Fdd's overnight brief

June 27, 2019

In The News


Iran’s supreme leader said his country wouldn’t back down in the face of U.S. sanctions, days after President Trump targeted him personally with a new round of measures to further isolate the country. – Wall Street Journal

European governments will double down this week on their efforts to keep alive economic ties with Iran, officials said, providing a credit line to help a special mechanism establish a route for trade between Iran and the West. – Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration is facing an Iranian leadership publicly united behind a more confrontational approach as tensions come to a head between Washington and Tehran. – Wall Street Journal

Amid escalating tensions with the United States, Iran said on June 17 that by Thursday it would surpass the limit on the uranium supply permitted under the 2015 nuclear agreement, a potentially combustible new phase in the country’s confrontation with Washington. – New York Times

President Trump said Wednesday that a war with Iran would not “last very long” or involve ground troops, as he seemingly dismissed warnings that limited U.S. military action could spiral into a larger conflict. – Washington Post

Iran warned the United States against violating its borders, with parliament speaker Ali Larijani threatening a stronger reaction, the Tasnim news agency said on Thursday, a week after Tehran shot down a U.S. drone, spiking tension between them. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that he was “not talking boots on the ground” should he take military action against Iran and that he had “unlimited time” to try to forge an agreement with Tehran. – Reuters

Iran warned the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday that it would no longer be burdened with preserving a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as European states pushed Tehran to stick with the agreement because there is “no credible, peaceful alternative.” – Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday said Iran and world powers including the United States needed to find a way back into talks that restore trust and defuse a dangerous escalation in tensions. – Reuters

Today, Wednesday, June 26, 2019, on the heels of new sanctions imposed on Iran’s Supreme Leader and his affiliates by the United States, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) called on Congress to pass the bipartisan Stop Corrupt Iranian Oligarchs and Entities Act, which directs the Department of the Treasury, in consultation with the Department of State and Director of National Intelligence (DNI), to identify and compile a list of Iranian oligarchs and entities that are ultimately profiting off the Iranian people. – Insider NJ

The Iran-backed Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah believes a U.S. war on Iran is unlikely for reasons including Iran’s strong defensive capabilities, Hezbollah’s deputy leader said in an interview published on Thursday. – Reuters


Novartis did not export dual-use chemicals to a Syrian partner, the Swiss drugmaker said on Wednesday, amid scrutiny of shipments by German chemicals distributor Brenntag via a Swiss subsidiary in 2014. – Reuters

A German chemical wholesaler, Brenntag, has denied circumventing EU export rules on restricted chemicals, some of which were delivered to Syria in 2014. – BBC

An airstrike hit an ambulance in northwest Syria on Wednesday, killing two members of the opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense and wounding four others in the last major rebel stronghold in the country, Civil Defense and opposition activists said. – Associated Press

Jennifer Cafarella, Brandon Wallace and Jason Zhou write: The Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) is not defeated despite the loss of the territory it claimed as its so-called ‘Caliphate’ in Iraq and Syria. It is stronger today than its predecessor Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) was in 2011, when the U.S. withdrew from Iraq. AQI had around 700-1000 fighters then. […]The U.S. is repeating a critical mistake by deprioritizing this effort at a pivotal moment when our gains are at their most fragile. The U.S. must take immediate steps to dampen ISIS’s resurgence in Iraq and Syria, including halting and reversing America’s ongoing withdrawal from Syria. – Institute for the Study of War


Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper made it clear to Turkey on Wednesday that it will face economic sanctions if it goes ahead with the purchase of a Russian missile defense system, as the standoff between the two NATO allies dragged on. – Associated Press

U.S. President Donald Trump may visit Turkey in July, Turkey’s President Tayip Erdogan said in an interview in Japan where he will attend the G20 summit and is expected to meet with his American counterpart. – Reuters

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday he had not seen indications in his talks with President Donald Trump that the United States will impose sanctions on Ankara over its purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems. – Reuters

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has taken a step toward allowing the sale of American weapons to the nation of Cyprus, in a move that could needle NATO ally Turkey. – Defense News

