Fdd's overnight brief

July 18, 2019

In The News


The head of the United Nations’ atomic agency is preparing to step down early, potentially kicking off a fight for control of the agency that has oversight of Iran’s nuclear program, diplomats said. – Wall Street Journal

Each case is different, but all share the backdrop of an escalating confrontation between Iran and the United States, and fury among hard-line Iranian conservatives over what they see as Europe’s subservience to America. The United States has long contended, since the Tehran hostage crisis four decades ago, that the Iranians use foreign prisoners as pawns for political leverage. Rights advocates say the prisoners are plunged into a judicial system that is mysterious and arbitrary. – New York Times

The U.S. “shot itself in the foot” by pulling out of the nuclear accord with Iran, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said, offering a grim outlook for the chance of opening talks with President Donald Trump. – Bloomberg

Iranians feeling the squeeze from U.S. sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic’s ailing economy are increasingly turning to such digital currencies as Bitcoin to make money, prompting alarm in and out of the country. – Associated Press

The U.S. is tightly limiting travel by Iranian officials visiting or assigned to the United Nations, sparking concern from the world body. – Associated Press

Iran’s foreign minister said Wednesday that his country has no choice but to manufacture missiles for defense purposes — comments that come after a remark by the top diplomat that seemed to suggest the missiles could be up for negotiations. – Associated Press

As Iran weighs the merits of talks with the U.S. and tensions remain high in the Persian Gulf, the Islamic Republic’s leadership is preparing for a second Donald Trump term and mindful of how two key countries fared in high-stakes negotiations with him: Mexico and North Korea. – Bloomberg

Over a round of golf this past weekend, Sen. Rand Paul asked President Donald Trump’s blessing for a sensitive diplomatic mission. Paul proposed sitting down with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to extend a fresh olive branch on the president’s behalf, according to four U.S. officials. – Politico

Jailed British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been transferred from prison to a hospital psychiatric ward, the campaign group seeking to free her said on Wednesday. – Reuters

US officials say they are unsure whether an oil tanker towed into Iranian waters was seized by Iran or rescued after facing mechanical faults as Tehran asserts, creating a mystery at sea at a time of high tension in the Gulf. – Reuters

Eli Lake writes: Kerry’s efforts did not save the Iran deal, nor did they deter Trump from canceling the waivers that allowed Iran to sell some of its oil. Now Zarif has an opportunity to make his case for negotiations with someone who plays golf with Trump, as opposed to a Democratic former secretary of state who has been the target of Trump’s tweets. There’s no doubt that Paul, a libertarian who has opposed U.S. interventions since he became a senator, is sincere when he talks about trying to prevent a war with Iran. His interlocutor, however, has a reputation for insincerity. The senator from Kentucky should be prepared to be charmed — and conned. – Bloomberg


Russia has sent special forces in recent days to fight alongside Syrian army troops struggling to make gains in a more than two month assault in northwestern Syria to seize the last opposition bastion, senior rebel commanders said. – Reuters

Syria’s Al-Watan newspaper, identified with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, on Tuesday reported that a-Assad met with an unnamed Iranian official to discuss “how to deal with Israel’s attacks on Syrian territory,” Israel Hayom reported. – Arutz Sheva

Afsin Yurdakul writes: The refugee question has been at the center of political debates, most recently, in the June Istanbul municipal election, in which the opposition Republican People’s Party candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu, defeated the governing Justice and Development Party’s candidate, Binali Yildirim. […]The Turkish government and the opposition need to cooperate to develop solutions to the refugee question, which would have a soothing effect on Turkey’s polarized politics as well. – New York Times

Baraa Sabri writes: These recent intermittent skirmishes reflect how Tel Rifaat remains a potential flash-point in the hotly contested region of Northwest Syria, where Kurdish, Russian, Turkish, and Syrian armed forces are all in close proximity. […]In particular, it is incumbent on the United States to pressure Turkey to avoid battles with the YPG and to negotiate with Kurdish parties in both Turkey and Syria in order to arrive at a roadmap for peaceful coexistence. Washington must likewise work side by side with Moscow to protect Tel Rifaat and the Kurds who guard it from upcoming battles. – Washington Institute


Gunmen killed a Turkish diplomat and an Iraqi man during lunchtime at a restaurant in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil on Wednesday, a rare outburst of violence in the capital of the country’s semiautonomous Kurdish region. – Washington Post

