Fdd's overnight brief

March 18, 2021

In The News


Iran has recently made significant advances in the development of its weapons industry, including precision-guided rockets and missiles, cruise missiles and drones. – Haaretz

After a yearlong investigation, Iran’s civil aviation agency on Wednesday released its final report on the crash of a Ukrainian passenger plane that killed 176 people last year, revealing no new details about the shootdown that has provoked outrage from affected countries and concerns from U.N. investigators. – Associated Press

The Iranian Khorgo underground ballistic missile site is almost operational after new launching positions were constructed, satellite images obtained by Fox News show.Fox News

A top Iranian security official on Wednesday blamed “deceptive strategy” by the West for holding up any revival of nuclear talks, not “tactical problems” and Iran’s domestic politics as stated by France’s foreign minister. – Reuters

Iran’s pragmatist president accused hardline opponents on Wednesday of obstructing efforts to lift U.S. sanctions, in remarks that demonstrate how an upcoming election in Iran is now looming over the new U.S. administration’s plan for a thaw. – Reuters

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Politico that Tehran is prepared to wait for the United States to come back around to the original framework of the 2015 nuclear plan, but, until then, the two sides will remain where they are. – Politico

The Biden Administration has told Beijing it will enforce Trump-era sanctions against Iranian oil as shipments from the Islamic regime to China have soared, a senior US official said. – Financial Times

Graeme Wood writes: Whenever there is a hint of a change in President Joe Biden’s policy or personnel working on Iran, one can rely on Wang to give his view, confidently but rarely stridently, informed by 40 months of involuntary fieldwork. The Biden administration has signaled a willingness to unfreeze relations with Iran—to revisit the Obama-era nuclear deal, which the Trump administration halted. Wang used to think rapprochement was a good idea, and he even told his Iranian interrogators so. They accused him of trying to subvert the Iranian government from within. – The Atlantic


Turkey’s efforts to shut down one of the country’s largest opposition parties drew a sharp rebuke from the Biden administration late Wednesday, which warned that the actions by Turkish authorities could “unduly subvert the will of Turkish voters,” a State Department statement said. – Washington Post

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s nationalist ally on Thursday welcomed a case by a top prosecutor demanding the closure of the pro-Kurdish opposition, saying the party should be shut, “never to be opened again.” – Reuters

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday he would meet his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias in Turkey on April 14, after the NATO members resumed talks to seek common ground in a decades-old maritime dispute. – Reuters


The Biden administration is crafting a plan aimed at resetting U.S. ties with the Palestinians that all but collapsed under former President Donald Trump, according to an internal draft memo. – Reuters

Israel has reportedly received a letter from the International Criminal Court formally detailing the scope of its war crimes investigation against Israel and Palestinian terror groups, Channel 13 reported Wednesday. – Times of Israel 

Israeli and US officials agreed to set up a joint team for sharing intelligence about Iran’s nuclear program during recent strategic talks, according to a report Wednesday. – Times of Israel

Yoel Zilberman writes: Domestic security challenges are a national priority, and we must focus on them intensively for at least the next 10 years. We must dramatically increase the number of police officers. […]Presence must be generated in all parts of the country, and at all hours of the day. The voluntary return of illegal weapons to the police must be allowed, and if a person with an illegal weapon is later caught, he or she should be arrested immediately. – Algemeiner


Lebanese President Michel Aoun called on prime minister-designate Saad al-Hariri on Wednesday to form a new cabinet immediately or else make way for someone who can. – Reuters

France and its international partners will seek to increase pressure on Lebanon’s politicians in the coming months, a French diplomat said on Wednesday, although he did not envisage sanctions against individuals in the immediate term. – Reuters

Lebanese protesters briefly attempted to storm the economy ministry on Wednesday to denounce exploding prices of basic goods as the local currency collapses. – Agence France-Presse

Impoverished groups in Lebanon could soon receive more aid after a letter from international donors showed on Wednesday there had been an agreement to hand out assistance in hard currency as the Lebanese pound crashed to a new low. – Reuters

Arabian Peninsula

This small outpost is on the front lines of a continuing battle between the Houthi rebels and Yemen’s U.N.-recognized government, which is trying to hold on to Marib, its last stronghold in the north of the country and site of a coveted oil refinery. Wall Street Journal

President Joe Biden defended his decision to waive any punishment for Saudi Arabia’s crown prince in the killing of a U.S.-based journalist, claiming that acting against the Saudi royal would have been diplomatically unprecedented for the United States. – Associated Press

