Fdd's overnight brief

June 24, 2020

In The News


European diplomats are being urged to restart shuttle diplomacy with Iran after the US presidential election in November or risk Tehran hardliners gaining still wider control of Iran’s many layers of government and its economy. – The Guardian

President Donald Trump came so close to meeting with Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif last year that former National Security Advisor John Bolton was going to resign, according to Bolton’s upcoming book. – The National Interest

Iran would be open to talks with the United States if Washington apologizes for exiting a 2015 nuclear deal and compensates Tehran, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday, cautioning that US calls for discussions were insincere. – Reuters

A further slump in Iran’s rial is “temporary”, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday after the currency sank to its lowest value in decades. – Reuters

Iran’s president warned Wednesday that the UN nuclear watchdog risks losing its independence after it adopted a resolution urging access to two sites alleged to have hosted past nuclear activities. – Agence France-Presse

Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant has been reconnected to the national grid after maintenance and an overhaul. Relevant tests were conducted and it was reconnected, the country’s Tasnim media. – Jerusalem Post

Iran’s Defense Ministry revealed on Tuesday that the country produces 70 percent of the products needed for aircraft and helicopters locally. This has enabled it to keep building drones and missiles, and replacing aircraft even under tough sanctions. – Jerusalem Post

The National Security and Foreign Policy Commission of Iran’s Parliament on Tuesday denounced an anti-Iran resolution passed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as “politicized and unprofessional,” the Xinhua news agency reported. – Arutz Sheva

Leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on Tuesday released a statement in which they welcomed the US call for an extension of the UN embargo on Iranian arms – Arutz Sheva

Seth J. Frantzman writes: What actually happened is unclear, however, because it was a sophisticated attack that included missiles and “eight bomb-laden drones.” There were at least three ballistic missiles. More interceptions were reported in the dawn hours, so it may be more than that. Press TV says the missiles were fired from Yemen’s Sa’adah province against Najran and Jizan in Saudi Arabia. How did the Iranians know this? Likely due to close work with the Houthis. – Jerusalem Post

Vinay Kaura writes: Tehran has long viewed Washington’s military presence in Afghanistan as part of a plan to encircle Iran. This has given it common ground with the Taliban, which has waged war against U.S. forces in Afghanistan for decades now; the age-old dictum that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” has created an opportunity for rapprochement between the two sides. – Middle East Institute


Suspected Israeli airstrikes late Tuesday in Syria killed at least seven people, including two Syrian soldiers and five pro-Iranian militia members, SANA and Britain-based watchdog said. – Times of Israel

A British relief worker with an Islamic aid group was seized on Monday night by militant group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in northwest Syria, according to the aid group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and activists in the area. – Reuters

Turkey was slammed for a drone strike in Syria that killed three women on June 23. It is the latest human rights violation by Turkey in Syria after revelations that Turkish-backed Syrian extremist groups have been kidnapping women in Afrin and holding them in secret prisons. – Jerusalem Post

Chloe Cornish writes: The act also allows the US to impose sanctions on non-Syrian companies or individuals that meet this criteria, putting potential foreign investors from countries such as the UAE in the line of fire. The UAE, a US ally, has stepped up diplomatic relations with Damascus since 2018 and dispatched trade delegations to Syria. In reality, there has been scant international investment in Syria’s reconstruction as the nine-year war continues. – Financial Times


One Turkish soldier was killed and two others were wounded in southeast Turkey as they came under fire from the Iranian side of the border, Turkey’s Defence Ministry said on Wednesday in a statement that did not say who had shot at its soldiers. – Reuters

Turkey hit back on Tuesday at French criticism of its intervention in Libya, saying President Emmanuel Macron must have suffered an “eclipse of the mind” to oppose Ankara’s support for the internationally recognised Tripoli government. – Reuters

Anthony Skinner writes: The geopolitical outlook for the East Mediterranean is therefore likely to remain negative. The combination of Turkey’s ongoing drive to drill in disputed waters, the increased presence of a Turkish navy ready to intercept IOC drilling vessels, and the inability or ineffectiveness of the EU to contain Turkey all factor into the likely trajectory of this conflict. – Washington Institute


