Fdd's overnight brief

March 24, 2021

In The News


Iran must come clean about recent findings of undeclared uranium to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement, the director general of the U.N. nuclear watchdog has told Newsweek. – Newsweek

China, Russia, North Korea and Iran have set out to build on their strategic partnerships as they pool efforts to counter what they see as an increasingly aggressive United States attempting to thwart their interests. – Newsweek

A road accident in southeastern Iran on Tuesday killed at least 14 people, including eight children, an Iranian semi-official news agency reported. – Associated Press

Two tankers flying the flag of the Cook Islands have been scrubbed from the islands’ shipping registry after allegations the vessels were sanctions-busting, transporting Iranian crude oil while concealing their movements. – The Guardian

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran has largely been unsuccessful in trying to pretend that its far-right regime is somehow a natural regional ally of the Democrats in the US. […]But Iran’s ham-handed approach in these methods has so far not gotten it what it wanted. The new Biden administration is not anti-Israel, and it is not as critical of Netanyahu as the Obama administration was. Zarif’s playbook perhaps worked a decade ago. For that reason, Iran is so far not taking too much stock of Israel’s election. – Jerusalem Post


Russia has proposed Turkey to reopen three crossing points in Syria’s Idlib and Aleppo starting from March 25 due to the difficult humanitarian situation in Syria, TASS news agency quoted Russia’s centre for Syrian reconciliation as saying on Tuesday. – Reuters

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces say counter-terrorism efforts are “more difficult than face-to-face fighting with IS jihadists, and are considered more dangerous,” as they mark their victory in March 2019 with a parade. – Agence France-Presse

Charles Thépaut and Calvin Wilder write: European and North American countries have provided around 90% of humanitarian assistance to Syrians since 2011, so they have leverage to press UN agencies operating in regime territory to limit Assad’s appropriation of aid. […]They should form a united front and provide a crystal-clear message to Moscow: aid will be delivered directly to needy residents in the northwestern province of Idlib with or without a UN resolution that keeps the nearby crossing open.Washington Institute


The European Union is ready to deepen trade ties with Turkey but will maintain the threat of economic sanctions if Ankara moves against the bloc’s interests, according to a draft statement due to be agreed by EU leaders at a summit on Thursday. – Reuters

President Emmanuel Macron expressed concern that Turkey will attempt to influence upcoming French elections. – Bloomberg

Editorial: Recent interest-rate shifts in the U.S. and other developed economies were bound to have consequences for emerging markets, and it looks like Turkey is first in the dock. The lira plunged about 14% versus the dollar Monday in an incipient crisis that is mostly but not entirely the fault of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. – Wall Street Journal

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Ankara’s dreams of finding a new prime minister in Israel with whom it might try some kind of “reset” will be dashed if Netanyahu remains in office. This is a far cry from the days when Ankara would meet with the Syrian regime and then speak to Israel about what it learned. […]Such discussions illustrate that there was a time when Ankara’s regime was less anti-Israel and played a constructive role in peace, rather than seeking to sabotage Israel’s relations with Greece and the Gulf. – Jerusalem Post


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to hold a slight edge over his rivals in exit polls for Israel’s fourth election in two years, but the projections indicate that there will be no clear winner and that the country could be heading for another protracted period of deal-making before a new government is formed. – Wall Street Journal

The United Nations, United States, Russia and the European Union met virtually Tuesday to discuss relaunching their long-stalled effort to get Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate a two-state solution to their decades-old conflict. – Associated Press

An Israeli military unit posted on its website recently a map with the precise locations of most of the country’s bases, including ones about which the army is usually silent. – Haaretz 

A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed in a field near Beersheba on Tuesday night, shortly after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an election day visit to the southern city. – Times of Israel

Four residents of the city Bir al-Maksur were arrested in suspicion of attacking Israel Border Police at the entrance to the village Tuesday night, according to a spokesperson report. – Jerusalem Post

