Fdd's overnight brief

March 11, 2021

In The News


The Biden administration is caught between critics in Congress and allies in Europe over returning to an accord to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions without bending to Tehran’s demands for financial relief. – New York Times

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe must be allowed to return home to be with her family. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the United States will not make any concessions to Iran in order to bring Tehran to the negotiating table concerning a return to the 2015 nuclear deal. – Haaretz 

State Department Iran envoy Rob Malley tells Axios the U.S. and Israel want to avoid the sort of public confrontation over Iran that took place during the Obama administration. – Axios

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has indicated that the US must end sanctions in order for “diplomacy to survive.” This is a key talking point in English for the Iranian regime. Iran studies the US carefully in trying to craft a narrative that will fit with US domestic pressure for a new Iran nuclear deal. It has done this before prior to 2015, telling an America wary of war in the Middle East that there would be “war” if there was no deal. – Jerusalem Post


The Biden administration’s recent airstrikes in Syria have resurrected the debate in Washington on both the president’s legal ability to independently authorize military action and whether the strikes are strategically prudent in the first place. – Haaretz

Syria’s 10-year-long civil war has killed or wounded almost 12,000 children and left millions out of school in what could have repercussions for years to come in the country, the U.N. children’s agency said Wednesday. – Associated Press

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for justice for victims of torture and other atrocities in Syria’s decade-long war, saying civilians had suffered the “greatest crimes the world has witnessed this century”. – The National

The election of Joe Biden to the White House sparked concern in the Syrian opposition[…]. According to the opposition, these policies were manifest in a failure to press Assad to reach a political solution in Syria, and in giving Iran a free hand in Syria as part of efforts to conclude the nuclear deal with it. – Middle East Media Research Institute


The U.S. and Israel will hold its first virtual strategic consultative group meeting on March 11, the White House announced on Wednesday. – Reuters

Yehya Al-Sinwar has been re-elected to head Hamas in the Gaza Strip for a second term, officials said on Wednesday, reflecting his control over both political and military wings of the Islamist group that rules the Palestinian enclave. – Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit the United Arab Emirates on Thursday in an opportunity to showcase new Gulf ties before a closely contested election in Israel, its public broadcaster Kan said.- Reuters

Palestinian Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Shtayyeh said that the Palestinian appeal to the International Criminal Court (ICC) shatters the Israeli “monopoly on pain” and Israeli claims that the Jews are the only ones who were “tormented by the Nazis and so on.” – Middle East Media Research Institute

Zvi Bar’el writes: Should the elections take place on their scheduled date, Israel could face a similar situation as in 2006 when Hamas won a sweeping election victory. But this time there would be a Palestinian government and parliament comprised of Fatah, Hamas and other factions, an American administration perhaps willing to recognize that government, and international support for it, diminishing Israel’s ability to implement its ongoing policy of separation between Gaza and the West Bank, and between Hamas and Fatah. – Haaretz


The Lebanese army said on Wednesday it had started clearing roadblocks eight days after protesters burnt tyres to block roadways across the country in anger over the country’s economic meltdown and political deadlock. – Reuters

Lebanon’s caretaker interior minister said on Wednesday the country’s security forces were drained and unable to fulfil their duties as a financial meltdown and political deadlock bite. – Reuters

Michael Rubin writes: As Lebanese learn they cannot depend on Hezbollah and that the group cares only for its core leadership, the time is now to bypass the Beirut elite, pepper southern Lebanon with micro-grants, and strike a knockout blow to Hezbollah’s claims to legitimacy once and for all. – 19FortyFive

Arabian Peninsula

United Arab Emirates and Israel’s governments have entered formal talks to establish a quarantine-free travel corridor between the two countries to boost bilateral exchange following a normalisation deal, state news agency WAM reported on Wednesday. – Reuters

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) said on Thursday it will jointly develop an advanced drone defence system with United Arab Emirates’ state-owned weapons maker EDGE. – Reuters

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen destroyed on Wednesday a “hostile aerial target”, belonging to the Iran-aligned Houthi forces in Yemen’s Marib city, Saudi state TV reported. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia will take action to deter attacks on its oil facilities, its foreign minister said on Wednesday, following an attack on the heart of the industry this week by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement. – Reuters

