Fdd's overnight brief

June 18, 2021

In The News


Recent polls in Iran have forecast historically low voter turnout in the contest to succeed President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, as Iranians exhausted by years of political turmoil and economic hardship turn their backs on Iran’s politicians. – Washington Post 

Iranians head to the polls Friday to elect a new president, as the Islamic Republic confronts challenges from a cratering economy to heightened tensions with its regional rivals. – Wall Street Journal

Iran began voting Friday in a presidential election tipped in the favor of a hard-line protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, fueling public apathy and sparking calls for a boycott in the Islamic Republic. – Associated Press

Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee are probing the Biden administration for lifting sanctions last week on Iran’s terrorism enterprise without first consulting Congress, a decision they say was meant to skirt oversight. – The Washington Free Beacon 

Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal have come closer than ever to an agreement, but essential issues remain to be negotiated, the top Iranian negotiator said on Thursday. – Reuters

Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday urged the U.S. to stop “meddling” in the affairs of the Middle East through continued arms sales.  – The Hill

Under Ebrahim Raisi, the front-runner in Iran’s June 18 presidential election, Tehran’s tone toward the West could harden, though it will likely continue to seek a deal to revive the 2015 landmark nuclear deal, analysts say. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Ebrahim Raisi, the front-runner in Iran’s presidential election who is linked to serious human rights abuses, was virtually unknown to the majority of Iranians until just a few years ago. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

The sole reformist candidate in Iran’s presidential election has vowed to try to resolve the stand-off with world powers over the nuclear deal “at first chance” if he is elected. – Financial Times 

Nazila Fathi writes: The campaign to boycott the election highlights the rising levels of both anger and apathy toward the regime, at a time when the economy has been suffering under the weight of U.S. sanctions, as well as mismanagement and corruption by Iranian officials. […]Boycotting the elections, for a population that is deeply scarred, is understandable. But sadly, a boycott this time may cement the hard-liners’ grip on power for many years to come. – New York Times 

Jordan Steckler writes: Khamenei and his hardline clerical and IRGC allies calculated that they can withstand popular pressure through increased repression if need be, and so felt emboldened to attempt a coronation of their preferred candidate. If the gambit succeeds, hardliners will control all the major power centers in Iran, paving the way for their retention of the Supreme Leadership and all but ensuring Iran will continue on its repressive, confrontational trajectory for years to come. – United Against Nuclear Iran

Daniel Roth writes: Rather than conceding to the Mullahs and dissolving red lines to pink for the sake of simply getting a deal, President Biden and his White House team must remind themselves of their early pledges to the American people. […]President Biden and his team must revert, and quickly, to the original “longer, stronger” idea, for the current trajectory shows that the U.S. is willing to abandon any prospect of getting a better deal in favor of simply getting any deal. – United Against Nuclear Iran

Salem Alketbi writes: The rise of the hard-line movement to the ladder of the Iranian presidency does not necessarily reflect the strength of the mullahs’ regime, but rather its weakness and the decline of its grip on power. Khamenei fears the aggravating impact of US sanctions, so he wants to change negotiating tactics and show a more tough face, perhaps this contributes to speeding up the exit from the sanctions grip, but he is also anticipating the failure to reach a settlement in this regard, and he believes that the presence of a president close to the IRGC and the Wali of al-Faqih institution supports the regime’s cohesion and strength in the face of any sweeping popular anger. – Jerusalem Post 

Omer Carmi writes: Earlier this week, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi suggested that revival of the JCPOA will probably have to wait until the formation of a new Iranian government. Yet some have suggested that Khamenei may prefer Rouhani to reach a deal with the United States before August, making him the lightning rod for Iran’s internal blame game while allowing the next government to reap the economic fruits of sanctions removal. Either way, the nature of Rouhani’s last weeks in office will be shaped by Khamenei, since Iran’s president still plays second fiddle to the Supreme Leader. – Washington Institute

David Albright and Sarah Burkhard write: Iran’s activity must be viewed as practicing breakout to make enriched uranium for use in nuclear weapons. It is learning to make such material more quickly and developing valuable experience in doing so. This experience also complicates returning to the JCPOA, since that experience cannot be destroyed. As a result, some compensating actions are needed or a number of sanctions should be left in place to compensate for this irreversible gain in violation of the JCPOA. – Institute for Science and International Security

