Fdd's overnight brief

March 5, 2019

In The News


Michael R. White, the Navy veteran imprisoned in Iran since July, was beaten after his arrest, has no money to hire a lawyer and still does not know what charges — if any — have been filed against him, his mother said Monday. – New York Times

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was not informed about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s trip to Tehran last week and that was a reason why he submitted his resignation, the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) reported on Tuesday. – Reuters

The Netherlands on Monday recalled its ambassador to Iran for consultations after diplomats at its embassy in Tehran were expelled, Foreign Minister Stef Blok said. – Reuters

Five people aboard a rescue helicopter were killed when it crashed into a utility pole in western Iran on Monday, state media reported. The incident came amid growing concern about the safety of Iran’s aging aircraft fleet as the result of decades of U.S. trade and financial sanctions. – Reuters

The Islamic Republic of Iran’s judiciary charged a female equality activist with violating its national security because she sought to “normalize same-sex relations” in a country that imposes capital punishment for homosexuality. – Jerusalem Post

Iranian and Turkish media have pushed conspiracy theories about the US-led coalition and the defeat of Islamic State in Syria. As the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – the main partner of the coalition in the anti-ISIS battle – defeats ISIS in Syria, both Ankara and Tehran appear to have a different narrative. – Jerusalem Post

Micheal Rubin writes: The German government’s celebration of Iran’s Islamic Revolution may have been gratuitous, but it was consistent with decades, if not more than a century, of German foreign policy. For successive German governments, lucrative contracts have always trumped human rights and, absent any moral clarity in German political culture, will continue to do so. – Washington Examiner


As American-backed forces assault the final bastion of the Islamic State in Syria, two American children may be stuck inside, their father fears. “I am praying to my God that they will return to me,” said the father, Bashirul Shikder. “They are innocent. I am just hoping.” Four years ago, his wife fled their Florida home to join the Islamic State and took their two children with her. – New York Times

Kurdish-led forces supported by air strikes from an international coalition evacuated civilians held as “human shields” Monday after smashing their way into the jihadists’ last scrap of territory in eastern Syria. The Syrian Democratic Forces and its allies from the US-led coalition unleashed a deluge of fire on the village of Baghouz at the weekend to break the defences of Islamic State group fighters in the final sliver of their “caliphate”. – Agence France Presse  

Some 200 Islamic State fighters surrendered after a ferocious battle over their last shred of territory in eastern Syria, but around 1,000 may still be holding out, a spokesman for the U.S.-backed Syrian force battling them said on Monday. – Reuters

When the dust settles in Baghouz, other questions might be answered. The fate of hundreds of prisoners — among them Western hostages — remains unknown. There is also the question of the Islamic State’s missing leadership. Western militaries suspect that the group’s so-called caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has slipped into Iraq. He has delivered no message to his die-hard cadres in the final stage of their battle. – Washington Post


The U.S. has deployed a highly advanced missile defense system in Israel for the first time, the American and Israeli militaries announced Monday, reflecting their shared concerns about Iran’s development of powerful missiles. – Associated Press

Two explosive devices attached to balloons launched from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip detonated over Israeli territory on Monday evening, causing no injuries or damage. At the same time, Palestinians staged a riot on the Gaza side of the border with Israel. Such unrest has been regularly ongoing for almost a year now. Thousands of acres of farmland and forests in southern Israel have been burned by incendiary balloons and kites flown across the border by Gaza-based terrorists. – Algemeiner  

Hungary will open a trade office in Jerusalem on March 19, Israel Hayom reported. The trade office will be located in the center of Jerusalem, and will have “diplomatic status.” Its dedication ceremony will include Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, who will launch Israel’s Hungarian Culture Month. – Arutz Sheva   

Ghaith al-Omari writes: Diplomatically marginalized and witnessing early cracks in its control over its own national politics, the PLO had to act or face possible demise. This sense of urgency was not simply due to the challenge these developments posed to Arafat’s authoritarian tendencies—though this of course cannot be discarded—but also touched on a strategic concern for the PLO and the Palestinian cause. – Washington Institute

Saudi Arabia

Senators left a closed-door briefing with Trump administration officials Monday deeply frustrated by the lack of new information on the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, with some raising the prospect of placing new sanctions on the government of Saudi Arabia. – Associated Press

