state media said on Tuesday. – Reuters 


China’s United Nations envoy has rejected his U.S. counterpart’s remark that China’s choice of an ethnic Uyghur as a torchbearer for the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics was an attempt to distract from his country’s alleged rights abuses against Muslim minorities. – Reuters 

The U.S. Commerce Department said on Monday it had added 33 Chinese entities to its so-called ‘unverified list’, which requires U.S. exporters to go through more procedures before shipping goods to the entities. – Reuters 

Britain on Monday firmly rejected a statement from China that affirmed Beijing’s support for Argentina’s claim to the Falkland Islands, as relations between London and Asia’s leading power remain strained. – Associated Press 

The U.S. is losing patience with China after the nation failed to meet its purchase commitments under their trade agreement reached during the Trump administration, according to American officials. – Bloomberg 

Editorial: There was potent symbolism in the warm meeting between President Xi Jinping of China and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, as the Winter Olympics opened in Beijing. At a time when other countries are troubled by the actions of these Eurasian giants — from Russia’s threatened invasion of Ukraine to China’s genocide against the Uyghur people — the two dictators took center stage to support one another. – Washington Post 

Kathrin Hille writes: Foreign observers blame Xi’s security tightening. Under the concept of “overall national security”, the Chinese Communist party has expanded the reach of its security focus from traditional areas such as the military and political spheres to a total of 15 categories including “deep-sea security” and “space security”. – Financial Times 

Brahma Chellaney writes: Relieving U.S. pressure on China is clearly a mistake. The Biden White House would do well to rebuild pressure on Beijing by lifting the veil on the precise role the U.S. played in supporting WIV research on increasing the transmissivity of bat coronaviruses to human cells. For starters, the U.S. should disclose the full extent of its WIV funding. America’s own transparency is essential for credible pressure on an opaque China. – The Hill 


Japan’s parliament on Tuesday adopted a resolution on rising tensions over Ukraine, denouncing any attempt to change the status quo by force and urging Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government to do all it can to help achieve peace. – Reuters 

The United States has approved a possible $100 million sale of equipment and services to Taiwan to “sustain, maintain, and improve” the Patriot missile defense system used by the self-ruled island claimed by China, the Pentagon said on Monday. – Reuters 

China’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday condemned the latest planned US arms sale to Taiwan, saying it seriously undermined the country’s security and sovereignty. – Reuters 

The United States must “provide strategic clarity” on what Washington would do if China invaded Taiwan, the vice chair of the House Armed Services Committee said Monday. – USNI News 

C. Raja Mohan writes: It is precisely for that reason that New Delhi was pleased to see U.S. President Joe Biden take the initiative early in his term to engage with Russian President Vladimir Putin. A stable relationship with Moscow would allow Washington to focus on challenges in Asia—to India’s likely benefit. Modi’s advisors see Putin now trying to take advantage but hope he will not overplay his hand. For the moment, despite all the talk of an imminent war in Ukraine, India’s hope that Russia and the West reach an accommodation is still alive. – Foreign Policy


President Biden said the Russian-built Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline to Germany would be suspended if Russia invades Ukraine, with the German chancellor offering support but without explicitly saying the project would be halted. – Wall Street Journal 

Emerging from a five-hour meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Moscow around midnight Monday, Putin said that there would be “no winners” if war broke out between NATO and Russia. – Washington Post 

Belarus plans to deploy up to 200 troops to Syria to serve alongside Russian forces in the country, according to a Russian government document released Monday, a move strongly condemned by Belarus’ opposition leader. – Associated Press 

On February 4, 2022, Russia and China published a joint statement on “the International Relations Entering a New Era and the Global Sustainable Development.” The statement, as noted in its introduction, focuses on seeking “multipolarity” in order to put an end to the U.S.-led unipolar order. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Adam Taylor writes: It doesn’t take a mind reader to guess what Vladimir Putin wants from Ukraine. Whether the Russian president is planning an invasion or not, Putin himself spelled out his thoughts on the “historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians” in a 7,000-word essay published by the Kremlin last year. – Washington Post 

Tom Rogan writes: The U.S. and British air forces are now engaged in near-persistent aerial intelligence monitoring of these Russian forces. Air traffic monitoring websites show that this intelligence effort centers on drones, signal intelligence, and ground radar aircraft. Of particular note, U.S. ground radar aircraft are now operating at night. This is likely in order to anticipate either Russian preparations for a night offensive or the covert nighttime movement of more sensitive Russian military equipment, such as missile and electronic warfare systems. – Washington Examiner 

