Fdd's overnight brief

March 12, 2019

In The News


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was in Baghdad on Monday on his first state visit to Iraq since his election six years ago, shoring up political and trade relations as part of Tehran’s growing clout in the region. Rouhani, a relative moderate, used the start of his three-day trip to criticize the United States, which has sought to isolate Iran on the international stage. – Washington Post

An Iranian court has sentenced a U.S. Navy veteran for an unspecified crime, according to Iranian state-linked media, in a move that threatens to further strain relations between Washington and Tehran. – Wall Street Journal

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is seeking to boost economic links with Iraq on his first official visit to the neighboring country, at a time when the U.S. is upping efforts to curb Tehran’s regional influence. – Wall Street Journal

A prominent Iranian human rights lawyer has been sentenced to a total of 38 years in jail and 148 lashes in Tehran, her family say. – BBC News (UK)


Syrian government forces are using widespread sexual violence to humiliate and silence male prisoners, psychologists and a monitoring group said Monday, offering a rare window into a form of abuse rarely discussed by its survivors. – Washington Post

Violence in northwestern Syria has killed dozens over the past three weeks and displaced tens of thousands, raising concerns a truce reached six months ago between Turkey and Russia is in danger. – Associated Press

Kurdish-led forces on Monday pounded the last scrap of land held by the Islamic State group in eastern Syria after hundreds more people surrendered. – Associated Press

Around 20,000 Iraqis in Syria, including women and children who fled Islamic State’s last enclave, are expected to be sent home in weeks under an agreement with Baghdad, a senior official of the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Monday. – Reuters


U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham on Monday vowed to push for U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, in what would represent a new contentious political gift to Israel from the Trump administration. – Associated Press

Mass rallies were held both in Israel and around the world by the World Zionist Organization on Sunday in the wake of recent antisemitic events. The ralliers called governments in each of their respective countries to raise the issue of antisemitic incidents to the top of their priorities. – Jerusalem Post

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended Israel’s regular allowing of Qatari funds to be transferred into Gaza, saying it is part of a broader strategy to keep Hamas and the Palestinian Authority separate, a source in Monday’s Likud faction meeting said. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

Algeria’s ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said he won’t seek a fifth term in power, bowing to popular pressure after widespread protests shook the North African nation. […] The development comes as several authoritarian governments in the Middle East and North Africa region are attempting to reassert control eight years after the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions […]. If Mr. Bouteflika does relinquish power, his departure could prompt new hopes for democratic movements across the region. – Wall Street Journal

The flood of new gas has been bad news for traditional exporters, particularly Russia, which has had to slash gas prices to maintain sales to Europe. Many European countries have long sought to reduce their dependence on Russia and are eager to establish new suppliers even if that means doing business with autocratic states like Egypt and Qatar, a longstanding gas supplier embroiled in a bitter diplomatic feud with its Persian Gulf neighbors. – New York Times

Turkey has expelled three German journalists this month, igniting fresh concern over deteriorating press freedom in a country with a history of silencing opposition voices. – Time

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House senior advisers Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt discussed Middle East peace prospects with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Monday in Washington, an American source familiar with the meeting said. – Reuters

Tawakkol Karman writes: At a recent one-day humanitarian pledging conference for Yemen, Saudi Arabia pledged $500 million to help alleviate the crisis—a mere fraction of the estimated $100 to $200 billion it has spent destroying my country. – Time

Zvi Bar’el writes: October’s murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul is still tripping up Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ties to the West. – Haaretz

Korean Peninsula

The Trump administration has taken a harder-line approach to denuclearizing North Korea since the summit in Vietnam last month, raising doubts about whether the two sides will reach a deal on the centerpiece of President Trump’s foreign policy. In remarks Monday, a top U.S. envoy said the United States would not lift sanctions on North Korea until it completely dismantles its nuclear and ballistic missiles. – Washington Post

A South Korean presidential adviser says a possible North Korean rocket launch would be “catastrophic” for diplomacy on the North’s nuclear program. U.S.-based websites recently released satellite photographs indicating that North Korea has restored structures at its long-range rocket launch facility that it dismantled last year. – Associated Press

South Korea’s military said Monday it was closely monitoring North Korean facilities after a series of satellite images triggered international alarm that Pyongyang might be preparing a long-range missile or space launch. – Associated Press

North Korea is circumventing sanctions by the United Nations intended to choke the rogue regime, according to a report from the global organization. – Washington Examiner

U.N. experts say they are investigating possible violations of United Nations sanctions on North Korea in about 20 countries, from alleged clandestine nuclear procurement in China to arms brokering in Syria and military cooperation with Iran, Libya and Sudan. – Associated Press


To President Trump, all diplomacy is personal, especially with the two Asian strongmen he has courted most avidly, Kim Jong-un of North Korea and Xi Jinping of China. But Mr. Trump’s honeymoon with Mr. Kim came to an abrupt end in  Vietnam last month, and his conviction that agreements between nations are little different than real estate deals between bosses now faces another stiff test with the Chinese president. – New York Times

