Fdd's overnight brief

October 1, 2018

In The News


Iran plans to get around U.S. sanctions on its oil sales by selling its petroleum and conducting international trade in currencies other than the U.S. dollar, the Iranian diplomat who negotiated the nuclear deal said Saturday. – Washington Post

The Trump administration has been steadily ramping up its rhetoric on the threat posed by Iran this year. But the U.S. military has scaled back its presence in the Persian Gulf region, say officials and military experts, removing ships, planes and missiles that would be needed in a major confrontation. – Wall Street Journal

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said on Saturday that Tehran was closing in on an agreement to sell oil to European nations despite American threats of sanctions against any countries that do business with Iran. – New York Times

As minority groups seek influence, some with insurgency and others with grass-roots campaigns, Tehran is lashing out. On Sept. 8, Iran hanged three Kurds after convicting them of armed rebellion; hours later, it fired seven ballistic missiles at Kurdish bases more than 40 miles inside Iraq. – Wall Street Journal

Iran’s state TV has broadcast footage purporting to show a close encounter between the Revolutionary Guard’s navy and the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt early this year. – Associated Press

Special courts set up in a drive against financial crime have sentenced three people to death in Iran, state television reported on Sunday, as the country faces renewed U.S. sanctions and a public outcry against profiteering and corruption. – Reuters

Western powers “do not have proof” that Iran supports terrorism, according to Russia’s top diplomat. – Washington Examiner

A US intelligence assessment conducted in recent days has concluded that Iranian-backed militias and proxy forces could be planning a strike against US military forces or interests in the Middle East, according to three defense officials. – CNN

Mehdi Khalaji writes: Unable to understand the problematic aspects or fatal ramifications of its policies, the Islamic Republic refuses to realistically recognize any crisis as such[…]. Iran’s consistent record in acting as an authoritarian, pan-Islamic entity rather than a state based on its national interests prompts an even harder question: “What has kept Iranian revolutionary totalitarianism from falling so far?” – Washington Institute


The Trump administration has opened a new chapter in American involvement in Syria, vowing to remain until the civil war’s conclusion in a bid to halt Iran’s expansion across the Middle East.  – Washington Post

Security forces in northern Syria’s Raqqa city said on Sunday they had uncovered an Islamic State sleeper cell which was plotting series of large attacks across the devastated city. – Reuters

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard launched six ballistic missiles early Monday toward eastern Syria, targeting militants it blamed for an attack on a military parade in Iran last month while also threatening regional adversaries as Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers unravels. – Associated Press

More than 18,000 people, nearly half of them civilians, have been killed in Russian air strikes on Syria since Moscow began its game-changing intervention exactly three years ago, a monitor said Sunday. – Agence France-Presse

Syria’s foreign minister on Saturday denounced US, French and Turkish forces operating in his country as “occupying forces” and demanded that they leave immediately. – Agence France-Presse

During Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly, he called upon Israel to retreat from the Israeli Golan Heights and slammed it for helping “terror organizations” operating in the war-torn country. – Associated Press

Pro-Turkey rebels began Sunday withdrawing from areas in northern Syria under a deal brokered by Ankara and Moscow to avert a large-scale military assault on the country’s last major opposition stronghold, a monitor said. – Agence France-Presse

Syrian rebels on Sunday denied pulling any heavy arms out of a major opposition bastion in the north, as the deadline to implement a demilitarisation deal there draws closer. – Agence France-Presse

A senior Israeli official said that Russia’s decision to provide advanced anti-aircraft systems to Syria posed a serious challenge for the Jewish state, but added that Israel was working on ways to prevent the development from becoming a major threat to the country’s security. – Times of Israel


A three-day state visit to Germany by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey was supposed to be aimed at repairing relations at a time of a looming economic crisis at home. But if Mr. Erdogan was on a charm offensive, Germans seemed to agree that, after just 24 hours in Berlin, it was more offensive than charm. – New York Times

In a narrow side street of Istanbul the riot police, with gas masks pushed up on their heads, advanced on a small band of demonstrators marching in silence. The police were there to stop a collection of aging mothers and their relatives, who were protesting the disappearances and extrajudicial killings decades ago of their family members, mostly activists from Turkey’s Kurdish minority. – New York Times

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s vow to continue purchasing Iranian natural gas despite sanctions imposed by the United States will become another significant sticking point between Washington and Ankara, analysts told The Media Line. – Jerusalem Post

