Fdd's overnight brief

October 4, 2018

In The News


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Wednesday that the United States was pulling out of a six-decade-old treaty with Iran that had provided a basis for normalizing relations between the two countries, including diplomatic and economic exchanges. – New York Times

In a rebuke to the Trump administration, the International Court of Justice ordered the United States on Wednesday to ease some sanctions against Iran, including those related to the supply of humanitarian goods and the safety of civil aviation. – New York Times

The people of Iran face a sensitive time because of the pressure from America and economic problems, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a key address broadcast by state television on Thursday. – Reuters

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani praised Europe on Wednesday for taking a “big step” toward maintaining business with Iran after the unilateral U.S. withdrawal from a 2015 nuclear deal and re-imposition of new sanctions on the Islamic Republic. – Reuters

The United Arab Emirates, which has a history of talking tough on Iran while still buying its oil, appears to be taking steps to comply with looming U.S. sanctions against the Islamic Republic’s energy industry. – Bloomberg

The U.S. has officially blamed Iran for recent attacks near Washington’s diplomatic presence in Iraq, where the two powers have competed for influence in the latest venue of a decades-long feud sparked by an embassy hostage crisis. – Newsweek

A senior Iranian official has said that a missile strike by his country’s elite Revolutionary Guards targeting jihadis just a few miles away from U.S. troops in Syria was a direct response to a warning voiced by President Donald Trump’s national security chief. – Newsweek

Oil buyers who viewed Obama-era policies as precedent for U.S. sanctions on Iran are getting a rude shock. A Trump administration demand that oil purchases should stop has blindsided Asian importers[…]. Now, one after another, buyers are complying to avoid being cut off from the American financial system when restrictions on Iranian supplies take effect in November. – Bloomberg

Tehran called on Tuesday for talks with Paris to clear a “misunderstanding” over an alleged bomb plot targeting an exiled opposition group near the French capital. – Agence France-Presse

Tom Rogan writes: France this week got tougher on Iran, sanctioning Iranian assets and raiding an Iranian intelligence-linked Muslim center. […]It’s a powerful message because while France prefers peaceful cooperation with Tehran, French officials also know that Tehran knows they are capable of taking aggressive action. – Washington Examiner


President Bashar Assad told a little-known Kuwaiti newspaper that Syria has reached a “major understanding” with Arab states after years of hostility over the country’s civil war. – Associated Press

With back-to-back trade fairs held in Damascus this month, Syria is hoping to jumpstart reconstruction of its devastated cities by inviting international investors to take part in lucrative opportunities. – Associated Press

Germany and the United States agree on the need to do everything possible to prevent the use of chemical weapons in Syria, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Wednesday after meeting U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. – Reuters

An Israeli official played down on Wednesday the Russian upgrading of Syria’s air defenses, saying the newly supplied S-300 missile system could be defeated by Israel’s stealth fighters and possibly destroyed on the ground. – Reuters

Syria’s foreign minister said in remarks broadcast Tuesday that the Iranian ballistic missile attack on militants in eastern Syria the previous day was part of “legitimate” cooperation between the two countries to combat terrorism. – Associated Press

Assaf Orion writes: Israeli decisionmakers are well aware of the higher risk and complexity in future operations they approve, with implications for the volume and profile of overall activity. But the greater the menace Israel sees in Iranian arms shipments, the higher its leadership’s willingness will be for approving more-dangerous action[…]. As Iran pushes on, the countdown to the next strike in Syria may not be long. – Washington Institute


Seven Turkish soldiers were killed and three others were wounded after a roadside bomb in the southeastern province of Batman was detonated by Kurdish militants, security sources said on Thursday. – Reuters

The lawyer for an American pastor at the center of a spat between NATO allies Turkey and the United States petitioned Turkey’s highest court on Wednesday seeking his release from house arrest. – Associated Press