Alex Vatanka writes: If a new deal turns out to be a better one than the 2015 version, including verifiable lifting of sanctions and real benefits for the Iranian economy, then the next government in Tehran will reap the political and economic benefits. No deal this week probably means only one thing: Negotiators in Vienna are still scrambling to fine-tune the small print. But this is small print Khamenei believes can make all the difference in ridding Iran of the existential threat sanctions pose to the Islamic Republic’s future. – Foreign Policy

Michael Rubin writes: In reality, reformists are just the good cop to the supreme leader’s bad cop. They seek to confuse or distract the West but have neither the desire nor courage to change regime behavior. As Rouhani prepares to leave office in August, President Joe Biden will accelerate his diplomacy in order to strike a deal before “reformists” leave office. He shouldn’t bother. To do so will only confirm naivete to the reality of the Islamic Republic. – Washington Examiner


The Israeli military hit the Gaza Strip with a series of airstrikes Thursday night, rattling a shaky month-old cease-fire between the two sides that mediators are trying to keep from falling apart. – Wall Street Journal

Israel plans to transfer some 1.2 million Pfizer vaccines to the Palestinians in the coming days to help them with their floundering coronavirus vaccination campaign, the Haaretz news site reported on Thursday. – Times of Israel 

Israeli troops foiled an attempt to smuggle weapons from Lebanon into northern Israel on Friday, arresting a suspect and seizing guns, the police said. – Times of Israel 

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi will fly to Washington on Sunday and discuss a range of regional challenges with his American counterparts, more than a month after he was set to go to discuss the Iranian threat and other regional challenges. – Jerusalem Post 

U.S. Secretary of State Blinken spoke on Thursday with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and discussed “the need to improve Israeli-Palestinian relations in practical ways,” the State Department said in a statement. – Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke to his German counterpart Angela Merkel on Thursday, expressing gratitude for Berlin’s support for the security of Israel and inviting her to visit, his office said in a statement. – Reuters

Israel is willing to work towards establishing ties with Southeast Asia’s Muslim majority nations, its ambassador to Singapore said on Thursday, despite their condemnation in May of Israeli air strikes on Gaza. – Reuters

Editorial: With this in mind, it is important that the new government set the right tone. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s comments condemning some of the racism displayed at the flag march this week is a welcome change in tone and messaging from Jerusalem. Israel’s government wants to be a light unto the nations in line with the hopes and dreams of Israelis, Zionists and the Jewish people since time immemorial. We can be this light, but we must be cognizant of the agendas seeking to cloud our actions that focus only on the negative. – Jerusalem Post 


The House voted 268-161 Thursday to revoke the 2002 law that authorized war in Iraq, reviving a long-simmering debate over Congress’s constitutional power to declare war and the commander in chief’s latitude to send American troops into combat abroad. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. authorities pursuing a sweeping fraud investigation suspect some 4,000 Iraqis of filing fraudulent applications for resettlement in the United States as refugees, and they are re-examining cases involving more than 104,000 others, according to State Department reports reviewed by Reuters. – Reuters

Iraqi youth who have been vigorously demonstrating across the country against Iran’s political and economic overreach in Iraq shared posts on social media highlighting their longing for a morale-boosting win and showcasing their struggle for independence from Tehran, which they accuse of supporting militias believed to have murdered dozens of activists. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Bilal Wahab writes: When U.S. officials assess the Iraqi scene, they see intractable problems ranging from deep corruption to incessant power grabs by Iran-sponsored militias. The difficulty of dealing with these challenges might prompt some policymakers to balk at devising solutions, but a constructive Iraq policy can help advance both Iraqi and American interests in numerous areas. A more stable Iraq, for its part, could better defend itself against a resurgent Islamic State while curtailing Iranian influence. – Washington Institute


World powers promised on Thursday to support Lebanon’s army to prevent its collapse amid the deepest political and economic crisis since the Middle East nation’s 1975-1990 civil war, but they did not announce any tangible aid. – Reuters

