Fdd's overnight brief

June 10, 2019

In The News


The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said he may recommend a return to a larger U.S. military presence in the area after concluding that the deployment of this aircraft carrier and other capabilities helped curtail Iranian threats. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. sanctioned one of Iran’s biggest petrochemical companies on Friday, hitting a top revenue earner as the Trump administration attempts to strong-arm Tehran into a new nuclear and security pact. – Wall Street Journal

Iran said Saturday that new US sanctions on its petrochemical industry show the hollowness of President Donald Trump’s claims to be open to fresh negotiations with Tehran. – Agence FrancePresse

Iran is citing U.S. sanctions on a major petrochemical company to justify spurning new talks with President Trump. – Washington Examiner

European powers hope to broker a new round of negotiations between the United States and Iran in a bid to prevent the collapse of the 2015 nuclear deal, Germany’s top diplomat said Saturday. – Washington Examiner

Iran said on Sunday Europe was in no position to criticize Tehran for its military capabilities and it called on European leaders to normalize trade ties with the Islamic Republic despite U.S. sanctions, or face consequences. – Reuters

Iran has received an amnesty request from Beirut for a Lebanese citizen who was detained in 2015 for “collaborating against the state” but has yet to make a decision on the case, an Iranian judiciary spokesman said on Sunday. – Reuters

As its nuclear deal with world powers unravels amid heightened tensions with the U.S., Iran will see a week of high-stakes diplomacy capped by the first visit of a Japanese prime minister to Tehran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. – Associated Press

Under a starry sky, U.S. Navy fighter jets catapulted off the flight deck and flew north over the darkened waters of the northern Arabian Sea, an unmistakable signal to Iran that the foremost symbol of the American military’s global reach is back in its neighborhood, perhaps to stay. – Associated Press

All the formal requirements for a European payment system for barter-based trade with Iran designed to circumvent U.S. sanctions are now in place and it should be operational soon, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in Tehran on Monday. – Reuters

Iran said Sunday that it had unveiled a new domestically produced air defense system, called the Khordad 15 and inaugurated by Defense Minister Amir Hatami. It is named for a protest in 1963 against the arrest of Ayatollah Khomeini. – Jerusalem Post

Ahead of a planned trip to Iran next week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke by telephone on Friday with his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu. According to a statement published by Netanyahu’s office, the Israeli leader told Abe that “pressure on Iran must continue in order to block its aggression” in the Middle East. – Algemeiner

Israeli intelligence has identified a huge acceleration in Iran’s preparations for the resumption of uranium enrichment, Channel 13 News reported on Friday. – Arutz Sheva

Zvi Bar’el writes: Russia, the United States and Israel are uniting against Iran, making it clear to Bashar Assad who will determine the future of the region. – Haaretz


The Pentagon reiterated promises to respond to any use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces as the Assad regime’s offensive against militants in a key northwestern province threatens to cause another humanitarian crisis in the country’s eight-year civil war. – Bloomberg

Battles intensified in northwest Syria on Friday after insurgents mounted an attack to repel an army offensive that has pounded the country’s last major rebel stronghold for weeks. State news agency SANA said the army absorbed the new attack and reinforced its frontline positions after fierce clashes with militants overnight. It said insurgents fired shells at a village in the northern Hama countryside. – Reuters

Amjad Farekh’s shops had survived Syria’s long civil war, but not the new, unsteady peace that has settled in some parts of the country. The government recently blew up several properties in the industrial zone of Qaboun, a former opposition stronghold just outside the capital, the exiled businessman said. – The Guardian

Dozens of Syrian refugees have dismantled their tents in a camp they lived in for years in eastern Lebanon after authorities ordered their evacuation following a brawl with locals. – Associated Press


Turkey is close to receiving the cutting-edge anti-aircraft missiles from Russia that the United States has threatened to block Turkey from getting the F-35 fighter jet over. – Washington Examiner