Michael Knights writes:  Washington and its partners should also privately encourage Saudi Arabia and the UAE to quietly reinsert a handful of medium artillery units—namely, self-propelled 155-millimeter howitzers, surveillance drones, and short-range air defenses. […]For its part, Washington should consider providing targeting intelligence against Houthi frontline commanders in situations where such strikes are deemed safe, putting the crosshairs on personnel that the Houthis cannot so easily replace. – Washington Institute

Patrick Schmidt writes: Washington can also lead the development of a regional aerial threat assessment group as an intermediary with the other Gulf Cooperation Council states, Jordan, and Israel (whose success with the Arrow, David’s Sling, and Iron Dome systems could prove particularly valuable). Such initiatives would be a bilateral win-win: Riyadh would see them as evidence of U.S. commitment, while the Biden team could use them to advance a vital relationship that has challenged every previous administration. Ultimately, strong U.S. support for air defense would open the possibility for cooperation on a range of other issues, from proliferation to climate. – Washington Institute

Gulf States

The United Arab Emirates has suspended preparations for an April diplomatic summit in Abu Dhabi, reports Yediot Ahronot. – Jerusalem Post

The United Arab Emirates will not get involved in Israeli electioneering, an Emirati official said Wednesday, in pointed comments amid fresh speculation Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been seeking to visit the Gulf state ahead of next week’s elections. – Agence France-Presse

India and the UAE on Wednesday discussed ways to strengthen energy cooperation, India’s oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan said, despite the South Asian nation asking its refiners to reduce their reliance on Middle Eastern oil. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

A panel of child rights experts sharply criticized the U.N. secretary-general’s decisions on a global blacklist of parties responsible for harming children during conflicts, saying government forces including from Israel, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Somalia and the Saudi-led coalition fighting rebels in Yemen should not have been excluded. – Associated Press

Hal Brands writes: The fundamental problem America faces in the Middle East is that the relative decline in the region’s global significance has not erased Washington’s regional economic and security interests. […]These dynamics make it wholly appropriate to seek ways of securing U.S. interests that are less resource-intensive, from light-footprint counterterrorism to deals — such as the Iran nuclear pact or a settlement of the conflict in Yemen — that reduce the potential for a more explosive crisis. But they also make it inherently difficult to arrange regional affairs in a way that permits Washington to fully reorient toward other issues. – Bloomberg

James Jeffrey writes: The main diplomatic resource is the engagement of key officials, with only enough for one to three serious international issues in a term. The second diplomatic resource is partners in the Middle East, which include a dozen countries with military relationships with the United States, and our allies in Europe whose national interests have been exposed for the region. Are military presences and programs now sufficient or not enough to protect American interests? What is the balance between the military availability elsewhere and the geopolitical cost of withdrawal from the region? […]The administration must address each of these critical issues for a semblance of success in the Middle East. – The Hill

Korean Peninsula

North Korea sees no reason to return to nuclear talks with the U.S., a top Pyongyang diplomat said, despite multiple efforts by the Biden administration in recent weeks to engage. – Wall Street Journal 

The Biden administration made a pitch to South Korean officials on Wednesday for greater collaboration with the United States and Japan as they counter China, a course that could be challenging after years of disagreements between Seoul and Tokyo. – Washington Post

As it ends its first high-level diplomatic tour of Asia on Thursday, the Biden administration is banking on international alliances in the region to help stem the growing threat posed by North Korea’s ballistic missiles and nuclear capabilities. – New York Times

America’s top diplomat on Thursday pressed China to use its “tremendous influence” to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, hours after the North said it will ignore U.S. offers to resume negotiations. – Associated Press

Josh Smith writes: Washington, meanwhile, has insisted on complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and the facilities needed to build them. The United States has never publicly said it would reduce its own military presence in return, and regularly stresses its commitment to defending South Korea. Duyeon Kim, with the U.S.-based Center for New American Security, said the wording around denuclearisation is only a big deal if Pyongyang makes it an issue. – Reuters


President Biden is engineering a sharp shift in policy toward China, focused on gathering allies to counter Beijing’s coercive diplomacy around the world and ensuring that China does not gain a permanent advantage in critical technologies. – New York Times

The U.S. Commerce Department said it served subpoenas Wednesday on multiple Chinese companies as part of an ongoing U.S. effort to target foreign communications technology and services that could threaten national security. Wall Street Journal

Beijing plans to press Washington to reverse many of the policies targeting China introduced during the Trump presidency in the first face-to-face meeting of senior U.S. and China officials since President Biden’s election, according to people with knowledge of the plans. Wall Street Journal 