Israeli police on Tuesday shot dead a Palestinian man who they said had tried to ram his car into an officer at a military checkpoint in the occupied West Bank. – Reuters

Senior aides to U.S. President Donald Trump began discussions on Tuesday on whether to give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a green light for his plan to annex settlements in the occupied West Bank, according to a U.S. official and a person familiar with the deliberations. – Reuters

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed hope Tuesday that Israel will hear global calls and will not go ahead with annexation of parts of the West Bank, which would undermine a two-state solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. – Associated Press

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz spoke out on the issue of West Bank annexation on Tuesday, saying, “We will not continue to wait for the Palestinians. If they forever say ‘no’ to everything, then we are obligated to move forward without them.” – Algemeiner

Susan Rice, former US ambassador to the UN and national security adviser under former president Barack Obama, said on Tuesday that there’s no way to preserve Israel as a Jewish state and its democratic nature without a two-state solution. – Jerusalem Post

More than a thousand lawmakers from across Europe on Tuesday signed a statement against Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the West Bank, urging decisive action to prevent the move and punitive measures if it goes ahead. – Times of Israel

Qatar is reportedly threatening to cut off millions of dollars in aid to the Gaza Strip if Israel goes ahead with annexation, in an apparent bid to pressure Jerusalem to rethink the plan. – Times of Israel

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kovahi warned Wednesday Israel could soon face violent unrest in the West Bank, which could easily spread to Gaza, as the army preps for possible violence in response to the government’s plans to begin annexing lands claimed by the Palestinians. – Times of Israel

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi met his Cypriot counterpart Nikos Christodoulides Tuesday as the Jewish state sought to defuse European opposition to its plan to annex parts of the West Bank. – Agence France-Presse

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said on Tuesday night that he opposes an Israeli plan to annex parts of the West Bank. Speaking at a webinar of the Israel Policy Forum, Schumer noted that the two countries have shared values and that supporting a strong US-Israel relationship is a matter of America’s own national interest. – Jerusalem Post

Ilan I. Berman writes: Already, prominent Congressional Democrats have publicly warned Netanyahu that moving forward with “unilateral annexation” would undermine “US national security interests in the region.” That warning matters, both because Congress has traditionally served as a bipartisan bulwark of support for the “special relationship” between Israel and the United States, and because there is now a growing likelihood that control of the Senate will shift to the Democratic Party following November’s elections. – American Foreign Policy Council

Yossi Klein Halevi writes: Listening to some progressive Jewish critics, though, I sometimes feel as if their Israel exists on an island in the South Pacific, and not in the most dangerous region on the planet, surrounded by terrorist entities on almost every border. […]The prophets of Israel didn’t downplay the external threats against their own people, didn’t only chastise Israel but also its enemies. – Times of Israel

Arabian Peninsula

Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet on Tuesday denounced Yemen’s Houthis for targeting the Saudi Arabia with eight armed drones and three ballistic missiles, state news agency (SPA) said in a statement. – Reuters

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned a drone and ballistic missile attack on Saudi Arabia launched by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement on Tuesday. – Reuters

The U.N. chief called for more pressure to be applied to Yemen’s warring parties to come together to arrange a cease-fire in the war that has cost more than 10,000 lives and displaced 2 million people in the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. – Associated Press


A report on Russia’s military presence in Libya was based on questionable sources and inaccurate information, the Russian foreign ministry said on Tuesday as it demanded an investigation into the report, the RIA news agency reported. – Reuters

Arab foreign ministers said on Tuesday they wanted to head off a new battle in Libya, where the warring sides are mobilising near the main oil region as their foreign backers threaten an escalation. – Reuters

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday called for an immediate ceasefire in Libya, adding that Turkey and Egypt agreed with Moscow’s approach to the settlement of that conflict. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

An explosion reportedly targeted a liquor store in Baghdad and was praised by the Iranian-backed Kata’ib Hezbollah. The explosion took place near the National Theatre and not far from the French embassy. – Jerusalem Post