A high-profile group of think tank leaders and scholars is calling for the release of a Canadian policy adviser being held in China, warning that his detention threatens U.S.-China relations at a critical moment.  – Washington Post

Describing China’s internment of an estimated 1 million Muslims as a “horrific situation,” a U.S. envoy on religion called Tuesday for an independent investigation into the detentions and for the release of those being held. – Associated Press

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton says China’s actions in the South China Sea are “completely unacceptable” and the U.S. will continue to pursue actions to prevent Beijing from turning the area into “a new Chinese province.” – Associated Press

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen will next week visit the island’s diplomatic allies of Palau, Nauru and the Marshall Islands, a government official said on Tuesday, with a possible stopover in U.S. territory that would likely anger Beijing. – Reuters

The White House said on Monday it was “absurd” to suggest that President Donald Trump was an unreliable negotiator as China reportedly balks at a summit with President Xi Jinping over concerns Trump would walk away from a trade deal. – Reuters

Taiwan has requested a fleet of new fighters from the United States, but it didn’t specify a type, leaving it up to the U.S. to recommend an option, according to defense officials. – Defense News

Noah Feldman writes: Whatever Huawei Technologies Co. is doing by suing the U.S. government and six cabinet officials, it isn’t trying to win in court. The legal arguments mounted in its brief aren’t based on existing precedent. Although the brief cites the Constitution, as written the arguments are barely legal at all. […] When Huawei loses the suit, as it certainly will, the company — and the Chinese government — can say that the courts were in the pocket of the rest of the U.S. government. – Bloomberg

South Asia

Taliban fighters killed or captured an entire Afghan National Army company of more than 50 soldiers on Monday, Afghan officials said, the latest in a series of major attacks by the militant group even as it pursues a peace deal with the United States. – New York Times  

Officials from the International Criminal Court are in Bangladesh as part of a preliminary examination of whether a prosecution over the alleged deportations of Rohingya could be mounted, a U.N human rights investigator said on Monday. – Reuters  

Pakistan plans to offers dozens of gas field concessions in the coming year to fill in a fuel shortage, a senior official said, with Islamabad hoping a sharp drop in militant violence and changes to exploration policy will attract foreign investors. – Reuters

Pakistan’s military is taking a key role in the development of one of the world’s biggest untapped copper and gold deposits, which is currently stalled by a multi-billion dollar legal wrangle with foreign mining firms, multiple sources familiar with the situation said. – Reuters

Asad Hashim writes: The question is one that strikes at the heart of how power is distributed in Pakistan; of whether an elected civilian leader can exert control over the country’s powerful military; of whether Pakistan is truly willing to give up support for armed groups that it has used as proxies for decades; and of whether the country—which has long frustrated successive U.S. governments, likely none more so than Donald Trump’s administration—is truly changing its foreign-policy and security stances beyond a focus on neighboring India. – The Atlantic

Arzan Tarapore writes: The India-Pakistan crisis seems to have peaked. The two sides continue to trade intermittent small-arms and artillery fire across the Line of Control that divides Kashmir. India has shown itself to be more and more militarily aggressive after the 2016 and 2019 responses. Unlike the deniable 2016 raid, India’s 2019 strike at Balakot compelled Pakistan to retaliate. But an India with few other viable options for deterrence, increasingly enamored by military swashbuckling and encouraged by the United States, may become seduced by competitive risk-taking. – War on the Rocks


Russia is taking advantage of opaque corporate-registration laws, permissive tax environments and uneven anticorruption practices to expand its economic footprint in certain Western Europe nations, according to a report to be released Monday. – Wall Street Journal

President Vladimir Putin will not reply to a letter from the son of a woman killed by a suspected Russian nerve agent near the English city of Salisbury last year because Russia’s ambassador to Britain has already done so, the Kremlin said on Monday. – Reuters

The Trump administration is readying a tough stance against a Russian gas pipeline with sanctions, according to the Wall Street Journal. The move is driving tensions between the U.S., Germany, and other parts of the EU. The reason is a combination of geopolitics and competition in selling natural gas. – Fortune

Heather A. Conley, Donatienne Ruy, Ruslan Stefanov, and Martin Vladimirov write: The Kremlin has developed a pattern of malign influence across Europe. […] This network of political and economic connections—an “unvirtuous” cycle of influence—thrives on corruption and the exploitation of governance gaps in key markets and institutions. Ultimately, the aim is to weaken and destroy democratic systems from within. […] to truly eradicate this threat, Western democracies must acknowledge their enablement of malign economic influence and uproot it from their financial systems. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


In an 11th-hour round of negotiations, Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday night managed to wrestle new statements and language from European Union leaders that might help the British leader sell her unpopular Brexit deal to a skeptical Parliament. – Washington Post

The Trump administration has told the German government it would limit intelligence sharing with Berlin if Huawei Technologies Co. is allowed to build Germany’s next-generation mobile-internet infrastructure. – Wall Street Journal