Turkey’s parliament has voted to extend by another year a mandate that allows the military to intervene in Iraq and Syria when faced with national security threats. The mandate approved Wednesday allows Turkey to send troops over its southern border to battle Kurdish rebels, Islamic State group militants and other groups that Turkey views as terrorists. – Associated Press


German Chancellor Angela Merkel began a visit to Israel on Wednesday, with Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict among issues on the agenda in talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. – Reuters

Gaza’s Health Ministry says a 15-year-old Palestinian has been killed by Israeli troops during a protest near a border crossing into Israel. The ministry said the boy died of a head injury after Israeli troops stationed at the Erez crossing shot him. – Associated Press

The Trump administration on Wednesday said it had stymied a legal challenge to its controversial decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem – a city claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians as their capital. – USA Today


The election of a respected Kurdish politician as Iraq’s new president and his designation of a compromise figure as premier gives the country a fighting chance of achieving stability after years of sectarian bloodshed, war and economic turmoil. – Reuters

Tom Rogan writes: Indeed, the U.S. should offer Abdul-Mahdi and the Sadrists an open hand of pragmatism. The Trump administration must remember that the Sadrist victory in May was a consequence of broad Iraqi disenchantment towards both the U.S. and Iran, and frustration at corruption and poor services. – Washington Examiner

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iraq is at a crossroads. Having liberated most of the country from ISIS last year, it is now in the midst of US-Iran tensions. The Kurdistan region in northern Iraq voted for independence last year. But Baghdad, under former prime minister Haider al-Abadi, sent tanks into Kirkuk to push the Kurds out and closed airports in the north to punish the autonomous region. – Jerusalem Post

Saudi Arabia

The mystery surrounding the whereabouts of missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi deepened Wednesday with Turkish officials saying he was still inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, contradicting a Saudi government statement that he had left it a day earlier. – Washington Post

Russia and Saudi Arabia struck a private deal in September to raise oil output to cool rising prices and informed the United States before a meeting in Algiers with other producers, four sources familiar with the plan said. – Reuters

Simon Henderson writes: While the United States and much of the world regards MbS’s rejection of old-style Saudi hardline, if not extremist, Islam as a gigantic plus, his record in foreign policy is patchy. […]If nothing else, Khashoggi’s apparent disappearance, if tied to his criticisms of the kingdom, would suggest that the new Saudi Arabia remains very sensitive. – The Hill


With American backing, the United Arab Emirates has resumed an all-out offensive aimed at capturing Yemen’s most vital port, Hodeida, where Shiite rebels are digging in to fight to the last man. Thousands of civilians are caught in the middle, trapped by minefields and barrages of mortars and airstrikes. – Associated Press

Two sons of slain former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh are being transferred from Sanaa, the capital held by the Houthi movement, to Jordan in an operation facilitated by a Saudi-led anti-Houthi coalition, Saudi state TV reported on Wednesday. – Reuters

Yemen’s southern separatist movement called on Wednesday for an uprising in the restive port city of Aden and the southern provinces against the country’s internationally-recognized government. – Reuters

The U.N. children’s agency on Wednesday suspended cash transfers to 9 million of Yemen’s most impoverished citizens under pressure from the country’s Houthi rebels. – Associated Press

Middle East

The finance ministers of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates will sign on Thursday an agreement to provide credit guarantees and grants to Jordan, state-run Kuwait News Agency reported on Wednesday. – Reuters

Across the Middle East, countries locked out of purchasing U.S.-made drones due to rules over excessive civilian casualties are being wooed by Chinese arms dealers, who are world’s main distributor of armed drones. – Associated Press

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates will sign an agreement to provide up to $10 billion of financial support to Bahrain, Kuwait’s Al Rai newspaper said on Thursday, quoting an unnamed Gulf diplomatic source. – Reuters

An international rights group on Wednesday accused Egyptian authorities of “forcibly disappearing” a prominent human rights lawyer who was due to be released from prison last month but whose whereabouts remain unknown. – Reuters

