Fdd's overnight brief

March 31, 2021

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Efforts to sketch out initial U.S. and Iranian steps to resume compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal have stalled and Western officials believe Iran may now wish to discuss a wider road map to revive the pact, something Washington is willing to do. – Reuters

The European Union is set to agree to sanction several Iranian individuals on Wednesday for human rights abuses, the first such measures since 2013, three EU diplomats said. – Reuters

General Hossein Salami, the top commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, said on Tuesday that his country does not need a nuclear deal with world powers and that the regime in Tehran is indifferent to US sanctions. – Arutz Sheva

Iran is “obsessively” executing death row inmates despite a decline in public support for capital punishment, rights activists said Tuesday as they released a report on the death penalty in the country. – Agence France-Presse

A hacking group associated with the Iranian government targeted senior medical researchers in the U.S. and Israel over the past few months, new research released Wednesday found. – The Hill

Elliott Abrams writes: On March 27, in a ceremony in Tehran, the foreign ministers of Iran and China signed an agreement for China to invest $400 billion in Iran over 25 years. […]And for Iranians, information about what has been agreed should be the key goal. Either the amounts are ridiculous and are mostly propaganda designed to boost both the Chinese and Iranian regimes. Or if the amounts are accurate, the regime, suffering under U.S. sanctions, is selling the country to China. – National Review

Frederick W. Kagan writes: The US and Iran will likely have returned to compliance with the provisions of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) by the end of 2021. […]The start of serious negotiations about Iran’s missile program, regional activities, or an extension of the sunset provisions of the JCPOA is very unlikely. The year will thus likely end with a straightforward return to the JCPOA as it was written with no meaningful changes or additions. – American Enterprise Institute

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: Back in 2018-2019, there were discussions about partial sanctions relief or sanctions waivers for Iran to partially reduce its nuclear violations. All of this can probably be solved once the US and Iran reach what they view as the right time period for a deal and possibly some informal understandings about what add-ons to a deal might look like. […]The third rejection by Iran in no ways means that a deal has receded from the picture. As long as that is in the picture, Israel will want to influence that deal’s timing and terms to the greatest extent possible. – Jerusalem Post


The Biden administration faulted Turkey over a series of “significant human rights issues” ranging from allegations of arbitrary killings and torture cases to the jailing of tens of thousands of political foes, including politicians, lawyers, journalists and human rights activists. – Bloomberg

A former celebrity chef who turned into one of Germany’s most vocal antisemitic agitators has fled to Turkey to escape an arrest warrant issued by German authorities last week. – Algemeiner

Turkey has not requested that Israel agree to an exchange of ambassadors again, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post


Bahrain has appointed Khalid Al Jalahma as head of its diplomatic mission to Israel, state news agency BNA reported on Tuesday following a deal to establish relations last year. – Reuters

The head of the IDF directorate tasked with dealing with the Iran nuclear issue said that the Biden administration largely sees the situation as Israel does, and is so far “keeping its promises.” – Algemeiner

The annual United States report on global human rights practices affirmed that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel, but reintroduced language that spoke of Israeli occupation of territory, two-states and gave a nod in the direction of Palestinian Authority rights to sections of Jerusalem. – Jerusalem Post

Israel has yet to grant visas for a preliminary European Union delegation that wants to prepare for its representatives to observe the Palestinian elections scheduled for May 22 and as a result its observers may not be able to participate fully in the event, the EU said. – Jerusalem Post

The multiplying news reports about Israel sabotaging tankers transporting oil from Iran to Syria for the past two and a half years are nearing an end. High-ranking defense and intelligence officials assess that the reports have already damaged national security. – Haaretz

Arabian Peninsula

Hundreds of ships that had been stuck waiting can resume their journeys, reviving a key artery for global trade, as the backup slowly clears. But for the global shipping industry, the saga isn’t over. While freeing the ship was a colossal effort, in some ways what happens next is the hard part, as experts reexamine fundamental assumptions about shipping and world trade. – Washington Post