Gonul Tol writes: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for his part, saw what a dispute with the U.S. can do to his vulnerable economy when Trump’s decision sent the Turkish currency into free fall. With no immediate prospect of normalization with Washington, Erdogan now feels he must mend ties with the European countries that he called “Nazi remnants” not long ago to help his country’s ailing economy. – Middle East Institute


At least seven Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli security forces on the Gaza-Israel border Friday, after militant group Hamas issued calls for bigger protests amid growing frustrations over stalled cease-fire talks with its neighbor. – Wall Street Journal

Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki said Saturday the Palestinians have petitioned the UN’s top court, alleging that the US inauguration of an embassy in Jerusalem was illegal. – Agence France-Presse

An Arizona law requiring contractors not to boycott Israel was overruled by a federal court on Friday, claiming that it violates the free speech rights of the contractors under the First Amendment of the Constitution, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). – Jerusalem Post

Israel on Sunday released French-Palestinian Arab lawyer Salah Hamouri […]. Hamouri, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist group, was arrested at his home in eastern Jerusalem on August 23, 2017 and was placed under administrative detention, which allows detention without trial for renewable six-month periods. – Arutz Sheva

“Abbas wants to control everything in Gaza, war is good for him,” charged al-Zahar, who is currently in Cairo as part of a large delegation from Gaza led by Hamas leader Salah al-Arouri for continued talks with Egyptian officials over a reconciliation deal with Abbas’ Fatah faction as well as a peace plan with Israel. – Arutz Sheva


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ordered the evacuation of U.S. diplomats stationed at the U.S. Consulate in the Iraqi city of Basra on Friday, citing “threats to our personnel and facilities” from Iran and its proxies. – Washington Post

Kurds voted Sunday in parliamentary elections for the first time since 2013, an effort to kick-start a stagnant political scene in northern Iraq that has been beset by competing visions for the future of the autonomous region. – Washington Post

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Sunday denied that his country was responsible for increased threats against a U.S. consulate in the Iraqi city of Basra. – Reuters

Mera Jasm Bakr writes: With elections for Iraq’s Kurdistan region slated for September 30, one key and often overlooked actor in the political arena is the changing role of the Islamic political movement in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). […]this election season marks a shift in Islamist politicians’ involvement in the larger opposition movement that has developed in the KRG over the last decade.  – Washington Institute


Overriding the objections of Saudi Arabia and its allies, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted Friday to continue an investigation by a panel of international experts into the war in Yemen that is driving the country’s population toward famine. – New York Times

A Saudi-led military coalition fighting against Yemen’s Houthi movement foiled an attack by two explosives-laden remote controlled boats deployed by the Houthis against Saudi Arabia’s Jizan port, Saudi state news agency SPA reported on Sunday. – Reuters

Mohamad Bazzi writes: After the Trump administration’s endorsement this month, the Saudi-UAE alliance has even less incentive to prevent civilian casualties and new humanitarian disasters. Saudi Arabia and its allies are more likely to accept a peace process if it is clear that the United States won’t support an open-ended war in Yemen and won’t provide the military assistance required to keep the war apparatus going. But Trump has shown little sign of pressuring his Saudi and Emirati allies, least of all over Yemen. – The Atlantic

Middle East

President Trump made it clear Saturday that the United States wants Saudi Arabia to step up its military spending. Trump, who spoke with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud this morning, said the U.S. needs to stop subsidizing the Middle Eastern country’s military. – Washington Examiner

U.S. President Donald Trump called Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Saturday and they discussed efforts being made to maintain supplies to ensure oil market stability and global economic growth, Saudi state news agency SPA reported. – Reuters

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in Kuwait on Sunday, state media reported, amid expectation that he will discuss oil supplies and a Kuwaiti mediation effort to resolve Saudi Arabia’s conflict with Qatar. – Reuters

Frank A. Verrastro and Larry Goldstein write: Coupled with continued strong demand and supply disruptions[…] and concerns over the loss of Iranian barrels as a result of U.S. sanctions, oil prices have risen to four-year highs, now in excess of $80/barrel. And here’s where policy and sentiment take on increasing importance. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Korean Peninsula

President Trump says he and Kim Jong Un “fell in love” after the North Korean leader wrote him “beautiful letters” and characterized the U.S. as having “a very good relationship” with North Korea. – Wall Street Journal

North Korea’s foreign minister said on Saturday that there was “no way we will denuclearize” without getting so-called trust-building concessions from the United States, an assertion that reflected a continuing divide over efforts to ease nuclear tensions on the Korean Peninsula. – New York Times

