Fdd's overnight brief

June 26, 2019

In The News


President Trump and President Hassan Rouhani of Iran shifted back to a sharply confrontational footing on Tuesday, trading accusations while U.S. officials and international leaders worked toward expected talks aimed at defusing the conflict at a global summit at the end of the week. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump has taken aim at what he has described as the real power in Iran, imposing fresh sanctions Monday on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The unprecedented move has fixed a gaze on Iran’s supreme leader, who not only serves as the ultimate decision-maker in the country but is also believed to control an economic empire estimated to be worth as high as $200 billion. – Washington Post

President Trump on Tuesday warned Iran that any attack on “anything American” would be met with “great and overwhelming force” after Iranian officials slammed new U.S. sanctions as permanently closing the path to diplomacy amid a spike in tensions in the Persian Gulf. – Washington Post

Any prospect of easing tensions between the United States and Iran seemed increasingly remote Tuesday, as threats and personal insults flew between the two governments. – Washington Post

The United States would not dare violate Iranian soil, the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ aerospace division said on Wednesday, according to the semi-official Mehr news agency. – Reuters

On the eve of the first Democratic presidential debate, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, rising in public opinion polls, slammed President Donald Trump’s posture toward Iran at a raucous town hall on Tuesday. – Reuters

Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Tuesday he aimed to recruit support from NATO allies for U.S. efforts to deter conflict with Iran and “open the door to diplomacy,” as he made his international debut as Pentagon chief. – Reuters

The Senate will vote on a measure that would block President Trump from using military force against Iran without congressional authorization. – Washington Examiner

The shooting down last week of a sophisticated US drone by an Iranian missile demonstrates that Tehran’s air defence capabilities can pose a challenge to US air superiority, experts say. – Agence FrancePresse

An American drone shot down last week was found four miles inside Iranian territorial waters, semi-official Tasnim news agency reported, citing an official. – Bloomberg

Iran’s currency is under more duress now than when a European and U.S. oil embargo was in place seven years ago. Oxford Economics’ FX Risk Tool, a composite measure of vulnerability to a currency crisis, shows the rial as the most exposed in the Middle East and North Africa. – Bloomberg

Bobby Ghosh writes: Rather than embark now on a lengthy process of negotiations, the White House might think it better to give the sanctions two more years to wreak more destruction on the Iranian economy and weaken Tehran’s position. If the Islamic Republic keeps enriching uranium and attacking shipping lanes in the meantime it will antagonize the international community, prompting more countries – and especially the Europeans – to support the U.S. position. And when the negotiations do eventually begin, the sanctions on Khamenei could be one more piece of leverage for the American side, their removal one more small incentive to dangle before the Supreme Leader. In the meantime, Khamenei can enjoy his badge of honor – much to Rouhani’s envy. – Bloomberg

Alex Vatanka writes: In the worst-case scenario, Iran and Iraq will find new channels that allow trade between the two countries to continue—an arrangement tantamount to sanctions busting, which would leave the Iraqis vulnerable to penalties and to the loss of U.S. support for its beleaguered security apparatus. Such collateral damage would undermine everything the United States has done in Iraq since toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. U.S. policies should not leave Iraq with no better option than becoming Iran’s accomplice, an outcome that would only further burden a weak Iraqi state while also hurting long-term U.S. interests in the Middle East. – Foreign Affairs


Pro-Iranian Shi’ite militia Kata’ib Hezbollah slammed the US-backed Bahrain conference on Tuesday evening in a statement provided to Iraqi media. – Jerusalem Post

The feared former head of Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro’s intelligence police has charged that the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah operates in the Latin American country with the protection of the government. – Times of Israel

In a June 14, 2019 article in the pro-Hizbullah Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, the daily’s editor, Ibrahim Al-Amin, addressed the prevailing concerns about a possible direct military confrontation between the U.S. and Iran, stating that what is currently happening between the two countries is already “a war in every sense of the word.” He stressed that the recent attacks on Western interests in the region were only an “initial response,” far smaller than the likely future response to America’s deeds, and called to “consider destroying all Western interests in Lebanon and the region.” […]The following are excerpts from his article. Middle East Media Research Institute