A group of senators from both parties are threatening to sanction Saudi Arabia over the killing of a U.S.-based journalist after a briefing by Trump administration officials failed to quell their concerns. – Bloomberg

Saudi Arabia said on Monday it was too early to restore diplomatic ties with Syria or reinstate Damascus to the Arab League without progress on a political process to end the eight-year-old war. – Reuters

Editorial: Today, Khashoggi is no longer able to ask such impertinent questions. He was assassinated in Istanbul by a hit squad that intelligence reports say was dispatched by the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. But Khashoggi’s question remains relevant. Mr. Fitaihi, founder of a medical center in Jeddah, is still a captive. – Washington Post

Middle East & North Africa

Libya’s National Oil Corp. has restarted limited production at its giant Sharara oil field, a person familiar with the matter said Monday, following the removal of gunmen who had occupied the field for three months. – Wall Street Journal  

Baseh Hammo was 38 when she was enslaved by militants of the Islamic State group. Raped and abused, she was sold 17 times among members of the so-called “caliphate,” and moved from city to city across a vast stretch of territory IS once controlled in northern Iraq and Syria. – Associated Press

A delegation of evangelical Christian leaders, mostly from the United States, touched down in Azerbaijan early Monday morning. The decision by the Muslim-majority country, which has close ties to Israel, to host the group is part of a broader trend in which many Muslim and Arab countries are making efforts to improve their standing with U.S. evangelicals. – Haaretz

Annette Ranko and Mohammad Yaghi write: More specifically, the MB splinter group’s concept of qisas allows for acts such as killing state security personnel, judges, and even journalists involved in incitement against the group. […] By invoking the concepts of qisas and self-defense, which are more compatible with the Muslim mainstream, the revolutionary camp has opened the door to cooperation with other groups in confronting the government. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea is still using a uranium-enrichment facility at the heart of last week’s summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the United Nations atomic agency said. – Wall Street Journal  

Troubled by the failure of the U.S. and North Korea to reach a deal on sanctions relief in exchange for Pyongyang’s disarmament, South Korea is pressing the two sides to return to negotiations to prevent the diplomatic detente from unraveling. – Wall Street Journal  

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un returned home on Tuesday after traveling two and a half days by train from Vietnam, where his high-stakes nuclear summit with President Donald Trump ended without any agreement. – Associated Press

South Korea has proposed semi-official three-way talks with the United States and North Korea as it struggles to put nuclear diplomacy back on track after the collapse of a summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. – Associated Press

President Donald Trump on Monday shot down the idea that he discussed curbing joint military drills with South Korea with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a decision he said could save the United States millions of dollars and has suggested would reduce tensions with North Korea. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday he was hopeful the United States would send a delegation to North Korea in the coming weeks, after talks between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended with no agreement. – Reuters

The nuclear reactor that is believed to have supplied much of the plutonium for North Korea’s nuclear weapons appears to have been shut down for the past three months, the U.N. atomic watchdog said on Monday, without suggesting why. – Reuters

Gerald F. Seib writes: Diplomacy is a little like riding a bicycle: You either keep moving forward or the thing falls down. That’s the position in which the Trump administration finds itself after last week’s Hanoi summit meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The meeting wasn’t the disaster some proclaim. A bad nuclear deal wasn’t agreed to; the door to a better one remains open. – Wall Street Journal  

Erin Dunne writes: Moving forward after a failed summit that hopefully served as a reset of expectations and a reality check, the Trump administration must not be blinded by an attempt to reach a deal on nuclear arms such that it overlooks the threats from North Korea’s other weapons, such as cyberwarfare or even conventional attacks. Unfortunately, it seems this is already the case, as Trump canceled planned military exercises with South Korea over the weekend. – Washington Examiner

Patrick M. Cronin writes: Many questions remain, including what comes next. Diplomacy suffered a serious setback, but the door is still open. Because Kim said the freeze on nuclear and missile tests would continue, and because Trump is continuing to keep military pressure greatly reduced from the 2017 period, there is some time for Kim to rethink his position – Hudson Institute