The United Nations Human Rights Council approved a resolution calling for an arms embargo against Israel that had the support of many of the European countries but received a nod of disapproval from Bahrain, which was absent for Tuesday’s vote. – Jerusalem Post

If all goes according to plan, the Palestinians will soon hold their first parliamentary election since January 2006. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Turkey, Qatar and Russia have recently been talking about the future of Syria. This appears to sideline Saudi Arabia’s role. It also left Israel out of discussions about key concerns over Syria. These are all key questions for Riyadh regarding how a meeting with Netanyahu after the elections – if the prime minister does form a government – might come to pass. Saudi Arabia’s media has so far been relatively muted on Israel’s elections, taking a wait-and-see approach. – Jerusalem Post


The Iraqi cabinet on Tuesday approved a deal to award U.S. company Schlumberger Ltd a $480 million deal to drill 96 oil wells in the south, according to a statement. – Reuters

The United States and Iraq will hold a strategic dialogue in April and the meetings will clarify that coalition forces are in Iraq for training and advising Iraqi forces so Islamic State militants cannot reconstitute, the White House said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Iraq has sent a formal request to President Joe Biden’s administration for a date to resume strategic talks on bilateral relations and the withdrawal of remaining U.S. combat forces, Iraqi officials said Tuesday. – Associated Press

Arabian Peninsula

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and foreign ministers of Britain, Germany and France met on Tuesday to discuss peace initiatives for Yemen, British foreign minister Dominic Raab said. – Reuters

A senior Saudi official issued what was perceived to be a death threat against the independent United Nations investigator, Agnès Callamard, after her investigation into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.The Guardian

The United Arab Emirates has agreed a multibillion-pound investment partnership with the UK to invest in British health, technology, clean energy and infrastructure, delivering a significant post-Brexit boost to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. – Financial Times

Bobby Ghosh writes: It is not unusual in long-running wars for a truce to be followed by a spasm of fighting, as the belligerents try to gain some advantage they can use at the negotiating table. […]The Houthis, in short, already have the stronger hand for any future negotiations, and the capture of Marib would make it stronger still. The Saudis shouldn’t expect them at the negotiating table anytime soon. – Bloomberg

Middle East & North Africa

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Beirut urged Lebanese political parties on Tuesday to quickly agree to a new government to pull the country from financial crisis after months of political wrangling. – Reuters

France will reopen its embassy in the Libyan capital Tripoli next Monday to show its support for the North African country’s new authorities, President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday. – Reuters

A giant container ship ran aground in the Suez Canal, blocking off one of the world’s busiest maritime trade routes that are vital for the movement of everything from oil to consumer goods. – Bloomberg

Korean Peninsula

New satellite images obtained by The New York Times show that China has allowed the New Konk and similar tankers to use its infrastructure and territorial waters to smuggle oil into North Korea, undermining international sanctions. – New York Times

North Korea fired off multiple short-range missiles this past weekend after denouncing Washington for going forward with joint military exercises with South Korea, according to people familiar with the situation. – Washington Post

Sixteen years after she was left to die unremembered outside a labour camp in North Korea, Jihyun Park will enter the British political history books if she wins office in local elections this May. – Reuters

Senior Biden administration officials on Tuesday played down North Korean short-range missile launches last weekend and said U.S. President Joe Biden is still open to a dialogue with North Korea. – Reuters

South Korea has suspended efforts to have its domestic debt added to the World Government Bond Index (WGBI), one of the world’s three major bond indexes, a person with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters. – Reuters

President Biden’s team says it isn’t troubled by a new round of reported missile launches from North Korea, dismissing the latest barrage as a “low-end” outburst that doesn’t represent a significant degradation of security on the peninsula.Washington Examiner



China on Tuesday said it summoned foreign diplomats in protest after the United States, the European Union, Canada and Britain jointly imposed sanctions on senior Chinese officials over alleged human rights abuses in China’s far western Xinjiang region. – Associated Press

China is well behind on the two-year targets set in its trade deal with the U.S., having purchased only about a third of the goods it said it would buy so far. – Bloomberg