Algeria named new energy and finance ministers on Tuesday, following a big fall in revenue for the major oil and gas producer after years of budget deficits. – Reuters

Bobby Ghosh writes: Sisi has strengthened relations with Israel — a $15 billion natural-gas deal between the two countries is key to Egypt’s hopes of becoming a major energy supplier to Europe. But Cairo is opposed to annexation. If Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu goes ahead with  a plan that is bound to be unpopular with ordinary Egyptians, Sisi may be required to respond with something more substantial than a strongly-worded statement of disapproval. – Bloomberg

Korean Peninsula

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has overruled his military’s plans to resume exercises and deploy more troops near the heavily armed border with South Korea, using his authority to de-escalate rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the North’s official news agency reported on Wednesday. – New York Times

South Korea’s trade minister Yoo Myung-hee on Wednesday announced her bid to become the next director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), aiming to be the first female leader at the WTO. – Reuters

Kim Tong-Hyung and Hyung-Jin Kim write: It would require major concessions for Moon’s government to save its diplomacy with the North, said Hong Min, an analyst at Seoul’s Korea Institute for National Unification. Suspending South Korea’s summertime military exercises with the United States and legally punishing anti-Pyongyang activists for leafleting, which will trigger freedom of speech debates in the South, would barely get the North interested. – Associated Press


Mr. Liu and many other countless Chinese people stranded overseas are, for the first time, running afoul of one of their country’s bedrock political principles: National interests come before an individual’s needs. That may sound reasonable, even logical, but it differs sharply from the sentiment in places, like the United States and elsewhere, where the rights of the minority are supposed to be protected. – New York Times

China warned Tuesday it will take countermeasures after the U.S. added four more Chinese media outlets to a list of organizations that should be considered “foreign missions” in the United States because of their ties to the government and ruling Communist Party. – Associated Press

China on Tuesday launched the final satellite in its Beidou constellation that emulates and may seek to compete with the U.S. Global Positioning System, marking a further step in the country’s advance as a major space power. – Associated Press

The wife of a Canadian arrested in Beijing after Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was detained in Vancouver asked on Tuesday that the Canadian justice minister consider intervening in the Chinese executive’s extradition case and releasing her. – Reuters

China, the world’s top meat importer, said on Tuesday a Brazilian beef exporter and a pork plant in Britain had voluntarily suspended exports because of coronavirus infections. – Reuters

The Chinese government’s top diplomat Wang Yi on Tuesday proposed a “fast track” arrangement for the movement of people and goods with India and Russia. – Reuters

An obscure agency with ties to perhaps President Trump’s most senior adviser is tasked with countering China’s predatory lending programs and working with the Pentagon to move sensitive supply chains out of the communist regime’s control. – Washington Examiner

The US military is deploying “unprecedented” numbers to the Asia-Pacific region, raising the risk of an incident with China’s navy, a senior Chinese official said Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse

Joseph Bosco writes: What makes the charge seem implausible is that it runs counter to the Trump administration’s declared policy of opposition to what China is doing to the Uyghurs, as expressed in speeches by Pompeo and others. Moreover, while the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019 was wending its way through Congress, providing for serious sanctions against China’s human rights offenders, at no time did the Trump administration express any misgiving about the legislation, and Trump just recently signed it into law. – The Hill

South Asia

Chinese and Indian military commanders have agreed to disengage their forces in a disputed area of the Himalayas following a clash that left at least 20 soldiers dead, both countries said Tuesday. – Associated Press

The skirmish between Chinese and Indian troops over a long-disputed border this month is being treated in New Delhi as the country’s worst diplomatic crisis in decades even as it is downplayed by Beijing. – Reuters

Amid calls for a boycott of Chinese goods after a border clash in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed, India’s government instructed sellers to declare the country of origin for goods and services purchased via a state-run online portal. – Reuters

India said on Tuesday it would expel half the staff in Pakistan’s embassy in New Delhi over alleged spying by officials there, prompting Islamabad to say it would respond in kind. – Reuters