Lebanon’s banks, which once powered the economy by sucking in billions of dollars of deposits from abroad, are shedding staff, watching loan books shrink and chasing liquidity to stay afloat. – Reuters

Lebanon’s energy minister said on Thursday the country’s gasoline subsidy was unsustainable and would eventually come to an end. – Reuters

Shops, government offices, businesses and banks shuttered their doors in Lebanon on Thursday, as part of a general strike to protest deteriorating economic conditions and press for a government to deal with the worsening political and economic crises. – Associated Press

Yochanan Visser writes: As the unprecedented economic, political and social crisis in Lebanon seems to worsen by the day, Iran and its proxy Hezbollah are looking to exploit the situation and are vying for a complete take-over of Israel’s northern neighbor. […]There is, however, little chance that the political elite will implement those reforms as they keep on bickering about the forming of a technocratic government. – Arutz Sheva 

Middle East & North Africa

A missile attack last weekend in northern Syria left a hospital in ruins and further casualties in a residential area. But these types of attacks have become less common in Syria. Although this civil war remains among the most devastating global conflicts, the number of fatalities has decreased over the past couple of years, and in 2020 in particular. – Washington Post 

A gunman killed one person Thursday during an attack on the office of a pro-Kurdish party in western Turkey, authorities said. – Associated Press

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh met the speakers of Morocco’s parliament and opposition politicians on Thursday during a visit to build support for the Palestinian cause after the North African nation upgraded diplomatic relations with Israel. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s air defences intercepted a drone launched by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group on Thursday toward Khamis Mushait, home to the main Saudi air base in the border region, Saudi state TV reported. – Reuters

Jordan has decided not to pursue a revival of the highly publicized desalination water project dubbed the “Red-Dead” that had long been considered a symbol of cooperation between the Hashemite Kingdom, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, KAN News reported on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post 

Steven A. Cook writes: Biden is fond of saying “America is Back,” and now, so it seems, are the Egyptians. The so-called “strategic relationship” between the United States and Egypt never lived up to the hype former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger gave it. But if Sisi wants to help rebuild the Gaza Strip, no one should be surprised if the Biden administration welcomes the assist. – Foreign Policy

Korean Peninsula

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, ordered his government to prepare for “both dialogue and confrontation” with the United States, state news media reported on Friday. It was his first reaction to the Biden administration’s new policy on how to deal with the country’s growing nuclear and missile threat. – New York Times 

South Korea has provided $900,000 to a U.N.-led humanitarian aid initiative for Myanmar, U.N. data showed on Thursday. – Reuters

Joseph Bermudez and Victor Cha write: On April 21, 2021, Maxar Technologies collected a remarkable high off-nadir (HON) image of the Sinpo South Shipyard that provides a unique look at the facility where North Korea built its sinpo-class experimental ballistic missile submarine (SSBA) and is building its long-anticipated follow-on ballistic missile submarine (SSB). […]The April 21 image provides a height comparison between the rail-mounted service platform and the surrounding facilities while also showing the strong arm, impact pad, and launch control building. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


But this year, Chinese authorities are cracking down on cryptocurrency to dial back energy consumption and meet their climate goals, sending miners scattering. And increasingly, miners are decamping for places like Texas, South Dakota, or Canada, launching a mass migration with implications for the evolving industry and the new communities that will house it. – Washington Post 

Chinese regulators have intensified scrutiny of dozens of domestic internet companies for possible antitrust violations, people familiar with the matter said. – Wall Street Journal

The top U.S. general said on Thursday there was a low probability that China would try to take over Taiwan militarily in the near-term as Beijing has some way to go to develop the capabilities needed. – Reuters

Although Beijing says reporters are able to travel freely in Xinjiang, during a recent two-week reporting trip to the region by Reuters two journalists were tailed by a rotating cohort of plain-clothed minders who were rarely out of sight, day and night. – Reuters

China is ramping up a propaganda blitz ahead of the 100th birthday of the ruling Communist Party, with banners and billboards around the country reminding citizens to live a “civilised” life and obey authorities. – Agence France-Presse 

Chinese officials don’t care if they offend Western audiences, according to one of Beijing’s top envoys in Europe. – Washington Examiner