Egyptian security forces have killed 15 suspected militants in a shootout during a raid on their hideout near al-Arish, the capital of North Sinai province, state news agency MENA and security sources said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Korean Peninsula

As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to head to Pyongyang this weekend to prepare the ground for a second Trump-Kim summit, North Korea appears to have upped its demands, arguing that the United States should show that it is serious about dialogue by easing sanctions, before North Korea takes steps to denuclearize. – Washington Post

South Korea is proposing that the United States hold off on a demand for an inventory of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and accept the verified closure of a key North Korean nuclear facility as a next step in the negotiations[…]. – Washington Post

A South Korean government delegation flew to North Korea on Thursday for a joint celebration of the anniversary of a 2007 summit and to possibly hold further peace talks. – Associated Press

North Korean government hackers have made off with hundreds of millions of dollars by targeting financial institutions globally, then hiding their tracks with destructive cyberattacks, a cybersecurity firm said Wednesday. – Politico

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday he was optimistic his planned visit to Pyongyang this weekend would bring progress toward a second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and in building a path to North Korea’s denuclearization. – Reuters


Dissenters in China these days must walk a careful line. But a sense of urgency — fueled in part by China’s slowing growth and rising pressures from President Trump’s trade war — has driven a growing number of officials and economists to speak out on the government’s changing stance on private business. – New York Times

After more than a year of fitful negotiations, President Trump and the leaders of Canada and Mexico this week marked a new free trade agreement meant to pull together the three economies. And, from Washington’s view, it has also meant push away a fourth: China – Washington Post

China ratcheted up its response to U.S. Navy freedom of navigation operation over the weekend, sending a Luyang-class destroyer on a near-collision-course with USS Decatur (DDG-73), but the reasoning behind the move is likely more nuanced than defending territory. – USNI News

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, sharpening U.S. criticism of Chinese policies around the globe, will give China a blunt warning on Thursday that the United States will not back down from what Washington sees as Chinese intimidation in the South China Sea. – Reuters

China’s foreign ministry criticized the United States for suggesting that Beijing was behind the cancellation of sensitive security talks planned for this month, underscoring the severity of trade tensions between the world’s two biggest economies. – Reuters

Vice President Mike Pence will accuse China of meddling in the 2018 U.S. elections through a campaign of propaganda, spies, tariffs and coercive measures, according to excerpts of a speech he is scheduled to give Thursday. – Bloomberg

The US Navy’s Pacific Fleet has drawn up a classified proposal to carry out a global show of force as a warning to China and to demonstrate the US is prepared to deter and counter their military actions, according to several US defense officials. – CNN

Erin Dunne writes: The incident with the USS Decatur in the South China Sea should be a clear warning that the U.S. must not only have a plan to respond to an accident that could arise in such a situation, but also be prepared to act, and preferably not in such a way that leads to an armed conflict. – Washington Examiner

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: It is always hard to separate strategic posturing from strategic reality, but the last year has seen a steady deterioration in U.S. and Chinese relations. […]It is getting harder and harder to determine which of the four “Cs” will shape strategic relations: Cooperation, Competition, Containment, or Conflict. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Scott Kennedy, Daniel H. Rosen and Logan Wright write: In addition to implications for Beijing’s policy options and likely path forward, this analysis has implications for how the United States and other advanced economies should prepare for a riskier outlook for China’s economy. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Daniel DePetris writes: The sooner Washington and Beijing can find an exit from the highway of confrontation, the better. Because neither the U.S. nor China, two nations tied to the hip economically, want strategic competition to turn into a long-term animosity. Both need to step back before the tit-for-tat gets any worse and ask whether limiting high-level dialogue, while emotionally gratifying, is a pragmatically sound approach to their relationship. – Washington Examiner

South Asia

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosts Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, one item on their agenda will be closely tracked in Washington: India’s planned purchase of Russia’s S-400 air-defense missile systems. – Wall Street Journal