A plane crash which killed 97 people in Pakistan last month was because of human error by the pilots, who were discussing the coronavirus crisis during the landing, according to an initial report released Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse


Russian citizens are set to begin voting on constitutional changes that could allow President Vladimir Putin to remain in office for years to come, potentially cementing his hold on power and putting to rest speculation as to who might eventually succeed the Kremlin leader. – Wall Street Journal

Russians celebrated Victory Day Wednesday, the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s defeat of the Nazis in World War II, as President Vladimir Putin sought to shed the political setbacks of the covid-19 pandemic and drum up national pride in preparation for a nationwide vote that could see him stay in power until 2036. – Washington Post

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that further social support measures and incentives for businesses will be introduced as he hailed the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic in the run-up to a vote that could extend his rule until 2036. – Associated Press

Former U.S. marine Paul Whelan, who was sentenced to 16 years in a Russian prison last week on spying charges, hopes to be freed as part of a prisoner swap with the United States, his lawyer said on Tuesday, Interfax news agency reported. – Reuters

Even as the Russian Aerospace has conducted multiple “patrol flights” near Alaska and the Bering Sea in recent weeks, as well as drone exercises and other military drills, Moscow has apparently taken notice of foreign aircraft near its airspace. – The National Interest

The United States wants to broaden its main nuclear arms control agreement with Russia to include all their atomic weapons, a U.S. envoy said on Tuesday after talks with Moscow on a new accord. – Reuters


Andrzej Duda is counting on a White House meeting with President Trump on Wednesday to give him a boost at the polls in what has become a close race, say members of Law and Justice, the conservative-nationalist party that has backed Mr. Duda’s presidency. – Wall Street Journal

Germany is struggling to pick sides in the escalating dispute between the U.S. and China over issues ranging from trade to human rights, amid mounting American pressure and Beijing’s authoritarian drift. – Wall Street Journal

European Union countries rushing to revive their economies and reopen their borders after months of coronavirus restrictions are prepared to block Americans from entering because the United States has failed to control the scourge, according to draft lists of acceptable travelers reviewed by The New York Times. – New York Times

Ever since hundreds of young men attacked the police and vandalized dozens of stores in Germany on Saturday, the country has been wrestling with the question of why a routine check of a suspected drug dealer led to such an outpouring of violence. – New York Times

A group of House of Representatives Republicans urged President Donald Trump on Tuesday to reconsider his decision to cut the number of U.S. troops in Germany, saying their presence is the backbone of NATO’s deterrent against Russian aggression. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump is being accused of sending a message of support to those looking to discriminate against LGBT people and other minorities by hosting Poland’s president at the White House days before his visitor faces a tougher than expected fight for reelection. – Associated Press

The UK government published plans on Tuesday for post-Brexit financial regulation that it claims will maintain the “highest” standards — challenging the EU to decide if it is sufficient to allow British groups continued access to its markets. – Financial Times

A pro-Israel UK legal organization has called on the government of the Netherlands to stop funding a Palestinian NGO said to be tied to terrorism. – Algemeiner


International Monetary Fund (IMF) staff and Sudan have reached agreement on macroeconomic policies structural reforms that would underpin a 12-month staff-monitored program, the fund said in a statement on Tuesday. – Reuters

South African pharmaceutical major Aspen could provide 10 million dexamethasone tablets within a month, Chief Executive Stephen Saad said on Tuesday after the World Health Organisation cautioned about the drug’s supply. – Reuters

China’s government is offering more university scholarships to African students than the leading western governments combined, in a sign of Beijing’s use of “soft power” alongside economic investment. – Financial Times

Latin America

Tankers carrying nearly two months worth of Venezuelan oil output are stuck at sea as global refiners shun the nation’s crude to avoid falling foul of U.S. sanctions, according to industry sources, PDVSA documents and shipping data. – Reuters

A U.S. Navy ship navigated near the Venezuelan coast on Tuesday in what the U.S. military’s Southern Command called a “freedom of navigation operation,” a day after a cargo ship from U.S. foe Iran docked at a port of the South American country. – Reuters