Two U.S. senators have asked the leading solar energy lobbying group to clarify U.S. dependence on solar products linked to forced labor in China’s Xinjiang, part of a push in Congress to address what Western countries say are rights abuses by Beijing. – Reuters

France summoned China’s ambassador on Tuesday to underscore the unacceptable nature of insults and threats aimed at French lawmakers and a researcher, and Beijing’s decision to sanction some European officials, a French foreign ministry source said. – Reuters

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai spoke on Tuesday with top officials in Japan, South Korea, Mexico and France about shared interests ranging from concerns about China’s trading practices and human rights to World Trade Organization reforms, USTR said. – Reuters

Fewer than three months after it was agreed, progress to pass an EU-China deal giving European companies better access to Chinese markets has sharply reversed after tit-for-tat sanctions. – Reuters

The United States on Tuesday said it continued to be concerned about the lack of transparency regarding the legal proceedings for two Canadians being detained in China and called for the men to have continued consular access. – Reuters

China is gathering data on the undersea environment in the Indian Ocean as evidenced by two government survey ships seen operating in the region via open source satellite photos. These survey activities may be aimed at giving Chinese submariners an advantage in their area. – USNI News

Editorial: Mr. Trudeau has asked President Biden for help with the case; the Trump administration had pursued a settlement with Huawei that would have released Ms. Meng, along with the Canadians. Such a bargain could be worthwhile if Ms. Meng acknowledges guilt and agrees to punishment, such as a fine. But China should not be allowed to obtain her release simply through the barbaric tactic of hostage-taking. As Mr. Biden himself put it after meeting Mr. Trudeau, “human beings are not bartering chips.”.Washington Post 

Daniel W. Drezner writes: If the Sino-American competition is going to be the new normal, however, then the Biden administration needs to take more long-lasting steps in both word and deed to prevent a bigger wave of anti-Asian sentiment. Policymakers need to make sure that this country’s greatest strength — its ability to take folks from anywhere in the world and turn them into proud Americans — is not felled by its greatest weakness. – Washington Post

Joseph Bosco writes: In the first sign of post-Anchorage U.S. seriousness, the Biden administration just joined with European allies and security partners to impose sanctions on Chinese officials for “serious human rights abuses” against Uyghur Muslims. The action demonstrates both its commitment to human rights and its reliance on multilateralism to achieve U.S. policy goals. If this is the new Biden approach to foreign policy and national security, let the beat go on. – The Hill

Jacob Lew and Gary Roughead write: We need a smart and tailored response to the Belt and Road Initiative that accounts for the perils and draws on our strengths of innovative business, robust capital markets, renowned research institutions, and vital alliances to provide the alternative where we can push back where we must. As the administration engages with China, it must do so from a place of power. A response to the Belt and Road Initiative marks the first step. – The Hill


Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will propose a new presidential election within six months under a peace plan he will put forward as a counter-offer to a U.S. proposal that he rejects, two senior government officials told Reuters. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday pledged to rebuild and revitalise the transatlantic military alliance after a bruising four years when Washington portrayed NATO as outdated, divided and in crisis. – Reuters

Three people including a child have been killed and 13 others injured in a bomb blast near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. – Reuters

South Asia

Responding to a decades-long push for accountability in the Sri Lankan civil war, the United Nations will set up a team of investigators to collect evidence of atrocities and abuses, amid deepening concern over the government’s backsliding on human rights. – New York Times

At least 15 people have been killed in a massive fire that ripped through a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh, while at least 400 remain missing, the U.N. refugee agency said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan received a letter of goodwill from his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on Tuesday, a Pakistani senior Cabinet minister said, as relations thaw between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. – Reuters


After weeks of peaceful protests, the frontline of Myanmar’s resistance to the Feb. 1 coup is mobilizing into a kind of guerrilla force. – New York Times

Hundreds of prisoners, who had been arrested for protesting against last month’s military coup in Myanmar, were freed on Wednesday from a prison in Yangon, witnesses and domestic media said. – Reuters

