Fdd's overnight brief

June 16, 2020

In The News


Lawyers for Huawei Technologies Co. finance chief Meng Wanzhou told a Canadian court that the U.S. has wrongly accused her of lying to banks about the Chinese company’s business ties to Iran. – Wall Street Journal

The head of the United Nations’ atomic watchdog agency said Monday that Iran must provide inspectors access to sites where the country is thought to have stored or used undeclared nuclear material. – Associated Press

Iran faces its first formal reprimand by international nuclear monitors in eight years after inspectors complained they haven’t be given access to places that may have hosted atomic activities two decades ago. – Bloomberg

Iran could send two to three cargoes a month in regular gasoline sales to ally Venezuela, sources say, helping offload domestic oversupply but risking retaliation from U.S. President Donald Trump who has sanctions on both nations. – Reuters

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi on Monday said any “unconstructive decision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will receive an “appropriate response” from Iran. – Radio Farda


President Bashar al-Assad, who has mostly won Syria’s civil war, now faces an acute economic crisis that has impoverished his people, brought about the collapse of the currency and fueled a rare public rift in the ruling elite. – New York Times

While the state media of the Syrian regime presented the George Floyd incident as proof of the racist and terrorist character of the U.S., Syrian oppositionists claimed that the protests sparked by this incident throughout the U.S. reflected the solidarity of American society and its determination to defend the rights and dignity of all its members. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Anchal Vohra writes: For now, Russia seems more interested in controlling rather than replacing Bashar al-Assad. Going forward, he will find it harder to control the country—but it will be easier than ever for Russia to control him.. – Foreign Policy


A string of Turkish companies have accumulated debt of about $2 billion to Russian state energy giant PAO Gazprom, according to people familiar with the matter, liability that could hinder Ankara’s drive to reduce its reliance on Russian natural gas, in part by boosting imports from the U.S. – Wall Street Journal

France wants talks with NATO allies to discuss Turkey’s increasingly “aggressive” role in Libya, a presidential official said on Monday, and the foreign ministry accused Ankara of thwarting truce efforts by breaking a U.N. arms embargo. – Reuters

Turkey and Libya’s internationally recognised government are discussing possible Turkish use of two military bases in the North African country, a Turkish source said on Monday, with a view to a lasting Turkish presence in the south Mediterranean. – Reuters


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on trial for accepting gifts from wealthy friends. But that has not stopped him from seeking another gift from a wealthy friend to pay for his multimillion-dollar legal defense. – Associated Press

European Union foreign ministers on Monday urged the United States to join a new effort to breathe life into long-stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, but they rejected President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan as the basis for any international process. – Associated Press

David Makovsky, Basia Rosenbaum, and Lauren Morganbesser write: Yet uncertainties about his plans still abound, indicating that this timetable may not be met despite his assertions to the contrary. Many of these uncertainties are political, related to Israeli domestic dynamics surrounding specific territories, the Trump administration’s intentions, the widespread international opposition to the move, and Netanyahu’s lack of response to the plethora of arguments against the idea.[…] Combined with other deep uncertainties and the lack of an agreed map, such warnings suggest that the July 1 timetable for annexation could easily come and go without any actual territorial changes. – Washington Institute


The Trump administration is considering withholding aid to one of its closest Arab partners, Jordan, in a bid to secure the extradition of a woman convicted in Israel of a 2001 bombing that killed 15 people, including two American citizens. – Associated Press

Jordan’s King Abdullah II has reportedly refused to take phone calls from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, amid seething anger in the Hashemite kingdom over Israeli plans to annex portions of the West Bank. – Times of Israel

Jordan’s King Abdullah II could be facing the most serious decisions of his 21 years on the throne, should Israel follow through with plans to annex parts of the West Bank on July 1, analysts say. As only one of two Arab peace partners with the Jewish state, they say such an Israeli move would spark a volatile reaction from the Jordan’s own population and mark the end of a two-state solution which the monarch has championed to resolve the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. – Voice of America

Arabian Peninsula

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday removed a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition from an annual U.N. blacklist, several years after it was first named and shamed for killing and injuring children in Yemen. – Reuters

This was supposed to be Saudi Arabia’s year to shine as host of the prestigious G20 gathering of world leaders. The event would have seen Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman share handshakes and wide smiles with presidents and prime ministers. – Associated Press

Saudi Arabia has intercepted explosives-laden drones in its airspace, a coalition spokesperson said on Monday. Houthi rebels in Yemen were behind the attempted attacks, which targeted civilians in Khamis Mushait, Aseer province, said Col Turki Al Malki, spokesman of the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen. Monday’s attempted attack saw the 357th Houthi drone to be intercepted and destroyed, he added. – The National