President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday he believed the number of Syrians returning from Turkey to their homeland will reach one million once a safe zone is established in northeast Syria along their shared border. – Reuters

Russia’s national security adviser said Israeli air strikes on Syria were “undesirable” and condemned attempts to isolate Iran during a trilateral summit meeting with his Israeli and American counterparts in Jerusalem on Tuesday. – Ynet

The UN aid chief said Tuesday he had asked Russia to explain how it uses data on the location of Syrian hospitals and clinics following a string of attacks on health facilities. – Agence FrancePresse

Marika Sosnowski and Paul Hastings write: Russia’s ability to circumvent the Syrian government’s official registration process and operate outside typical UN coordination mechanisms has effectively created a shadow system of aid delivery in Syria inaccessible to outside organizations. This parallel system not only highlights the double standards of the Syrian government in its preferential treatment of Russian humanitarian organizations but also shapes the current overall humanitarian landscape in Syria, in tandem with Russia’s military intervention. – Washington Institute


Istanbul’s new mayor now shoulders the expectations of Turkey’s long-subdued opposition after he emerged from obscurity to deal President Tayyip Erdogan the biggest election blow of his career. – Reuters

A Turkish court on Tuesday ordered the release from house arrest of a U.S. Consulate employee being tried on terrorism charges, days before a planned meeting between the two countries’ leaders. – Reuters

The United States will stop Turkish forces flying and developing its F-35 stealth jets if Ankara goes ahead with the purchase of a Russian air defense system, the U.S. envoy to NATO said on Tuesday. – Reuters

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that NATO-member Turkey would take delivery of Russia’s S-400 missile defence system in July — a deal that has created tensions with the United States. – Agence FrancePresse

Bulent Aliriza and Zeynep Yekeler write: Despite the political wound the Istanbul election constitutes for Erdogan, it is important to note that he retains full control over all aspects of policymaking at the national level and does not have to contest scheduled elections before 2023. […]However, he is now operating in a more difficult political, economic, and international environment with problems in each of these areas exacerbating those in the others. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner sought to breathe life into the administration’s foray into Middle East peacemaking Tuesday, imploring government officials and businesspeople to embrace the economic portion of a plan he called the “opportunity of the century.” – Wall Street Journal

Gaza’s first and only international airport was inaugurated more than two decades ago, promising what many Palestinians believed would be something resembling normalcy in the tightly controlled enclave. […]The perils of economic development without a clear political agreement over the Palestinian territories will come into sharp focus this week, as the U.S.-backed Peace to Prosperity conference opens Tuesday in Manama, Bahrain. – Washington Post

The Trump administration will kick off a summit on Tuesday aimed at raising $50 billion to spur economic development in the Palestinian territories, with proposals ranging from a transportation corridor cutting through Israel to solar-powered water treatment plants. – Washington Post

F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter jets from the United States, United Kingdom and Israel participated in a joint exercise over the eastern Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday. – Arutz Sheva

More than $110 million was raised on Tuesday at a pledging conference to support the UN agency for “Palestinian refugees”, UNRWA, AFP reports.- Arutz Sheva

As the US-led conference to promote economic peace was held in Bahrain on Tuesday, a Palestinian national conference was held in Gaza to combat the conference in Bahrain and the Trump administration’s “Deal of the Century” which aims to resolve the conflict. – Arutz Sheva

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner said on Tuesday that prosperity for the Palestinians was not possible without a fair political solution – but that agreement on an economic way forward was a necessary precondition for Israeli-Palestinian peace. – Ynet

Palestinians burned effigies of President Trump and marched a donkey pasted over with images of Gulf royals in the West Bank on Tuesday, as the U.S. prepares to open its conference in Bahrain, which focuses on the economic portion of the White House’s long-awaited plan for Mideast peace. – Associated Press