A court in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday denied the appeal by one of the kingdom’s most prominent political activists that would have allowed her to travel freely, her supporters said, weeks after her release from prison. – Associated Press

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may meet in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, a well-placed Emirati source said on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

Nicholas DeAntonis writes: Biden, like Kennedy, is confronting the Saudis — but neither punished Saudi leaders. And so long as the Saudis are still a geostrategic ally, many will be unsatisfied with the Kingdom’s lack of human rights accountability. This does not, however, mean that U.S. leaders should not push back, and press the Saudis. Biden has made it clear that human rights and a strategic partnership must coexist, and egregious violations of human rights by the Saudis will not be completely ignored. – Washington Post

Middle East & North Africa

The father of a missing Iraqi anti-government activist who waged a public campaign trying to bring to account a militia suspected of abducting him was shot and killed on Wednesday, a human rights monitor and security officials said. – Associated Press

The presidents of Turkey and Russia remotely inaugurated the construction of a third nuclear reactor at the Akkuyu power plant in southern Turkey Wednesday, vowing to continue their close cooperation. – Associated Press

The speaker of Tunisia’s parliament, Rached Ghannouchi, said he backs calls for a new national dialogue to address the country’s political standoff and constant disputes over the constitution. – Reuters

Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah abruptly canceled a planned visit to the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem on Wednesday over a disagreement with Israeli authorities about his security detail, the Kan public broadcaster reported. – Times of Israel

Libya’s long-divided parliament on Wednesday approved an interim government mandated to bring the fractured country together after a decade of chaos and violence, and to oversee elections in December as part of a U.N.-backed peace plan. – Reuters

Christine McVann writes: The U.S. military posture in the Middle East has already decreased over the years as major combat operations have wound down. Yet given the new realities surrounding threats to the United States and the Biden administration’s priorities outside the Middle East, additional drawdowns are in order. […]Through these efforts, the administration can reassure allies that it will make good on its partnerships despite resource constraints and shifting priorities—while maintaining the capability to rapidly shift resources back to the Middle East should the need arise. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

A new agreement with South Korea on sharing the cost of keeping U.S. troops on the Korean peninsula is early evidence that President Joe Biden is shifting America’s approach to alliances in Asia and beyond. It shows he will cut allies a break to build unity in competition against China and Russia. – Associated Press 

World powers bear responsibility for ignoring crimes against humanity that may still be perpetrated by authorities in North Korea amid a focus on its nuclear programme, a U.N. human rights investigator said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will travel to Japan and South Korea next week, the State Department and Pentagon said on Wednesday, in the first overseas and in-person trip by top cabinet members of the Biden administration. – Reuters

Secretary of State Antony Blinken dismissed as untrue reports that the South Korean government is sending $1 billion to Iran to resolve a sanctions dispute. – Bloomberg

Shane Smith and Brad Glosserman write: The lack of meaningful trilateral cooperation between the United States, Japan, and South Korea makes deterring North Korea more difficult. Pyongyang is poised to exploit gaps between Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo. […]North Korea’s growing capabilities make those threats too dangerous to ignore. Trilateral deterrence on the part of the United States, Japan, and South Korea should be a pillar of, not a supplement to, U.S. strategy toward North Korea. – War on the Rocks


Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, will meet next week with two senior Chinese government officials, the Biden administration’s first in-person diplomatic encounter with its chief foreign rival. – New York Times

As the White House continues to work on another major spending bill to follow the $1.9 trillion stimulus, momentum is beginning to gather for what might become Congress’s second big piece of legislation in the Biden era: a bill aimed at countering China’s economic influence. – Washington Post

China is complaining anew about recent reporting by the BBC, days after summoning the British ambassador to Beijing to register displeasure over a recent article she penned defending press freedom. – Agence France-Presse

Brussels is poised to reveal the full details of its controversial market-access deal with China, as it seeks to build a case for an accord that has come under attack because of Beijing’s human rights record. – Financial Times

President Biden and congressional allies are eager to undercut China’s so-called “vaccine diplomacy,” as the rollout of American-made vaccines provides the U.S. government with an alternative to Beijing’s influence-peddling. – Washington Examiner