An airstrike from the Saudi-led coalition struck a vehicle carrying civilians in northern Yemen on Monday, killing 13 people, including four children, according to the Houthi rebels. – Associated Press

Middle East & North Africa

Egyptian authorities detained a prominent local journalist Monday on charges of spreading fake news, his lawyer said, in the government’s latest crackdown on press freedom. – Associated Press

King Mohammed VI of Morocco has undergone successful surgery in Rabat for a heart rhythm disorder, state news agency MAP reported Monday. The king, 56, was treated for a disorder known as atrial flutter, a non-life-threatening condition in which the heart beats less efficiently. – Associated Press

Three Katyusha rockets landed near Baghdad International Airport late on Monday, the Iraqi military said. The military said it found rocket launchers with several rockets in a rural area in western Baghdad, and there were no reports of damage or casualties. – Reuters

Randa Slim writes: Since 2006, when Aoun signed a memorandum of understanding with Hezbollah, the party’s leaders have been balancing between the competing positions and interests of their two main allies, Berri and Aoun. Last week’s protests are part and parcel of this balancing strategy. On the one hand, they called for the firing of Salameh in line with Aoun’s demands. Yet on the other hand, Hezbollah has not yet officially endorsed firing him. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea blew up an inter-Korean liaison office in the western border town of Kaesong, Seoul’s unification ministry said, as Pyongyang resumes a provocative stance while denuclearization talks with Washington remain gridlocked. – Wall Street Journal

North Korean state media said Kim Jong Un’s regime is reviewing a plan to send its army into some areas of the demilitarized zone separating the country from South Korea. – Bloomberg

China’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday that Beijing hopes for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, amid escalating tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang. – Reuters


Beijing has set about testing hundreds of thousands of people for the novel coronavirus in an exhaustive effort to stamp out a new eruption of the disease in the Chinese capital. – Washington Post

To the long list of obstacles holding back the Chinese economy when the world needs it most, add one more: padlocked movie theaters. The country’s more than 12,000 cinemas have remained stubbornly closed. Reopening them is politically difficult, as the order to keep them shut came from none other than Xi Jinping, China’s top leader. – New York Times

Tyson Foods also sounded the alarm, saying that “millions of pounds of meat will disappear” from the nation’s supply chain as plants were being forced to close because of outbreaks. That same month, Smithfield sent China 9,170 tons of pork, one of its highest monthly export totals to that market in the past three years. Tyson exported 1,289 tons of pork to China, the most since January 2017. – New York Times

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet a top Chinese official in Hawaii Wednesday in the powers’ first senior-level talks since tensions skyrocketed over the coronavirus pandemic, reports said. – Agence France-Presse

Donald Trump has argued frequently of late that China is rooting for Joe Biden come November’s U.S. presidential election. In Beijing, however, officials have come around to support four more years of Trump. – Bloomberg

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced last week that Xin Wang, a scientific researcher and officer with the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) People’s Liberation Army (PLA), was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) while attempting to leave the United States for Tianjin, China – he was charged with visa fraud. – Jerusalem Post

Oliver Yule-Smith writes: In major decisions relating to China policy, Washington and London have historically diverged significantly.[…] Policymakers in London and Washington should accept that cooperation on China will be fraught, inconsistent, and uneven. It will behave unlike any other foreign policy question between these two powers, and it will truly test the “specialness” of the special relationship. Yet disagreement and divergence does not spell the end of this relationship; it merely recognizes the long historical lineage of Anglo-American China policy. – War on the Rocks


Doctors Without Borders is ceasing operations at a maternity ward in Kabul that was attacked last month, the international aid group said Monday, signaling how insecurity continues to plague Afghanistan despite U.S. efforts to reduce violence. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. government made it clear in March that it would not cooperate with an International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into alleged war crimes committed by U.S. military and intelligence personnel in Afghanistan, and late last week, the Trump administration doubled-down on its stance by issuing an executive order that paves the way for ICC employees and their families to be barred from entry to the United States and slapped with economic sanctions. – Fox News

Thomas Parker writes: As bad as things are currently in Afghanistan, violence would get worse in the wake of a total withdrawal of the international coalition. Moreover, Afghanistan over the last two decades has made considerable progress in economic growth in urban areas, social advancement in education, in the status of women, and even in political development, however contested its national elections. If you are looking for a tribute to human endurance, look at today’s Afghans. – Washington Institute


With their political freedoms deteriorating, nurses, lawyers, business people and other skilled workers are rushing to renew documents that could provide a pathway to residency in Britain, or finding ways to emigrate to Taiwan, Canada or Australia.[…] Beijing in recent weeks has redrawn its relationship with Hong Kong, whose autonomy and political freedoms it previously promised to preserve until 2047. – Washington Post