The Philippines complained to China on Monday about what it called a “swarming and threatening presence” of Chinese vessels in disputed waters in the South China Sea and demanded they be withdrawn from the area. – Reuters

Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Andy Li was charged on Wednesday with “conspiracy to commit collusion” with a foreign country to endanger national security, two days after he was released from a Chinese prison. – Reuters

Armenia’s parliament voted on Wednesday to lift martial law, the RIA news agency reported, ahead of an early parliamentary election planned in June. – Reuters

The possibility of China trying to invade Taiwan could happen sooner than most people think, the admiral nominated to lead U.S. military forces in the Indo-Pacific region said Tuesday. – The Hill

Thein Zaw, a journalist for The Associated Press who was arrested last month while covering a protest against the coup in Myanmar, was released from detention on Wednesday. – Associated Press

Australia and New Zealand have raised “grave concerns” about human rights abuses against Muslim minorities in China’s Xinjiang region, citing “the growing number of credible reports” of severe violations. – The Guardian

A Chinese ban on pineapple imports from Taiwan has sparked a flood of patriotic buying of the fruit and forced restaurants to come up with inventive new menu choices but it has also left many questioning Taipei’s overwhelming economic reliance on its giant neighbour. – Agence France-Presse


Russia’s communications watchdog accused Twitter on Tuesday of deleting banned content too slowly in the latest dispute between a major government and Big Tech. – Reuters

British foreign minister Dominic Raab will throw his support behind NATO as “a strong, united, political bulwark against Moscow’s de-stabilising activities”, rallying allies to thwart what he said was the threat posed by Russia. – Reuters

Brian Klaas writes: To break the cycle, the United States needs better regulation and a shift in the economic model around cable news. Fox News, OAN and Newsmax’s prime-time style might be familiar to Russians, but it is utterly alien to Canadians, Britons or Germans. […]None of this discounts the threat posed by Russia itself. Putin is trying to undermine our democracy. But by allowing the rise of media outlets that use Russian-style tactics to create destructive, long-lasting polarization, we’ve been doing the job even more effectively ourselves. – Washington Post


Polish writer Jakub Zulczyk says he is facing up to three years in prison after he called Poland’s president a “moron” for saying he did not understand the U.S. electoral college system. – Washington Post

U.S. President Joe Biden will join a video conference of EU leaders on Thursday as both sides try to repair ties after four difficult years with former president Donald Trump. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday the Nord Stream 2 pipeline being built from Russia to Germany ran counter to the European Union’s own interests and could undermine Ukraine. – Reuters


Sudan’s cabinet has backed an initiative for the United Arab Emirates to mediate in a dispute over Sudan’s border with Ethiopia, and over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the Sudanese information minister said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Denis Sassou Nguesso won a fourth five-year term as president of the Republic of Congo after beating six other candidates in a March 21 election. – Bloomberg

Ethiopia’s prime minister admitted for the first time that troops from neighboring Eritrea supported his nation’s army in a conflict against dissident leaders of its northern Tigray region. – Bloomberg

Nigeria is considering ways to cushion the impact of fuel-subsidy cuts as it weighs the possibility that the reform may stoke popular discontent, an adviser to the nation’s president said. – Bloomberg

United States

President Biden called for tightening gun laws after a deadly shooting at a supermarket in Colorado, reviving debate on Capitol Hill, and increasing pressure on Democrats as they weigh trying to change Senate rules to more easily pass their priorities.Wall Street Journal

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) says in a newly published podcast interview that he does not “feel particularly comfortable” with Twitter’s permanent ban on former President Trump. – The Hill

Hal Brands writes: The U.S. will reach herd immunity faster than China or any other large country. As the U.S. accelerates rapidly out of the pandemic — and accompanying recession — in summer and fall 2021, it will have a position of strength in a still-ravaged world. And the country’s remarkable ability to dig itself out of an enormous hole through technological innovation should make us ask whether assertions about the death of American resilience were perhaps premature. – Bloomberg