The United States on Friday raised the stakes in its standoff with Turkey over Ankara’s deal to acquire a Russian air defense system, laying out a plan to remove the NATO ally from the F-35 fighter jet program that includes immediately halting any new training for Turkish pilots on the advanced aircraft. – Reuters

Turkey’s Defence Ministry said on Saturday a total of 43 members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) had been “neutralized” as part of an operation Ankara launched in northern Iraq 13 days ago. – Reuters


U.S. officials want to tap into Palestinians’ frustration with the two-state paradigm and offer a fresh blueprint they say will improve their lives, if not fulfill all their long-sought national aspirations. Support for a Palestinian state, at about 60% of the population a decade ago, fell to 43% among Palestinians in 2018 and 49% among Israelis, according to a joint Israeli-Palestinian poll. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. ambassador in Jerusalem says Israel has the right to retain parts, but not all, of the West Bank. David Friedman’s remarks in an interview with The New York Times published Saturday comes about two months after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to begin annexing parts of the West Bank. – Associated Press

Qatar said on Sunday that there was a disconnect between the Palestinians and the United States over a U.S. blueprint aimed at ending the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, warning that a solution could not be imposed on Palestinians. – Reuters

Haisam Hassanein writes: Furthermore, a presidential or White House tweet encouraging President Sisi to tone down anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propaganda would put the Egyptian government on the spot and demonstrate that the U.S. government still cares about the issue. The White House should also consider hosting a meeting with Sisi and Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu when they arrive for the UN General Assembly meetings this September. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

Two senators will try to force a vote against U.S. weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, a sign of persistent discontent in some corners of Congress over the Trump administration’s arms-sales policy. – Wall Street Journal

The financial fallout from Libya’s war is another blow for Tunisia. The North African country helped inspire the broader Arab Spring uprisings with its overthrow of autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. But while Tunisians now have democracy, financially they are struggling. – Reuters

Qatar and other countries have been talking to both Iran and the United States about de-escalation, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said on Sunday, urging both sides to meet and find a compromise. – Reuters

Korean Peninsula

Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, was 27 when he inherited power in 2011, taking his place in a Kim dynasty founded by his grandfather. The following account — adapted from “The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un,” a new book by The Washington Post’s Beijing bureau chief — reveals previously unreported details about Kim’s odd and lonely early life, which revolved around power, prerogatives and privilege. – Washington Post

South Korea and the UK have reached a preliminary deal that is in line with the existing Korea-EU free trade agreement, in an effort to avoid disruption to bilateral ties in the event of a no-deal Brexit. – Financial Times

Matthew Daniels and Doug Bandow write: Although not invented as a tool of revolution, devices such as USB flash drives and SD cards allow for vast amounts of information to be easily smuggled into the world’s most closed society. And the way that these devices are being used in North Korea offers a glimpse of how digital media can still be a weapon in the arsenal of freedom in the case of the world’s most repressive regimes. – Washington Examiner


The news out of China over the weekend was bleak: Two more major international media companies — the London-based Guardian and The Washington Post — were added to the nation’s “Great Firewall,” blocked on the Internet to the country’s 1.4 billion citizens as part of a crackdown on dissent by President Xi Jinping. – Washington Post

Hundreds of thousands of people filled the sweltering streets of Hong Kong on Sunday in an immense protest against a government plan to allow extraditions to mainland China that culminated after midnight in clashes with the police. – New York Times

China and the U.S. held their first high-level meeting on trade since negotiations fell apart a month ago, with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying he had a candid exchange with China’s central bank governor. – Wall Street Journal

Hong Kong’s leader pledged to press ahead with Beijing-backed legislation easing extraditions to China despite one of Hong Kong’s largest protests since the former British colony’s return more than two decades ago. – Bloomberg

EU members Hungary, Poland, Portugal and soon Austria are strengthening ties with China by issuing attractive “panda bonds” that help Beijing raise its profile on international financial markets. – Agence FrancePresse