Arabian Peninsula

Saudi Arabia said Tuesday that it had captured a man it identified as the leader of the Islamic State’s Yemen branch during a raid this month on a house in southern Yemen, according to the official Saudi press agency. – Washington Post

Yemen’s Houthi rebels have accelerated missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia in recent weeks, highlighting the kingdom’s military vulnerabilities in defending itself against an Iranian ally amid a crisis in U.S.-Iran relations. – Wall Street Journal

Saudi Arabia’s air defenses intercepted a drone launched toward a residential area in the Khamis Mushait by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis on Tuesday, the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition said. – Reuters

Two South African sisters who were imprisoned in Saudi Arabia, initially without charge, described their ordeal on Tuesday and said they had brought a complaint to the United Nations. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia must commit to a broad international monitoring program of nuclear power facilities if it develops nuclear power reactors with technology from the United States, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry told lawmakers on Tuesday. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s minister of state said that an economic plan presented by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner for the Palestinian territories could succeed since it includes private sector and if “there is hope of peace”. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

An American Air Force veteran who was accused of acting as a mercenary in Libya has been freed after a six-week detention, officials said Tuesday, in a murky episode that highlights the tangled nature of that country’s civil war. – Washington Post

Hosting an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday of the Russian, American and Israeli national security advisers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel pressed for ridding Syria of all foreign forces, in particular Iranians and their proxies across Israel’s northern frontier. – New York Times

Egypt detained a leading opposition figure and allies on Tuesday on charges of plotting to bring down the government, but opposition groups said the arrests aimed to stymie their preparations for parliamentary elections next year. – Reuters

Bahrain’s king met on Tuesday with the U.S. delegation participating in a workshop in Manama discussing a U.S. economic plan for the Palestinians. – Reuters

Simon Henderson writes: The event at the Bahrain Four Seasons is not going to be a coming-out party. The opening cocktail party is unlikely to have scenes of warm exchanges between Israelis and Arabs — and even less likely is the chance that the Bahraini authorities will allow Israeli television cameras to cover the occasion. […]Yet the grading of the conference’s success (or otherwise) perhaps should be postponed for a while. Like the poor visibility caused by the sea mist that often envelops the Four Seasons at this time of year, it can be hard to see very far ahead. – The Hill

Korean Peninsula

After years working in North Korean coal mines, two former prisoners of war are seeking nearly $300,000 in damages from an unlikely source: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. – Wall Street Journal

The recent U.S. extension of sanctions against North Korea was an act of hostility and an outright challenge to an historic summit between the two countries in Singapore last year, a spokesman for Pyongyang’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The United States is in behind-the-scenes talks with North Korea over a possible third summit and has proposed working-level negotiations that have been stalled since the second such meeting in February, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Wednesday. – Reuters

North Korea denounced US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as an obstruction to nuclear negotiations on Wednesday, days before President Donald Trump visits Seoul while talks with Pyongyang are deadlocked. – Agence FrancePresse


Large U.S. tech companies in the direct sights of the Trump administration’s ban on exports to Huawei Technologies Co. are finding ways to resume some shipments to the blacklisted Chinese tech giant without running afoul of American regulations. – Wall Street Journal

Evidence is piling up that Chinese consumer spending won’t be enough to alone power the country’s economy past its trade trouble with the U.S. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will seek to revive troubled U.S.-China trade talks this week, in a test of whether their professed personal chemistry can surmount seemingly intractable differences at the bargaining table. – Wall Street Journal

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines says a government investigation has found that the recent sinking of a Philippine boat by a Chinese vessel in the disputed South China Sea was an ordinary maritime mishap that should not strain ties between the two countries. – New York Times

Michael Schuman writes: The confrontation between the United States and China is already reshaping the world—in both good and bad ways—and even a final trade pact may not slow the momentum for change. Deteriorating ties between the two countries are influencing everything from grand geopolitical strategy to our daily lives. […] Just as the meshing of the U.S. and China was representative of the greater trend toward global cooperation, their new frostiness may be equally symbolic of rising nationalism and anti-globalization fervor, present from the United Kingdom to India. – The Atlantic