The United States is removing Turkey from an F-35 fighter jet program in response to Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 surface-to-air defense system, the first components of which landed in Turkey last week. The purchase was opposed by the Pentagon, and Washington long warned that if Turkey were to acquire the Russian system, the United States may impose harsh economic sanctions and revoke Turkey’s participation in U.S. military programs. – Washington Post

For some U.S. officials, the Trump administration’s failure to persuade Turkey not to buy a Russian air defense system may have its roots in a coup attempt against President Tayyip Erdogan three years ago this week. – Reuters

President Donald Trump declined Tuesday to criticize Turkey’s acquisition of a Russian missile system assailed by the Pentagon and NATO, making no mention of sanctions Washington had threatened over the purchase. – Agence FrancePresse

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday sought to downplay the disagreement between Turkey and NATO over Ankara’s decision to purchase a Russian-made missile defense system, insisting that the fracture does not suggest Turkey is turning away from the west and towards Russia. – Defense One

Turkey is being excised from the F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter program, and the U.S. will pay an estimated $500 to 600 million to retool the program in the aftermath, the Defense Department’s acquisition chief told reporters on Wednesday. – USNI News

The Turkish Foreign Ministry responded to the United States’ decision to remove Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program, saying it is ‘not fair,’ and will harm strategic ties between two NATO allies. The decision to remove Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program was announced by the US on Wednesday, a move that had been long threatened and expected after Ankara began accepting delivery of an advanced Russian missile defense system last week. – Reuters

In a July 8, 2019 column titled “Stopping Western Civilization” published in the Turkish pro-government Milli Gazete daily, Turkish columnist Mehmed Şevket Eygi asked readers: “Can we allow Western civilization to destroy the world and humanity?” He said that the West was “a civilization not of peace, but of war” and that it was “colonialist, imperialist, extremely capitalist, selfish, and hedonist.” He warned that “if the West is not blocked, if no one hits the breaks, humanity will collapse. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Editorial: Clearly, Turkey cannot have both the F-35 and the S-400, and Mr. Erdogan must accept that. If Mr. Erdogan persists in deploying the S-400, he will lose the plane. But Mr. Trump should strive to avoid a wider breakdown with Turkey. A serious crisis might propel Mr. Erdogan even more into the embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who would like nothing better. Turkey borders Syria and Iraq, and its cooperation with the United States is vital in the region; it hosts extensive NATO infrastructure, as well as U.S. nuclear weapons. This is a knotty problem, in the late stages of metastasis, but a wider crisis should be avoided. – Washington Post


The House Foreign Affairs Committee advanced a resolution on Wednesday that rejects the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, stoking concerns among Democrats that the measure could cause infighting within the party. – Times of Israel

US Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt said in an interview broadcast on American TV Wednesday that Israel is the victim in the conflict with the Palestinians and that in his view, has not made any mistakes over the decades the strife has continued. – Times of Israel

The IDF said Wednesday it arrested Hamas members linked to a money transfer network that funneled cash from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank for terror purposes. – Times of Israel

On Wednesday, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar announced that she will be visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories in the coming weeks. Omar will be accompanied by Rep. Rashida Tlaib. […]Israel has a law the grants the government authority to ban pro-BDS activists from entering the country. The law has been used sporadically over the past two years. A government official told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s National Security Council was reviewing the issue and would offer him recommendations on how to respond. – Jerusalem Post

After a July 12, 2019 speech by Hamas political bureau member Fathi Hammad urging Palestinians to kill Jews all over the world sparked outrage, Hamas issued a clarification stating that his statements did not reflect the movement’s official positions and that Hamas’s struggle is against the occupation, not against Jews around the world or the Jewish faith. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said in a July 12, 2019 interview on Al-Manar TV (Lebanon) that Hizbullah can target and strike any part of Israel, including Eilat, and that all of northern Israel is within range of Hizbullah’s weapons. […]Nasrallah implied that Hizbullah has thousands of missiles that it can use to send Israel “back to the stone age.” – Middle East Media Research Institute

Seth J.Frantzman writes: One of the issues that some face in coming to Israel also is the concept that the peace process has a simple end stage, a “solution” and that the “conflict” is something that will end, and that areas like Jerusalem, the Golan, or the West Bank and Israel itself are somehow negotiable like one trades cards playing monopoly. But Israel isn’t an art project. One can disagree with the US policy on Jerusalem or the Golan, but it’s important to get a sense that for many average people in Israel and the Palestinian territories lives are more than just slogans and peace plans and simple answers. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

The House sent President Trump a trio of resolutions Wednesday aimed at blocking arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, joining the Senate in disapproving of administration ties to the Gulf nations but setting up a likely presidential veto. – Wall Street Journal