British Prime Minister Theresa May secured concessions from the European Union over her Brexit divorce deal Monday, in a last-minute push to head off a large-scale defeat when the British Parliament votes on the agreement Tuesday. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. is channeling support to Ukraine’s navy to help counter Russian efforts to choke its neighbor’s economy and destabilize its pro-Western government by blocking access to ports. – Wall Street Journal

Britain faces a moment of truth Tuesday when parliament votes on Prime Minister Theresa May’s ill-loved Brexit plan — a day after she said she secured last-minute changes to the deal from the EU. – Agence France-Presse

Lockheed Martin UK is beginning a series of trials on a Warrior infantry fighting vehicle update for the British Army in hopes of swaying the Ministry of Defence to push forward with a manufacturing deal. – Defense News

France and Germany should band together and build a European aircraft carrier to boost the continent’s defense capabilities, according to Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a confidante and possible successor to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Kramp-Karrenbauer, who leads the Christian Democratic Union since Merkel stepped down from that job last fall, pitched the idea in a Sunday commentary in the Germany newspaper Die Welt. – Defense News

A Holocaust education center in Frankfurt, Germany, rebuffed criticism this week after appearing to compare Berlin’s plan to to revoke the citizenship of fighters for terror groups to the actions of the Nazi regime against Jews. – Times of Israel

The Netherlands saw a 19 percent increase in recorded anti-Semitic incidents in 2018 to a record 230 cases. The Center for Information and Documentation (CIDI) recorded 135 real-life incidents — those that did not occur online — Dutch Jewry’s watchdog group said in its annual report published Monday. – Times of Israel

Therese Raphael writes: Say at least this for Theresa May: She has thrown absolutely everything at the effort to make her European Union divorce deal palatable to Britain’s parliament. On Monday night that included a dramatic last-ditch trip to Strasbourg to sign off on the latest – and, according to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the last – changes to the Brexit agreement. It’s too early to say whether the gambit has worked. […]  But May has also promised them two further votes this week if they turn it down again: One on whether Britain should leave with no deal at all and another on whether it should seek a delay to the March 29 exit day. – Bloomberg

Latin America

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. would withdraw all remaining staff from its embassy in Venezuela due to the “deteriorating situation” there after several days of power outages sent the country deeper into chaos. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. government on Monday imposed sanctions against a financial institution jointly owned by Russian and Venezuelan state enterprises, accusing the bank of facilitating illicit transactions to benefit the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. – Wall Street Journal

In a reversal that seemed unimaginable just a few months ago, Guatemalan lawmakers are moving forward with a proposal to grant amnesty for war crimes committed during the country’s brutal 36-year civil war. – New York Times

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Monday called for a new mass demonstration as a devastating blackout that has left millions without power entered its fifth day and the US said it is withdrawing its remaining diplomatic personnel from Caracas. – Agence France-Presse

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed “the Communists in Havana” for the power outage that has worsened the humanitarian crisis unfolding under Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro. – Washington Examiner

Mohamed A. El-Erian writes: The widespread electricity outages that hit Venezuela on Friday were yet another reminder of an already tragic situation that is getting worse by the day, taking the country ever closer to the line that separates a fragile state from a failed and collapsed one. As the terrible human suffering mounts, and as the political situation gets more polarized, the international community is said to be getting ready to support an orderly transition from the current presidency – and for a simple reason: Venezuela’s protracted misery is not just intense and widespread, but also is spilling over its borders. – Bloomberg


The White House is proposing a budget of nearly $720 billion for the Pentagon for fiscal 2020, adding $33 billion to fund efforts against China and Russia, rogue states such as North Korea and Iran, and to fight Islamic State and other militants in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and other nations. – Wall Street Journal

The National Nuclear Security Administration will receive an 8.3 percent increase over its current budget, with an eye on completing production of a new low-yield nuclear missile this upcoming fiscal year. – Defense News

Editorial: The White House released its budget blueprint for fiscal 2020 on Monday, and the details reinforce the country’s real fiscal problem: Entitlement spending is swallowing up every other national priority, including defense. The big question is how much defense spending President Trump can salvage without accepting another bipartisan budget blowout known as an omnibus spending bill. – Wall Street Journal

Rick Berger and Mackenzie Eaglen write: A $743 billion annual military budget is a lot of money. Characterizing it as lacking in any way understandably raises eyebrows. But bipartisan agreement about what the Pentagon minimally needs for the year ahead should signal that President Donald Trump’s latest budget merely keeps the military treading water. – The National Interest

Long War

The mother of a London girl who ran away to join the Islamic State group in Syria urged the UK government on Monday to reinstate the teenager’s British citizenship after she lost her third child. – Agence France-Presse

The French jihadist who shot dead four people in a terrorist attack at a Jewish museum was on Tuesday sentenced to life in prison by a Brussels court, after prosecutors branded him a “coward” and a “psychopath”. – Agence France-Presse

Robin Simcox writes: Islamism poses substantial political and security challenges to governments across Europe. At present, it is unclear whether those governments are capable of successfully confronting Islamism’s challenges. This is, perhaps, a surprising proposition since Islamism is a very familiar ideology to many Europeans; it has decades-long roots in Europe. – Hudson Institute