Editorial: China’s whole approach has been: Nothing to see here. If China refuses to budge, the proper response is to launch an investigation anyway, with international cooperation, based on sound science and dogged forensic methods. Valuable sources and important evidence may be waiting to be unearthed. Mr. Biden’s requested U.S. intelligence report is due at summer’s end, too. The quest to discover the virus origins may be arduous, but it shouldn’t be put on hold just because China refuses. – Washington Post

Tim Culpan writes: Beijing is right to trumpet this success in space, and the results ought to boost morale within its struggling chip sector. There’s no evidence yet that that this leapfrog strategy can translate into semiconductors. But with a vice premier at the microchip helm, China is leaving itself no more excuses to fail. – Bloomberg

Linda Zhang writes: This report aims to help policymakers and the public understand how countries are selected to host giant pandas. It begins with an overview of the his­tory of panda diplomacy. It then examines the rela­tionship between panda diplomacy and a country’s gross domestic product and trade volume with the PRC. Finally, the report looks at case studies of coun­tries that received giant pandas and examines how the panda loans affected their recent relationship with General Secretary Xi Jinping’s government. – American Enterprise Institute

Arthur Herman writes: As with successful previous commissions, a COVID-19 commission’s work must be rigorous in research and analysis; comprehensive in its search for answers; and unsparing in its honesty. […]The goal isn’t finding scapegoats but finding the truth. The immediate impact of this pandemic has been disastrous enough. Failing to learn from it — including to learn its origin — would extend that disaster for generations to come. – The Hill


At least 24 Afghan commandos and five police officers were killed after they were surrounded by the Taliban in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, according to local and Afghan military officials.  – New York Times 

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Thursday ordered staff to avoid leaving their quarters to cope with a surge of Covid-19 cases that has filled intensive care units and led to multiple evacuations and the death of at least one staff member. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. and Turkey have agreed to a plan for the Turks to continue providing security at the airport in Kabul, U.S. officials said, ensuring the U.S. and other nations can maintain a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of troops, expected by next month. – Wall Street Journal

An extremist group like al-Qaida may be able to regenerate in Afghanistan and pose a threat to the U.S. homeland within two years of the American military’s withdrawal from the country, the Pentagon’s top leaders said Thursday. – Associated Press

They name themselves after a Turkish soap opera, count former Taliban insurgents among their ranks and dress like their enemies, but the shadowy “Sangorians” militiamen are among the fiercest forces on the Afghan battlefield. – Agence France-Presse

A bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday would speed up the processing of special immigration visas (SIVs) for Afghans at risk of Taliban retribution because they worked for the U.S. government. – Reuters

Philip Caruso writes: The implications for the United States of failing to both plan and act extend far beyond military and security risks. Biden recently said, “America will not back away from our commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms.” But if a famine on the scale of millions of people materializes in the next 12 months, the United States will face much of the blame in the international community, undermining his message. If the United States and the broader world do not plan for the worst-case scenarios, Afghanistan could be the world’s next Yemen. – Foreign Policy

Tanya Goudsouzian and Yusuf Erim write: In the absence of credible security measures, there is a need for a strong military presence at the airport,  if for no other reason than to ensure diplomatic contingents remain within Kabul. It is unlikely that countries would maintain embassies with only an Afghan or commercial security ring around the airport, at least until the post-withdrawal situation on the ground is clarified. Turkey will be able to bridge that uncertain period and in doing so can mitigate much of the risk. And, despite the counterarguments, it may be the only option. – The National Interest

South Asia

Police in India have summoned Twitter’s top official in the country to answer allegations that the U.S. firm did not stop the spread of a video that allegedly spread “hate and enmity”, according to an official police notice seen by Reuters. – Reuters

Sumit Ganguly writes: These two directives thus reveal that New Delhi’s fondness for secrecy, despite feints at greater openness, is going nowhere. At a time when it is facing a barrage of criticism for its attempts to stifle critical social media posts, any moves toward transparency would certainly burnish the government’s credentials. But this very partial parting (and closing) of the curtains does little to advance that goal. – Foreign Policy