The White House acknowledges an ongoing genocide against the Uyghur Muslims by the Chinese Communist Party, ending days of stubborn resistance by the State Department to say such an atrocity is happening in the present tense. – Washington Examiner

Robert Shrimsley writes: For many, the tilt is a triumph of storytelling over reality. It is the region where the next century will be shaped and Britain is right to want to play a part. But the UK is not a key player in the Pacific and a strategy for the democratic world must be shaped by the US and include the EU. India’s democratic credentials are increasingly in question. But stories have power and the unifying theme of the strategy is that the UK is selling itself as an ally in the struggle against an overmighty China. – Financial Times

South Asia

A leaked State Department document presents the clearest picture yet of a political settlement to the Afghan conflict that would satisfy the Biden administration and pave the way for the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country. – Washington Post

Boris Johnson is planning a spring trip to India as part of Britain’s new “Indo-Pacific tilt” strategy, in the first major bilateral visit by a UK prime minister since Theresa May toured Africa in 2018. – Financial Times

China has approved a 10 billion yuan ($1.54 billion) currency swap with Sri Lanka, a government spokesman in Colombo said on Wednesday, giving some respite from concerns about public finances. – Reuters

Editorial: The Biden administration is right to pressure the Afghan leader to put his country’s interests over his own. But it must also be prepared for the all-too-likely possibility that the Taliban will reject the far-reaching compromises it is being asked to make, and instead seek a military victory. In that case, the United States must be prepared to leave its forces in place. – Washington Post


A Facebook Inc. consortium withdrew its bid to build a new internet conduit between California and Hong Kong after months of pressure from U.S. national-security officials, the latest sign of a deepening rift between the two governments. – Wall Street Journal

Sean Turnell, an Australian economic advisor to deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, is being treated well since he was detained last month, his wife said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Britain said on Wednesday that proposed changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system would be another attack on the freedoms of its former colony, and that the government had raised its concerns directly with Beijing. – Reuters

The U.N. Security Council agreed on a statement on Wednesday that condemns violence against Myanmar protesters and urges military restraint, diplomats said, but dropped language condemning the army takeover as a coup and threatening possible further action due to opposition by China, Russia, India and Vietnam. – Reuters

The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on two children of Myanmar’s military leader Min Aung Hlaing and six companies they control in response to the military’s Feb. 1 coup and the killing of protesters since the takeover. – Reuters

Myanmar’s military junta has removed Arakan Army (AA) insurgents from its list of terrorist groups because the faction has stopped attacks and in order to help establish peace across the country, state media said on Thursday. – Reuters

Myanmar’s ruling military council will only be in control of the country for a certain period of time and will hold an election and hand power to the winning party, its spokesman said on Thursday. – Reuters

Japan will reaffirm its strong relationship with the United States and discuss the “difficult” regional security situation in the “two-plus-two” meeting of foreign and defence chiefs next week, the government’s top spokesman said on Thursday. – Reuters

Myanmar’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi accepted illegal payment worth $600,000 plus gold while in government, a junta spokesman said, adding that the information had been verified and many people were being questioned – Reuters

Taiwan has accused one of China’s biggest crypto companies of illegally running two research centres on the island, as it investigates a novel scheme to poach the country’s brightest chip designers. – Financial Times

A 20-year-old Singaporean man was detained on Wednesday under the Internal Security Act for his plan to stab local Jewish community members after their prayer service at Maghain Aboth Synagogue in the city-state, The Straits Time reported. – Jerusalem Post

A U.S. Navy destroyer conducted a Taiwan Strait transit today, continuing a recent push for the Navy to operate between mainland China and the island it claims. – USNI News

China’s parliament defied a warning from the Biden administration on Thursday as it ratified a controversial election law that will sharply dilute the proportion of democratically elected lawmakers in Hong Kong. – Financial Times

Editorial: Our advice to Mr. Chan is to stop trying to convince the world that Hong Kong is what it was and accept that he’s now flacking for the man who really runs Hong Kong: Chinese President Xi Jinping. – Wall Street Journal


A senior official from the Northern Ireland Office is to be sent to the US to try to build relations with the administration of President Joe Biden. It comes amid UK-EU tensions over the UK’s decision to extend an exemption on Brexit checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Irish supermarkets. – BBC

