Fdd's overnight brief

June 9, 2023

In The News


U.S. crude prices fell nearly 5% Thursday after a report of U.S.-Iran talks on a temporary nuclear deal that would allow the Islamic Republic to export more crude. Middle East Eye reported that the countries are nearing a stopgap agreement in which Tehran would curb uranium enrichment in exchange for Washington easing some sanctions. – Wall Street Journal 

The United States and Iran on Thursday both denied a report that they were nearing an interim deal under which Tehran would curb its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. – Reuters

For the second time in just months, Baku has warned its citizens against traveling to Iran in the wake of a deadly attack on the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran in January that it blamed on the “unstable situation in the Islamic republic.” – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Iran’s judiciary has handed down a five-year discretionary imprisonment sentence to labor activist Davood Razavi for organizing protests demanding better wages and working conditions. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Israel’s Economy Minister Nir Barkat said that Israel will never allow Iran to have nuclear weapons in an interview with CBS on Wednesday. Barkat, commenting on Iran’s non-compliance with UN nuclear investigators, said that Israel takes Iranian threats very seriously and will use all the means that it has to prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons. – Jerusalem Post

Amos Harel writes: One of the results of a new U.S.-Iran agreement will be – though some will probably claim the opposite – to eliminate the possibility of an Israeli airstrike on the country’s nuclear facilities. International legitimacy for this never existed to begin with, but after an agreement it will be nil, and Iran will be established as a legitimate nuclear threshold state. That will constitute the complete collapse of Netanyahu’s strategy to halt the Iranian nuclear project, the continuation of President Donald Trump’s rash and mistaken withdrawal in 2018 – under Netanyahu’s influence – from the original nuclear agreement. – Haaretz 

Russia & Ukraine

Ukraine has launched its long-anticipated counteroffensive, armed with Western weapons and trained in NATO tactics. Ukrainian troops intensified strikes in the southeast on Wednesday, according to four military personnel, including officers, The Washington Post reported. – Washington Post

Civil engineers and explosives experts theorizing about what could have caused the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam in southern Ukraine are starting to coalesce around the idea that it was a deliberate attack rather than a structural fault. – Wall Street Journal 

Ukrainian forces mounted a major attack in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia on Thursday, taking the offensive against the invading Russians in multiple places in the east and south, but there was no indication of a breakthrough in an operation that carries high stakes for Kyiv and its Western allies. – New York Times

Russian forces shelled the flood-stricken city of Kherson on Thursday, striking close to an evacuation point, only hours after President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the city to witness the aftermath of the destruction of a dam on the Dnipro River earlier this week. – New York Times

Vovchansk and the other towns and villages along Ukraine’s northeastern border with Russia have lived under shellfire from Russian forces across the border for months. But in the past five days, the attacks have exploded with a sudden intensity after groups of exiled Russian fighters — who are aligned with Ukraine against the Russian government — attacked several settlements inside Russia, and Russian forces responded with force. – New York Times

Ukraine’s domestic security service said on Friday it had intercepted a telephone call proving a Russian “sabotage group” blew up the Kakhovka hydroelectric station and dam in southern Ukraine. – Reuters

Russia unleashed a new air strike on Ukraine overnight, killing at least one person in a combined assault of cruise missiles and attack drones, Ukrainian authorities said. – Reuters

Ukraine could be in line to receive legacy F/A-18 jets from Australia, with approval from the U.S., as talks to provide Kyiv with U.S.-made F-16s rumble on. – Newsweek

Michael E. Hammond writes: If America fails to counter Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, an intervention that could be managed at relatively minimal cost and risk, it may have to confront him under far more costly and risky circumstances, with American lives on the line. – The Hill


Five people were killed in a shooting Thursday in an Arab town in northern Israel, police said, the latest in a wave of criminal violence tearing through the country’s Palestinian communities. – Associated Press

The Israeli government’s proposed judicial overhaul poses a threat to Palestinians, an independent body set up by the United Nations said on Thursday, adding to foreign scrutiny of the now-suspended reforms. – Reuters