Howard Eissenstat writes: The weekend’s election results were a stunning rebuke to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The clear victor in the new Istanbul municipal election was the Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu, overturning 25 years of governance by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) or its precursors. It is a turning point for the city of 15 million and, indeed, for all of Turkey. The full repercussions of Sunday’s election may take years to fully understand, but some lessons are already clear. – Washington Post


The most striking feature of the Trump administration’s conference showcasing the economic side of its Middle East peace plan was what was largely absent: Criticism of Israeli policy toward the Palestinian territories. – Wall Street Journal

Palestinians on Wednesday poured scorn on the Trump administration’s $50 billion investment plan to help achieve Middle East peace, but U.S. Gulf Arab allies said the economic initiative had promise if a political settlement is reached. – Reuters

Senior Israeli officials believe that Russia has been disrupting civilian aircraft navigation systems for the past three week, according to reports released Thursday morning. Army Radio called the move a “hostile attack.” – Jerusalem Post

Oman said on Wednesday it was planning to open a new diplomatic mission in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and that a delegation from its foreign ministry would go to Ramallah for that purpose. – Reuters

Jared Kushner said Wednesday that Palestinians were still welcome to engage in his peace initiative, and accused their leaders of not caring about their own people for rejecting his $50 billion economic plan. – Agence FrancePresse

The Lebanese government and parliament both oppose a U.S. plan for settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said on Wednesday, the National News Agency reported. – Reuters

Raphael Ahren writes: For now, a peace deal with the Palestinians remains the ultimate glass ceiling that needs to be smashed before any Gulf state is ready to normalize ties with Israel. But here’s the good news: that glass ceiling is getting some serious buffeting this week. The exceedingly warm way in which Israelis are being received here is a remarkable testament to how times have changed. – Times of Israel

Arabian Peninsula

With support from the fiancée of the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the United Nations expert on extrajudicial killings called for an international investigation into his death on Wednesday, excoriating the United Nations for its “paralysis” and Saudi Arabia for its handling of the case. – New York Times

The Saudi Arabia-led military coalition in Yemen on Wednesday said it intercepted a suspected Houthi drone launched toward the kingdom, the state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported. – Reuters

An Iranian-made Ya Ali cruise missile was used in the 12 June attack on Abha International Airport in southwest Saudi Arabia, Colonel Turki al-Maliki, the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition said on 24 June. – Janes 360

The United Arab Emirates appeared to distance itself from U.S. claims that pinned attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz on Iran. – Bloomberg

Middle East & North Africa

Ever since late February, tens of thousands of Algerians have descended every Friday into the grand colonial boulevards of this capital and other cities. Triggered by the prospect of a fifth presidential term for an ailing octogenarian rarely seen in public, the protests — entirely peaceful — have called for an end to the police state. They call it the “Revolution of Smiles,” a tidal wave of optimism and goodwill coursing through the streets demanding a new system of government and, in a sense, a new nation. – Washington Post

Forces allied to Libya’s internationally recognized government on Wednesday seized the town of Gharyan south of Tripoli, home to the main supply base of eastern forces attacking the capital, witnesses and Tripoli officials said. – Reuters

At least seven civilians were killed when a shell mistakenly hit a home in the restive northern part of Sinai Peninsula, Egyptian officials said late Wednesday. – Associated Press

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Dr. Ali Erbaş, the Turkish minister of religious affairs, spoke at a June 18, 2019 memorial service that was held in Turkey in honor of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who had died the previous day. Erbaş referred to Morsi as a martyr and prayed for Allah to grant Turkish children and youth the ability to view people like Morsi as role models. Erdoğan said that he believes that Morsi, who he also said was a martyr, did not die a “normal” death, and that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is a weak coward, a tyrant, and a killer who should burn in Hell.  – Middle East Media Research Institute

Zaid Al-Ali writes: Constitutional reform in countries such as Algeria and Sudan present an opportunity to modify many of these rules to achieve a number of changes. These could include making concentration of power in the hands of specific institutions much harder, or increasing ways to hold those who abuse executive power accountable. – Washington Post

Korean Peninsula

The U.S. and North Korea have been engaged in informal talks about a third nuclear summit between the two countries’ leaders, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said, signaling an interest by both sides in breaking a monthslong lull in negotiations. – Wall Street Journal