The United States is open to further negotiations with China on their ongoing trade battle but any potential deal will wait until the two leaders meet at the end of the month, Washington’s top finance official said Saturday. – Agence FrancePresse

“Foreign forces” are trying to hurt China by creating chaos in Hong Kong over an extradition bill that has prompted mass protests in the former British colony, an official Chinese newspaper said on Monday. – Reuters

A top Republican lawmaker said that China is looking for new ways to hurt the U.S. and its allies as part of the trade war. – Washington Examiner

Gerard Gayou writes: These mistakes cost China financially and President Xi Jinping politically. He’ll struggle to justify a long-term money loser in an unstable economy under the cloud of U.S.-China trade tensions. Correctly characterizing the initiative is vital in crafting a response to it. The U.S. and its allies should continue highlighting the risks of dubious infrastructure deals. But imprecise fears of “debt-trap diplomacy” cloud clear-eyed assessments of Chinese foreign policy. – Wall Street Journal

Olivia Enos writes: There are countless reasons why the U.S. government must respond to serious threats to freedom in Xinjiang. These include, among others, the need to prevent history from repeating itself, concerns emanating from the Chinese government’s institution of a mass surveillance state, and the Chinese government’s practice of exporting surveillance technology to other countries. It is in the U.S. interest to counter severe human rights violations—and Xinjiang is as severe a crisis as any. – Heritage Foundation

South Asia

Sri Lanka’s parliament warned President Maithripala Sirisena not to scuttle a controversial investigation into security lapses before the Easter suicide bombings, the Speaker’s office said Sunday. – Agence FrancePresse

The Islamic State group has lost its caliphate in Syria and Iraq, but in the forbidding mountains of northeastern Afghanistan the group is expanding its footprint, recruiting new fighters and plotting attacks on the United States and other Western countries, according to U.S. and Afghan security officials. – Associated Press


The Philippine government hit back on Saturday at United Nations rights experts seeking an international investigation into the unlawful killings during President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war, calling the push “an outrageous interference” on the country’s sovereignty. – New York Times

The Group of 20 major economies decried worsening trade tensions and their impact on global growth, with the U.S. and China locked in a protracted trade battle since negotiations fell apart a month ago. Finance ministers and central bankers fretted about the trade and geopolitical tensions and agreed to stand ready with action in case those risks intensify, according to a statement released Sunday after a weekend meeting in Japan. – Wall Street Journal

Vietnam said it will impose higher penalties on Chinese goods transferred to the country and illegally relabeled as made-in-Vietnam for export to the U.S. to dodge tariff hikes. – Bloomberg

Kazakhstan on Sunday elected the hand-picked successor of former president Nursultan Nazarbayev with 70 percent of the vote, exit polls showed, as police arrested hundreds of opposition protesters. – Agence FrancePresse

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has accused Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of supporting genocide because of comments Lee made about Vietnam’s 1978 invasion of Cambodia which ended Pol Pot’s genocidal “killing fields” regime. – Reuters

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday honored those killed by Islamist militants in Sri Lanka’s Easter bombings, vowing support for the island nation as Delhi seeks to counter the rise of China in the region. – Reuters

Anger in Hong Kong over a move to allow extraditions to mainland China spilled over into Sydney on Sunday, with migrants gathering for a protest and urging the Australian government to condemn the proposed new law. – Reuters


The U.S. Navy accused a Russian ship of “unsafe and unprofessional” conduct after an incident Friday in the Philippine Sea caused a near-collision between a Russian destroyer and the American guided missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville. – Washington Post

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday delivered a broadside against the United States’ role in the global economy, looking to cement the budding alliance between Russia and China as a union of countries trying to counter U.S. influence.  – Washington Post

A senior American banker once secretly awarded a shareholding in powerful Moscow investment bank Renaissance Capital to one of Vladimir Putin’s closest friends and brokered meetings for the friend with top U.S. foreign policy officials a decade ago, emails show. – Reuters