The EU urged the U.K. to come clean about its exports of vaccines, amid an increasingly terse dispute where the bloc accused Britain of having an export ban. – Bloomberg

Swiss voters passed a referendum on banning face-covering veils, prompting the country’s Muslim and Jewish groups to protest that infringement on religious freedoms. – Haaretz


The U.S. on Wednesday imposed sanctions on two of Islamic State’s fast-growing affiliates in Central Africa for the first time, underscoring the rising threat posed by the group outside the Middle East. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that Eritrean forces in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region must withdraw, saying the situation is unacceptable and must change. – Reuters

Ivory Coast Prime Minister Hamed Bakayoko, who was seen as a possible successor to President Alassane Ouattara, has died in Freiburg in southwestern Germany, two days after his 56th birthday, the government said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The Americas

United Nations human rights experts said on Wednesday they were looking into allegations that Venezuelan police forces had killed 200 people this year and investigators raised concerns about possible summary executions. – Reuters

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved keeping nearly 2,300 National Guardsmen at the U.S. Capitol through May 23, the Pentagon said Tuesday evening. – The Hill

The heads of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations praised the Biden Administration’s announcement Tuesday of sanctions against two interrogators from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, made on the 14th anniversary of Iran’s kidnapping of former FBI agent Robert Levinson. – Algemeiner 

Thomas J. Baker writes: A menu of federal criminal laws already on the books can be and have been invoked to fight domestic terrorism without compromising the First Amendment. The Bill of Rights can’t get lost in an urge to “do something” that will make some advocates feel better. As former FBI Director William H. Webster frequently reminded us agents: “We must do the job the American people expect of us, but in the manner that the Constitution demands of us.” – Wall Street Journal

Daniel F. Runde, Linnea Sandin, and Amy Doring write: The U.S.-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act provides some instruments that the Biden administration can and should use in its broader approach to Central America, but it is only one part of the solution to complex issues in the region. […]Ultimately, assistance that strengthens regional institutions in the long term will be the most significant form of aid and tool for achieving the Biden administration’s goals in Central America. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Hackers said they accessed internal video feeds at several companies, including Tesla Inc., and at public agencies by breaching the network of security-camera vendor Verkada Inc., the latest cybersecurity incident in which a supplier unwittingly opened a back door into client networks. – Wall Street Journal

Russia slowed down Twitter for hundreds of thousands of users on Wednesday after regulators accused the platform of failing to remove banned content. It’s the latest escalation between a government entity and a U.S. social media company over ongoing debates shaping the boundaries of global communications. – Washington Post

U.S. lawmakers and security experts are voicing concern that foreign governments are staging cyberattacks using servers in the U.S., in an apparent effort to avoid detection by America’s principal cyberintelligence organization, the National Security Agency. – Wall Street Journal

The Kremlin said on Wednesday that Moscow had no desire to block any internet resources after the state communications regulator said it was restricting the use of Twitter but that companies had to follow Russian law. – Reuters

Hackers have infiltrated the Norwegian Parliament’s computer systems and extracted data, officials said on Wednesday, just six months after a previous cyber attack was made public. – Reuters


The Pentagon is again considering a reduction in aircraft carrier force structure as part of the upcoming Fiscal Year 2022 budget submission to Congress, according to two sources familiar with the discussions. – USNI News

The Marine Corps should purchase fewer CH-53K King Stallions while it is still testing the helicopter’s capabilities, a new report from the Government Accountability Office found. – Marine Corps Times

Northrop Grumman is initiating the build of a first production representative prototype of its 20mm chain gun dubbed “Sky Viper” for the U.S. Army to evaluate for Future Vertical Lift aircraft, the company said March 10 during a media briefing. – Defense News

The Space Force awarded four launch missions worth $385 million to SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, bringing the number of missions assigned under its heavy-lift launch contracts to seven. – C4ISRNET

Christina Bembenek writes: Officials responsible for personnel need to appreciate the appeal of QAnon and similar extremist conspiracies and actively work to shift the narrative to the values that have made the military one of the most respected institutions in the country. This is not a partisan endeavor, and the military should not feel compelled to find examples on “both sides” of extremism. – War on the Rocks