India’s top court is allowing the first deportations of Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar since it ordered their identification last year. The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a plea by attorney Prashant Bhushan to let seven Rohingya live in India as they feared reprisal in Myanmar. –  Associated Press

Aparna Pande writes: The two neighbours are currently at an impasse that cannot be broken unless one or both give up on the issue they define as the principal issue holding the relationship back. Moving forward requires that Pakistan back away from demands relating to Kashmir in return for India no longer insisting on terrorism-related conditions being central to peace talks. At the present moment that seems unlikely. – Hudson Institute


U.S. and Philippine military leaders pledged increased cooperation and collaboration in 2019 despite past anti-American rhetoric from the Pacific nation’s president and his stated desire to foster closer ties with China. – USNI News

Japan should be added to the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing network between the United States and its closest allies, argues a new report, along with other recommendations to strengthen the relationship between the U.S. and one of its closest treaty allies. – USNI News

The European Union is considering trade sanctions on Myanmar over the Rohingya crisis, potentially stripping the country of tariff-free access to the world’s largest trading bloc, three EU officials said. – Reuters

Michael J. Green et al. write: Due to the allies’ many strengths—which include shared values, robust democracies, innovative economies, geopolitical influence, and substantial military capabilities—the U.S.-Japan alliance is often labeled the cornerstone of regional peace and security. Yet, cracks are starting to show in the alliance. Renewing the U.S.-Japan alliance for the decades ahead will require tough decisions and sustained implementation.  – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The gift of the jets encapsulates Russian strategy in Serbia — and much of the world. The Kremlin has built a methodical but low-cost influence campaign that is reaping rocketing returns. – Washington Post

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday strongly defended a prospective Russia-Germany natural gas pipeline as economically feasible and voiced hope that European Union nations will be able to resist U.S. pressure to thwart the project. U.S. officials have warned that Washington could impose sanctions on the undersea Nord Stream 2 pipeline. – Associated Press

Russian President Vladimir Putin denied involvement in the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal, who he labeled a “scumbag” and a “traitor.” – Politico

The head of naval forces in Europe warned that Russia is preparing an underwater battlespace in the Northern Atlantic and that U.S. naval presence is more important now than any time since the fall of the Soviet Union. – USNI News


NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says that Georgia will one day join the alliance, 10 years after the military organization first promised the former Soviet Republic it would become a member. – Associated Press

France’s government has unveiled a bill to get the country ready in case of a “no-deal” Brexit. The plan would allow the French government to quickly pass emergency measures by decree if needed, as Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union on March 29. – Associated Press

The US ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, has said Washington would evaluate any proposal to relocate the base of the US Sixth Fleet assigned to the Mediterranean Sea from Naples to Rota, southern Spain, but had yet to receive such an offer. – IHS Jane’s

Britain needs to climb down from its “high horse” and face the reality that its European Union partners will not allow cherry picking in negotiations on its planned exit from the bloc, a senior German conservative lawmaker said on Thursday. – Reuters


On Wednesday morning, on the second day of a four-nation African tour, the first lady looked more comfortable striding into a meeting with local leaders on the coast of Ghana than she has perhaps ever looked in Washington. – New York Times

Mozambique put on Wednesday trial 189 people, including foreigners, accused of being involved in deadly Islamist attacks in a northern province. – Reuters

South Africa’s Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene told a judicial corruption inquiry on Wednesday that he was fired by former president Jacob Zuma for refusing to approve a $100 billion nuclear power deal with Russia in 2015. – Reuters

The Americas

Alberto Fujimori, the former Peruvian dictator imprisoned for human rights abuses but then pardoned last year, was ordered back to prison on Wednesday, reigniting debate over the fate of one of the region’s most contentious figures. – New York Times

Mexico’s president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador has said that President Donald Trump voiced support for a multi-billion dollar economic development plan to curb undocumented immigration. – Newsweek

A man has been arrested after packages suspected to contain the poison ricin were sent to the Pentagon and President Donald Trump. – Sky News (UK)