Israeli F-16D fighter jets escort two American B-1 bombers as they made their way through Israeli airspace returning from the Persian Gulf, in an apparent show of force toward Iran amid lingering tensions in the region. – Times of Israel

Israel’s Economy Minister Nir Barkat said that Israel will never allow Iran to have nuclear weapons in an interview with CBS on Wednesday. Barkat, commenting on Iran’s non-compliance with UN nuclear investigators, said that Israel takes Iranian threats very seriously and will use all the means that it has to prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons. – Jerusalem Post


A dramatic slash in the cultivation of Afghan poppy, used to produce the majority of the world’s heroin, shows the Taliban’s willingness to enforce a ban on a cash crop many farmers rely on as the country’s debilitating economic crisis continues. – Wall Street Journal 

A suicide bomber targeted a memorial service in Afghanistan’s northeastern Badakhshan province on Thursday, killing at least 13 people, officials said. – Associated Press

UNICEF said Thursday it is deeply concerned by reports of the Taliban pushing out international organizations from Afghanistan’s education sector and ordering them to hand over their activities to local nongovernmental groups. – Associated Press

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a new process on Thursday that will enable Afghan nationals to renew their parole and continue to live and work in the United States. – Reuters


Lebanon must take urgent action on comprehensive economic reforms to avoid “irreversible consequences” for its economy, the International Monetary Fund said on Thursday. – Reuters

Lebanon’s foreign ministry said Thursday it was recalling its ambassador to France, Rami Adwan, after an investigation was opened into allegations of rape and intentional violence by the envoy. – Agence France-Presse

France appointed former foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian as French President Emmanuel Macron’s personal envoy for Lebanon, according to a report in the AFP on Wednesday. This move comes as Lebanon is still in a political crisis and lacks a president. Hezbollah, backed by Iran, generally tries to control who will become president even though Hezbollah has only a handful of seats in parliament. – Jerusalem Post

Saudi Arabia

In public, the Saudi government defended its actions politely via diplomatic statements. But in private, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman threatened to fundamentally alter the decades-old U.S.-Saudi relationship and impose significant economic costs on the United States if it retaliated against the oil cuts, according to a classified document obtained by The Washington Post. – Washington Post

By the time Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken wrapped up a visit to Saudi Arabia on Thursday, he and Saudi officials had discussed cooperation on a smorgasbord of issues: Iran, Sudan, the Islamic State, regional infrastructure, clean energy and the potential normalization of Saudi-Israel relations. – New York Times

Washington will press ahead with efforts to normalize diplomatic ties between its main Middle East allies Saudi Arabia and Israel, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday. – Reuters

Armin Rosen writes: At the same time, a beach resort near the planned city of Neom is expected to receive the first alcohol license in Saudi history. If there’s a contradiction here, MBS is convinced he can effectively manage it. He turns 38 in August, which means he’s young enough to find out whether he’s right. – Wall Street Journal 

Middle East & North Africa

The United Arab Emirates and Cambodia signed a bilateral trade agreement on Thursday, the Gulf state’s fifth such deal under a trade strategy launched in 2021. – Reuters

Russia and Oman have signed an agreement to avoid double taxation, Russia’s finance ministry said on Thursday, describing the move as an important step in deepening economic ties between the two countries. – Reuters

Western governments have been frustrated by the red-carpet treatment Arab countries have given Assad, fearing that their reconciliation will undermine the push for an end to Syria’s long-running civil war. But for Arab states, halting the Captagon trade is a high priority. Hundreds of millions of pills have been smuggled over the years into Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab countries, where the drug is used recreationally and by people with physically demanding jobs to keep them alert. – Associated Press

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has appointed a former US banker as the country’s central bank chief in the latest sign that Turkey’s president may be changing course on his unorthodox policies that have ignited a painful cost of living crisis and sent the lira sinking to record lows against the dollar. – Financial Times

The Israel Defense Forces on Thursday wrapped up a two-week drill focused on a potential multi-front war with Iran and its terror proxies across the Middle East, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah. – Times of Israel