Australian officials are urgently seeking information about an Australian man in North Korea after receiving a report that he had been detained by authorities in Pyongyang. – Wall Street Journal

North Korea said Thursday that South Korea must stop trying to mediate between Pyongyang and Washington, as it stepped up its pressure on the United States to work out new proposals to salvage deadlocked nuclear diplomacy. – Associated Press

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

Time was running out for the United States to formulate a new strategy to revive denuclearisation talks, a senior North Korean diplomat said on Thursday ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to South Korea. – Reuters

Inter-Korea commercial projects that can channel millions of dollars a year to Pyongyang may be used as leverage to boost talks on ending poor and isolated North Korea’s nuclear program, the South’s point man on the North said on Thursday. – Reuters


Billions of dollars worth of China-made goods subject to tariffs by the Trump administration in its trade fight with Beijing are dodging the China levies by entering the U.S. via other countries in Asia, especially Vietnam, according to trade data and overseas officials. – Wall Street Journal

A Texas jury has found that Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co. misappropriated the trade secrets of a Silicon Valley chip startup. – Wall Street Journal

As Chinese leaders head to the G-20 meeting this weekend, they’re in a confident mood. A trade deal with President Trump would be nice, but they seem to think it would do just fine without one. That is probably right for a little while. The long-term outlook is far less positive. Without continued rapid export growth, China will struggle to achieve high-income status. – Wall Street Journal

Canada’s Trade Minister Jim Carr vowed Wednesday to find out the source of fake Canadian export certificates, saying this alleged criminal activity represents another blow to Canadian farmers who have become collateral damage in a deepening row between Beijing and Ottawa. – Wall Street Journal

Chinese tech giant Huawei warned Thursday a U.S. senator’s proposal to block the company from pursuing damages in patent courts would be a “catastrophe for global innovation.” – Associated Press

U.S. President Donald Trump is set to hold much-anticipated trade talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Osaka at 11:30 a.m. (0230 GMT) on Saturday, a White House spokesman told reporters on Wednesday. – Reuters

U.S. and Chinese officials will meet in the United States this fall for bilateral talks about civil space, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday, amid growing concerns about China’s behavior in the rapidly expanding commercial space market. – Reuters

President Donald Trump said substantial additional U.S. tariffs would be placed on goods from China if there’s no progress on a trade deal after his planned meeting with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the G-20 Summit in Japan. – Bloomberg

Robert D. Kaplan writes: The Chinese vision for Iran to be a hub for its Belt and Road Initiative is something the United States is simply not going to change. A better approach is a suite of economic pressures, targeted cyber attacks and resumed negotiations — combined with loud, persistent calls for increased freedoms in Iran and the other participants in the initiative, as a way to undermine China’s position. – New York Times

South Asia

Top U.S. and Indian officials acknowledged Wednesday that a tariff dispute and the threat of U.S. sanctions over India’s planned purchase of a Russian weapon system remain unresolved, but said the differences don’t undermine the overall relationship between the two countries. – Wall Street Journal

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on Wednesday moved closer to opening a full investigation into alleged crimes against the Rohingya people who were driven from Myanmar to Bangladesh. – Reuters

Joint reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan between NATO and U.S. forces continue to face myriad challenges as they provide multilateral security sector assistance in the country, according the special inspector general for Afghanistan Reconstruction. John Sopko presented the findings from a report, “Divided Responsibility: Lessons From U.S. Security Sector Assistance Efforts in Afghanistan,” during a speech Thursday at a NATO conference. – Defense News

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a trip to India on Wednesday that he remained hopeful that neighboring Pakistan would chose the “right course” in cracking down on Islamist fundamentalists. – Reuters


Bands of protesters urged foreign governments to confront Beijing at the G-20 summit over moves they say infringe on the city’s autonomy, a strategy that risks antagonizing China’s government and alienating broad public support. – Wall Street Journal

An Australian army whistleblower charged with leaking secret documents to Australian Broadcasting Corp. reporters alleging misconduct in Afghanistan said on Thursday he welcomed state-owned ABC taking part in his case. – Associated Press

U.S. President Donald Trump renewed his criticism of the U.S.-Japan security alliance, the linchpin of Tokyo’s security policies, ahead of talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit in Osaka this week. – Reuters