British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, a contender to replace Theresa May as prime minister, said Sunday that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had indicated the EU would be willing to renegotiate the Brexit divorce deal. – Agence FrancePresse

Brexit uncertainty in the UK has boosted foreign investment into the EU’s other 27 countries in the three years since the referendum, according to a Financial Times analysis. – Financial Times

Boris Johnson, the favourite to succeed Theresa May as Britain’s prime minister, said on Sunday he would withhold payment of the country’s European Union exit bill to try and get a better deal – a move that drew an immediate rebuke from France. – Reuters

Radicals linked to Iranian-backed Hezbollah were caught stashing tonnes of explosive materials in north-west London in a secret British bomb factory, M15 and Metropolitan Police officers discovered in 2015, a matter of months after the UK signed up to the Iran nuclear deal. According to a breaking report by the Daily Telegraph, thousands of disposable ice packs were found in the factory that contained ammonium nitrate, an ingredient for homemade bombs. – Jerusalem Post

Jewish groups in the UK have expressed outrage over the election to parliament this week of a Labour Party candidate accused of antisemitism. – Algemeiner


U.S. service members are being evaluated for potential injuries after their vehicle activated an improvised explosive device in Niger on Saturday, according to officials from U.S. Africa Command. – Military Times

Ethiopia’s prime minister Friday called for a “quick” democratic transition in Sudan as he met the country’s ruling generals and protest leaders, days after a deadly crackdown killed dozens of demonstrators in the capital. – Agence FrancePresse

Prospects for talks between authorities and separatist movements to end escalating violence in Cameroon’s English-speaking region are slim, a senior human rights official said on Friday, dismissing assertions by both sides to be open to dialogue. – Reuters

Two Sudanese rebel leaders were arrested early on Saturday, opposition sources said, shortly after meeting visiting Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who is trying to mediate in a crisis threatening a transition to democracy. – Reuters

Alberto M. Fernandez writes: While a four-sided struggle for power – SAF, NISS, RSF, and everybody else – rages in Khartoum, another struggle is being waged on a pan-Arab and international level to define a narrative for what is happening inside Sudan. In an incredibly cynical media ploy, Qatar, through its media proxies in Arabic and English, is pushing propaganda placing the blame for events in Sudan at the feet of its bitter enemies in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. – Middle East Media Research Institute

North America

President Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on Mexico was averted by an immigration deal late Friday, but scrambles anew the already-delicate relationship between two neighbors struggling to resolve the trade and border issues that are top priorities for the White House. – Wall Street Journal

Mexico’s president came to office promising a fresh approach to combat record-high homicide rates: a new National Guard made up of soldiers and police officers. Now, in a deal to assuage his American counterpart and avert a trade war, Andrés Manuel López Obrador will have to deploy some of that force to patrol borders instead. – New York Times

Top Democratic leaders may be in no rush to launch an impeachment inquiry, but the party is launching a series of hearings this week on special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. The slate of televised sessions on Mueller’s report means a new, intensified focus on the Russia probe and puts it on an investigative “path” — in the words of anti-impeachment Speaker Nancy Pelosi — that some Democrats hope leads to impeachment of President Donald Trump. – Associated Press

As the number of anti-Semitic incidents rises, twin efforts aim to prevent and recognize shootings, and arm worshipers. – Agence FrancePresse

Former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler received a standing ovation in the Canadian Parliament on Thursday, just days after pro-Palestinian demonstrators disrupted a talk of his in Montreal. – Algemeiner

Latin America

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido said on Friday that the opposition does not currently plan to join a new round of talks in Norway with representatives of President Nicolas Maduro, after mediation efforts collapsed last month without a deal. – Reuters

Venezuela’s ruling Socialist Party Vice President Diosdado Cabello met with Cuban Communist Party chief Raul Castro on Friday in Havana in a show of unity as the United States steps up pressure on the governments of the allied nations. – Reuters