Asli Aydintasbas writes: With the economy in rough shape and the Turkish lira on the cusp of devaluation, Erdogan needs things from the West. And with the Ukraine war grinding on, the West needs Turkey to play its role in containing Russia. Such a relationship of convenience falls far short of the “alliance of values” rhetoric that pervades NATO summit statements. But in troubled times like these, it will have to suffice. – Washington Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Taken together, the US visit and the upcoming China business conference, as well as other moves in the region to fight terrorism, show how the Gulf is playing a key role in the region’s affairs. Israel, which has ties to Bahrain and the UAE, is a part of this. – Jerusalem Post

Chaim Levinson writes: The United States, a vast country where Jews are an integral part, has an antisemitism czar. The issue is often on the president’s agenda. It’s time to stop going easy on Egypt. It’s a big strong country with stable institutions and a stable government. It benefits from the fruits of the cold peace as much as we do. – Haaretz

Korean Peninsula

North Korea has tolerated the widespread use of more stable foreign currencies like U.S. dollars and Chinese yuan since a bungled revaluation of the won in 2009 triggered runaway inflation and public unrest. The so-called “dollarization” helped ease inflation and stabilize exchange rates, enabling leader Kim Jong Un to establish a stable hold on power after he inherited that role in late 2011. But the trend poses a potential threat to Kim as it has undermined his government’s control over money supply and monetary policies. – Associated Press

Open AI Chief Executive Sam Altman is set to meet with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, as the country seeks to encourage domestic competitiveness in artificial intelligence. – Reuters

Clint Work writes: The development of Strategic Command, although understandable, quickens the pace of the decades-old security dilemmas on the Korean Peninsula, narrows the most critical decision-making windows, and crowds out opportunities for diplomacy. The explicit mention of South Korea’s Strategic Command in the Washington Declaration may indicate the alliance is gearing up to navigate these dilemmas in a more mature manner. The urgency of the environment certainly requires it but also underscores just how fragile the current status quo is on the peninsula. – War on the Rocks


Apple’s AirDrop and similar file-sharing programs that were used by protesters in China and Hong Kong in recent years face tighter controls under rules proposed by Beijing, the latest communications technology to fall foul of a broadening national-security clampdown. – Wall Street Journal 

China has called on the US to fulfill its “obligation” to allow Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee to attend a summit in San Francisco this year, underscoring the difficulty of engaging with sanctioned officials. – Bloomberg

Honduran President Xiomara Castro arrived in China’s financial hub of Shanghai on Friday, state broadcaster CGTN said, on a visit that will run until June 14. – Reuters

The Pentagon on Thursday dismissed a report in the Wall Street Journal about Chinese plans to set up an electronic eavesdropping facility in Cuba, saying it was not aware of any such effort and characterizing the report as “inaccurate.” – Reuters

Legislation to strip China of its status as a “developing nation” at some international organizations was passed by a U.S. Senate committee on Thursday, as members of the U.S. focus on competing with the Asian power. – Reuters

Hongkongers are rushing to download a popular protest anthem after the Chinese territory’s government filed for a court injunction that could compel US technology giants such as Google and Meta to block access to it. – Financial Times

There was one brief moment earlier this month when it appeared that there were cracks forming in the icy relationship between the United States and China. The scene was the opening dinner at a major security conference in Singapore, where Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who had been rebuffed in his request for a sideline meeting with his Chinese counterpart, spotted Gen. Li Shangfu across a crowded ballroom. – Washington Examiner

Editorial: As for China, Mr. Biden can strengthen his diplomatic hand by shoring up U.S. hard power. Ask Congress for more ships and munitions. Move more forces to the Pacific. Suspend the climate-change envoys that put the U.S. in a beseeching position to China. It’s embarrassing, and dangerous, to court an adversary that answers each call to engage with another hostile act. – Wall Street Journal 

Seth D. Kaplan writes: Countering the CCP’s influence tactics in a free society like the United States will always be difficult. By leveraging a wide range of non-state individuals and organizations, the Chinese party-state penetrates society in ways that our democratic culture finds hard to grasp, much less confront. WeChat adds a powerful lever to this mix by enabling the Chinese party-state’s propaganda machine to manage the Chinese-speaking public square in America. Given the difficulties of divesting, fixing, and monitoring the app, Washington should simply ban it. – The National Interest

