Fdd's overnight brief

March 16, 2021

In The News


Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and former senior adviser, praised the Biden administration for calling “Iran’s bluff” on renewing nuclear talks, arguing that it helped show that the original 2015 deal no longer holds up. – Bloomberg

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said on Monday that the United States should lift sanctions and give guarantees that mistakes made by the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump will never be repeated. – Reuters

The United States should act quickly to revive Iran’s nuclear deal, because once Iran’s presidential election period kicks off it is unlikely much will happen until later this year, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Monday. – Reuters

Iran urged Britain on Monday to avoid “politicising” the legal process against British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliff, who faces a new charge of “propaganda against the system.” – Reuters

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard on Monday inaugurated a new underground facility designated for missile storage, the country’s state TV reported. – Associated Press

After Amir Hekmati was released from Iranian custody in a 2016 deal trumpeted as a diplomatic breakthrough, he was declared eligible for $20 million in compensation from a special U.S. government fund. But payday never arrived, leaving Hekmati to wonder why. […]Newly filed court documents reviewed by The Associated Press reveal FBI suspicions that he traveled to Iran to sell classified secrets — not, as he says, to visit his grandmother. – Associated Press

Iran denied its involvement in a series of recent attacks against Iraq late Monday night. The attacks targeted US bases. – Jerusalem Post

Twelve House Democrats and twelve House Republicans sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week. They argued that the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran did not sufficiently ensure that the Islamic Republic could never obtain a nuclear weapon. – Jerusalem Post

Ilan Berman writes: Today, Iran’s opposition confronts a similar danger. Since late 2017, Iran has been buffeted by persistent protests that—though more modest in scope than 2009’s uprisings—have proven to be both resilient and broadly based. […]That’s a message the new campaign is seeking to convey to the Biden administration. The hope among its proponents, clearly, is for the White House to recognize what they already know: It is the Islamic Republic itself that is the primary obstacle to civilizational advancement in their home country. – Newsweek


The U.N. special envoy for Syria said Monday that international diplomacy is crucial to end Syria’s 10-year war and it’s important to establish a new format to bring together key nations with an influence on the conflict, including the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Arab states and the European Union. – Associated Press

President Bashar al-Assad, who with the help of Russian and Iranian forces has all but crushed the insurgency, faces a challenge that may be just as daunting – rebuilding a country from the rubble when economic headwinds are gaining strength. – Reuters

A United Nations body working to ensure justice for war crimes committed by all sides in Syria has provided information and evidence to 12 national jurisdictions, its chief disclosed on Monday as the country marked a decade of war. – Reuters

As Syria marks a decade of conflict the United Nations expressed “profound regret” on Monday that it has not yet been able to mediate an end to the civil war. – Reuters

Syria foiled a suicide bombing plot in the capital Damascus with security forces killing three people they described as terrorists and arresting three others, state news agency SANA said on Monday. – Reuters

Missiles and rockets struck fuel tankers in northern Syria near the Turkish border, causing casualties, Turkey’s defence ministry and local rescue workers said. – Reuters


Turkey has sent a diplomatic note to Greece and Israel claiming that the two countries must seek “its permission before assuming work on a proposed undersea power cable in eastern Mediterranean waters,” according to reports in Ankara on Monday night. – Jerusalem Post

Pakistan has agreed to, yet again, extend a deal with Turkey for T129 Atak helicopters — a planned procurement riddled with delays. – Defense News

Asli Aydintasbas writes: But the European Union has leverage that the United States lacks: It is Turkey’s top trading partner and structurally tied to Turkey through Turkey’s bid to join the E.U. In coordination with the Biden administration, Europe could use that leverage to at least try to persuade Erdogan to honor European Court of Human Rights decisions[…]. Focusing on a few symbolic cases and trading economic incentives for improvement on human rights makes more sense than simply issuing self-righteous reports on abuses. – Washington Post


Roaa Khater, who was director of the Education Department in the Druze village of Mas’ade for most of the past decade, says the civil war has had a “significant” impact on the identity of the younger generation. […]The younger generation, in particular, has different priorities, she says. “The Druze in the Golan Heights experience security and prosperity: quality of life, education, employment. At the end of the day, this is what’s really important to them – and this is what they find in Israel.” – Haaretz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a scheduled campaign appearance at an event in southern Israel on Monday, shortly after a Gaza terrorist group released a threatening video aimed at the premier. – Times of Israel

Israel will come under an onslaught of 2,000 rockets and missiles every day during a future war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, OC Home Front Command Maj.-Gen. Uri Gordin warned on Monday. – Jerusalem Post