Dan Hannan writes: That is why the rest of us cannot be indifferent to the fate of Ukraine. A world in which Ukrainian sovereignty is snuffed out is a world in which dictators are stronger and democrats are weaker. Such a world, as well as being more wretched, will be more warlike. The spread of representative government, and the emergence of more numerous, smaller, and more democratic states since the 1950s, has coincided with historically low levels of interstate war. We cannot give up on the one without jeopardizing the other. – Washington Examiner 

Gideon Rachman writes: Putin the Rational may be pretending to be Vlad the Mad. It was Richard Nixon who outlined the “madman theory”, when the US president told aides that it could be helpful if America’s enemies thought he was crazy enough to use nuclear weapons. Putin is said to be planning high-profile nuclear weapons exercises in the coming weeks — which would be a move straight from the “madman” playbook. But the line between acting like a madman and being a madman is disconcertingly thin.Financial Times

Cristian-Dan Tataru writes: The MENA region is not isolated from the consequences of a potential Ukrainian-Russian war. Countries in the region, especially oil and gas producers, can help to mitigate some of the effects, but it is better for them to do everything in their power to prevent it in the first place. – Middle East Institute 


Diplomatic efforts to defuse the tensions around Ukraine continued on Tuesday with French President Emmanuel Macron expected in Kyiv the day after hours of talks with the Russian leader in Moscow yielded no apparent breakthroughs. – Associated Press 

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock promised unequivocal German support for Ukraine on a visit to Kyiv on Monday as the two sides sought to narrow differences on Ukraine’s request for weapons to prepare for a possible attack from Russia. – Reuters 

Russian President Vladimir Putin described Monday’s talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in the Kremlin as useful, substantive and business-like, and said that some of Macron’s ideas could form a basis for further joint steps. – Reuters 

The United States and the European Union pledged on Monday to work to ensure gas supplies can respond to disruptions in pipeline gas flows, as tensions rise over the massing of troops on Ukraine’s borders by Russia, Europe’s biggest gas supplier. – Reuters 

A delegation of senior U.S. officials is in Europe this week to discuss coordinating potential sanctions and export-control measures the United States and its allies could take in the event that Russia invades Ukraine, an administration official told Reuters on Monday. – Reuters 

NATO is considering a longer-term military posture in eastern Europe to strengthen its defences, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday, as tensions remained high over Russia’s military build-up near Ukraine. – Reuters 

An influential separatist commander in eastern Ukraine has urged Russia to send 30,000 soldiers to reinforce rebel forces fighting in the breakaway Donetsk region and to operate new weapons systems he hopes Russia will supply. – Reuters 

Ukraine’s army will conduct military drills from Feb. 10 to Feb. 20 in response to Russian exercises in Belarus near the Ukrainian northern border, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said late on Monday. – Reuters 

France, Italy, and the United States — have been conducting joint naval exercises together in the Mediterranean Sea, showing the strength of their partnership with three aircraft carrier strike groups. – Business Insider 

On his first visit to Washington since taking office, Scholz repeatedly sidestepped questions about the future of Germany’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline should Russian President Vladimir Putin order an attack on Ukraine. Critics argue NS2 gives Russia outsize influence over the German and European energy markets. – Defense News 

Anna Sauerbrey writes: Yet Mr. Scholz maintains that the country is taking the right path. […]Is this just the usual German delusion? Is the country just making excuses for pursuing business as usual? Yes and no. Germany is certainly reluctant to leave its comfort zone, as its hesitancy — nowhere better captured than in its offer to send Ukraine helmets rather than missiles — clearly betrays. But some things have changed. – New York Times 

Harlan Ullman writes: No one, possibly not even Putin, knows whether the Ukrainian situation is serious or critical. In conditions of great uncertainty, perhaps the most sensible solution is for all parties to take a step back to reconsider events of what has transpired so far; what are possible exit strategies; what creative ideas might relieve the crisis; and whether the current negotiation strategies require adjustment. – The Hill 

Olga Lautman writes: Russia’s newfound and seemingly untrammeled control over Belarus’s territory and leadership pose a grave threat to Ukraine, as well as, to NATO states including Poland and the Baltic states, which must now plan for a geographically and numerically expanded Russian presence on their borders. The head of NATO’s military committee said on February 7 that the alliance recognized the risk and might have to reinforce its presence in the region if Russian troops remain in Belarus. – Center for European Policy Analysis 


Taiwan will host a high-level delegation from Somalia’s breakaway Somaliland region this week, the government said on Monday, as the island pursues diplomacy in Africa in the face of Chinese pressure to limit its international footprint. – Reuters 

Mali’s government has asked the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) to lift sanctions that will have severe consequences for the population, it said on Monday. – Reuters 

