Fdd's overnight brief

November 27, 2018

In The News


France and Germany have joined forces to rescue a European effort to create a payments channel to keep trade flowing with Iran, defying U.S. attempts to take the air out of the plan, senior diplomats said. – Wall Street Journal

On Oct. 29, one week before the U.S. imposed sweeping economic sanctions against Iran, flag carrier Iran Air dispatched 11 international flights. Two weeks later, a U.S. ban on the airline firmly in place, it flew 13—touching down in destinations including Paris, London, Hamburg and Doha. […]The failure of sanctions to slow down Iran Air points to the challenge facing the Trump administration in its campaign to use international isolation to pressure Iran. – Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration has reportedly told Israel that it will lean on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to examine findings Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented to the world earlier this year that outlined Iran’s attempts to build a nuclear arsenal. – Times of Israel

Iran’s nuclear chief warned the European Union on Monday of “ominous” consequences if it did not follow through with action to keep the economic benefits of the 2015 nuclear agreement alive. – Reuters

The European Union and Iran affirmed their support for the international nuclear deal and said they aim to keep it alive despite US President Donald Trump’s decision to abandon the landmark pact. – Associated Press


Islamic State killed dozens of U.S.-backed fighters in Syria over the weekend, a war monitor said, highlighting the complications for an American troop withdrawal from the country as the extremist group fiercely defends its last positions. – Wall Street Journal

A 10-week-old truce deal in northern Syria looked as precarious as ever Monday after an alleged chemical attack, which has already drawn retaliatory raids despite its origins being unclear. – Agence France-Presse

David Kenner writes: Two years later, there are few Syrians of any political persuasion who labor under the illusion that the international community, as constituted in the United Nations, can affect the course of their lives. And there are few diplomats who would honestly say that they have a blueprint for changing that reality. – The Atlantic


Open Society Foundations, the philanthropic group founded by George Soros, announced Monday that it would stop its operations in Turkey, where the organization and its founder have been assailed by an increasingly authoritarian government. – New York Times

A Turkish military helicopter crashed into a residential street in Istanbul on Monday morning, killing four military personnel onboard and leaving one severely injured. – Business Insider

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview published on Tuesday that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had asked for a meeting with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and that there was currently no reason not to meet him. – Reuters


Czech Republic President Milos Zeman told Israel’s parliament on Monday that he would push to have his country’s embassy moved to Jerusalem, but acknowledged the decision depended on his government. – Agence France-Presse

A Palestinian was shot dead while carrying out a car-ramming attack on Monday that injured three Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli military said. – Reuters

The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday announced it was launching two separate investigations into a botched operation in the Gaza Strip earlier this month in which special forces soldiers were exposed by Hamas operatives, leading to a firefight in which one Israeli officer and seven Palestinian gunmen were killed. – Times of Israel

Israel is working to establish diplomatic ties with the Gulf State of Bahrain, which are expected to be announced soon. – Ynet

Shmuel Rosner writes: If he is still in office this spring, Mr. Netanyahu’s tenure will surpass Ben-Gurion’s, making him the longest-serving Israeli prime minister since Israel’s birth. Mr. Netanyahu has been able to pull this off because he is an adept politician. And it was that skillfulness that was on display when he decided to offer the cease-fire in Gaza, despite Hamas’s provocations and Mr. Lieberman’s complaints. – New York Times

Saudi Arabia

Senators are planning to vote this week on a measure to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, shortly after two Cabinet officials head to Capitol Hill to brief them on the situation — a briefing House members say they are being denied. – Washington Post

A Saudi agent involved in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi had discussed concealing Khashoggi’s dismembered remains during a telephone call the day before the killing, Turkish prosecutors said Monday. – Washington Post

The prince is visiting close allies in the Middle East before attending the Group of 20 summit in Argentina on Nov. 30, where he will come face to face with President Donald Trump, who has defended U.S. ties with the kingdom, as well as European leaders and Turkey’s president, who has kept pressure mounting on Riyadh since Khashoggi was killed and dismembered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. – Associated Press

Middle East & North Africa

The United Arab Emirates is willing to expand its multi-billion dollar investments in Brazil as long as it’s no longer labeled a tax haven by Latin America’s largest economy. – Bloomberg

The United Arab Emirates’ plan to grant long-term visas to the country’s largely expatriate population excludes most foreign residents, benefiting only the affluent and people with specialized expertise. – Bloomberg

United Nations envoy Martin Griffiths met Yemeni officials in Riyadh on Monday as part of efforts to kick-start peace talks next month between Huthi rebels and the Saudi-backed government. – Agence France-Presse