India and China have added to their nuclear warhead stockpile in the last year while all other nuclear-armed nations like the U.S., Russia and France, continued to modernize their arsenal, according to a recent report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. – Bloomberg

Japan’s Defense Ministry said Monday that it has decided to stop unpopular plans to deploy two costly land-based U.S. missile defense systems aimed at bolstering the country’s capability against threats from North Korea. – Associated Press

The Indian army said on Tuesday one of its officers and two soldiers were killed in a “violent faceoff” on the contested border with China, the first such incident in decades between the nuclear-armed neighbours. – Reuters

Nepal will deport five foreign tourists and ban them from entering the Himalayan nation for two years after they joined protests against the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, officials said on Monday. – Reuters


Former Marine Paul Whelan was sentenced to 16 years of hard labor in a Russian prison for espionage Monday, the conclusion to a case that has added tension to already strained relations between the United States and Russia. – Washington Post

Senior editors at Russia’s leading business newspaper quit Monday in protest against what they say is censorship under new ownership, as a months-long dispute between journalists and management came to a head. Vedomosti is one of the last major independent newspapers in Russia, where journalists are increasingly squeezed by curbs on press freedoms and pressure from the Kremlin. – Agence France-Presse

One Russian reaction to the disturbances triggered by the killing of George Floyd, a black man, while in police custody in the U.S. has been gloating and self-satisfaction on the official level. Now, the presumptuous Americans will presumably be in no position to lecture us on democracy and human rights. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Editorial: Arbitrarily holding American citizens is a popular tactic among pariah states like Iran, North Korea and Venezuela. It isn’t acceptable behavior for a member of the elite Group of Seven nations, which Mr. Trump wants Russia to rejoin.[…] Mr. Trump has made returning Americans held hostage abroad a priority—to the point of imposing sanctions on NATO ally Turkey in 2018 over its detention of an American pastor. The Whelan conviction is a Russian thumb in the eye of America and Mr. Trump. – Wall Street Journal

Tom Rogan writes: That said, the long sentence also shows the Russians intend to use Whelan as a chip for a spy swap. They’ll plan to trade Whelan the next time the FBI rolls up one of their own spy cells on U.S. soil. Beyond that possibility, there has been speculation that Russia might try to use Whelan to free Konstantin Yaroshenko and Dmitry Makarenko, two Russians currently detained by the United States. Some have also suggested that Whelan could be swapped for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. That’s not going to happen — the U.S. would only trade Bout for an actual American spy. – Washington Examiner


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed with top European Union officials to intensify Brexit trade talks over the summer as both sides seek to reach a deal before a year-end deadline. – Wall Street Journal

The White House has invited the leaders of two quarreling Balkan nations for talks, in a bid to broker a resolution to a decadeslong dispute that prompted a U.S. military intervention in the region. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump confirmed Monday that he is sharply cutting the number of U.S. troops in Germany and would cap the number of American military personnel there at 25,000, unless the German government spends more on defense. – Wall Street Journal

Four months after an election that brought down its government but settled little else, Ireland’s two main parties struck an agreement Monday to govern together for the first time, opening an unpredictable chapter in Irish politics as the country faces the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. – New York Times

Trans-Atlantic relations have soured continuously since Trump took office and began pulling the U.S. out of international agreements supported by the EU, including the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear agreement. But in recent weeks things have taken a decided turn for the worse as Trump declared he was cutting ties with the WHO in the midst of a global pandemic, withdrawing from the Open Skies treaty, and planning to sharply reduce the number of U.S. troops stationed in Germany. – Politico

U.S. troops are in Europe to defend transatlantic security and to help project U.S. power further afield, German Ambassador Emily Haber said on Monday after President Donald Trump announced plans to cut U.S. troop levels there to 25,000. – Reuters

An entire regional chapter of Germany’s far-right AfD party has been placed under police surveillance because of its extremist tendencies, local authorities said Monday, increasing pressure on the anti-migrant group. –  Agence France-Presse

A wall of the Jewish cemetery in Tarnow, a city in southern Poland, was spray-painted with the letters “AJ,” likely meaning “Anti-Jude,” or anti-Jewish. – Times of Israel

A London man was charged with attempted murder in the stabbing of a rabbi on a city street. – Jewish Telegraph Agency

A new report published on Sunday by the British Jewish group Community Security Trust (CST) explores the “shocking extent of terror incitement and anti-Jewish hate created and circulated by right-wing extremists on social media.” – Jerusalem Post


A Sudanese militia leader appeared before the International Criminal Court on Monday, after 13 years on the run, to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the bloody conflict in the Sudanese region of Darfur from 2003 to 2004. – New York Times