Joseph Bosco writes: Yet, despite those dire assessments of the immediate outcome, the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un, in fact, greatly strengthened Washington’s longer-term negotiating position and advanced the prospect of North Korea’s denuclearization, either peacefully or by a return to the maximum pressure campaign. – The Hill


China accused two detained Canadians of working together to steal Chinese state secrets, moving ahead with a politically charged investigation seen as retribution for Canada’s arrest of a senior Huawei Technologies Co. executive. – Wall Street Journal  

The pain of President Trump’s trade war with China may soon be over, but American businesses and farmers are left wondering whether it was worth the trouble. Negotiations with the Chinese are continuing, and Mr. Trump could still secure more concessions to balance out a trading relationship he has long criticized as unfair. – New York Times

China’s government announced a robust annual economic growth target and a 7.5 percent rise in military spending Tuesday at a legislative session overshadowed by a tariff war with Washington. In a bid to defuse U.S. and European complaints the Chinese system is rigged against foreign companies, Premier Li Keqiang promised in a speech to the National People’s Congress they will be “treated as equals” with Chinese competitors. – Associated Press

China’s premier warned Tuesday that the country faces a “tough struggle” as he unveiled tax cuts to prop up a stuttering economy while increasing military spending to nearly $180 billion. The slowdown and US trade war have become major challenges for President Xi Jinping, a year after becoming the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong with the abolition of term limits and etching of his name into the constitution. – Agence France Presse  

U.S. lawmakers have appealed to the Trump Administration to take action against “egregious human rights abuses” in western China, where it is believed that at least one million ethnic Uighur and other minority Muslims are being held in secretive internment camps. – Time

Nathaniel Taplin writes: Beijing and President Trump appear near to a trade deal: China buys a lot more U.S. stuff, gives some ground on auto-industry protections and intellectual property, and mostly ignores other U.S. complaints. What would that mean in practice? Mainly, a boost to already-competitive U.S. industries like natural gas, agriculture and autos—and a big hit to other major exporting nations. – Wall Street Journal  


When the war engulfing southern Afghanistan reached Sayed Mohammed’s doorstep, he resisted the urge to abandon his home. When Taliban fighters looted his chicken farm, he still refused to leave. – New York Times

The United States is trying to prevent simmering tensions between India and Pakistan from impacting a third country: Afghanistan, where a fragile peace push is underway to try to end more than 17 years of war with Taliban insurgents. – Reuters

Myra MacDonald writes: It was in the fractious environment of Afghanistan’s civil war that an extreme form of Islamism – including the takfiri ideology that thrives on declaring other Muslims apostates – took root. […] Both older and newer arrivals took sides in the Afghan factionalism, ignoring advice from Azzam that they should refuse to be sucked into Afghan in-fighting. Among these was bin Laden. – War on the Rocks


A New Zealand native who joined the Islamic State should not lose his citizenship but may face charges if he returns home, the country’s prime minister said on Monday, outlining a milder approach than Britain and the United States have taken toward citizens with ties to the group. – New York Times

Pakistan said on Tuesday that it would take new steps to seize and freeze the assets of people and militant groups who are on the United Nations’ list of designated terrorists, after months of international criticism. – New York Times  

The Philippines’ top defense official said on Tuesday that the government should review a decades-old treaty with the United States, its longtime ally, to avoid provoking a potential armed conflict with China in the disputed South China Sea. – New York Times  

A key train service with neighboring India resumed and schools in Pakistani Kashmir opened Monday in another sign of easing tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals since a major escalation last week over the disputed Kashmir region. – Associated Press

Indonesia and Australia signed a free trade agreement Monday that will eliminate many tariffs, allow Australian-owned hospitals to operate in the giant Southeast Asian country and increase work visas for young Indonesians. – Associated Press

Facebook says it will not allow foreign-funded advertisements for upcoming presidential and legislative elections in Indonesia, the world’s third-largest democracy, hoping to allay concerns that its platform is being used to manipulate voting behavior.- Associated Press


President Vladimir Putin formally ordered a suspension of Russia’s obligations under a Cold War-era nuclear treaty with the U.S., his office said Monday, a death knell for the pact that heightens the threat of a new arms race. – Wall Street Journal  

A charity run by Prince Charles received donations from an offshore company that was used to funnel vast amounts of cash from Russia in a scheme that is under investigation by prosecutors, the Guardian can reveal. – The Guardian