The US State Department released its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, and within it raised concerns over a number of areas in which it believes Saudi Arabia is guilty of abusing human rights within its sovereign borders. – Jerusalem Post

U.N. experts say it’s highly likely a deadly missile attack on the airport in Yemen’s key southern port of Aden as the country’s new government was arriving was carried out by Houthi rebels. – Associated Press

Articles recently published in the Saudi press have been conspicuously and scathingly critical of the U.S., accusing it of supporting terror, committing crimes against humanity and violating human rights. The articles claimed that past U.S. administrations targeted Saudi Arabia in the service of hostile countries such as Iran, Qatar and Turkey, and that the current administration is especially guilty of this. […]These articles come against the backdrop of the tension between the Biden administration and Saudi Arabia and its allies, especially following several developments and statements. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Middle East & North Africa

There’s nothing striking about the look of Bus 70, a new blue-and-white vehicle that ferries passengers along Line 83, a long, dusty road connecting downtown Tripoli with its outer suburbs. But along one six-mile stretch, where the conflict shattered countless houses and souls, where Libyans pray that a new government will bring the stability they crave, the bus has become a symbol of hope for a capital sorely in need of it. – Washington Post

Egypt’s president said Tuesday his country’s share of the Nile River’s waters are “untouchable” in a stark warning apparently to Ethiopia, which is building a giant dam on the Nile’s main tributary. – Associated Press

International donors on Tuesday pledged $6.4 billion in aid for Syria and refugees in neighbouring countries, falling well short of a UN target aimed at dealing with growing needs. – Agence France-Presse

Israel issued travel warnings for the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Turkey and other countries neighboring Iran as it allowed vaccinated citizens to board flights amid an uptick in tensions with the Islamic Republic. – Bloomberg

In a March 16 article on Hizbullah’s website Alahednews.com, Lebanese journalist Layla ‘Amasha virulently attacked U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea, describing her as a “wicked witch” and as “the ambassador of Satan in Beirut,” who sows division in Lebanon, hatches poisonous plots against its people in the service of Israel, and casts “evil spells” – all this with the help of Lebanese politicians, activists and media figures who do her bidding. – Middle East Media Research Institute

David Gardner writes: Donors led by the US, France and the UK are ready to support a government committed to reform. But the political class refuses to form one, fearing exposure of its collective peculation. Hizbollah wants to bide its time and see what emerges from the Biden administration’s attempt to re-engage with Iran. It does not want to jeopardise its valuable Christian alliance, or run any risk to its power. – Financial Times

Haisam Hassanein writes: Over the past couple years, Ankara gradually became convinced that this fragmented MB opposition-in-exile was a losing horse that could no longer be used to intimidate Sisi, particularly following the ineffective string of small protests fomented in Egypt by exiled contractor Mohamed Ali in 2019. Moreover, the two countries have recently begun to develop mutual understandings on key regional issues. – Washington Institute

Anna Borshchevskaya writes: The role of Russia, a key backer of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and a permanent Council member, is critical. In private, some policymakers believe the Kremlin can be convinced to be less obstructive this year than in the past. Such optimism is unwarranted. Moscow will continue to push for Moscow’s own interests in these discussions, and to that end, empower Assad. – The Hill

Korean Peninsula

The U.N. Security Council took no action after a brief meeting Tuesday on North Korea’s latest ballistic missile tests, the first since U.S. President Joe Biden took office on Jan. 20 and a violation of U.N. sanctions. – Associated Press

A South Korean foreign minister will visit China this week for the first time in three years, looking for ways to improve ties even as tensions are running high between Beijing and the United States, the South’s most important ally. – Reuters

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan will on Friday meet with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts and discuss issues including maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, a White House statement said late on Tuesday. – Reuters


No consensus has emerged on where the virus originated, and there are far more scientists who think it developed naturally than who entertain the possibility that it came from a lab. That made it all the more surprising when, on Tuesday, the head of the WHO said that his agency hadn’t sufficiently examined the lab scenario. – Washington Post