The European Union and the United States are raising alarm over torture allegedly perpetrated by Uganda’s security forces, with a prominent writer and government critic saying that he is a recent victim. – Associated Press 

Egypt’s president on Monday hosted his Djiboutian counterpart for talks on improving ties and a controversial dam that Ethiopia is building on the Nile River’s main tributary, which Egypt deems an existential threat, – Associated Press 

Latin America

The U.S. government barred former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández from entering the country, and made the decision public as it seeks to improve ties with the Central American country as part of efforts to curb migration to the U.S. – Wall Street Journal 

U.S. Special Climate Envoy John Kerry will travel to Mexico City on Wednesday and meet with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and other government officials, the U.S. State Department said on Monday. – Reuters 

Nicaragua said Monday it has lodged a diplomatic protest over an alleged incursion by naval boats from El Salvador in its waters in the Pacific. – Associated Press 

United States

The United States and its allies clashed with Russia and China in the U.N. Security Council on Monday over the usefulness and impact of U.N. sanctions, which are currently imposed on countries from North Korea to Yemen and Congo as well the al-Qaida and Islamic State extremist groups and their affiliates and supporters. – Associated Press 

The United States will ease tariffs on steel imported from Japan, officials announced Monday, in the latest move by President Joe Biden’s administration to resolve trade disputes started under his predecessor Donald Trump. – Agence France-Presse 

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued one of its starkest terrorism advisory bulletins Monday on the heels of a recent hostage situation at a Texas synagogue and bomb threats at historically Black universities across the country. – The Hill 

Simon Henderson writes: The West, in general, and the United States, in particular, have poorer options. Moral indignation counts for a little but public opinion isn’t a winning card. The tightness in the oil market could be reduced by greater OPEC production, but the cartel now works hand-in-hand with Russia, as OPEC+. – The Hill 

Johan Bracht writes: The geopolitics and economics of chip manufacturing offer some insights. Geopolitically speaking, semiconductor supply is concentrated in the hands of a few key companies, such as TMSC and Samsung, which control 80 percent of the market. […]In the electric vehicle transition, the U.S. is losing the race in terms of battery production, critical minerals extraction and processing to China. […]As a consequence, the one area the U.S. could hold a key advantage, in and beyond the EV race, is semiconductors, a high value-added and strategic market, which it should expand and leverage in any way possible. – The Hill 

Robert A. Manning writes: All told, unforced errors have put the U.S. in an awkward position to shape the rules-based order it seeks. One hopeful sign, however, is the recently formed U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council. It is an effort to coordinate positions on things such as WTO reform and emerging technologies like 5G and AI. To the extent that the U.S. and EU can harmonize their positions, they will gain leverage with China to shape norms. – The Hill 

Rana Foroohar writes: On the one hand, this tells us nothing we didn’t already know from the last several years of US-China trade battles, particularly around high growth technologies. But the Chinese argument deserves close attention, because very often when US politicians, regulators and policymakers make the same point, they are shot down as protectionist, nationalistic or worse. This is true even within the US administration itself, where there seem to be two opposing camps. – Financial Times 


The Department of Defense is beginning to emphasize the importance of developing the capability to defend against hypersonic missiles as opposed to developing our own such missiles. – Washington Examiner 

Against the backdrop of Russia’s truculence in Eastern Europe, US special operators have established a new forward-operating base in another tense corner of Europe. In early January, US Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) announced its decision to set up a special-operations headquarters in Albania. – Business Insider 

Walter Russell Mead writes: Increased defense spending wouldn’t be a drag on economic growth. The capabilities America needs to add to its defense arsenal are mostly high-tech and have civilian as well as military applications. Just as Israel’s investments in cybersecurity and high-tech weaponry helped it become a startup nation with the most dynamic civilian economy in its history, a renewed commitment to national defense can increase the competitiveness of American industry while boosting national security. – Wall Street Journal 

Long War

Days after the death of Islamic State’s leader, U.S.-backed Kurdish-led militias are hunting down fugitives involved in a northeast Syria prison break that the terrorist group launched last month to replenish its dwindling ranks. – Wall Street Journal 

The United States said on Monday it was offering a reward of up to $10 million each for information leading to the identification or location of ISIS-K leader Sanaullah Ghafari and for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for a deadly August 2021 attack at Kabul airport. – Reuters 

Fawaz A. Gerges writes: Yet Biden conspicuously avoided saying that Qurayshi’s death would constitute a strategic blow to the group. This omission is notable and represents the Biden administration’s clear-eyed understanding of the precarious status of the struggle against the Islamic State. – Foreign Policy