Leonid Bershidsky writes: Gerasimov suspects Pentagon strategists are developing new military plans aimed at achieving that goal. Unlike the other terms the Russian general used in describing U.S. strategic concepts, though, “Trojan Horse” isn’t one used by his counterparts in Washington. – Bloomberg


A year after Britain’s spy poisoning drama began, with the discovery of a father and daughter slumped on a park bench, a massive cleanup operation has concluded but the investigation continues. On Monday, Prime Minister Theresa May visited Salisbury, in southern England, to mark the end of a year-long effort to detoxify and certify as safe sites where the residue of a Cold War nerve agent was found or suspected. – Washington Post

The home Elke Koller chose for her retirement has horse pastures and bird song, a tranquil garden where her grandchildren love to play and views that stretch for miles across the green hills of western Germany’s Eifel region. It is also close enough to a stash of nuclear weapons that should they detonate, it would all be vaporized within seconds. – Washington Post

Frosty relations between the U.S. and the European Union warmed Monday when Washington reversed its decision to downgrade the bloc’s embassy, a move late last year that had strained already tense trans-Atlantic ties. – Wall Street Journal  

U.S. and European trade negotiators face growing domestic pressure over agriculture, with clashing demands threatening to rekindle a tit-for-tat economic war. The food fight comes as U.S. farm lobbies, Congress and some Trump administration officials demand access to European markets following a trans-Atlantic trade truce in July. – Wall Street Journal  

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier meets Britain’s negotiating team on Tuesday as both sides seek a breakthrough with just weeks to go before this month’s ominous divorce deadline. The sitdown comes after Barnier said on Saturday that the European Union was ready to give London further guarantees to help push a troubled divorce deal through the British parliament. – Agence France Presse  

With campaigning for May’s European Parliament elections shifting into high gear, security officials are preparing for potential attempts by Russia-linked hackers to sway the vote — and potentially deepen divisions in the bloc. “There’s a strong likelihood that people will try to manipulate the debates and falsify the European election results,” the EU’s security commissioner Julian King told France’s Alsace newspaper last week. – Agence France Presse  

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and their Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners have agreed a plan to strip some Germans who fight for the Islamic State militant group of their citizenship, an Interior Ministry spokeswoman said on Monday. – Reuters

Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis will ask Belarus to convert its Russian-built nuclear power plant to gas provided by Lithuania’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal and a planned gas link between Lithuania and Poland. – Reuters

Belarus lifted a restriction on the number of U.S. diplomats allowed on its territory that had been in force since 2008, a move aimed at improving ties with Washington, the foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday. – Reuters

A Dutch member of the European Parliament has demanded that the German government correct a “gross injustice” in the case of the Holocaust survivor whose struggle over several decades to secure a decent pension from the German government was reported on by The Algemeiner last year. – Algemeiner  

Jochen Bittner writes: It is naïve to believe that this epochal power shift will leave Western democracies untouched. We are already seeing China’s role in Europe growing, both as a model and an influence. In 2016 Hungary and Greece, who have received billions of euros of Chinese investments in harbors, railways and power stations, blocked a reference to Beijing in a European Union statement criticizing its expansionist territorial claims in the South China Sea. – New York Times


A U.S. congressional delegation has visited Eritrea for the first time in 14 years as Washington seeks closer contact with the long-reclusive state in the Horn of Africa after it made surprising peace with Ethiopia last year. – Associated Press

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday extended by one year sanctions against Zimbabwe saying that the new government’s policies continue to pose an “unusual and extraordinary” threat to U.S. foreign policy. – Reuters

One of the world’s largest charities has launched an investigation into claims that it funds, equips and works with paramilitary forces accused of beating, torturing, sexually assaulting and murdering scores of people in national parks across Africa and Asia. – The Guardian

United States

The White House told Senate Republicans on Monday to “keep their powder dry” ahead of a vote to nullify President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border as the administration worked to limit defections on a measure rebuking the president. – Washington Post

A federal judge Monday declined to fast-track a lawsuit brought by the family of an American-born woman from Alabama who alleges the Trump administration unlawfully denied her return to the country after she joined the Islamic State in Syria. – Washington Post