Israeli exports represent three percent of the global total between 2016 and 2020. Israel’s big three defense giants, Elbit Systems, IAI and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, are world leaders in the industry. – Jerusalem Post

IDF soldiers on Monday evening identified three terrorists who threw firebombs at homes in the town of Beit El in the Binyamin region. – Arutz Sheva

Palestinian representatives on Monday condemned Kosovo for opening an embassy in Jerusalem, after it became the first Muslim-majority territory to recognize the city as Israel’s capital. – Agence France-Presse

Israel and the United Arab Emirates will exchange official permanent representatives of their respective police forces, Walla reported on Monday. – Algemeiner


U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s comments about supporting a Yemen free from foreign influence are “positive”, Houthi official Mohammed Ali al-Houthi said on Twitter on Monday. – Reuters

Authorities in southern Yemen on Sunday released a high-profile journalist whose six-month detention and mistreatment directly implicated the U.S. and its close partner, the United Arab Emirates. – Huffington Post

Hussein Ibish writes: The main challenge is convincing the Houthis to allow the Saudis to leave on reasonable terms. […]The conflict in Yemen has given Tehran plausible deniability while repeatedly striking at its main regional rival in its exposed underbelly.In theory, it shouldn’t be that difficult to incentivize the Houthis to come to terms. A political agreement would have to recognize and institutionalize the power they have accumulated over the past five years. – Bloomberg

Gulf States

At least five rockets hit the Iraqi military air base of Balad north of Baghdad on Monday, without causing casualties, Iraqi security officials said. – Reuters

Oman has cut off access to the buzzy new audio chat app Clubhouse, the country’s telecommunications regulator confirmed Monday, setting off fears that authorities across the Persian Gulf may censor a rare forum for discussion of sensitive topics in the region. – Associated Press

Mohammed Soliman writes: The Arabian Gulf faces a trade-off between security dependency on the United States and economic dependency on China, and it has little desire to pick between them. In the short term, the region will likely have to swiftly address the U.S. pressure on allies to officially or unofficially ban Huawei from their 5G networks. In the longer term, the Gulf states must seek greater strategic autonomy from the United States; it is only by forging their own path that they will be able to successfully navigate the coming U.S.-China cold war. – Middle East Institute

Middle East & North Africa

Hundreds of thousands of Jordanians like Qraih are faced with incarceration because of draconian debt laws that violate international human rights law, according to the report published Tuesday by Human Rights Watch. – Associated Press

Libya’s first unified government in seven years was sworn in, as a political reconciliation that seeks to end almost a decade of conflict in the OPEC member gathers pace. – Bloomberg

Editorial: There are voices of alarm. Gen Joseph Aoun, the Christian army commander, last week all but ignored President Aoun’s (no relation) order to clear the roads of protesters and barricades, asking instead where the political class was taking the country. […]In their refusal to permit accountable government while pretending to negotiate with each other they are leading Lebanon, historically a strategic east-west crossroads on the Mediterranean, to failure as a state. – Financial Times

Korean Peninsula

The Biden administration has tried to restart discussions with North Korea over the fate of its nuclear program, but its overtures have not been returned, the White House press secretary confirmed on Monday. – New York Times

North Korea on Tuesday denounced Washington for raising “a stink” on the Korean Peninsula by going forward with joint military exercises with South Korea, striking a confrontational tone in its first official comment on the Biden administration. – New York Times

Top U.S. envoys on a mission to rally Asian allies around a common approach toward China found themselves distracted by a more immediate security concern: North Korea. – Bloomberg

South Korean President Moon Jae-in apologized over allegations of a land speculation scandal that has rattled his government and led the minister responsible for oversight to tender his resignation. – Bloomberg

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday the United States would continue to work with allies towards the denuclearization of North Korea. – Reuters

The United States has sought to make contact with North Korea through multiple channels to “reduce the risk of escalation,” but has not received a response, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said on Monday. – Reuters


As President Biden devotes himself to dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, Republicans are striving to elevate China policy as a top issue, pressuring him to take an aggressive stance as Americans’ opinion toward the global rival grows more negative. – Wall Street Journal

China’s government has asked Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. BABA -0.69% to dispose of its media assets, as officials grow more concerned about the technology giant’s sway over public opinion in the country, according to people familiar with the matter. – Wall Street Journal

American financial giant Vanguard Group has suspended plans to launch a mutual-fund business in China. – Wall Street Journal

Signal appears to have been blocked in China, where the messaging app, one of few foreign platforms still accessible within the Great Firewall, was often used by dissidents, activists and journalists. – Washington Post