The U.S. is attempting to outpace China in developing mature technologies that will define future fights, such as artificial intelligence, cyber capabilities and 5G networks, but federal investment is losing pace in the midst of the competition, said Michael Brown, director of the Defense Innovation Unit, the DoD arm tasked with connecting with nontraditional vendors. – C4ISRNET

Editorial: These overreaches aren’t surprising in China. What’s alarming is how many other nations are creeping ever closer to similar demands that companies censor in lockstep with the ruling party line. […]There’s an opportunity today for the United States and other democracies to push for a third way, where countries that reap the fruits of a connected Internet are encouraged to respect civil liberties, and held to account when they try to bully businesses into doing the opposite. – Washington Post

Matthew P. Goodman and Dylan Gerstel write: While these challenges are significant, they are not insurmountable. Views of China have been converging across key U.S. technology partners, albeit at different speeds. There have been positive early indications from the Biden administration that it is willing to compromise on long-standing U.S.-EU irritants, such as a global digital services tax and the Boeing-Airbus dispute. Going forward, how the Biden administration approaches data governance and builds out its “Buy American” program could determine whether deeper allied technology cooperation is possible. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Jake Morris writes: So while China hawks in Europe and the U.S. won the initial battle against Huawei’s involvement in Europe’s 5G networks, technological competition is only just beginning.[…]As Huawei’s AI cooperation with Slovak universities highlights, there is now an urgent need for new legislation in Washington and Brussels to improve transparency of funding for high-tech projects at universities. The U.S. and its allies also need to look to the future. – Center for European Policy Analysis


The Defense Department on Tuesday finalized deals worth up to $7.5 billion with two teams of defense contractors for a new interceptor that can shoot incoming missiles out of the sky, marking the first major defense procurement finalized under President Biden. – Washington Post

Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, vowed to revive Washington’s frayed ties with Nato allies as he sought to use his first official trip to Brussels to break from the transatlantic acrimony of former President Donald Trump’s era. – Financial Times 

The Pentagon has selected two companies to move forward with developing small, portable nuclear reactors for military use in the field. BWXT Advanced Technologies and X-energy were chosen by the department’s Strategic Capabilities Office to continue on with Project Pele, which seeks to develop a reactor of 1- to 5-megawatt output that can last at least three years at full power. – Defense News

The U.S. has the number of aircraft carriers it needs to meet requirements across the globe — unless “additional challenges show themselves,” the four-star admiral nominated to oversee military operations in the Asia-Pacific region said. – Military.com

Mihail Naydenov writes: These efforts could support the new U.S. president’s vision of America leading again. At the very least, they would be beneficial to NATO and especially to its Eastern members, all of which are highly vulnerable to Russian destabilization. Strengthening these NATO allies also means ensuring the alliance is able to meet the challenges of the strategic environment until at least 2030, and even beyond. This, in turn, guarantees to all the member states more security in an increasingly uncertain world. – Middle East Institute 

Patty-Jane Geller writes: However, replacing the Minuteman III fleet by the end of the decade is necessary to avoid severely eroding U.S. strategic deterrence, as ICBMs play a critical role in maximizing the costs of an adversary attack. […]The Minuteman III missiles were built to be replaced. If not replaced, Minuteman III missiles will need to retire due to obsolescence. Between four and six missiles are also expended each year in flight tests, which will also inevitably lead to force reductions over time. The Biden Administration must support, and Congress must provide, full funding for the GBSD program to ensure an on-time delivery at the end of the decade. – Heritage Foundation

Long War

Islamic State forces remain as dangerous today as when they were ousted from their last Syrian bastion two years ago, Kurdish forces warned Tuesday as they marked the anniversary. – Agence France-Presse

Flags flew at half-staff and Koranic verses played on state media on Tuesday as Niger began observing three days of national mourning for the 137 victims of coordinated raids on villages in the southwest. – Reuters

London police arrested a man on suspicion of explosive substance and terrorism offences, the Metropolitan Police said on Tuesday. – Reuters