Leading House Democrats will offer a resolution Wednesday condemning anti-Semitism in response to Rep. Ilhan Omar’s latest remarks on Israel, a senior Democratic aide said. – Associated Press

President Donald Trump has announced he plans to end key trade preferences for India and Turkey, in the latest move by the U.S. to counter what it calls unfair trade practices. – Bloomberg  

Bryan Newl Vinas writes: There are citizens from the United States, Britain, Germany and France, men and women, who joined the Islamic State because of ideological fervor, the promise of adventure, the opportunity to create an Islamic utopia and a perceived religious obligation. It may be hard to see it this way, but they can be a strategic asset for the United States and our European partners. – New York Times

The Americas

On a recent afternoon, a Chinese politics student at the University of British Columbia waited outside a seven-bedroom mansion, worth roughly 16 million Canadian dollars, in Vancouver’s exclusive Shaughnessy neighborhood, hoping for a glimpse of Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, Canada’s most famous detainee. – New York Times

Opposition leader Juan Guaidó made a triumphant return to Venezuela on Monday after a 10-day absence, injecting fresh energy into the U.S.-backed campaign to push out authoritarian President Nicolás Maduro. – Washington Post

The Trump administration partially reversed more than two decades of U.S. policy toward Cuba on Monday, authorizing lawsuits by American citizens against Cuban government entities “trafficking” in property that was confiscated six decades ago by the revolutionary government of Fidel Castro. – Washington Post


The National Security Agency has quietly shut down a system that analyzes logs of Americans’ domestic calls and texts, according to a senior Republican congressional aide, halting a program that has touched off disputes about privacy and the rule of law since the Sept. 11 attacks. – New York Times

A pair of expeditionary fast transport ships (EPFs) are playing a key role in this year’s multi-national Pacific Partnership 2019 exercise focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the region. The exercise commanders are embarked aboard USNS Brunswick (T-EPF-6) and USNS Fall River (T-EPF-4), providing the latest example of how the Navy is experimenting with new uses for these versatile platforms. – USNI News

The chairman of a Senate panel overseeing military personnel pushed the Navy and Marines to fix ongoing military housing problems that include black mold and sewage backing up into base housing. – USNI News

The Navy is investing in its explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) force, doubling the number of unmanned systems platoons in the community in the next couple years and improving the technology on their unmanned underwater vehicles. – USNI News  

Two weeks after an F-15 Eagle from Oregon experienced an in-flight emergency and had to ditch its missiles before landing, the Air National Guard is still searching for clues to what caused the emergency in the first place. – Military.com

Hugh Hewitt writes: The Pentagon’s leadership and bureaucracy has effectively slow-rolled the president on his campaign promise, repeated after his election on the deck of the USS Gerald R. Ford, to get the Navy to its “needed” ship count of 355. That expansion has been quietly deferred again and again, with only Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, admitting that that goal is in doubt. – Washington Post

Heather Venable writes: What is most unfortunate for the Air Force is the way that this announcement casts further doubt on if it is allergic to close air support and similar missions. After all, the Air Force “picked” the Super Tucano over the AT-6 back in 2012 to equip the Afghan Air Force. Even then, however, commentators described an Air Force determined to avoid purchasing such a “niche” capability for the low-end fight. – War on the Rocks

Trump Administration

As national security adviser to President Trump, John Bolton has been the chief translator of Trump’s un­or­tho­dox foreign policy views to the vast U.S. bureaucracy. To his critics, Bolton is the hawkish whisperer in Trump’s ear, nudging a president unschooled in world affairs toward Bolton’s preferred strategies. To his supporters, he’s an adviser who knows his place, offering counsel but careful never to force the president’s hand. – Washington Post

House Democrats’ far-reaching document request seeking information from President Trump’s sons, his business associates and his political confidants opened a sprawling investigation Monday and cast a spotlight on the ambitious strategy of the committee with the authority to impeach a president. – Washington Post

An attorney for Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, raised the possibility of a pardon with attorneys for the president and his company after federal agents raided Mr. Cohen’s properties in April, according to people familiar with the discussions. – Wall Street Journal  

Attorney General William Barr will not recuse himself from overseeing the special counsel’s Russia probe after consulting with senior ethics officials, the Justice Department said Monday. – Associated Press