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Friday announced a partial opening of the country’s border with Colombia, which his government closed in February as opposition leaders prepared an ultimately failed effort to bring aid into the country. – Reuters

Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno has blocked the extradition to the United States of a New York man charged with trying to defraud Facebook Inc founder Mark Zuckerberg, a document obtained by Reuters showed on Friday. – Reuters


The acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget is seeking a two-year delay of a ban prohibiting companies that do business with Chinese telecom giant Huawei from providing services to the U.S. government. – Washington Post

Some reports estimate that Huawei has built about 70 percent of Africa’s 4G networks. And the company has already signed a contract for South Africa’s first commercial 5G network — the only formal 5G agreement on the African continent to date. Given recent controversies and the potential struggle between the United States, its allies and Chinese companies over 5G technology, here are three things to know about Huawei’s Africa operations: – Washington Post

A senior White House official is seeking to delay putting in place portions of a law that limits the U.S. government’s business with China’s Huawei Technologies Co., according to a person familiar with the matter. – Bloomberg

Microsoft Corp. has what may sound like a counter-intuitive request: Please try to hack into Azure more often. The company isn’t encouraging malicious attacks but it does want security researchers to spend more time poking holes in its flagship cloud service so the company can learn about flaws and fix them. – Bloomberg


BAE Systems has decided it won’t participate in the U.S. Army’s competition to acquire an Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle, which will ultimately replace the company’s Bradley fighting vehicle in the service’s inventory. – Defense News

House Armed Services Committee members will hold their marathon mark-up of the annual defense authorization bill on Wednesday, an event that is expected to last more than 12 hours and feature some contentious military policy debates. – Military Times

Raytheon and United Technologies Cooperation will officially merge into a new entity called Raytheon Technologies Corporation, with the deal taking place in first half of 2020. – Defense News

Cost appears to have played a major role in the Army’s decision to pick GE Aviation’s T901 engine for its future helicopter engine, based on a look at documents laying out the service’s post-award analysis, obtained by Defense News. – Defense News

The first woman to assume command of a U.S. Army infantry division has been announced by the California National Guard. Brig. Gen. Laura Yeager, a former UH-60 Black Hawk pilot, will assume command of the 40th Infantry Division during a ceremony at the Joint Forces Training Base, Los Alamitos, California, on June 29 at 11 a.m., Guard officials said in a news release this weekend. – Army Times

Giselle Donnelly writes: The nuclear “triad” of ground-based and submarine-launched ballistic missiles and intercontinental-range bombers has been the basis of American great-power deterrence since the Soviet Union’s first nuclear test in 1949. Be it causation or simply correlation, it is remarkable that there has been no direct great-power war since then. To be sure, proxy and third-party conflicts have abounded, but the motto of the late Air Force’s Strategic Air Command, “Peace is our profession,” deserves more than ridicule. Yet over the past several decades, the strength of this triad has been slowly deteriorating. – American Enterprise Institute

Long War

Bulgarian officials said on Saturday that they had arrested and charged a 16-year-old student who had been radicalized by the Islamic State with planning a terrorist attack. – New York Times

A Queens man was charged Friday with buying illegal guns as part of an alleged plot to carry out a terrorist attack in New York City’s Times Square. – Wall Street Journal

The man accused of carrying out the twin massacres at New Zealand mosques in March will become the first suspect charged under the country’s anti-terrorism laws passed after the 9/11 attacks. – Washington Post

Two of the remaining members of the British ISIS cell known as “the Beatles” have confessed their part in the ransoming of Western hostages in a rare interview that showed them broken and pleading for news of their fate. One of the fighters also offered an unprecedented apology for his actions with the group. – CNN

Critics say the current move to revoke the al-Qaida sleeper agent’s American citizenship highlights the limited progress the U.S. has made in the past two decades in prison-based deradicalization efforts. They also say it could create a dangerous new front in how the legal system treats U.S. citizens convicted of terrorism offenses. – Politico