Now, four women and one man who spent decades in North Korea before finally escaping to Japan are pursuing legal action against the North Korea government in a Japanese court, seeking damages for the lies they were told and mistreatment they suffered. – Washington Post

Army engineers from North and South Korea began clearing land mines on Monday in the Demilitarized Zone between their nations as they prepared to search there for the remains of soldiers killed during the Korean War. – New York Times

Michael Rubin writes: Alas, there is a long history that shows that sleight-of-hand does not bolster security nor does wishful thinking change the true character of rogue regimes. To pretend otherwise risks far more than simply the truth, however. On the Korean Peninsula, such political delusions are often measured with body bags. – Washington Examiner


A U.S. Navy warship patrolled near at least two Chinese-held outposts in the disputed Spratly island chain in the South China Sea on Sunday, challenging Beijing’s maritime claims amid growing tensions between the two countries. – Wall Street Journal

Security talks between U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and his Chinese counterpart have been canceled amid mounting friction between Beijing and Washington. – Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration considered severely penalizing El Salvador this month for severing diplomatic ties with Taiwan in a move that officials said was intended to signal a significant widening of the administration’s pushback against China. The effort ultimately fizzled over concerns that the penalties […]would have made El Salvador unwilling to help stop the flow of illegal immigrants to the United States. – New York Times

A week after an official Chinese newspaper ran a four-page ad in a U.S. daily touting the mutual benefits of U.S.-China trade, the U.S. ambassador to China accused Beijing of using the American press to spread propaganda. – Reuters

China is working to develop a first-class, crack anti-terror force that can operate at home and abroad and protect the country’s overseas interests, a senior Chinese officer said in comments carried by state media on Saturday. – Reuters

The Chinese government’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, said on Friday there was “no cause for panic” over friction between Beijing and Washington, but warned that China would not be blackmailed or yield to pressure over trade. – Reuters

Harrison Schmitt, the most-recent living man to walk on the moon, says China is poised to beat the U.S. in returning humans to the lunar surface, dealing a crushing blow to the American psyche and business prospects, unless Congress authorizes a game-changing shakeup at NASA. – Washington Examiner


Beginning in September, the Times bureau in Kabul mobilized all of its stringers and Afghan reporters to record every attack on the Afghan security forces that they could find, as a daily chronicle of the war. This first entry goes back to the week of Sept. 6, a period when 400 Afghan soldiers and police officers were reportedly killed, a record number. – New York Times

Despite seventeen years of war with no apparent victory in sight for the U.S-led effort, the chief executive of Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah, insists that the Trump administration’s renewed approach to the stalemate conflict “is working.” – Fox News

Campaigning has started in Afghanistan for next month’s parliamentary elections amid concerns that the much-delayed vote could be postponed again due to the uncertainty over new technology. – Al Jazeera

South Asia

Saudi officials are due in Pakistan for talks starting Monday over a proposed multibillion-dollar oil refinery and other investments, Pakistani officials said, as Islamabad seeks new sources of outside cash to avoid falling further into Chinese debt. – Wall Street Journal

After lengthy delays, an $8.2 billion revamp of a colonial-era rail line snaking from the Arabian Sea to the foothills of the Hindu Kush has become a test of Pakistan’s ability to rethink signature Chinese “Silk Road” projects due to debt concerns. – Reuters

India has quietly approved a $5.43 billion program to buy five S-400 Triumf air defense systems from Russia, just a week before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Oct. 5 visit to the country. – Defense News

India’s foreign minister accused neighboring Pakistan of harboring terrorists in an angry speech Saturday before the U.N. General Assembly and rejected the notion that India is sabotaging peace talks with Pakistan, calling it “a complete lie.” Hours later, Pakistan shot back in its own speech, accusing India of financing terrorists and declaring that New Delhi “preferred politics over peace.” – Associated Press

The leader of Pakistani-administered Kashmir region said on Sunday Indian troops shot at his helicopter near the disputed frontier, a move likely to further fray ties between the two countries. – Reuters

China wants to deepen mutually beneficial cooperation with the Maldives, President Xi Jinping said in a congratulatory message to the newly elected Maldivian president, the leader of an opposition that has vowed to review Chinese projects. – Reuters

Amy Kazmin writes: The overwhelming triumph of Ibrahim Mohamed Solih — the mild-mannered politician backed by the Maldives’ fragmented opposition — is considered an important strategic victory for India. New Delhi has watched with alarm as Beijing, through its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, has made deep inroads into what India once considered its natural sphere of influence. – Financial Times