Cyber Security

The British government on Thursday accused Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency of “reckless and indiscriminate cyberattacks,” blaming it for everything from the hacking of top athletes’ medical data to disruptions on the Kiev subway system to attacks on the email accounts of the Democratic National Committee. – Washington Post

Acting to counter Russia’s aggressive use of cyberattacks across Europe and around the world, the U.S. is expected to announce that, if asked, it will use its formidable cyberwarfare capabilities on NATO’s behalf, according to a senior U.S. official. – Associated Press

The Senate on Wednesday passed a key cyber bill that solidifies the Department of Homeland Security’s role as the main federal agency overseeing civilian cybersecurity. – The Hill

A recent program inviting the public to hack around 200 public-facing Marine Corps websites uncovered over 150 valid vulnerabilities, according to an Oct. 3 Defense Digital Service announcement. – Fifth Domain

U.S. leaders have changed how they view threats in cyberspace and will now increase their focus on the capabilities of potential bad actors, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said Oct. 3 at the Atlantic Council. – Fifth Domain

The U.S. government on Wednesday warned that a hacking group widely known as cloudhopper, which Western cybersecurity firms have linked to the Chinese government, has launched attacks on technology service providers in a campaign to steal data from their clients. – Reuters

Jacob Kamaras writes: More than 1,200 Americans—of both political parties—as well as foreign leaders and celebrities, don’t have to imagine. They are the victims of what appears to the largest hack ever conducted by a foreign government[…]. Until Congress acts, Russia, Qatar, North Korea, and Iran will have a free hand to intimidate and silence Americans—disrupting our democracy. Let’s not allow an outdated law to give our sword-wielding enemies an American shield. – Washington Examiner


U.S. Army has kicked off a major design competition for its Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft by releasing a request to industry on Oct. 3 to submit plans that could lead to a chance to build flyable prototypes in just a few years. – Defense News

U.S. F-15 Eagles, Greek F-16s and Bulgarian MiG-29s are engaged in a mission in Bulgarian airspace. Stormy weather has hit, which means communication over the radio is difficult, but meeting that day’s objective seems especially hard, with basically no guidance from one of the point players tapped to lead the mission. – Defense News

The US Navy (USN) is to proceed with the next phase of the Block 3 upgrade of its Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler combat aircraft, with a contract for a new large-area display (LAD) to be awarded shortly. – IHS Jane’s

The coastguard exercised contract options with Eastern Shipbuilding Group on 28 September to begin construction of the lead offshore patrol cutter (OPC), Argus , and to acquire long lead-time materials for the second OPC, Chase. – IHS Jane’s

Mark Gunzinger and Carl Rehberg write: This report addresses how DoD could take advantage of mature technologies to develop higher capacity and more cost-effective air and missile defenses for its overseas bases. It assesses the potential for a layered, distributed defense that integrates multiple new non-kinetic and kinetic systems to defeat salvo attacks. – Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments

Trump Administration

A Democratic senator is pressing the Pentagon to explain a policy that allows the military to launch attacks to protect an array of foreign forces, a practice that critics contend adds to already inflated powers to conduct counterterrorism missions overseas. – Washington Post

The Trump administration on Wednesday pulled out of two international agreements[…]. The U.S. national security adviser John Bolton slammed the highest United Nations tribunal as “politicized and ineffective” as he announced that the United States would review all international agreements that could expose it to binding decisions by the ICJ. – Reuters

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday passed legislation overhauling the way the federal government lends money for foreign development, creating a $60 billion agency intended largely to respond to China’s growing influence. – Reuters

Tom Rogan writes: Ordering the U.S. to weaken its sanctions regime against Iran, the International Court of Justice on Wednesday proved President Trump’s argument at the United Nations last week. Namely, Trump’s contention that “sovereign and independent nations are the only vehicle where freedom has ever survived, democracy has ever endured, or peace has ever prospered. And so we must protect our sovereignty and our cherished independence above all.” – Washington Examiner