The Biden administration ­declared China’s treatment of ­Uyghur Muslims a genocide in an annual human rights report Tuesday, formalizing its dire assessment of a campaign of mass ­detention and sterilization of ­minority groups in the Xinjiang region. – Washington Post

The head of the World Health Organization, the U.S. government and 13 other countries on Tuesday voiced frustration with the level of access China granted an international mission to Wuhan — a striking and unusually public rebuke. – Washington Post

China has sharply reduced the number of directly elected legislators in Hong Kong and delayed the city’s elections until December, in the latest erosion of its democratic institutions. – Washington Post

The United States strongly condemns moves by China to further reduce political participation and representation in Hong Kong and is deeply concerned by a second delay in the territory’s LegCo elections, the U.S. State Department said on Tuesday. – Reuters

A senior Chinese health official said on Wednesday there was no factual basis to accusations that China did not share data with researchers appointed by the World Health Organization (WHO) to look into the origins of COVID-19. – Reuters

BBC News said on Wednesday one of its journalists in China had relocated to Taiwan, a move that comes amid criticism from Beijing about the broadcaster’s reports on alleged human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region. – Reuters

The terms of China’s loan deals with developing countries are unusually secretive and require borrowers to prioritise repayment of Chinese state-owned banks ahead of other creditors, a study of a cache of such contracts showed on Wednesday. – Reuters

China will receive another large influx of cheap Iranian oil in March passed off as crude from other origins, curbing the top importer’s appetite for crudes from other suppliers, according to traders and analysts. – Reuters

Britain said on Tuesday that China had breached the 1984 Joint Declaration by enacting changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system which undermined the freedoms of people in the former British colony. – Reuters

Hong Kong institutions are further restricting public access to information, raising concerns over transparency as China increases its grip over the Asian financial hub. – Bloomberg

NASA has upset China by referring to Taiwan as a country, the latest in a string of quarrels the Asian nation has waded into over wording it deems politically sensitive. – Bloomberg

According to an article published March 8, 2021 by the Chinese media outlet Duowei, China is spending U.S. $209 billion to modernize and expand its military this year, a 6.8 percent increase over the year before – though some estimate expenditures to exceed $300 million – and now has the second-largest military in the world, after the U.S. “With the completion of military reform and the establishment of a new military structure and staffing, the Chinese armed forces have started a large-scale rearmament operation,” – Middle East Media Research Institute

Editorial: The Chinese and WHO scientists insisted the most likely pathway of the virus was a zoonotic spillover, either directly or indirectly from an animal species to humans. They called a laboratory leak “an extremely unlikely pathway.” But the WHO director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, disagreed with the team, saying the laboratory leak “requires further investigation.” He declared that all hypotheses remain on the table, and he is ready to deploy specialists to probe further. China has a responsibility to open its doors. This is not a blame game, but an essential investigation into the cause of this pandemic to make another one less likely. – Washington Post

Therese Raphael writes: While Ricketts sees the government trying to restore balance, policy nuances will shift more toward hard-nosed action. Whether that will draw a more proportionate response from Beijing than this round is hard to say. But now the Chinese have discovered they can play the sanctions game too, we’re likely to see much more of it. – Bloomberg

Clara Ferreira Marques writes: For democracies and campaigners trying to encourage good behavior, sanctions, bans and improved supply chain monitoring are only partial wins: China isn’t necessarily motivated to act in response. It’s a problem that comes with autocratic leaders ready to allow populations to bear significant economic discomfort in pursuit of other aims, as in Myanmar, North Korea or Russia. […]Boycotts will keep bringing attention to accusations of brutal abuse against Uyghur and other ethnic minorities in parts of China where too little light is shed. – Bloomberg