As Western governments assess whether the crackdown on Uyghurs and other minorities in China’s Xinjiang region constitutes genocide, Beijing has slowed the information flow from the area to a trickle, obscuring conditions. – Washington Post

The European Union should expect countermeasures if it imposes sanctions against Chinese officials over alleged human rights abuses, Chinese state media outlet China Daily wrote on Wednesday. – Reuters

China on Wednesday said it “lodged solemn representations” with the United States and Japan over a statement by top officials from both countries that raised concerns about Beijing’s behaviour in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and the South China Sea. – Reuters

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said Wednesday it has begun efforts to revoke authorization for China Unicom Americas, Pacific Networks and its wholly-owned subsidiary ComNet to provide U.S. telecommunications services. – Reuters

China has issued a new warning to U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration against sailing Navy warships through the disputed waters near Taiwan. – Newsweek

Farah Stockman writes: Of all the threats that China poses, the greatest might just be its example to the rest of the world of a successful alternative to American democracy, which has been marred by economic inequality, racial unrest and insurrection. To effectively counter China, Americans must get their own house in order and remind the world — and themselves — that democracy can still deliver for ordinary people. – New York Times


President Biden said it would be “tough” to meet a May 1 deadline to withdraw all remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan, publicly indicating for the first time that he could extend the American troop presence there. – New York Times

Russia hosts a key summit on Thursday to revive the Afghan peace process, the first in a series of meetings that make unlikely allies of Washington and Moscow as they try to pave the way for an interim government in Kabul and end the bloodshed. – Reuters

Four people were killed and nine wounded when a roadside bomb hit a bus carrying Afghan government employees in Kabul on Thursday, while nine Afghan security force members died in a helicopter crash late on Wednesday, officials said. – Reuters

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday appointed veteran French diplomat Jean Arnault as his personal envoy on Afghanistan and regional issues. – Reuters


When a Bahraini prince flew to Nepal to climb Mount Everest this week, he didn’t show up empty-handed: Among his cargo were some 2,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine, according posts on his climbing team’s Instagram account. – Washington Post

Thailand’s parliament has failed to pass a bill that would have allowed changes to a military-backed constitution enacted after a 2014 coup, stalling a move by lawmakers to address a key demand of mass street protests last year. – Reuters

Japanese courts delivered conflicting rulings on two nuclear reactors on Wednesday, lifting an injunction on one and slapping a no-restart order on another, highlighting the fitful state of the industry’s recovery 10 years after the Fukushima disaster. – Reuters

Myanmar faced growing isolation on Thursday with increasingly limited internet services and its last private newspaper ceasing publication as the military built its case against ousted elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi. – Reuters

Taiwan’s newly-appointed defence minister said on Wednesday it has strengthened deployments in the disputed South China Sea and that the United States has approved the export of sensitive technology to equip Taiwan’s new submarine fleet. – Reuters

The United States is “critical” to Taiwan’s survival as a democracy on China’s doorstep, the country’s de facto ambassador to Washington said in an interview on Tuesday. – Newsweek

Editorial: Promoting the Quad is a smart move by the Biden administration. But it still must strengthen U.S. military capabilities in the region and bolster trade relationships with Asian countries if it is to effectively counter China in the coming years. The Quad is no substitute for U.S. economic and military strength. – Washington Post

Frida Ghitis writes: If the generals in Myanmar thought seizing power would be easy, they were mistaken. The country’s citizens are showing astonishing determination as they push back against a military coup that trampled what was a young, fragile, imperfect democracy. […]And yet, by exerting pressure from within, Myanmar’s citizens are raising the cost of the coup, creating an opportunity for outsiders to exert pressure. Their efforts deserve the world’s support. Many countries, including the United States, have imposed sanctions. – Washington Post


Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called his lieutenant in the United States back from Washington to discuss a potential “irreversible deterioration in relations,” according to a senior Russian diplomat. – Washington Examiner

President Joe Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin will face consequences for directing efforts to swing the November 2020 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump, and that they would come soon. – Reuters

The United States on Wednesday said it was tightening sanctions on some exports to Russia in response to the poisoning of Kremlin critic leader Alexei Navalny, partially excluding certain items such as those related to aviation and space. – Reuters


A fight over vaccines between the U.K. and the European Union intensified Wednesday, highlighting the fast-deteriorating relations that have already been set back by disputes over the agreement that cemented the U.K.’s divorce from the bloc. – Wall Street Journal

French Senators are free to meet whomever they wish when they travel, the country’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday after the Chinese embassy in Paris warned against lawmakers meeting officials during an upcoming visit to self-ruled Taiwan. – Reuters