The United States is sending hundreds of troops to Saudi Arabia in what is intended as the latest show of force toward Iran, two Defense Department officials said Wednesday. – New York Times

U.S. officials will speak to members of the Washington diplomatic corps on Friday about a new initiative to promote freedom of navigation and maritime security around the Strait of Hormuz, the State Department said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Mohamed Maher and Irina Tsukerman write: Nevertheless, the core issue driving the enmity between these two nations stems from Turkish support for the Muslim Brotherhood and remains a problem unlikely to be solved through mediation. Egypt sees Erdogan’s party and the Muslim Brotherhood as essentially two sides of the same coin, while Erdogan sees Sisi’s coup as potentially replicable in Turkey, especially after the failed coup attempt in 2016. President Trump’s recent announcement that he supported designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group, along with recent congressional discussion on the matter, will likely put more pressure on Turkey in this regard. Where that pressure leads, however, remains to be seen. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

Rates of malnutrition and disease are increasing in North Korea as it faces a harvest that is half of what was expected, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said on Thursday. – Reuters

Japan is considering taking a dispute with South Korea over its compensation for wartime forced laborers to the International Court of Justice as the deadline for seeking third-country arbitration passes on Thursday, public broadcaster NHK reported. – Reuters

The United States will “do what it can do” to help defuse a worsening political and economic dispute between South Korea and Japan, a senior U.S. diplomat said on Wednesday, as South Korea warned that the row would have global repercussions. – Reuters


Progress toward a U.S.-China trade deal has stalled while the Trump administration determines how to address Beijing’s demands that it ease restrictions on Huawei Technologies Co., people familiar with the talks said. – Wall Street Journal

A Chinese-Australian writer detained in Beijing since January was charged on Thursday and moved to a different detention center in the Chinese capital, his lawyer said. Australian lawyer Rob Stary said he had been told by Yang Hengjun’s family and friends of the charge and was seeking confirmation from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. – Associated Press

China is stepping up efforts to defend a security crackdown on ethnic Muslim minorities, as the U.S. leads efforts to highlight mass detentions and other alleged abuses. – Bloomberg

The United States and China still have to work through major issues to reach any trade agreement, including intellectual property theft, structural reforms and subsidies, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Thursday. – Reuters

Mihir Sharma writes: That’s the basic imbalance underlying the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s big push into the developing world. […]It’s time for the West to step up. China must be pressured to make its BRI lending more transparent and to follow global norms governing infrastructure finance. But, more importantly, we should all prepare to provide support, material and moral, to countries that want and need to renegotiate terms with China. Standing aside while Beijing corrals resources from the world’s poorest cannot be an option. – Bloomberg

South Asia

Pakistani authorities on Wednesday arrested Hafiz Saeed, the accused mastermind of devastating 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, police said. […]In Washington, Trump welcomed the arrest. In one of several tweets on various topics Wednesday morning, Trump wrote: “After a ten year search, the so-called ‘mastermind’ of the Mumbai Terror attacks has been arrested in Pakistan. Great pressure has been exerted over the last two years to find him!” Contrary to Trump’s characterization of a prolonged “search,” however, Pakistani authorities have been aware of Saeed’s whereabouts for years. – Washington Post

As the U.S. continues to pursue peace talks in Afghanistan, the Pentagon is worried that the Afghan government and Pakistan, both U.S. allies, will distract from that goal as they continue to skirmish along their shared border. – Washington Examiner

The top UN court has ordered Pakistan to review the death penalty handed down to an Indian Navy officer convicted of spying. – BBC

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: This report addresses the options for staying in Afghanistan, for reaching a cosmetic or real form of peace, and for some form of unilateral withdrawal. It describes the challenges in each area[…]. It addresses the challenges in cutting or removing U.S. land and air forces. Finally, it addresses critical problems in assessing and costing the current level of U.S. involvement in the war, and in estimating the future cost of supporting a peace or continuing the fighting. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


American forces took part in a major amphibious landing and practice assault off Australia’s northeast coast on Wednesday in stepped-up drills as China modernizes its military to project power far from its shores. – Wall Street Journal

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines wants President Trump to park the Navy’s 7th Fleet on China’s doorstep in response to ongoing tensions in the Pacific. – Washington Examiner

There is increasing evidence to show that Asia’s economies are being hit by the US-China trade war. […]But analysts say if the US’s anti-free trade trend continues and hits more of Asia’s economies, that could hurt the region’s long term potential growth rate – in turn hurting the rest of us. – BBC