Roger Zakheim and Rachel Hoff writes: Americans are clear-eyed about the full range of threats we face from China and support American engagement and leadership in the region. Administration officials should channel their concerns and, together with our allies and partners in the region, lead from a position of strength. As President Reagan once said, “War comes not when the forces of freedom are strong, but when they are weak. It is then that tyrants are tempted.” – The Hill

Joseph Bosco writes: By that reasoning, given Xi’s unquestionable “sustainment” in power, he must be reflecting the national values of Chinese society. But, in a quasi-totalitarian system like the People’s Republic, unlike a democratic society, the leaders rule not by reflecting the values of the people but by imposing the interests of the ruling party. As Mao said, political power is won not by the consent of the governed but by “the barrel of a gun” — or, as Biden might put it, by the example of their power, not the power of their example. – The Hill


Three Afghan women carrying out polio vaccinations were shot dead Tuesday in two separate attacks in eastern Afghanistan, the latest in a string of targeted killings sowing unease in government-held towns and cities despite ongoing peace talks to end decades of war. – Washington Post

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani outlined his plans for peace at a regional summit in Tajikistan on Tuesday, saying that he would step aside if an election was held. – Reuters

Jim Jones writes: The threat to Iraqis who helped the United States from Islamic State terrorists and others has not ebbed, while the danger for Afghans grows worse by the day. If Afghanistan falls to the Taliban, the flow of refugees, including thousands who helped U.S. forces, will increase to a torrent. We must be prepared to provide them sanctuary. The United States should do everything in its power to avoid repeating the disgrace of its exit from Vietnam. – Washington Post

South Asia

Facebook Inc said it was taking steps to combat hate speech and misinformation in India as the world’s biggest democracy started its months-long multi-phase elections in four big states. – Reuters

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday replied to a letter written by his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, and said Islamabad desires peaceful relations with New Delhi, an official source told Reuters. – Reuters

Indian authorities have blocked at least two of ByteDance’s bank accounts for alleged tax evasion, prompting it to ask a court to quash the directive that it fears will hit its operations, two sources with direct knowledge told Reuters. – Reuters


The military launched more airstrikes Tuesday in eastern Myanmar after earlier attacks forced thousands of ethnic Karen to flee into Thailand and further escalating violence two months after the junta seized power. – Associated Press

Australia is fast tracking plans to manufacture advanced missiles and other guided weapons in response to growing tensions in the Indo-Pacific region and concerns over its reliance on imports. – Financial Times

A Polish journalist who was deported from Myanmar after spending two weeks under arrest is urging international pressure against the military junta that seized power in the country and authorized airstrikes and the killing of civilians. – Associated Press

Japan and Indonesia pledged on Tuesday to tighten security ties and signed a deal to facilitate transfers of defence equipment and technology, as their near neighbour China expands its economic and military might. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday called on international companies to consider cutting ties to enterprises that support Myanmar’s military and he decried its crackdown on anti-coup protesters. – Reuters

Aradhana Aravindan writes: With the United States and Western countries condemning the junta strongly and imposing some sanctions on the generals and the companies they run, analysts say Southeast Asian countries believe Myanmar could end up pushed closer to China – potentially shifting the regional balance. […]Singapore is trying to work with like-minded countries to pressure the junta. Although Singapore could not act alone against Myanmar, it could be a force for tougher measures within ASEAN. – Reuters


The Russian prison camp holding Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has placed an order for 32 new CCTV cameras and other surveillance equipment, a state procurement website showed on Tuesday. – Reuters

Jim Townsend and Andrea Kendall-Taylor write: Great-power competition in the Arctic is on the rise. But as the United States engages in this competition, Washington must be mindful to avoid unnecessarily escalating regional tensions and actions that would push Moscow and Beijing even closer together. Concurrently, the United States and its partners must also explore opportunities to disrupt Russia-China cooperation. This policy brief provides analysis and recommendations to guide such an approach. – Center for a New American Security