Mass protests against Chinese President Xi Jinping’s attempt to encroach on Hong Kong’s judicial system have fortified neighboring Taiwan and other U.S. allies, according to lawmakers and analysts. – Washington Examiner

At the G-20 summit this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping may pressure U.S. President Donald Trump to halt a planned U.S. arms deal with Taiwan. Xi may even offer a tantalizing (but unreliable) concession on the trade dispute in return for concessions on Taiwan. Accepting such an offer would undermine U.S. national security and the democratic principles Americans support. – Defense News

Adam Taylor writes: That Trump would make the journey across the Pacific twice for Abe suggests that the Japanese leader’s persistent quest to be the U.S. president’s greatest foreign ally is bearing some fruit. […]America’s ability to dominate the summit will not just be a reflection of Trump’s personality, but also the continuing weight of U.S. interests at a supposedly global summit. The G-20, and the smaller Group of Seven that predates it, seem like relics of a time when multilateral approaches to global problems were a real possibility. – Washington Post


Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Trump plan to meet for at least an hour on the sidelines of this week’s Group of 20 summit in Japan, a Kremlin official said Wednesday, confirming plans for the first meeting between the leaders in almost a year. – Washington Post

A Georgian-American businessman who pitched a plan in 2015 to build a Trump Tower in Moscow met on Tuesday with the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating possible counterintelligence concerns related to President Trump’s business dealings in Russia during the 2016 campaign. – Wall Street Journal

President Donald Trump said Wednesday his lips are sealed about what he and Russian President Vladimir Putin say to each other behind closed doors. – Politico

NATO defense ministers considered on Wednesday how to deter Russia from launching a missile attack at short notice on Europe if a landmark treaty against land-based nuclear warheads collapses next month. – Reuters

Russia has warned that the United States and its allies want to exert their influence across the globe as the U.S.-led NATO Western military alliance warned it would explore new ways to tackle a new nuclear-capable missile system developed by Moscow. – Newsweek

David Satter writes: The evidence that Russia is responsible for deliberately downing MH17 is contained in details of the incident itself. […]The Trump administration has taken strong policy positions regarding Russia, but it has shied away from humanitarian issues. The evidence in the case of MH17, and Russia’s refusal to cooperate, is sufficient to hold Moscow accountable, to ban aircraft owned and operated by the Russian government from world airports, and to impose sanctions on Mr. Putin personally. Washington owes no less to the victims of MH17—and to anyone who gets on a commercial plane. – Wall Street Journal

Samuel Bendett writes: The Russian defense sector is gearing up for a long-term high-tech competition with its perceived adversaries – namely, the United States and NATO. In Moscow’s viewpoint, gone are the days when the country’s military looked with envy at the latest Western military actions around the world. While certain issues remain, the Russian MOD and its military-industrial sector are more in sync than at any point since 1991. […]This will challenge the U.S. military to develop new CONOPS in countering what it has not done for many years – a peer adversary eager to field breakthrough and advanced military technology in combat. – Fletcher Security Review


The Czech coalition government led by populist Prime Minister Andrej Babis has survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament over European Union subsidies that were paid to his former business empire. – Associated Press

Croatian Foreign and European Affairs Minister Marija Pejcinovic Buric was on Wednesday elected secretary general of the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly for the next five years, the current head said. – Agence FrancePresse

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May will meet Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan. – Politico

Boris Johnson, the favorite to become British prime minister, said the chances of Britain leaving the European Union without a deal are “a million-to-one” even as he repeated his promise to leave the bloc without a deal by the end of October. – Reuters

Britain’s Labour opposition risked further souring its relationship with the Jewish community after readmitting a lawmaker who was suspended for suggesting the party had been “too apologetic” about anti-Semitism. – Reuters

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: An effective NATO force planning effort must focus on mission capabilities – balance force strength, readiness, and modernization – and set rolling force goals at least five years in the future. NATO also, however, needs to make such efforts transparent. It must earn public confidence and support, and accept outside criticism and debate. It must also accept the fact that major NATO plans and activities cannot in practice be kept secret. They have too much visibility, and over-classification is likely to do more to confuse NATO efforts than a potential threat. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Dozens of people were killed in fighting during a foiled coup by a rogue state militia in Ethiopia’s Amhara region at the weekend, the regional government spokesman said on Wednesday, the first official report of significant clashes. – Reuters