Harsh V. Pant and Abhishek Mishra write: Both India and China have growing stakes in Africa as they seek to align themselves with the continent’s growth story. And they are increasingly competing with each other geopolitically. New Delhi is hoping that its sustained engagement with African nations over the last few years will yield foreign-policy dividends. And for both India and its African partners, if their engagement pays off, it could mean a relationship that is based on a partnership model. With major power fault lines sharpening across the world, India’s growing Africa engagement will perhaps be able to bring more equitable benefits to both partners. – Foreign Policy


Authorities sent shudders through Hong Kong media outlets after police arrested the top editor of a popular daily newspaper and the city’s security chief warned of severe punishment for anyone who uses news to challenge China’s national security. – Wall Street Journal

Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily on Friday increased its print run to 500,000 copies as residents showed support for the beleaguered press freedom a day after police arrested five top editors and executives and froze $2.3 million worth of assets on national security charges. – Associated Press

The United Nations’ office in Myanmar expressed concern Thursday about escalating human rights abuses after reports that a group opposed to the junta may have executed 25 civilians it captured and allegations that troops had burned down a village. – Associated Press

The U.N. General Assembly is expected to approve a resolution calling on Myanmar’s junta to restore the country’s democratic transition and for all countries “to prevent the flow of arms into Myanmar,” diplomats said. – Associated Press

A court in Myanmar extended the detention of American journalist Danny Fenster for another two weeks Thursday, while the U.S. State Department urged that it be granted consular access to him. – Associated Press

A plan by the Group of Seven nations to counter Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative has been welcomed by countries in China’s immediate orbit of influence but will need to overcome doubts about Western commitment to emerging market projects. – Reuters

A World Bank-led project declined to award a contract to lay sensitive undersea communications cables after Pacific island governments heeded U.S. warnings that participation of a Chinese company posed a security threat, two sources told Reuters. – Reuters

A senior State Department official said on Thursday the United States was working with Taiwan regulators to ensure COVID-19 vaccines will be delivered “in very short order” to the democratically self-ruled island claimed by China. – Reuters

China imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong in June 2020 that punishes what authorities broadly refer to as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison. – Reuters

Japan said on Thursday China’s military intentions are unclear and its armed forces’ rapid expansion is of serious concern, circumstances that require Europe, the United States and other Asian nations to come together to stand up to Beijing. – Reuters

The United States is ending a Cambodian aid programme aimed at protecting one its biggest wildlife sanctuaries, citing worsening deforestation and harassment of those who speak out about destruction of natural resources. – Reuters

Some camps dotted in the forest have a few dozen people, some more than a thousand. The displaced sleep packed together under plastic sheeting for protection from Myanmar’s monsoon rains. – Reuters

Editorial: Hong Kong authorities claim they’re merely acting in accordance with the law. But the asset freezes, which took place with no court hearings and no due process, are an extrajudicial confiscation of property. Without access to its funds, Apple Daily will struggle to continue doing journalism and to defend itself and its imprisoned employees. Today’s target is a pro-democracy newspaper, but any company that does anything that offends Beijing could suffer a similar fate. Businesses of all kinds, beware. – Wall Street Journal

Josh Rogin writes: If the United States and the West won’t come to Taiwan’s aid by providing vaccines — something completely within our power that does nothing to challenge the status quo — we are signaling to Taipei that we likely won’t come to its aid in the event of a physical invasion. And failing to respond robustly to Xi’s increasing aggression and intimidation toward Taiwan is the surest way to invite more of it, thereby increasing the risk of the very conflict we are trying to avoid. – Washington Post 


Russian President Vladimir Putin went to Geneva on Wednesday with nothing to lose and flew home with almost everything he wanted — a summit that showcased his status as leader of one of the world’s two biggest nuclear powers and acknowledged that, without him, global security goes nowhere. – Washington Post 

President Joe Biden on his first foreign foray sought to cast Russia not as a direct competitor to the United States but as a bit player in a world where Washington is increasingly pre-occupied by China. – Reuters

The Kremlin said on Thursday that Ukrainian membership of NATO would be a “red line” for Moscow and that it was worried by talk that Kyiv may one day be granted a membership action plan. – Reuters