Dozens of Tunisian rights activists and journalists staged a small protest on Monday against a planned visit by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in Egypt on Monday, the third leg of his first trip abroad since the murder of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey last month. – Reuters

Korean Peninsula

Intelligence agencies have arrested a senior French civil servant on suspicion of spying for North Korea, a judicial source in Paris said. – Agence France-Presse

South Korea’s top public prosecutor on Tuesday apologized over what he described as a botched investigation into the enslavement and mistreatment of thousands of people at a vagrants’ facility in the 1970s and 1980s […]. The remarks by Prosecutor General Moon Moo-il were the government’s first formal expression of remorse over one of worst human rights atrocities in modern South Korea. – Associated Press

North and South Korea marked a new step in their reconciliation efforts on Monday as Unesco accepted an unprecedented joint bid for Korean wrestling to be recognised as one of the world’s most treasured cultural practices. –  The Guardian


President Trump, days before a summit with China’s leader, said he expects to move ahead with boosting tariff levels on $200 billion of Chinese goods to 25%, calling it “highly unlikely” that he would accept Beijing’s request to hold off on the increase. – Wall Street Journal

At the end of the week, President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet in Buenos Aires as part of the Group of 20 meetings and look for ways to ease tensions. The Wall Street Journal’s Bob Davis and Gerald F. Seib sat down with Beijing’s veteran ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai to discuss these issues. Following is an edited transcript. – Wall Street Journal

A member of the Uighur minority on Monday detailed torture and abuse she says she experienced in one of the internment camps where the Chinese government has detained hundreds of thousands of religious minorities. – Associated Press

Jack Ma, founder of Chinese tech giant Alibaba, is among the world’s richest people but he has now emerged as a member of another club: China’s 89-million-strong Communist Party. – Agence France-Presse

Countries must hit China with sanctions over the mass detention of ethnic Uighurs in its western Xinjiang region, hundreds of scholars said on Monday, warning that a failure to act would signal acceptance of “psychological torture of innocent civilians.” – Reuters

The U.S. is refusing Chinese capital and the European Union is imposing a continent-wide vetting process for Chinese investments. Southern European countries that were close to insolvency a decade ago are much more welcoming. – Bloomberg

Thomas J. Duesterberg writes: President Trump’s aggressive economic pressure has helped bring Chinese President Xi Jinping to the negotiating table. But as the two presidents prepare to meet Friday in Buenos Aires, it would be a mistake for American negotiators to imagine that tariff measures and more commodity purchases will be enough to secure a worthwhile deal with Beijing. The real threat from China is much deeper than anything reflected in the bilateral balance-of-payments ledger. – Wall Street Journal

Nina Shea writes: Twelve other Catholic bishops and priests remain imprisoned or missing. China refuses to provide information on them. They include Baoding Bishop James Su Zhimin, detained for 20 years, and Father Liu Honggeng, arrested three years ago, whose prison diary recently surfaced, revealing his readiness to die for his faith. – Heritage Foundation


Officials released a controversial private militia commander Monday night after two days of increasingly violent protests in the Afghan capital by his supporters from the ethnic Hazara minority, who viewed him as a hero for protecting their communities from Taliban insurgents. – Washington Post

American and Czech forces are under investigation for the death of an Afghan commando who was beaten while in NATO custody in western Afghanistan, American and Afghan officials said, demonstrating the tensions that have grown among military forces after 17 years of war. – New York Times

Nader Nadery writes: But even as the sense of urgency for peace grows, the parties involved are still far apart in their objectives. Taliban statements a little more than two weeks ago at a peace conference in Moscow sounded unchanged from statements they made years ago. The Taliban don’t seem ready to acknowledge how fundamentally Afghan society has been transformed since their rule ended, particularly regarding democratic practices and the rights of women. – Washington Post

Earl Anthony Wayne, Daniel F. Runde, & Jena Santoro write: Afghanistan has much potential for longer-term growth in mining, agri-business, and regional connectivity via energy and rail corridors. Although Afghanistan’s “youth bulge” brings massive numbers of new entrants into the job market each year, the task is made harder still with the Taliban gaining control of additional territory and violent clashes inflicting high civilian casualties. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned Russia over the seizure of three Ukrainian naval ships and Kiev put its troops on military alert in response to an incident that is ratcheting up tensions between Moscow and the West. – Wall Street Journal

Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed “serious concern” over Ukraine’s decision to impose martial law, the Kremlin said Tuesday, after a confrontation at sea between the two countries. – Agence France-Presse