At least 24 soldiers were killed and others are unaccounted for after gunmen ambushed a convoy in central Mali. The army said eight survivors had been found following Saturday’s attack, about 60 miles (100km) from the border with Mauritania. – BBC

Two Senegalese soldiers were killed and several others injured after their vehicle hit an anti-tank mine in the south of the country, the army said in a statement on Monday. – Reuters

Sudan’s public prosecutor on Monday announced the discovery of a mass grave east of Khartoum suspected to contain the remains of students killed in 1998 as they tried escaping military service at a training camp. – Reuters

Latin America

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Monday that the country’s military would not obey any order to remove an elected president, deepening a war of words with the judicial branch that has led to fears of threats to democracy in the country. – Reuters

The U.S. government on Monday accused Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of “illegally” installing a new national electoral council to oversee parliamentary elections due to take place later this year. – Reuters

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Monday he would sell gasoline to Venezuela for “humanitarian” reasons if asked to, despite U.S. sanctions on the South American country and its state-run oil firm, PDVSA. – Reuters

Three Greece-based shipping firms said they have halted trade with Venezuela after the United States imposed sanctions on vessels under their management, as Washington ramps up commercial heat on Caracas. – Reuters


Now, Chinese scientists report new progress in building what appears to be the first unbreakable information link between an orbiting craft and its terrestrial controllers, raising the odds that Beijing may one day possess a super-secure global communications network. – New York Times

U.S. Cyber Command’s annual training exercise will rely entirely on a new platform this year, a move that will allow most participants to compete remotely. This year’s Cyber Flag exercise, which began June 15, will use the Persistent Cyber Training Environment, which has been described as one of the Department of Defense’s most critical projects. – Fifth Domain

Davey Winder writes: As hundreds of thousands of people reported mobile carriers and internet services down, and ‘DDoS’ started trending on Twitter, ‘Anonymous’ laid the blame on China and suggested a major cyber-attack was underway.[…] The cyber-attack fire being stoked by the supposed Anonymous affiliate retweet was all it took to propel this from being a single network incident, albeit a serious one, to becoming global news. The moral of this story? Don’t believe everything that ‘Anonymous’ accounts on Twitter say.. – Forbes


The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) is resuming operations in 7th Fleet three years after a devastating collision killed 10 sailors. Last week, the ship and the crew completed the six-month basic phase training, a key milestone before returning to the fleet. – USNI News

The U.S. Air Force’s new MH-139 Grey Wolf helicopter, which will replace the UH-1N Huey that guards nuclear missile fields, is at risk for bursting over its weight limit, a congressional watchdog said earlier this month. – Defense News

The delivery of a new KC-46 Pegasus tanker aircraft to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina has been delayed after foreign object debris was found inside the plane by Boeing inspectors. – Air Force Times

For decades, the U.S. Navy’s leading supplier of high-strength steel for submarines provided subpar metal because one of the company’s longtime employees falsified lab results — putting sailors at greater risk in the event of collisions or other impacts, federal prosecutors said in court filings Monday. – Defense News

The US Navy will need to develop a roadmap for developing future fighter aircraft years after it became apparent that the Navy’s mainstay F/A-18 Super Hornet would struggle to keep the carrier outside of range to be effective against Chinese anti-ship missiles. – Defense News

Economic shock waves from the coronavirus pandemic are threatening U.S. arms sales to its allies and partners, who may suddenly have less to spend.[…] The Middle East is a leading market, and Saudi Arabia the world’s leading purchaser. But the falling price of crude oil has fueled projections that Gulf Cooperation Council budgets will shrink, and with them demand for U.S. weapons. – Defense News

Alan J. Kuperman writes: If Congress increases funding for the Navy LEU program, the administration will have little choice but to accelerate development of that fuel, potentially averting any future need to produce HEU. But if the Republican-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee gets its way by killing the program, the United States inevitably will need to restart production of nuclear weapons-grade uranium, undermining nonproliferation and thereby increasing the risk of nuclear war. – War on the Rocks

Trump Administration

The director of Voice of America, a U.S. government-funded media organization, quit Monday after a new overseer was installed and following clashes with the Trump administration on coverage of China and the coronavirus pandemic. – Wall Street Journal

President Donald Trump hopes to acknowledge a nationwide uproar over police brutality while preventing rifts with police and other law enforcement groups integral to his political future. – Politico

President Donald Trump said Monday that his former national security adviser, John Bolton, could face a “criminal problem” if he doesn’t halt plans to publish a new book that describes scattershot, sometimes dangerous, decision-making by a president focused only on getting re-elected. – Associated Press