The Kremlin was guarded about future dialogue with Washington on Thursday, a day after the first face-to-face meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US counterpart Joe Biden. – Agence France-Presse 

Russian President Vladimir Putin gave President Biden a rave review after their summit in Geneva, saying that although Biden looked at notes, it was clear to him that his American counterpart is “fully in the know” — unlike his “pretty” press secretary Jen Psaki. – New York Post

Jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, responding to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s accusations against him following a June 16 summit with U.S. President Joe Biden, has called the Russian leader “a liar who can’t stop lying.” – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimer Makey starts a two-day visit in Moscow on June 17 focusing on the status of Russian citizen Sofia Sapega, the girlfriend of the detained Belarusian opposition activist Raman Pratasevich. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

On June 5, 2021, on the sidelines of the 2021 St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a video conference with the heads of the world’s main news agencies. During the conference, He Ping, president and editor-in-chief of the Chinese official news agency Xinhua, asked Putin about China-Russia relations. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Rebeccah Heinrichs writes: Giving in to Putin on Nord Stream 2 is not evidence that a sophisticated form of diplomacy is at play. It is evidence that Biden will not stand firm against Putin, and instead will try appeasement. Democrats and the media have been warning that we had a president who is effectively a tool of Russia’s efforts to weaken the West. If Biden continues down this path, they’ll be right. – Washington Examiner

David M. Herszenhorn writes: For the rest of the world, the Back-to-the-Future spectacle of Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin re-enacting Cold War diplomacy offered a clear silver lining: at least America and Russia are talking again, creating a glint of hope that the two presidents might actually be able to do business. And if Washington can finally start working with Moscow again, perhaps so can the rest of the West — especially EU countries. – Politico

Noah Rothman writes: Joe Biden’s first trip abroad as president—a whirlwind diplomatic blitz involving the G7, the NATO alliance, and a summit with the Russian president—wasn’t without its share of successes. But if Biden’s design for this principals’ conference was to deter Russia from engaging in destabilizing behavior, we have few indications that the president succeeded. Indeed, Putin likely took the measure of his American counterpart and has concluded that he has more license to test his parameters than he thought. After all, from his perspective, we need him more than he needs us. – Commentary Magazine


The U.S. and European Union plan to cooperate more on technology regulation, industrial development and bilateral trade following President Biden’s visit, in a bid to help Western allies better compete with China and Russia on developing and protecting critical and emerging technologies. – Wall Street Journal

The European Union and Britain on Thursday said a police raid on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily showed that China was using a new national security law to crack down on dissent and silence the media rather than deal with public security. – Reuters

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Thursday he welcomed U.S. President Joe Biden’s tough messaging when he met President Vladimir Putin this week and said now was the time to make Russia withdraw from Ukraine. – Reuters

British foreign minister Dominic Raab and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov spoke on Thursday and discussed areas of disagreement, as well as broader challenges such as COVID-19 and climate change, Britain’s foreign ministry said. – Reuters

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has welcomed a decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to accept, on a priority basis, the legal case that the Moscow bureau of the broadcaster brought to it last month against the Russian government. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Bulgaria’s leaders have expressed their strong support for North Macedonia’s road to joining the European Union, a departure from Sofia’s earlier objections to North Macedonia starting talks to join the bloc. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Oumar Ba writes: The stakes are high. The court and the wider international justice system centered in The Hague point to the contradictions of the liberal world order, which espouses universality in theory but in practice exonerates the West while disciplining and condemning the rest.  But the ICC can earn greater legitimacy and make progress toward a more just world where perpetrators of atrocity crimes, regardless of who they may be, will be held accountable. – Foreign Affairs


Gunmen killed a police officer and kidnapped at least 80 students and five teachers from a school in the Nigerian state of Kebbi, police, residents and a teacher said. – Reuters

A Swiss court will rule on Friday whether a Liberian rebel commander committed rape, killings and an act of cannibalism in one of the only civil war-era cases from the West African country to ever go to trial. – Reuters

Ethiopians will vote Monday in a landmark election overshadowed by reports of famine in the country’s war-hit Tigray region and beset by logistical problems that mean some people won’t be able to vote until September. – Associated Press

Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo returned to the country on Thursday for the first time in 10 years, after being acquitted of charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. – Bloomberg

Makua Adimora writes: With Buhari no longer encumbered by elections — this is his second and final term — he’s shedding the cloak of pseudo-democracy and unveiling his draconian nature — one most of the Nigerian youth are too young to have witnessed or to understand. […]Sometimes, living in Nigeria makes you feel as if your life isn’t yours, as authorities can make sporadic decisions as they please without facing consequences. They’re always one step ahead. This is not a democracy, and Buhari is no longer pretending that it is. It’s time we drop the pretense, too.  – Washington Post 

The Americas

A New York Times journalist was denied entry into Nicaragua on Thursday amid a nationwide crackdown against the media and civil society in the Central American nation. – New York Times

El Salvador’s plan to adopt bitcoin as legal tender hit a roadblock this week when the World Bank said that it would not help with the rollout of the cryptocurrency. – Washington Post

Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels on Thursday denied any role in a car bombing at a military base this week that wounded 36 people, causing serious injuries to a Colombian soldier and minor ones to two U.S. military advisers. – Reuters

The United States on Thursday banned Guatemalan lawmaker Boris España Cáceres and his immediate family from entering the U.S. due to “his involvement in significant corruption,” the State Department said. – Reuters

Ecuador will implement a new “normalization process” for the 430,000 Venezuelan migrants living in the South American country, President Guillermo Lasso said on Thursday, without providing further details of the plan. – Reuters

Ryan C. Berg writes: Geopolitics are back in Latin America, with great-power rivals seeking to use the Western Hemisphere for strategic leverage against the United States. The United States will need a long-term, strategic response. […]Nonetheless, short of a major crisis, there is little likelihood that the level of resources the region receives will increase dramatically in the near term. With this in mind, we offer a few basic principles for a strategic response to the deterioration of American influence in the region that is mindful of resource constraints and the limits of what Washington can achieve within them. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

United States

A pair of lawmakers has formed a working group in Congress to bolster U.S. government efforts to aid Americans held hostage or unlawfully detained abroad. – Wall Street Journal 

Civil liberties groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Asian Law Caucus are increasingly concerned about the visa fraud cases, which they say reflect anti-China bias. Defense lawyers say their clients’ real crime is running afoul of U.S.-China politics. – Reuters

The White House promised “no deliverables” on President Joe Biden’s first visit overseas, but his return has critics searching for meaning in his foreign policy agenda. – Washington Examiner

Director of policy and advocacy for the Los Angeles branch of The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR LA), Shaheen Nassar, said that antisemitism is a uniquely European phenomenon, and it was a way of persecuting a group of people for the “false historical accusation” that they are the descendants of the people of historic Palestine. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Mike Watson writes: Mr. Biden doubtless has more pleasant conversations with his counterparts than Mr. Trump did at this point in his presidency, but he has little to show for it so far. Partners in Asia turned him down on Burma sanctions; allies in Europe are keeping their options open with Russia and China. […]Mr. Biden has said “you’ve got to know the other man or woman’s soul, and who they are, and make sure they know you” to succeed internationally. He will achieve more if he remembers at the next summit that in foreign policy, it isn’t personal. It’s strictly business. – Wall Street Journal

Stephen Moore writes: President Joe Biden’s performance at the meeting with foreign leaders in Britain last week was a disgrace. Biden cut deals with Britain that sold out America’s interests, and for doing so, he won the worshipful accolades of the Europeans, the Brits, and the Canadians. It’s amazing how popular you are at a party when you pay everyone’s bills. Except Biden isn’t spending his own money, of course. He’s spending ours. – Washington Examiner

Rep. Tim Burchett writes: Recent fiascos in Central America and Russia aside, President Biden has shown weakness when dealing with adversaries such as the Iranian regime and the Chinese Communist Party. […]Instead of learning from his past mistakes, Joe Biden continues to maintain the same approach to international affairs that has failed for decades. Under Biden, our adversaries view us as weak and America as being in decline. – Washington Examiner