U.S. relations with China won’t improve until Beijing stops its economic coercion against America’s close regional ally, Australia, a senior aide to President Joe Biden told the Age newspaper. – Bloomberg

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Tuesday that Britain would like a positive relationship with China but not at the expense of upholding its values. – Reuters

Tim Culpan writes: Alibaba’s bottom line probably won’t suffer too much should a mandatory divestiture be enforced. […]One would think having too much money is a nice problem to have. It probably is, except in a place where the supply of something far more valuable — free speech — is in the hands of a single monopolist. – Bloomberg 

Tom Rogan writes: The broader issue China faces, here, is how these protests cut deeply at the Communist Party’s governance model. The fundamental basis of Xi Jinping’s regime is the idea that China’s people will tolerate authoritarianism as long as they benefit from expanding employment and social stability. Myanmar’s chaos undercuts that narrative and will, even if only peripherally, fuel Xi’s paranoia about the stability of his long-term rule. – Washington Examiner

Ben Dubow writes: While swaying public opinion on the election was not a main focus of Chinese international propaganda in 2020, messaging also failed at its three main objectives: deflecting blame for Covid, minimizing the backlash to the mass detention of Uyghurs, and obfuscating over Chinese maneuvers in Hong Kong. […]China has the resources to adapt to the Russian and Falun Gong model — picking a side, or both sides, and pumping out conspiracies and vitriol. Past underperformance is no guarantee of future failure. – Center for European Policy Analysis


Further cuts in aid to Afghanistan by the United States and other donors could cause the government to collapse and return the country to chaos similar to the 1990s, a U.S. government watchdog said on Monday. – Reuters

Afghan peace talks, now stalled in Qatar, should be rotated to other venues, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United Arab Emirates said, indicating the Qatari hosts had not pushed hard enough for the Taliban to reduce violence. – Reuters

U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad plans to attend a Thursday conference in Moscow on accelerating the Afghanistan peace process, the State Department said on Monday. – Reuters

The Taliban will send a 10-person delegation to an Afghanistan peace meeting hosted by Russia this week, the insurgent group’s spokesman said on Monday. – Reuters

Editorial: The Biden Administration is scrambling to find a responsible way out of Afghanistan by the May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops set by Donald Trump. Problem is, a prudent withdrawal on such a tight timeline is impossible. […]This is the best advice we’ve seen. There is no easy exit from Afghanistan, but the worst would be a rushed retreat by May 1 that would serve only the Taliban and its jihadist allies. – Wall Street Journal

James Dobbins writes: This American effort to quick march the two Afghan parties into a coalition government seems unlikely to produce results fast enough to facilitate a withdrawal of remaining American and NATO forces by May 1. […]In addition to the points offered in the U.S. paper, such conversations could usefully seek more specificity regarding modifications to the current constitutional order, arrangements to monitor and enforce a permanent cease fire, procedures to amalgamate the two opposing armies and provisions to reintegrate former fighters back into civilian life. – The Hill


Defense and foreign ministers from the United States and Japan are meeting Tuesday to discuss their shared worry over China’s growing territorial ambitions in the East and South China seas as the Biden administration tries to reassure key regional allies. – Associated Press

A leader of a new pro-Beijing political party said an overhaul of how Hong Kong picks its leaders could weaken property interests enough to enact policies to address the financial hub’s infamous housing issues. – Bloomberg

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday called for deeper economic and security ties with Japan, as he and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin seek to use their first trip abroad to strengthen Asian alliances in the face of China’s assertiveness. – Reuters

Britain wants to expand its influence among democratic nations in the Indo-Pacific region while preserving strong ties with the United States, a document laying out the country’s post-Brexit foreign policy priorities will say on Tuesday. – Reuters

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will visit India at the end of April in what will be his first major international trip after Britain’s exit from the European Union as part of efforts to boost UK opportunities in the region, his office said on Monday. – Reuters

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter said on Monday the Myanmar military’s violence against protesters was “immoral and indefensible” after the country’s bloodiest day since the Feb. 1 coup. – Reuters

Taiwan’s de facto embassy in Myanmar has advised Taiwanese companies operating in the country to fly the island’s flag and hang signs stating they are from Taiwan to avoid being confused with China, after Chinese-financed factories were set ablaze. – Reuters

When President Joe Biden’s national security team prepares to meet their Chinese counterparts at a high-stakes summit in Alaska on Thursday, one of the most urgent issues they must tackle is Beijing’s growing threat to Taipei. – Politico

Editorial: Myanmar’s people are engaged in a desperate struggle to save their country from the restoration of a brutal and backward tyranny. The United States, which led the diplomatic campaign that brought about civilian rule and partly free elections, must now support the resistance with all of the economic leverage at its disposal — and press its European and Asian allies to do the same. – Washington Post