Cambodia announced that it will send 1,600 tonnes of plastic waste back to the U.S. and Canada, becoming the latest Southeast Asian country join the backlash against taking in the developed world’s trash. – TIME

Chinese officials in charge of Hong Kong affairs are working on an urgent strategy to solve the city’s political chaos and have ruled out the use of military force, the South China Morning Post reported, citing unidentified people familiar with the discussions. – Bloomberg

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces a tough diplomatic challenge from an expected U.S. request to send its navy to join a military coalition to safeguard strategic waters off Iran and Yemen. – Reuters

Michael Mazza writes: The past two years have seen continued advances in US-Taiwan relations, despite fears that the Trump administration would use Taiwan as bargaining chip in US-China relations. A joint agenda for the relationship would help ensure that bilateral ties continue to deepen in the years ahead. – Global Taiwan Institute

Yasmeen Serhan writes: But for perhaps no country is this more personal than Britain. As Hong Kong’s former colonial power, Britain played a primary role in the city’s return to Chinese sovereignty more than two decades ago. It’s also a signatory to the agreement guaranteeing Hong Kong’s limited autonomy from Beijing—a status protesters fear is now under threat. But the political impasse over Brexit is dominating British political discourse, ensuring that issues like Hong Kong remain in the foreign-policy periphery. – The Atlantic


The United States and Russia on Wednesday accused each other of using children as political hostages after dozens of teachers at an English-language school in Moscow patronised by the children of Western diplomats were left without visas. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an order on Wednesday further expanding the number of Ukrainian citizens who can apply for fast-track Russian passports. – Reuters

A court in Moscow ruled on Wednesday to keep 24 Ukrainian sailors captured by Russia off the coast of Crimea in custody for a further three months despite recent talks between Moscow and Kiev on a possible prisoner swap. – Reuters

Time is running out to save a key nuclear missile treaty with Russia, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has told the BBC. – BBC


British police said the brother of the Manchester Arena suicide bomber had been extradited to the U.K. to face charges of murder in the 2017 terrorist attack that killed 22 people. – Wall Street Journal

The list of front-runners to succeed Christine Lagarde as head of the International Monetary Fund has narrowed to four eurozone officials, according to several senior European officials. – Wall Street Journal

France’s finance minister said he shared the Trump administration’s concerns about Facebook Inc. ’s plan for its cryptocurrency, but suggested a gulf remains between Europe and the U.S. on how to tax the profits of the biggest tech companies. – Wall Street Journal

The UK will have to “face the consequences” if it opts to leave without a deal, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has said. – BBC

Ukraine said on Wednesday a rebel who organized the trailer carrying the missile that shot down a Malaysian airliner in 2014 had been captured two years ago and was now serving a sentence in Ukraine. – Reuters

Heather A. Conley and Matthew Melino write: President Trump formally requested Senate ratification on April 30. In his letter, President Trump praised North Macedonia as “a steadfast security partner of the United States, and its NATO membership will directly benefit United States strategic interests and the NATO Alliance.” It is hoped that the Senate will complete the ratification process in July or no later than September. If the U.S. ratification process is delayed beyond 2019, it would greatly complicate the upcoming December 3-4 NATO leaders meeting in London and fuel doubts about U.S. support for NATO and its enlargement. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The ink is still fresh on a power-sharing deal signed Wednesday by the military and the protesters who rose against longtime President Omar al-Bashir. But days before the signing, the 27-year-old civil engineer said he was uneasy with the pact. – Wall Street Journal

The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo a global public-health emergency, a rare move that seeks to mobilize more funds to stop the deadly virus nearly a year after it first took hold in a region marked by decades of conflict. – Wall Street Journal

Sudan’s protesters and ruling generals Wednesday inked a deal that aims to install a civilian administration, a key demand of demonstrators since president Omar al-Bashir was deposed in a coup three months ago. – Agence FrancePresse

Jacob Zenn writes: It is time to assess these various approaches to countering the jihadist factions in Nigeria — negotiations, “soft” measures, and military operations — and why none of them have delivered victory for the Nigerian state. […]any major changes that could allow the military to win are absolutely unfeasible from a human rights perspective. As such, the military needs to give more room for those involved in negotiations and the “soft” approach to engage the jihadists under certain clear conditions. Only after this, and those negotiations and “soft” approach producing results, should the military finally step aside and let these other stakeholders take the lead, as other observers have advised. – War on the Rocks