Europe may need to impose tougher sanctions against Moscow following Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian vessels, an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday. – Reuters

A senior Russian diplomat warned Monday that the planned U.S. withdrawal from a Cold War-era arms control pact could critically upset stability in Europe. – Defense News

Editorial: Mr. Trump criticized Barack Obama for tolerating Mr. Putin’s seizure of Crimea, but now the Russian is testing Mr. Trump. The American should make clear during the G-20 summit this week that such aggression will be met with more arms sales to Ukraine and tougher sanctions on Russia. The Kremlin strongman will be watching for signs of weakness. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: Above all, Russia cannot be allowed to get away with this continued bullying of Ukraine. By steadily tightening its hold on Crimea, it is gambling that the West will not have the stomach or stamina to impose ever more punishment or provide more military support for Ukraine. – New York Times

Adam Taylor writes: Even at its lows, Putin’s approval is sky high by most Western standards. Then there’s the issue of cause and effect. We can certainly theorize that Russia’s actions in Georgia and Crimea led to a “rally around the flag” effect, but was that why the Russian government pursued these actions? In both cases, Russian aggression came after a number of other events not totally under Moscow’s control. – Washington Post

Anne Applebaum writes: The timing might also have been chosen with an eye to the political calendar in Ukraine, which is gearing up for a presidential election next March. Perhaps the Russians want to inject a polarizing element into an already divided society; perhaps this is an answer to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s decision to break away from Russia; perhaps they want to provoke a postponement of the election altogether. – Washington Post

Krishnadev Calamur writes: In any case, the current sanctions on Russia have hardly prevented Moscow from carrying out cyberattacks or attempting to assassinate a former Russian spy in the U.K. Haley’s absence might rob the U.S. of a strong public voice in an international forum, but that role could be taken up by the U.S. Congress, which has been outspoken about what it sees as Russia’s malign influence. – The Atlantic

Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.) writes: The President ought to make the point that it is in no one’s interest to stumble backward into a full-blown Cold War, let alone have an actual war inside Ukraine. Perhaps by appealing to Putin’s pragmatic side, we can defuse this crisis before it spirals into something we cannot control. – Time


Mr. Poroshenko delivered a speech to Ukraine’s Parliament asking it to approve the declaration of martial law starting on Wednesday, with the military already on full alert. The attack on the naval vessels near the shared waterway, the Kerch Strait, represented a new stage of aggression in what he called Russia’s “hybrid war” against Ukraine. – New York Times

A day after European Union leaders waved through a deal laying out the terms for British departure from the bloc, the British government has shifted into campaigning mode. […]The aim is to convince the British public that the accord Prime Minister Theresa May spent nearly two years negotiating is the best available and thereby encourage wavering British lawmakers to back it in a knife-edge vote scheduled for Dec. 11. – Wall Street Journal

Over the past two weeks, protesters clad in yellow reflective safety vests—or gilets jaunes, as the protesters themselves have become known in France—have been storming French roadways and snarling traffic to vent their frustration with fuel-tax increases. Two people have died and hundreds have been injured in clashes between protesters and both motorists and police, some of which have broken out even on the Champs Elysées. – Wall Street Journal

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are pressuring U.S. President Donald Trump to take a tougher line on Moscow after an incident at sea between Ukraine and Russia, which is ratcheting tensions between the two neighbors. – Defense News

An Israeli journalist was recently attacked in Berlin while trying to film a report, with video capturing a group of men harassing her and then apparently attacking her with a firecracker. – Times of Israel


Boko Haram jihadists have killed four farmers near the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri, in the latest bloodshed in the restive region, witnesses and a local militia leader said on Monday. – Agence France-Presse

The Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday accused Washington of sparking “needless fear” after the US embassy in Kinshasa warned of a “possible terrorist threat” against its mission in the country ahead of a key election. – Agence France-Presse

A South African mercenary who helped the Nigerian army recapture huge amounts of territory from Boko Haram insurgents has accused the country’s government of squandering the gains it made with his help. – The Telegraph

United States

About 300 hundred U.S. service members on the southern border have been shifted within the last few days from assignments in Arizona and Texas to work in California, near where a caravan of migrants has arrived in Mexico, U.S. military officials said Monday. – Washington Post

Sen. Lindsey Graham slammed newly elected New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for comparing Central American asylum seekers in the migrant caravan to Jews fleeing Nazi Germany during WWII. – New York Post