Walter Russell Mead writes: But if Americans haven’t always been noble or wise in their Pacific policies, they have always been engaged. That is unlikely to change today. The region is more central to U.S. prosperity and security than ever. Seeking a balanced and secure regional order—without war traps, Thucydidean or otherwise—is a challenging task. […]But if allies sometimes doubt U.S. wisdom, the American commitment to the region is so deeply grounded in history and the structure of U.S. interests that walking away from the region is the one thing Washington is least likely to do. – Wall Street Journal


Russia’s foreign minister discussed the situation in Lebanon and the Middle East on Monday with a delegation from the militant Hezbollah group, which paid a rare visit to Moscow. – Associated Press

Russian companies are cashing in on a global equity boom, leveraging growth potential and low valuations as investors largely ignore geopolitical risks and the risk of further sanctions on Moscow, analysts and bankers said. – Reuters

Anna Borshcevskaya and Ivana Strander write: Of course, the West should keep its attention on the familiar fronts of Putin’s aggression—Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus. But it cannot afford to ignore other vulnerable regions and more subtle Russian tactics, or wait for Russia to decline. […]Putin’s aims have a global dimension: for Russia to win, and the U.S.-led global order has to erode. It’s time for a unified Russia strategy that looks at multiple fronts. The alternative—letting Russia’s actions go unchecked in key strategic regions—will have serious consequences. – Newsweek


The European Union announced on Monday that it is taking legal action against Britain for what it called a violation of a legal agreement over Brexit and Northern Ireland that was part of a trade pact forged between the two sides last year. – New York Times

Germany is betting the U.S. administration will take a pragmatic approach to the Nord Stream 2 project to ship Russian gas to Europe and is pushing for the pipeline’s completion in defiance of U.S. opposition, officials and diplomats said. – Reuters

The White House on Monday urged Britain and the European Union to preserve the Good Friday accord protecting peace in Northern Ireland after the EU launched legal action against Britain for changing trading arrangements Brussels says breach the Brexit divorce. – Reuters

The Northern Ireland protocol painstakingly negotiated between Britain and the European Union is the solution and not the problem for the province as it deals with the difficult fallout from Brexit, the EU’s envoy to the United Kingdom said. – Reuters

Swiss authorities on Monday confirmed a police raid at the home of a Swiss software engineer who took credit for helping to break into a U.S. security-camera company’s online networks, part of what the activist hacker cited as an effort to raise awareness about the dangers of mass surveillance. – Associated Press

Pinchas Goldschmidt writes: Europe must take notice of America and its actions, in fully allowing its Jewish population to freely practice their religion. This is the only way a country can guarantee the safety and continuation of its religious groups. We need to see positive action that reinforces religious life and practice, not just empty words. The “exodus” that Ms. McDonald predicts is not hyperbole, but reality. – Times of Israel


Gunmen kidnapped three teachers from a primary school in northwestern Nigeria on Monday, government officials said, as parents of students kidnapped in another school four days earlier staged a protest demanding the government bring their children home safely. – Wall Street Journal

Kenya withdrew from an International Court of Justice case on a maritime-border dispute with neighboring Somalia, and is seeking for the matter be resolved by the African Union. – Bloomberg

Sudan’s prime minister has written to the African Union, the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States to formally request their mediation on the Nile water being used to fill Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the Sudanese foreign ministry said on Monday. – Reuters

Attackers killed at least a dozen villagers in an overnight raid on a village in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a witness and two civil rights groups said on Monday. – Reuters

Michael Rubin writes: To refuse to address the genocide with moral clarity only encourages deniers and revisionists who would turn to violence in pursuit of political power.Perhaps diplomats fear that Kagame might seek political capital from formal genocide recognition. […]President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have said they seek to return gravitas and morality to American foreign policy. Ending denial and revisionism about the 1994 Rwanda genocide in the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs would be a good place to start. – The National Interest

The Americas

President Joe Biden in his early days in office has vowed a dramatic reordering of U.S. foreign policy from his predecessor. Yet on some of the most difficult issues, he’s shown a preference for using the scalpel over the sledgehammer as he implements his own agenda and tries to move away from Trumpism. – Associated Press

A regional court in West Africa has ordered the immediate release of a Venezuelan businessman close to President Nicolás Maduro, finding that his arrest in Cape Verde on U.S. money laundering charges was unlawful. – Associated Press

U.S. officials have arrested and charged two men with assaulting U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick with bear spray during the Jan. 6 riot, but they do not know yet whether it caused the officer’s death. – Associated Press