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that “the hour has come for peace” in Afghanistan and that he hopes there will be a peace deal with the Taliban by September. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. diplomats are reaching the final stages of a negotiation over Taliban obligations not to shelter terrorists if American forces leave Afghanistan, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. – Washington Examiner

Two U.S. service members were killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday, the NATO-led Resolute Support mission said in a statement. – Reuters


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday for talks on trade and defense issues that have strained ties between the countries. – Reuters

More than a thousand protesters marched to major foreign consulates on Wednesday calling on leaders at the upcoming G20 summit to raise the plight of Hong Kong with China and to support the full scrapping of a controversial extradition bill. – Reuters

When Taiwanese businessman Jhang Yun-nan wanted to find buyers for his company’s new cleaning products in China, he turned to an unconventional channel: A Taiwanese party that advocates the unification of China with the self-ruled, democratic island. – Reuters

Britain banned sales of crowd-control equipment such as tear gas to Hong Kong on Tuesday and called for an investigation after police clashed with demonstrators opposed to a bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial. – Reuters

A police constable was killed and five people injured in Pakistan on Wednesday, following a gun battle with Taliban militants at a police housing and training complex, security officials said. – Reuters


European lawmakers voted to end Russia’s suspension from the Continent’s main human-rights organization, provoking dismay in Ukraine, where Russia is pursuing a covert war that has left more than 13,000 dead. – Wall Street Journal

NATO urged Russia on Tuesday to destroy a new missile before an August deadline and save a treaty that keeps land-based nuclear warheads out of Europe or face a more determined alliance response in the region. – Reuters

Moscow will respond in kind to any steps NATO takes over Russia’s decision to suspend a 1987 nuclear missile treaty, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Wednesday, according to RIA news agency. – Reuters

A U.S. destroyer is off the coast of Havana, Cuba, shadowing a detachment of Russian naval ships that includes one of the country’s most advanced surface ships, USNI News has verified. – USNI News


Britain does not expect the United States to request that the United Kingdom joins a war with Iran and London would be unlikely to agree to join such a conflict, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Iran is not looking for war with America, its President Hassan Rouhani told French President Emmanuel Macron in a phone call on Tuesday, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA). – Reuters

Iran has no reason left to carry out commitments under its 2015 nuclear deal without reciprocation from the remaining European signatories, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on Tuesday, according to the Fars news agency. – Reuters

Tom McTague writes: Donald Trump is forcing Europe to confront its own weakness. […]despite their combined economic weight and presence on the world stage, Europe’s principal players have proved largely powerless to do anything in the face of raw American hegemony. The brute reality, as things stand, is that Europe does not yet have the tools—or the will—to project its power. The euro cannot be a credible alternative to the dollar as a reserve currency until it is radically reformed, and without a credible reserve currency, Europe’s financial might cannot match that of the United States. – The Atlantic


A top U.S. State Department official who deals with Sudan said on Tuesday that Washington was considering all options, including possible sanctions, if there was more violence after a deadly assault on protesters in Khartoum early this month. – Reuters

Iran has established a terror network in Africa to strike American and other Western targets, it was reported on Tuesday. – Algemeiner

Yousra Khalil writes: Ultimately, informed awareness of Sudan’s political context, as well as more informed discussions among coordinated U.S. agencies, will help the United States explain to its Arab allies that a civilian-led Sudanese democratic transition is the key, not the obstacle, to regional stability. U.S. policymakers cannot use moral reasoning to convince their Arab allies to allow a civilian-led transition in Sudan, as these countries merely see the United States’ prestige as a global democratic champion as an obstacle to regional stability. Yet, Egypt does not want ISIS on its doorstep. Saudi Arabia and the UAE cannot afford to invest in wars in both Yemen and Sudan, amid costly domestic economic reforms. – Washington Institute

The Americas

A U.S. Senate committee approved legislation on Tuesday that would make it more difficult for President Donald Trump to avoid congressional review of arms sales, underscoring lawmakers’ anger over his approval of $8 billion in military deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. – Reuters