Yasmeen Serhan writes: It’s well established that the pandemic won’t meaningfully end anywhere unless it is addressed everywhere—something that can be achieved only through mass vaccination. With global supplies still largely limited, it’s in everyone’s interest that safe and effective doses make it into as many arms as possible, irrespective of who happens to be providing them. In that sense, leaders in the U.S. and Europe should embrace the Chinese and Russian efforts, which—regardless of their intent—serve to help the West too. – The Atlantic


The war in eastern Ukraine, which has been on a low simmer for months, drawing little international attention, has escalated sharply in recent days, according to statements Tuesday from the Ukrainian and Russian governments. – New York Times

No other country in Western Europe has suffered as much from terrorism as France over the past decade. With more than 50 attacks that have killed nearly 300 people — including dozens of children and teenagers — the nation has borne the brunt of some of the worst attacks in Europe. – New York Times

Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic resigned Tuesday following heavy criticism of his decision to buy Russian vaccines and of his overall handling of the coronavirus pandemic. – Agence France-Presse

The leaders of Russia, France and Germany met by conference call Tuesday and discussed coronavirus vaccines, the Iranian nuclear standoff and the conflicts in eastern Ukraine, Libya and Syria. – Associated Press

Britain’s international trade secretary has called for the world to “get tough with China” as part of a shake-up of the global trading regime, which she claims is “stuck in the 1990s”. – Financial Times

Italian Carabinieri police on Wednesday said they had arrested a Russian army official and an Italian navy captain on suspicion of spying. – Reuters

The prime ministers of Hungary and Poland will meet the leader of Italy’s rightist League party on Thursday for talks on forming a European political alliance, Hungarian state news agency MTI said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Ben Hall writes: Beijing last week hit European lawmakers from each of the main party groups in retaliation for EU sanctions against four Chinese officials involved in human rights abuses in Xinjiang. It made it all but impossible for the European Parliament to ratify the treaty. However, ratification is a lengthy process and a lot could change in the several months before it comes to a final vote. China could retreat. More likely, MEPs will come under huge pressure from national capitals and business interests to approve the so-called Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) in the name of improving European access to bountiful Chinese markets. – Financial Times


At least 19 civilians died after French fighter jets dropped bombs on a January gathering in central Mali, according to a new investigation from the United Nations, raising fresh concerns about an increasingly deadly conflict. – Washington Post

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a dayslong ambush of a port town in northern Mozambique last week that forced tens of thousands of people to flee the area and left dozens dead, including some foreigners. – New York Times

After nearly a week of vicious fighting, Mozambique’s rebels controlled about half of the strategic town of Palma on Tuesday, deepening the humanitarian crisis in the country’s north and jeopardizing the multi-billion-dollar investment in offshore gas fields. – Associated Press

Heavy gunfire was heard near Niger’s presidency in the early hours of Wednesday, two days ahead of the swearing-in of president-elect Mohamed Bazoum, a Reuters reporter said. – Reuters

Appeals judges at the International Criminal Court upheld on Tuesday the conviction of former Congolese militia leader Bosco Ntaganda for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and confirmed his 30-year jail sentence. – Reuters

Alberto M. Fernandez writes: While many states in the Middle East and North Africa seem trapped in a death spiral of despair, the 2019 overthrow of Sudan’s Islamist dictator Omar Al-Bashir has brought hope to that country. […]There is much that could still go wrong in Sudan, but there seems to be no better time than now for a breakthrough – one that could be transformative both for Sudan and the region. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Latin America

The heads of Brazil’s army, navy and air force resigned Tuesday, rocking a right-wing government that is already facing public fury over President Jair Bolsonaro’s inability to contain the fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic. – Wall Street Journal

Tony Hernandez, a former Honduran congressman and brother of the sitting president, was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years for drug trafficking by a U.S. judge on Tuesday. – Reuters

U.S. efforts to battle powerful drug cartels from inside Mexico have ground to a halt since January as strained relations between the two countries have frozen attempts to corral drug kingpins, according to current and former senior officials in both nations. – Reuters