Denny Tamaki was elected Sunday as the next governor of Okinawa prefecture in Japan, after a campaign focused on sharply reducing the U.S. military presence on the island. – Washington Post

Eleven years after Canada granted honorary citizenship to Myanmar’s civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the House of Commons voted unanimously to revoke it. – New York Times

The Philippine military said Friday its joint defense and security activities with U.S. forces, including annual combat exercises, will increase next year in a show of the treaty allies’ continuing robust relations. – Associated Press

The Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir bin Mohamad, is being feted during a two part visit to Britain despite a long history of antisemitic statements and a virulent anti-Israel speech delivered at the General Assembly of the United Nations last week. – Algemeiner

Timothy Mclaughlin writes: Suu Kyi’s unflappable demeanor in the face of a repressive military, which once made her a darling of the Western press, now comes across as, at best, detached—and, at worst, as cruel and calculating. Over the past year, she has emerged from a period of self-imposed isolation to defend the Myanmar military’s most recent campaign against the Rohingya. – The Atlantic

Jack Caporal writes: The joint statement announcing the negotiations was released on Sept. 26 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly after a bilateral meeting between President Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Questions remain, however, about the scope of the negotiations, the resolution of U.S. national security tariffs on steel, aluminum and automobiles, and what either side may be willing to give to the other to reach a deal. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


This summer, as the U.S. charged a dozen Russians with interfering in last year’s presidential election, one American was doing his part to influence a vote in this bland Moscow suburb. – Wall Street Journal

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says the U.S. Navy can blockade Russia if needed to keep it from controlling energy supplies in the Middle East as it does in Europe. – Washington Examiner

Mathieu Boulegue writes: Russia’s massive Vostok-2018 drills were two things at once. They were a military drill where troops tested their combat preparedness. But they also were a diplomatic exercise highlighting relations with China and aimed at the West. – The Hill

Max Seddon writes: Now, the Kremlin backing that underwrote Sberbank’s success is threatening to turn into a millstone around its neck. The existing sanctions have effectively ended Mr Gref’s plans to expand in the west, while the US is considering new sanctions against Russia that would blacklist state banks. – Financial Times


Macedonia spun into political crisis Sunday as a referendum on a deal that would have unlocked the door to NATO and E.U. membership fell well short of the required turnout, raising the prospect that the Balkan nation would be blocked from those Western clubs for years to come. – Washington Post

For Cyprus, America’s new sanctions list was the start of a campaign to change a decades-old business model deeply entrenched in the island’s economic and political culture. So much Russian money enters the European Union through Cyprus that the tiny island of 1 million people appears in international statistics as by far the largest net recipient of foreign direct investment from Russia. – Wall Street Journal

Britain’s defense secretary says the U.K. plans to boost its military presence in the Arctic next year amid concerns about increasing Russian aggression. – Associated Press

An increasing number of financial services companies in the UK are fleshing out plans to move operations or staff elsewhere in Europe because of Brexit, according to EY, the accounting firm. – Financial Times

Michael Khodarkovsky writes: Mr. Putin’s geopolitical goal of turning Ukraine into a satellite state instead has given Ukraine a renewed sense of its national identity. Russia’s spiritual imperialism has also diminished the Russian Orthodox Church. These expansionist policies, holy and worldly, are leading to Russia’s further isolation. – Wall Street Journal


Cameroon’s president says Boko Haram has been defeated in the country, the first such announcement since he declared war on the extremist group four years ago. – Associated Press

Cameroon imposed a 48-hour curfew on restive English-speaking regions a day before the one-year anniversary of a symbolic “independence” declaration by militant separatists, officials said Sunday. – Agence France-Presse

Burundi’s government has suspended the operations of non-governmental organizations for three months, saying that “many of them do not respect the law.” The action was announced late Thursday by the National Council of Security, which is chaired by President Pierre Nkurunziza. It was not immediately clear how many local and international NGOs are suspended as of Oct. 1, though several civil society leaders told The Associated Press that only international ones were targeted. – Associated Press

The Americas

Canada agreed late Sunday to join the trade deal that the United States and Mexico reached last month, meeting negotiators’ self-imposed midnight deadline designed to allow the current Mexican president to sign the accord on his final day in office and giving President Trump a big win on trade. – Washington Post

Jackson Diehl writes: As hundreds of thousands of desperate Venezuelans flee their country, in many cases on foot, their Latin American neighbors face a critical test: whether they can respond effectively to a crisis that threatens their own stability without the leadership of the United States. So far, they are flunking — and they know it. – Washington Post