Michael Rubin writes: Regardless, given the Somali government’s outreach to China, Iran, and Turkey, its provocations against U.S. ally Kenya, and Mogadishu’s failure to show any progress for the nearly billion dollars the United States is providing Somalia, it is long past time for the State Department Inspector General and the U.S. Congress respectively to audit and provide oversight on the State Department’s increasingly expensive and counterproductive strategy in Somalia. – Washington Examiner

United States

The Pentagon will send an additional 1,100 active-duty troops and 1,000 members of the Texas National Guard to assist in securing the United States border with Mexico, the Defense Department announced on Wednesday, in a move that would significantly expand the American military presence there. – New York Times

Switzerland has agreed to extradite a Chinese researcher to the United States where prosecutors have charged him with helping his scientist sister steal secrets allegedly worth $550 million from British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has made religious freedom a centerpiece of his foreign policy, met on Wednesday with victims of religious persecution from countries like China, Turkey, North Korea, Iran and Myanmar. – Reuters

Editorial: State’s emphasis on religious freedom is timely. […]The hope is that the new alliance’s high profile might do for religious liberty what has been done for human trafficking. One goal is to promote similar discussions within countries to advance religious freedom. Think of it as a credible version of the U.N. Human Rights Council, without human-rights abusers like Cuba and China. – Wall Street Journal

Latin America

Leaders from countries in South America’s Mercosur trade bloc met on Wednesday in Argentina, with plans as to how to push forward a recently struck free-trade deal with the European Union at the center of discussions. – Reuters

Latin American and Caribbean economies could shrink in 2020 on average if U.S.-China trade tensions are not resolved, because the world’s two largest economies are major trading partners for the region, a senior economist said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Loans to Venezuela from President Nicolas Maduro’s allies Russia and China would be renegotiated though the Paris Club if Maduro leaves power, an advisor to the opposition said on Wednesday, responding to concerns about favorable treatment for the two countries. – Reuters

Julio Menajovsky was one of the first photographers to reach the scene of a devastating bombing at a Jewish cultural center in Argentina on the morning of July 18, 1994, that killed 85 people and wounded hundreds. The photographer has now shot a new series of images, based on the stories of people affected by the bombing at the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) community center in Buenos Aires, to mark the 25th anniversary of the attack here – Reuters


Suspected nation-state hackers from Russia, Iran and elsewhere have launched nearly 800 cyberattacks against political organizations over the past year that have been detected by Microsoft Corp. , with the vast majority of the attempts targeting groups based in the U.S. – Wall Street Journal

The Democratic National Committee on Wednesday warned presidential campaigns against using the viral face-transforming FaceApp, citing the software’s Russian developers. It urged campaign staff to “delete the app immediately.” – Washington Post

Poland has proposed tightening its cyber security standards and could ban certain products or suppliers from key parts of a future 5G network, the country’s digital ministry said in a document published on Wednesday. – Reuters

Chinese telecoms equipment group Huawei Technologies criticised the Italian government’s newly beefed-up powers to intervene in the development of fifth-generation (5G) telecom services, saying they discriminated against the company. – Reuters

The Senate passed legislation on Wednesday night that would make it a federal crime to hack into any voting systems used in a federal election. – The Hill


The House passed a new intelligence authorization on Wednesday that will significantly expand prohibitions on disclosing the identities of covert agents and order new intelligence reviews of Russian and other foreign influence operations. – New York Times

The new director of surface warfare is still considering what the Navy needs from upcoming manned and unmanned surface ship programs and how to get the best capability for the dollar. – USNI News

The Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) has passed through the gauntlet of the Army Requirements Oversight Council (AROC), the one-star general in charge of the service’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) modernization efforts told Defense News. – Defense News

White House and congressional negotiators have essentially agreed on top-line spending numbers for a two-year budget deal, but a dispute persists over how to offset the increases for defense and non-defense programs, sources familiar with the talks say. – The Hill

Robert Work and Eric Schmidt write: After a briefer-than-expected period of unchallenged power and two longer-than-expected unconventional wars, the United States once again finds itself facing state actors with the potential to match its power and ideologies and interests in conflict with its own. Whether or not that results in a new Cold War or a different type of peace remains to be seen. In either case, as with previous competitions, emerging technology will likely play a prominent role. Artificial intelligence, or AI, has emerged as one of the most important technologies for national security. America’s level of AI competence will affect almost every aspect of American life, from developing more effective ways to educate the people to changing the way we earn wages to defending against cyber-attacks and on the battlefield. – War on the Rocks