Authorities arrested a motorist suspected of trying to run down two men leaving a Los Angeles synagogue, and detectives are investigating the case as a hate crime, police officials said Monday. – Associated Press

The Americas

After more than 15 years of campaigning as a leftist firebrand, Mr. López Obrador must swiftly decide: Will he stand up to Mr. Trump and defend the migrants’ pleas to be allowed into the United States, even if many of their asylum requests will ultimately be rejected? Or will he acquiesce to Mr. Trump’s demands and the economic imperative of good relations with the United States? – New York Times

Argentine authorities are looking into possible criminal charges against Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia as he prepares to attend an international summit meeting of world leaders this week in Buenos Aires, officials involved in the inquiry said. – New York Times

She is one of thousands set to receive treatment this week from doctors and dentists from United States Navy hospital ship the USNS Comfort. Many are Venezuelan migrants who have fled economic crisis across the border. Others are Colombians, including indigenous Wayuu, seeking care amid constant delays in Colombia’s overcrowded health system. – Reuters

Editorial: Designating Venezuela a sponsor of terrorism is the next logical step in the Trump administrations’ sanctions regime. […]But the point of classifying states as terrorism sponsors isn’t simply to classify rogue regimes correctly. The state sponsor designation is a political and diplomatic tool intended to impair a malign government. If there’s a good reason the U.S. shouldn’t use that tool against Nicholás Mauro’s Venezuela, we haven’t heard it. – Weekly Standard

Cyber Security

The messages were infected with a spyware known as Pegasus, which the Mexican government purchased from an Israeli cyber arms dealer called the NSO Group, according to a forensic analysis by the Citizen Lab at the Munk School at the University of Toronto. – New York Times

Enemies are participating in economic espionage, theft of intellectual property and sowing distrust in society and American institutions, all of which take place below the threshold of armed conflict. […]As such, U.S. Cyber Command has decided it needs a constant approach, a philosophy it has dubbed persistent engagement. – Fifth Domain

Facebook looks set for another bruising week as it continues to be dogged by the catastrophic Cambridge Analytica data breach, which was first exposed in March.[…]His committee secured the documents from Ted Kramer, the founder of software company Six4Three, who obtained them as part of legal action his firm is taking against Facebook in California. Six4Three claims its app, Pikini, was killed when Facebook stopped app developers from accessing friend data in 2015.  – Business Insider

As the threat from state-sponsored cyber-attacks increases, multiple nations are putting together ‘cyber-armies’ aiming to fight back. The US Cyber Command was created in 2009 with the aim of defending the country’s infrastructure from attack. […]Another country upping its game is Nigeria, which has itself suffered from numerous incidents of cyber-terrorism after jihadist militants Boko Haram migrated to the internet. – Forbes

The U.S. government declined to sign a global declaration on cybersecurity crafted by French President Emmanuel Macron. Some strategic thinkers quickly downplayed the significance of the “Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace” despite the document gaining support from some U.S. industry players. – Washington Examiner


Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said there are “no surprises” in a recent Government Accountability Office report that found the Navy has lost more than $1.5 billion and thousands of operational days over the past decade due to attack submarines caught in maintenance delays or sitting idle while awaiting an availability. – USNI News

If the United States has to go to war with China, its top Air Force general in the Pacific region wants allies more tightly woven into the battle plans — and ready to execute even when communications go down. – Defense One

Relations between America’s civilian and military leadership are going to face serious new challenges as the U.S. military prepares for future war. In coming years, the Pentagon will make portentous decisions about how to adapt transformative technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), robots, and human augmentation. The potential for change is enormous. – War on the Rocks

Quentin Lopinot writes: Yet this time could be different for several reasons. The first is that Europe’s security context has dramatically changed […] including Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its efforts to intimidate several European countries and undermine EU and NATO unity and numerous terrorist attacks, in particular from the Islamic State. These recent events have demonstrated the need for Europeans to be able and willing to deploy and project military force to defends their interests in cases where the United States is unable or unwilling to act. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Trump Administration

Prosecutors with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III said Monday that Paul Manafort breached his plea agreement, accusing President Trump’s former campaign chairman of lying repeatedly to them in their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. – Washington Post

President Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and deputy campaign manager David Bossie this week will release a new book detailing how the president’s “enemies” inside and outside the White House are working to thwart his agenda. – Washington Examiner

Walter Lohman writes: So, the vice president’s trip was good on diplomatic and security issues. On the economic side, it demonstrated the need for improvement. As is, the administration’s aggressive messaging on China will not find much uptake in the region. – Heritage Foundation