Public opinion of China is becoming entrenched at a record low in Canada, with Beijing’s use of arbitrary detention and treatment of its minority Muslim population resonating strongly in a new poll. – Bloomberg

Enrique Krauze writes: Mr. Biden can check Mr. López Obrador’s autocratic tendencies and promote a moderate approach that might be of great benefit to the U.S.-Mexico relationship and to Mexicans. He has rightly stressed that unity is the path forward among neighbors. He said as much in his inaugural speech: “Let’s begin to listen to one another. To hear one another, see one another, show respect to one another.” – New York Times


Tonya Riley writes: The idea of a cybersecurity rating has been pushed by Congress’s bipartisan Cyberspace Solarium Commission as well as some industry groups. […]The administration is not considering granting the government additional authorities to surveil domestic Internet traffic for hackers. Some experts and lawmakers worry that the blind spot created by the limited authorities has created an easy way for international hackers to avoid detection by using U.S. networks. – Washington Post

Erica Borghard and Jacquelyn Schneider write: Countries may get better use out of cyber operations that focus less on altering another country’s behavior and more on tackling malicious cyber campaigns through better intelligence and improved defense and resilience, complemented by counter-cyber operations that target the infrastructure and capabilities countries use to conduct cyber operations in the first place. For signaling, sometimes old-school methods works best: hotlines, diplomacy or even big weapon systems get more resolve bang for your signaling buck than cyber operations. – Washington Post

Charles Clancy and Rick Ledgett write: Software vulnerabilities have been with us for more than three decades, since the Morris Worm crippled internet servers in 1988. We cannot tolerate it any longer. The course of action in the Software Bill of Materials standard, taken during a bona fide national cyber emergency, could finally get us one step closer to the security our critical systems desperately require. – The Hill

Avraham Shama writes: The Biden administration could start by developing a comprehensive national cybersecurity blueprint.It must realize, as did Putin years ago, that cyberwars are a new phase in international relations. […]In the long run, developing and implementing a comprehensive national cybersecurity strategy is even more important and lasting than Biden’s American Rescue Plan. The alternative is Russian occupation of our cyber grid. – The Hill


The rolling release of a previously secret report and investigation of the 1963 loss of USS Thresher (SSN-593), the Navy’s worst submarine disaster, is providing new lessons for today’s sailors and shipbuilders, said the former submarine commander who brought suit to declassify the documents. – USNI News

The Coast Guard remains in big demand at home and overseas as it continues to modernize the service and develop its force, the service’s top officer said in an annual address last week. – USNI News

A guided-missile cruiser that underwent repairs for a fuel leak is back in port again for more work following a brief weekend underway, the service told USNI News. – USNI News

The Army is expected to release its new doctrine, one that describes how the service will operate in the future across air, land, sea, space and cyberspace, in summer 2022, Lt. Gen. D. Scott McKean, the director of the Army Futures and Concepts Center under Army Futures Command, told Defense News in a March 15 virtual event. – Defense News

The U.S. Department of Defense launched a new center to research integrating computing and communications across the military’s large networked systems. – C4ISRNET

Patty-Jane Geller and Rebeccah Heinrichs write: The United States has extended the flawed New START agreement with Russia for five years—receiving not a single reform for its agreement to extend. The New START extension does not equate to nuclear stability, and the U.S. should not expect it to moderate Russia’s aggressive behavior. […]The United States must not become lulled into a false sense of security offered by another five years of New START; instead, the Biden Administration, with Congress, must remain committed to ensuring the credibility of the U.S. nuclear deterrent and assurance of allies. – Heritage Foundation

Long War

American Special Forces soldiers began training Mozambican troops this week as part of an effort to repel a spreading insurgency in northeastern Mozambique that American officials say is linked to the Islamic State. The insurgency, near some of the world’s biggest gas reserves, has killed at least 2,000 civilians and displaced another 670,000. – New York Times

A violent Islamic extremist group is “riding a wave of momentum” in sub-Saharan Africa, cementing ties with ISIS and posing a greater challenge to governments there, say analysts and U.S. officials. – Defense One

Aid agency Save the Children says Islamist militants are beheading children as young as 11 in Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado. – BBC 

Chuck Rosenberg and Tom O’Connor write: Creating a federal crime of domestic terrorism, targeting conduct and not thought, does not require more resources or more authorities for the FBI. It does not require designating domestic groups as terrorist organizations. […]What it does do is close a moral equivalency gap in the law. It would provide a federal venue to prosecute these cases and would put all terrorists, foreign and domestic, on the same footing. Congress should pass this legislation quickly, and in bipartisan fashion. – USA Today