Edward Geist writes:  In order to forestall defeat, the Pentagon may need to envision how it could lose. […]At the very least, planners could begin formulating contingency plans to continue the fight should the opening phase of a near-peer conflict fail to go as desired. An essential first step could be to start taking the prospect of protracted near-peer conflict seriously. Whether or not U.S. policymakers want such a conflict, one may be imposed upon them — and at present, America is woefully underprepared for it. – War on the Rocks


President Joe Biden’s executive order aimed at safeguarding Americans’ sensitive data would force some Chinese apps to take tougher measures to protect private information if they want to remain in the U.S. market, according to people familiar with the matter. – Reuters

The Senate on Thursday unanimously confirmed former National Security Agency (NSA) Deputy Director Chris Inglis as the first White House national cyber director. – The Hill

A bipartisan group of senators on Thursday unveiled legislation intended to crack down on cyber criminals, who have increasingly posed a threat to critical U.S. organizations.  – The Hill

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted unanimously Thursday to explore a proposal that would ban U.S. companies from buying telecommunications equipment that poses national security risks.  – The Hill


U.S. Air Force electromagnetic spectrum operations were so meager over the last few decades that the service’s top official said recently that it had been “asleep at the wheel” on electronic warfare. – C4ISRNET

The U.S. Army is set to begin the development and integration of a high-power microwave capability to destroy small drone threats beginning in fiscal 2022, according to budget justification documents released with the financial request. – Defense News  

Lawmakers seem interested in adding to the surface navy budget in fiscal 2022 and are doing some early number-crunching to figure out what that might look like in a fiscally constrained environment. – Defense News 

The Navy submitted an update to Congress to its annual long-range shipbuilding plans, one that takes a step back from the much-talked-about standard of a 355-ship fleet and instead lays out priorities for a future distributed naval force. – Defense News 

The Pentagon submitted an abbreviated long-range shipbuilding report to Congress that does not show construction past the Fiscal Year 2022 budget request, according to the document reviewed by USNI News on Thursday. – USNI News 

The Navy’s proposal to decommission seven guided-missile cruisers from the fleet in the next fiscal year met extensive questions from House lawmakers on Thursday. – USNI News 

One of the founding fathers of the Space Force is less than enthusiastic about the new service’s push to take over responsibility from NRO for providing tactical-level intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance from space. – Breaking Defense 

Military microdrones that can flap their wings and change their wingbeat mid-flight could soon be coming to a future battlespace. – Military.com

America’s newest military service, armed with a $17.4 billion budget, must develop and acquire new offensive and defensive space technology to combat Chinese, Russian, and other foes’ orbital assets — yet the Space Force’s top buying position remains vacant. – Washington Examiner

Seth Cropsey writes: The pace of warfare today, the years needed to build new ships much less repair those damaged in battle, and the immense distance of mainland Asia from the U.S. put deterrence — along with the ability to win a conflict — at risk, absent properly designed and sufficiently numerous ships. Flatlining the defense budget makes the same amount of sense as flatlining the Coast Guard’s: None. – The Hill

Paul Poast and Dan Reiter write: American policymakers should ignore calls for cheap solutions to serious security threats. They need to assume that potential autocratic aggressors might come to doubt America’s willingness to intervene to overturn a territorial fait accompli, even if American troops from a tripwire force are killed in the attack. […]There are policy options that can shift the local balance of power in the Baltics and elsewhere. Let’s achieve peace by planning for victory rather than for human sacrifice. – War on the Rocks

Long War

Two Yemeni men held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba since 2004 have been cleared for transfer to another country, a U.S. review board determined last week, bringing the prison back into the spotlight. – Reuters

Uzbek police say they’ve detained 20 people in the eastern region of Sirdaryo on suspicion of distributing “extremist materials” via the Telegram social-media app. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Aaron Zelin writes: Therefore, unlike the cases of AQ and IS, where both are related to more internal dynamics of their own fighting networks, for HTS that continues to remain a feature but they also have a broader spectrum of actors in mind. […]Therefore, exploring these microdynamics related to eulogy statements following the death of a jihadi leader, one can gain greater understanding of how different HTS is in some ways from its prior comrades in AQ and IS as well as its level of local consolidation of power—even if there remain pockets of discontent against HTS rule locally. – Global Network on Extremism and Technology