Brazil’s federal audit court is investigating whether a former education minister was on official business when he traveled to the United States a day after announcing his resignation last week, according to a court document seen by Reuters on Tuesday. – Reuters

United States

An attempt by activists to create an “autonomous zone” outside the White House has reignited tensions between President Trump and Mayor Muriel E. Bowser about who controls D.C. streets. – Washington Post

Federal prosecutors on Monday charged a 22-year-old US Army private with plotting to attack his own military unit abroad by sending sensitive details about the unit to a neo-Nazi group. – Reuters

A Jewish man leaving a Nevada bar was stabbed in the head by a man on the sidewalk outside who had asked him for money and then shouted anti-Semitic insults. – Arutz Sheva


Facebook suffered a setback in Germany on Tuesday after the country’s highest civil court ruled that it must comply with an order from the German antitrust watchdog and fundamentally change the way it handles users’ data. – Financial Times

Europe’s flagship data rules are proving difficult to implement two years after coming into effect, placing a particular burden on small and medium-sized companies and those developing new technologies, an official report has revealed. – Financial Times

Online harassment of Jews and other minorities has increased sharply this year, a new survey by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) revealed on Tuesday. – Algemeiner

Twitter flagged a message from President Donald Trump saying that any attempt at an autonomous zone in Washington, DC, “will be met with serious force” as violating its policy against abusive behavior on Tuesday. – Business Insider


The U.S. Army confirmed Tuesday that the soldier charged with plotting a deadly ambush on his unit is a paratrooper with the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s Sky Soldiers. – Military.com

American soldiers have been cleared to wear combat patches for serving in Saudi Arabia since September’s rebel attack on oil infrastructure there. – Military.com

Some in Congress remain unconvinced the Navy knows what it wants out of its fleet of large unmanned surface vessels, and they’re moving to block funding for more big drone ships until the service lays out a plan. – Military.com

The Pentagon announced Monday that the newly launched Space Force had its first handful of COVID-19 cases. But the Air Force is now disputing that report, saying the number remains zero. – Military.com

The Navy’s transition from prototype to program of record for its portfolio of unmanned surface and undersea systems is being aided by industry, international partners and developmental squadrons, even as the program office seeks to ease concerns that the transition is happening too fast, the program executive officer for unmanned and small combatants said today. – USNI News

The House Armed Services Committee wants to limit the amount of money the Air Force and Navy get for their respective sixth-generation fighter programs until it gets some answers. – Defense News

F-35 costs are ballooning because Lockheed Martin is failing to deliver parts to the military that are ready to be installed, maintenance personnel told an ongoing House Oversight and Reform Committee probe. – Defense News

The Pentagon’s top two technology experts have submitted their resignations. Mike Griffin, who became the Defense Department’s first undersecretary of research and engineering in early 2018, and his deputy Lisa Porter have both submitted their resignations, a defense official confirmed to Defense News. – Defense News

Peraton will provide commercial satellite communications services for U.S. Central Command after receiving a new $56 million contract, the company announced June 18. – C4ISRNET

A draft version of the annual defense policy bill directs the Department of Defense’s IT offices to describe how its plans to mitigate a series of IT and workforce challenges the department faces. – C4ISRNET

Trump Administration

The Trump administration is keeping open the possibility of extending the New START arms control treaty, but the decision will be influenced by three factors, including whether China agrees to join the arms control process, a  U.S. official said Tuesday. – Wall Street Journal

Soon after Donald Trump took office, people with ties to the Chinese state poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into his re-election bid to get close to and potentially influence the new president. – Wall Street Journal

More than half of the member states of the International Criminal Court voiced their support for the institution in a strongly worded statement issued Tuesday in response to the Trump administration’s decision to authorize sanctions against court staff. – Associated Press

Former national security adviser John Bolton said in an interview Tuesday that he would consider testifying against Attorney General William Barr if House Democrats seek his testimony. – The Hill

Two US prosecutors are set to testify on Wednesday that politics drove Department of Justice decisions in cases linked to Donald Trump. – Financial Times