Dan Blumenthal and Derek Scissors write: Reasonable people can differ over the state of Sino-American competition, in part because it’s reasonable to differ about what’s being competed over. If it’s wealth and prosperity, China has been shooting itself in the foot with recentralization under Xi. – American Enterprise Institute

South Asia

India’s foreign minister on Thursday hit out at Canada for allowing a float in a parade depicting the 1984 assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her bodyguards, perceived to be glorification of violence by Sikh separatists. – Reuters

Pakistan’s government will present its annual budget to parliament on Friday needing to satisfy the IMF to have any chance of securing the release of more bailout money, with the crisis-riven country due to hold elections by November. – Reuters

Pakistan’s ousted former prime minister Imran Khan secured bail on Thursday from the Islamabad High Court over new murder charges, meaning he cannot be rearrested in connection with those charges for the next 14 days, his lawyer said. – Reuters

A U.S. petroleum company signed an agreement with Sri Lanka on Thursday allowing it to import and sell fuel in the country, less than a month after Chinese petroleum giant Sinopec also acquired rights to enter the retail market, as the Indian Ocean nation grapples with an economic and energy crisis. – Associated Press

India is not planning to invite Ukraine to the summit of the Group of 20 industrialized and developing nations in September, its external affairs minister said Thursday. – Associated Press

Tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh protested on Thursday, demanding to be repatriated to Myanmar, so that they could leave the squalid camps they have lived in since fleeing a brutal military crackdown in their homeland in 2017. – Reuters

Imran Khan’s former allies announced the formation of a new political party, the latest setback for the embattled former premier as he clashes with Pakistan’s powerful army and the government. – Bloomberg


Taiwan activated its defence systems on Thursday after reporting 37 Chinese military aircraft flying into the island’s air defence zone, some of which then flew into the western Pacific, in Beijing’s latest mass air incursion. – Reuters

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu will make a previously unannounced visit to Europe next week, four sources briefed on the matter said, and is expected to appear with the Czech president at one event in a diplomatic breakthrough. – Reuters

China’s largest naval training ship sailed for the Philippines on Friday, its last stop of a regional “friendly” tour, amid growing unease over Chinese maritime activities in the South China Sea. – Reuters

South Korea might be making “wrong bets” in the Sino-U.S. rivalry, the Chinese ambassador in Seoul said, urging Seoul to stop “decoupling” from China and restore economic and diplomatic ties. – Reuters

Australia’s government plans legislation to ban swastikas and other Nazi symbols nationwide due to an increase in far-right activity, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said Thursday. – Associated Press

Malaysian officials on Thursday condemned a Singapore-born stand-up comedian who mocked Malaysia and made fun of the 2014 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 during a skit in the United States. – Associated Press

Separatists in the Indonesian region of Papua where a New Zealand pilot was taken hostage in February have been siphoning off government aid money to buy black market guns for a deadly guerrilla war, officials say. – Reuters

India and China must find a way to step back from potential confrontation in the western Himalayas, India’s foreign minister said on Thursday, fearing that the militarised, disputed border could lead to conflict between the nuclear-armed neighbours. – Reuters

The Southeast Asian bloc ASEAN will hold its first-ever joint military exercise in the South China Sea, its chair Indonesia said on Thursday, the latest multilateral security drills at a time of rising tension and uncertainty in the region. – Reuters

Japan has conveyed “strong concern” and lodged a protest against China after the Chinese Navy entered Japan’s waters near Yakushima Island on Thursday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said. – Reuters


Poland faces European Union legal action over a new law that allows authorities to ban politicians from public office for alleged pro-Russian activities—a move detractors say could let the government persecute opposition officials ahead of parliamentary elections later this year. – Wall Street Journal 

Sweden and Finland stunned NATO members last year with their applications to join the bloc, but already they are slotting smoothly into the military alliance. – Wall Street Journal 

Spain will appeal to President Emmanuel Macron’s ambition to make the European Union a “third pole” in world affairs in its bid to secure vital French backing for a stalled EU trade deal with South America, according to three senior government and diplomatic sources. – Reuters