Islamist insurgents killed at least 20 civilians in a northeast Nigerian village, a government-allied vigilante, a government and a security source said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Michael Rubin writes: Analysts and diplomats may debate how lasting Erdogan’s legacy on Turkey will be after his retirement, removal, or death. If they limit their discussions to Turkey, however, they will miss the larger picture. Earlier Turkish foreign-policy initiatives focused on the Middle East have failed, but Turkey’s turn toward Africa has had an impact that will only grow more significant with time. What Saudi Arabia was to Islamic extremism across the Arab world in the late 20th century, Turkey could be to Africa in the 21st. – National Review

The Americas

Venezuela’s top government spokesman on Wednesday called the country’s former spy chief a “traitor,” a “mercenary” and a “slave” to the United States, and accused him of working with opposition leaders not only to overthrow the government but also to kill President Nicolás Maduro, his wife and other senior government officials. – Washington Post

Venezuelan oil officials are attempting to regain control of the country’s U.S. refining subsidiary, Citgo Petroleum Corp., suing corporate directors appointed by U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó. – Wall Street Journal

The U.N. Security Council will be heading to Colombia in July for a firsthand look at implementation of the 2016 peace agreement between the government and the country’s main rebel group. – Associated Press

The Senate reached a bipartisan compromise Wednesday to let Democrats participating in the party’s first presidential primary debate in Miami this week vote on Iran, a Republican concession to clear the way for the massive 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. – Defense News

With the Senate’s passage of its version of a border supplemental funding bill Wednesday, and its rejection of the House measure, negotiations between the White House, Senate and House leaders will now attempt to nail down a compromise before Congress leaves for the July Fourth recess. – Roll Call


A claim by US officials that a retaliatory cyber attack ordered by the White House crippled Iranian missile launching systems will remain almost impossible to substantiate, experts say. – Agence FrancePresse

US President Donald Trump accused Twitter Wednesday of censoring him, alleging the social media platform was making it hard for him to get his message out. – Agence FrancePresse

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday that the company is reevaluating its policies around “deepfakes” after a doctored video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went viral on the platform in May, an episode the tech executive called an “execution mistake.” – Politico

President Donald Trump today suggested tech giants like Google and Twitter are the greatest threat to the integrity of the 2020 presidential election — and said anti-conservative bias among the companies had a greater impact in 2016 than Russian meddling. – Politico

Several Huawei Technologies Co. employees have collaborated on research projects with Chinese armed forces personnel, indicating closer ties to the country’s military than previously acknowledged by the smartphone and networking powerhouse. – Bloomberg


The House committee authorizing Coast Guard activities approved a measure that would guarantee the service’s active duty and civilian personnel are paid in the event of a federal government shutdown, as part of a two-year spending authorization bill. – USNI News

The U.S. Air Force wants to sprint toward buying new engines for the venerable B-52 bomber as quickly as possible. But disagreements between the service and House lawmakers over the Air Force’s acquisition approach threaten to slow down the program. – Defense News

BAE Systems, along with its partner, Iveco Defence Vehicles, announced on 25 June that they had received a USD67 million contract modification to design a new ACV variant with a 30 mm medium caliber cannon (ACV-30), as well as a command and control (ACV-C) variant that incorporates seven work stations to provide situational awareness and control of the battlespace. – Janes 360

Lockheed Martin executives are preparing for a stiff debate in Germany about the price tag of a next-generation anti-missile system formally proposed to Berlin just days ago. – Defense News

The U.S. Air Force is hosting an innovation contest for small businesses to improve simulators with technology like artificial intelligence. – Defense News

Today, the U.S. Navy is on the cusp of revolutionary changes in how warfare at sea is conducted. Akin to the shift from guns to missiles, this revolution will take the form of high-power pulsed mission systems. These include directed energy weapons such as lasers and stochastic electronic warfare systems, radiated energy systems such as the Air and Missile Defense Radar, and advances in kinetic energy weapons, including electro-magnetic railguns. – USNI News