A new survey showed a rise in the number of Americans who said small businesses should have the right to refuse service to Jews if doing so would violate the owners’ religious beliefs. – Algemeiner

Stephanie Grisham, communications director for first lady Melania Trump and a longtime aide to President Donald Trump, will succeed Sarah Sanders as White House press secretary, Mrs. Trump announced on Tuesday. – Reuters

U.S. sanctions on Cuba are deterring American firms from exploring its telecommunications sector even as Washington seeks to expand internet access on the Communist-run island, according to the final report of a U.S. government task force released on Tuesday. – Reuters

President Donald Trump is still committed to a pressure campaign to force Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to step aside to make way for opposition leader Juan Guaido, Washington’s envoy for Venezuela said on Tuesday. – Reuters


In a statement to Reuters, a WhatsApp spokesperson welcomed the appeals court decision. “We care deeply about the privacy of our users and are grateful the Parana court affirmed the importance and legality of end-to-end encryption within Brazil. This significant decision will help safeguard the rights of people in Brazil to have safe and private conversations online.” The world’s largest social network has struggled with legal troubles in Brazil in recent years. – Reuters

In a world first, Facebook has agreed to hand over the identification data of French users suspected of hate speech on its platform to judges, France’s minister for digital affairs Cedric O said on Tuesday. – Reuters

A U.S. Senate panel on Tuesday questioned how major social media companies like Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google unit use algorithms and artificial intelligence to serve up new content to keep users engaged. – Reuters

Facebook Inc on Tuesday added Canada and Ukraine to the list of countries where advertisers looking to run political ads on its platform must first verify their identity and disclose who paid for the ads. – Reuters

The US military conducted a major cyberattack on Iranian proxy group with forces in Iraq, Syria and inside Iran in the days after Iran shot down a US drone last week, according to two US officials with knowledge of what happened. – CNN

Federal agencies responsible for safeguarding millions of Americans’ security, public safety and personal data have failed to apply even basic defenses to cyberattacks, Senate investigators said Tuesday. – NBC

James Andrew Lewis writes: Iran is engaged in a delicate game of “chicken,” and how the United States reacts will shape the likelihood and scope of cyberattacks. If the United States launches air strikes on Iranian targets or leadership, Iranian cyber action is likely. This shows the need for a finely calculated U.S. response. […]How far the United States and Iran can go in cyber operations and how public they can be requires an unavoidable period of trial and error. This is a space for conflict where the rules are unclear, and the risks not yet measured. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


US drones have been a key tool in conflicts against insurgent organizations such as the Taliban and the Islamic State group, but Iran’s downing of one of the aircraft highlights their limitations against more sophisticated adversaries. – Agence FrancePresse

As Army Secretary Mark Esper transitions into the role of defense secretary, with little time for the promotion to sink in, the Army is now facing its first test of whether it can stay the course with its major overhaul of its procurement system and ambitious modernization plans. – Defense News

The U.S. Army is hotly pursuing foreign military sales of its CH-47 F-model Chinook cargo helicopters in the hopes it will soften the blow from cuts made to its intended buy of the newest variant, according to the service’s undersecretary. – Defense News

Amphibious forces in BALTOPS 2019 tested out new, high-end tactics for the first time in a live exercise, working in a less-rigid structure that allows enablers like air-defense or anti-submarine ships, mine clearance teams and artillery units to flow through the operating area to where they can do the most good. – USNI News

Long War

The National Security Agency purged millions of Americans’ phone records after learning that some of the data was collected in error last fall as part of a controversial counterterrorism program, according to documents made public Wednesday. – Washington Post

Iraq is in talks with the United Nations over whether it can prosecute foreign Islamic State fighters currently held in Syria who did not commit crimes in Iraq, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Four men with suspected ties to the Islamic State militant group were captured on Tuesday by members of the Nicaraguan armed forces after entering the country illegally from Costa Rica, Nicaraguan police said. – Reuters

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Tuesday that his security cabinet was responding to information that three ISIS members could enter Mexico. – Reuters