North America

During the war, Oberlander served as an interpreter for a roving Nazi death squad that killed at least 20,000 people in the German-occupied eastern territories. Canada stripped him of his citizenship 20 years ago for concealing those activities from immigration authorities. Now, prosecutors are in a race against time to deport the 97-year-old, whose removal case is the country’s last dating to World War II. – Washington Post

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit has upheld the constitutionality of an FBI watch list of more than 1 million “known or suspected terrorists,” saying it falls under the government’s power to guard its borders. – Washington Post

President Biden on Tuesday laid out plans to address rising racism against Asian-Americans, increasing accessibility to hate crime data, requiring new training for local police and establishing nearly $50 million in grants to support survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault who face language barriers. – New York Times

The United States will speak out about human rights everywhere including in allies and at home, Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed Tuesday, turning a page from Donald Trump as he bemoaned deteriorations around the world. – Agence France-Presse

At a Tuesday press gaggle, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby described his own extremism briefing earlier in the day and explained Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s hopes for the 60-day forcewide extremism “stand-down” that will wrap up Monday. – Washington Examiner

Janan Ganesh writes: If Antony Blinken’s commitment to “support democracy around the world” while abjuring force is to mean anything, the secretary of state must be willing to pass up convenient relationships out of liberal principle. The regional winner, if he does, hardly needs naming. And so he probably won’t. There is no disgrace at all in such pragmatism. But there is disillusion and acrimony stored up in pretensions to the opposite. – Financial Times


Nearly two years after the United States launched a broad attack on Chinese tech giant Huawei, the campaign is showing signs of working. Huawei’s smartphone sales have collapsed outside of China, hurt by a U.S. export ban that prevents new Huawei phones from carrying the Google Play app store, which means many of the most popular Android apps aren’t available to new Huawei phone owners. – Washington Post

Alphabet unit Google will contribute 25 million euros ($29.3 million) to the newly set up European Media and Information Fund to combat fake news, the company said on Wednesday, amid criticism tech giants are not doing enough to debunk online disinformation. – Reuters

Suspected Russian hackers stole thousands of State Department officials’ emails last year, according to two Congressional sources familiar with the intrusion, in the second known Kremlin-backed breach on the department’s email server in under a decade. – Politico

The Pentagon’s top artificial intelligence official warned Tuesday that the department’s biggest competitive threat is obsolescence. – C4ISRNET

David Ignatius writes: That document was crafted by the Council of Europe and ratified by 65 nations, including all the leading democracies — but never endorsed by Russia or China because they considered its provisions too intrusive. […]The nations that have subverted the Internet most aggressively now want to police it, setting their own standards. Fighting back in this case requires patience and persistence — and a willingness to sit through endless meetings where the order that the United States and its global partners created a generation ago is under slow, relentless attack. – Washington Post


Lockheed Martin scored a $1.1 billion contract from the U.S. Army to build another 11,000 Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System rockets, the company announced March 30. – Defense News

The Navy is leaning toward replacing its fleet of Super Hornets with another manned fighter that will work with emerging unmanned aircraft concepts under the umbrella of the service’s Next Generation Air Dominance program. – USNI News

The Army’s new emphasis on long-range strike is designed to offer combatant commanders options in longer campaigns, not take over Marine Corps and Air Force missions, the service’s top general and senior commander in the Pacific said Tuesday. – USNI News

Fifty years later, these missiles — called the Minuteman III — are still on alert, manned by members of the U.S. Air Force in teams of two who spend 24 hours straight below ground in front of analog terminals from the 1980s, decoding messages and running tests on the missiles’ systems to check if they could still launch if needed. – Military.com

Arthur Herman and Nadia Schadlow write: The stormy meeting in Alaska between U.S. and Chinese officials earlier this month is a reminder of how high stakes superpower competition can be. Even as the two countries jockey for position on issues ranging from Hong Kong to 5G, the development and manufacturing of batteries is likely to emerge as a modern-day arms race. – Wall Street Journal