Mark Feierstein writes: Nevertheless, the exploration of non-peaceful means to resolve Venezuela’s political and humanitarian crises reflects more the frustration over dimming prospects for a peaceful democratic transition there than a revival of gunboat diplomacy or U.S.-backed military coups. – The Hill

Cyber Security

A federal judge in California ruled this month that the government cannot force Facebook to break the encryption on its popular Messenger voice app in a criminal case in which agents wanted to intercept a suspect’s conversations, according to several individuals familiar with the case. – Washington Post

U.S. officials are lauding new offensive cyber authorities provided by the executive branch and Congress that allow for quicker decisions on whether to make a cyberattack. – Fifth Domain

Both a new national cyber strategy from the White House and a new cyber strategy document from the Department of Defense say the United States will attribute more cyber attacks as a way to deter and embarrass enemies. – Fifth Domain

Editorial: The European Union’s Copyright Directive, initially approved in mid-September, is the latest would-be killer. […]The E.U. directive is unlikely to lose when it comes up for a final vote in early 2019, but discussions in the meantime could lead to mitigating tweaks. The fight so far could also instruct U.S. lawmakers considering updates to their regulatory scheme not to make the same mistakes as their cohorts across the Atlantic. – Washington Post

Erin Dunne writes: On Friday, Facebook announced that as many as 50 million users may have had their accounts compromised. […]This highlights the need for a robust public-private partnership when it comes to cybersecurity. – Washington Examiner

Matthew Wein writes: Cybersecurity presents a unique convergence of national security, homeland security, and economic opportunity where policy makers (and candidates) could further agendas around job creation, opportunity, innovation, national security, and foreign affairs all in the span of a couple of sentences. But few seem to do so, preferring to use fear to move voters’ opinions. – The Hill


The president has charged the military with carrying out one of the most profound changes in its organizational structure since the Air Force was created in 1947. But ultimately Congress will decide whether Trump’s plan achieves lift off or comes crashing back to Earth. – Washington Examiner

At the beginning of this year, President Trump released a National Defense Strategy that prioritized fighting terrorism, but added that “great power competition … is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.” Yet while foreign policy observers look at places such as Russia and China and see the potential for tumult, they could also find it miles above the Earth, where uneasy alliances threaten to give way to full-on competition. – Washington Examiner

President Donald Trump signed the Department of Defense appropriations bill on Friday, providing $674 billion to fund military operations in Fiscal Year 2019, which begins Monday. – USNI News

An aviation bill Congress is rushing to approve contains a little-noticed section that would give authorities the power to track, intercept and destroy drones they consider a security threat, without needing a judge’s approval. – Associated Press

A counter-drone laser in use by the Army was on display here this week, giving Marines a glimpse at how they might melt drones soon. The Compact Laser Weapon System, or CLWS, is already part of the Army’s Mobile Expeditionary High Energy Laser program. It’s deployed on Stryker vehicle in Europe and has been used in field experiments. – Marine Times

The top Marine has been steadily increasing the Corps’ footprint in the arctic region, preparing Marines for a fight in extreme cold-weather environments as the U.S. defense strategy shifts toward near-peer threats. – Marine Times

Long War

The authorities in the Netherlands said on Friday that they had foiled “very advanced” plans for a large, multisite terrorist attack, arresting seven men and seizing guns and bomb-making materials. – New York Times

Ethiopia’s attorney general on Friday filed terrorism charges against five people accused of trying to “kill the prime minister” at a huge rally in the capital in June, barely two months after the reformist leader took office. – Associated Press

An Egyptian court has ordered a retrial of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leader Mohamed Badie and other senior figures from the banned group starting on Oct. 7, judicial sources and state news agency MENA said on Sunday. – Reuters

Trump Administration

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the election has yielded numerous bombshell developments, while enduring consistent attacks from President Trump and his allies. […]Here is where the investigation stands 16 months after it began. – The Hill

Special counsel Robert Mueller gave a history lesson while defending his authority to investigate possible collusion between President Trump’s 2016 campaign and the Russians. – New York Post

Bruce Jones writes: The United States has less reason to worry about its sovereignty than any other country in the world. No other country enjoys as much freedom from external interference—military, economic, or diplomatic. Which is why other national leaders find it perplexing that U.S. presidents addressing the United Nations invariably find it necessary to proclaim yet again that they will never allow any arrogation of U.S. sovereignty.  – Foreign Affairs