President Joe Biden marked St. Patrick’s Day on Wednesday by recommitting the U.S. to the Good Friday Agreement, which has come under increasing stress following the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. – Associated Press

Britain’s plans to expand its nuclear capabilities have dealt a serious blow to the concept of arms control, the RIA news agency reported Russia’s foreign ministry as saying on Wednesday. – Reuters


About 100 suspected Islamic extremists on motorcycles ambushed the Malian military convoy in the country’s volatile north, killing at least 33 people in the deadliest attack of its kind since the president was overthrown in a coup last year, officials said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Children as young as 11 are being beheaded in Mozambique, UK-based aid group Save the Children said on Tuesday, in violence that has killed thousands and displaced many more in a northern region torn by an Islamist insurgency. – Reuters

Cape Verde’s Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday to allow the extradition to the United States of Alex Saab, a businessman close to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro – a decision his lawyers vowed to appeal. – Reuters

United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has agreed to an Ethiopian request for a joint investigation in the country’s northern Tigray region, where Bachelet says possible war crimes may have been committed. – Reuters

The Americas

The Canadian government confirmed Wednesday that China will soon begin trials for two Canadians who were arrested two years ago in apparent retaliation for Canada’s detention of a senior executive for Chinese communications giant Huawei Technologies. – Associated Press

U.S. prosecutors will seek life in prison next week for the brother of the sitting Honduran president and former Honduran congressman, Juan Antonio Tony Hernandez, who was convicted of drug trafficking and related weapons charges in October 2019. – Reuters

Six executives of U.S. refiner Citgo have been jailed in Caracas on graft charges since 2017, but court documents seen by Reuters show that top Venezuelan officials were made aware of the deal that the country’s top prosecutor accused the six executives of signing in secret. – Reuters

The head of the U.S. military command dedicated to operations south of the U.S. border in Central America, South America and the Caribbean has warned that it appears China and Russia are working together against Washington’s interests across the region. – Newsweek

United States

But Asian American leaders are warning that a deepening geopolitical confrontation between the United States and China is contributing to the heightened suspicion, prejudice and violence against their communities in ways that could continue to intensify even after the pandemic begins to subside. – Washington Post

A new intelligence report delivered to Congress on Wednesday by the Biden administration warned about the rising threat of militias and white supremacists, adding urgency to calls for more resources to fight the growing problem of homegrown extremism in the United States. – New York Times

Texas and several other U.S. states have sued the administration of President Joe Biden over his decision to revoke a key permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement late on Wednesday. – Reuters

U.S. far-right and white supremacist groups sharply stepped up their distribution of racist or anti-Semitic fliers, posters banners and other forms of physical propaganda last year, according to a study released on Wednesday. – Reuters

An armed man was arrested and detained by members of the Secret Service near the Naval Observatory on Wednesday, the official residence of Vice President Kamala Harris and first gentleman Doug Emhoff. – Newsweek


A Florida teenager who was involved in the high-profile and massive hack of Twitter last year has reached a plea deal with prosecutors and will serve three years in a juvenile facility, followed by three years of probation. – Washington Post

The leaders of Russia and Iran last year ordered their governments to attempt to influence U.S. voters’ choices in the presidential election and undermine the public’s faith in American democracy, a U.S. intelligence assessment released Tuesday said. – Wall Street Journal

Russia and Iran did attempt to influence the 2020 U.S. election, but American officials found no evidence that foreign nations prevented voting, changed votes or interrupted vote counting in any way, a pair of intelligence reports released yesterday confirm. – Washington Post

Chinese regulators recently summoned 11 domestic technology companies including Alibaba Group, Tencent and ByteDance for talks on use of ‘deepfake’ technologies on their content platforms, stepping up scrutiny of the sector. – Reuters


Raytheon Technologies plans to deliver next week the first of the U.S. Navy’s new Block V Tomahawk, an upgraded version of the service’s venerable land-attack missile that will ultimately include the ability to target ships at sea at extended ranges. – Defense News

The U.S. Army is nearing the selection of an existing Field Artillery Battalion that will get the first set of the Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) system, according to Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, who is in charge of the service’s Long-Range Precision Fires modernization efforts. – Defense News

The Army has rejected an appeal to return medals for valor to retired Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, a Special Forces soldier former President Donald Trump pardoned for alleged murder in Afghanistan. It was one of three high-profile cases in which Trump interceded on behalf of troops accused of war crimes. – USA Today

With limited and costly ways for a surface warship to physically take out an incoming anti-ship missile, the Navy has been pursuing more ways a warship could use the power of electronic spectrum to splash threats. – USNI News