Giorgia Meloni and Olaf Scholz pledged to work more closely on boosting energy security and fixing the European Union’s asylum system. – Bloomberg

Romania demanded Russia halve the number of employees at its embassy in Bucharest, saying it needs to match the level of staffing at Romania’s own mission in Moscow. – Bloomberg


With its citizens fleeing and many of its cities on fire, Sudan is hurtling toward the kind of collapse that devastated Somalia more than three decades ago at the outbreak of its still-ongoing civil war, regional analysts warn. – Washington Post

Desperate to feed his children since their country was plunged into war, Sudanese electrician Ahmed Siri has sold off the family furniture. During breaks in the fighting, he combs the rubble of bombed-out buildings for scraps of food and bottled water. He has padlocked the kitchen to ration dwindling supplies. – Wall Street Journal 

The United States on Thursday suspended all food aid to Ethiopia, where its contributions feed an estimated 12 million people, citing “widespread and coordinated” theft of emergency rations in a countrywide scheme overseen by Ethiopian government officials. – New York Times

Guinea-Bissau’s opposition coalition has won a majority in legislative elections that will restore parliament after a 13-month absence, but likely end the president’s hopes for constitutional reform. – Reuters

The United Nations envoy to Sudan, a key mediator in the country’s brutal conflict, is no longer welcome in the African country, Sudanese authorities say. – Reuters

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa will hold talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping as Pretoria considers switching the venue of an upcoming BRICS summit to avoid having to execute an international arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin if he attends. – Bloomberg

The Americas

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will announce more than $100 million in new assistance for the Caribbean when she visits the Bahamas on Thursday, including the establishment of two U.S. embassies. – Reuters

A federal judge in Mexico has charged another Venezuelan migrant for his alleged role in the March blaze at a Mexican detention center that left 40 dead and dozens more wounded. – Associated Press

The World Bank Group’s new president, Ajay Banga, will visit Peru and Jamaica next week, kicking off a months-long global tour aimed at accelerating the global lender’s evolution to tackle the climate crisis and reinvigorate its development mission, the World Bank said on Thursday. – Reuters


Meta Platforms (META.O) on Thursday introduced WhatsApp Channels, a feature that the social media giant said would help make the app a “private broadcast messaging product.” – Reuters

When Google’s artificial intelligence chatbot Bard recently began asking for precise geolocation information, it may not have seemed unusual to many based on the tech giant’s propensity to want to know as much as possible about everyone. – CyberScoop

Bradley Tusk writes: Artificial intelligence is the next evolution of the internet and of technology, but here in the U.S., we haven’t even regulated internet 2.0 yet. There are still no national laws protecting consumer data privacy. Section 230 of the Telecommunications Decency Act, which allows and incentivizes platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter to promote toxic content no matter how harmful, is alive and kicking, despite President Biden and former President Trump each calling for its repeal or reform. – The Hill 


Given the grave rhetoric, reports of possible 10% to 20% cuts to Army special operations forces — a prime force for competing in the “gray zone” to achieve U.S. aims short of armed conflict — seem misaligned with U.S. goals. While it is important to weigh the potential strategic ramifications of these reductions, it is as critical to recognize that they are just the latest manifestation of a misalignment between U.S. defense strategy and resources. – Defense News

A blanket hold by a lone U.S. senator on all high-level military promotions could prevent the confirmation of as many as five of the nominees to serve as the president’s most senior military advisers. – Defense News

The U.S. Marine Corps is examining what unmanned systems and disruptive technology will benefit the force during amphibious operations in the coming decades, and which combination of ships would best serve future missions. – Defense News

Long War

Attacks linked to Islamic State have killed more than 100 people in Afghanistan, the Middle East and Africa this calendar year alone, outpacing 2022, and officials warn the extremist group is pursuing new territory, new followers and fresh resources. – Washington Post

A knife-wielding man stabbed four toddlers and two adults in a playground in southeastern France on Thursday in an attack that President Emmanuel Macron described as an act of “absolute cowardice.” – Washington Post

The Pakistani Taliban targeted security forces in a northwestern province in Pakistan on Thursday, killing two officers and a guard at a nearby bank, authorities said. – Associated Press