Fdd's overnight brief

September 11, 2018

In The News


A United Nations rights panel has issued a strongly worded opinion calling on Iran to immediately release an American scholar imprisoned two years ago while doing historical research that the Iranian authorities had approved. – New York Times

Oil prices rose on Tuesday amid looming U.S. sanctions against Iran’s petroleum industry, despite efforts by Washington to get other major suppliers to make up for the expected disruption. – Reuters

A federal judge in Washington, D.C. on Monday ordered Iran to pay $104.7 million to victims of a June 1996 truck bombing in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. military personnel, though it is unclear when and how the plaintiffs might collect. – Reuters

The United States has issued a fresh warning to airlines to exercise caution when operating in Iran’s airspace, citing concerns over military activity including an unnamed US civil operator being intercepted by fighter jets in December 2017. – Reuters

Iran’s nuclear chief told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he hopes the atomic deal between Tehran and world powers survives, but warns the program will be in a stronger position than ever if not. – Associated Press

Firas Elias writes: Iran, through its military propaganda, aims to send a clear message to the international community that it is a country capable of weathering the international pressures imposed on it by continuing to modernize its military. […]Iran also wants to prove to Iranians—through a model of economic resistance—that the Islamic Republic of Iran is not subject to American dictates. Washington Institute


The U.S. is working with France and the U.K. on plans for a coordinated military strike in Syria if the regime uses chemical weapons in an expected offensive against the country’s last major rebel haven, President Trump’s national security adviser said. – Wall Street Journal

The last vestige of Islamic State territory in Syria came under attack, as members of an American-backed coalition said Tuesday that they had begun a final push to oust the militants from Hajin, the remaining sliver of territory under the group’s control in the region where it was born. – New York Times

Violence in northwest Syria has displaced more than 30,000 people this month alone, the United Nations said Monday, warning that a looming assault could create the century’s “worst humanitarian catastrophe”. – Agence France-Presse

The German government said on Monday it was in talks with its allies about a possible military deployment in Syria, prompting a sharp rebuke[…]. Overseas military action remains a sensitive and deeply unpopular topic in Germany, given its Nazi past. Participation in any air strikes in Syria would also put Germany on a collision course with Russia, the main backer of President Bashar Assad. – Reuters

There is much more at stake for Turkey in Idlib than a potential influx of thousands more Syrian refugees. A government takeover of the last major rebel-held province could bring into question Turkey’s relevance to the Syrian conflict and jeopardise its presence in the country. – BBC News

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan writes: Idlib is the last exit before the toll. If the international community, including Europe and the U.S., fail to take action now, not only innocent Syrians but the entire world stands to pay the price. Turkey has done everything in its power to stop the bloodshed next door. To ensure that we succeed, the rest of the world must set aside narrow self-interest and throw its weight behind a political solution. – Wall Street Journal


The Trump administration’s decision Monday to close the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington angered Palestinians and imposed new strains on the framework agreement that has guided U.S. policy in the Mideast for a quarter-century. – Wall Street Journal

Palestinian officials on Monday vowed not to bend to what they called the Trump administration’s bullying tactics after being notified that their office in Washington would be shut down as part of an effort to block cases against Israel at the International Criminal Court. – Washington Post

The Israeli navy on Monday fired at a flotilla of dozens of naval vessels that departed the port in Gaza City and were heading toward Israeli waters. Thousands of Palestinians demonstrated on the coast near the city, and the military fired toward them and used riot control measures. According to the military, demonstrators burned tires and throw stones, with some of them throwing an explosive device toward troops. – Haaretz

A U.N. agency that supports Palestinian refugees will target additional funding from Gulf states and European partners as it seeks to make up a $200 million shortfall caused by a U.S. aid cutoff, the agency’s head said on Monday. – Reuters

Editorial: The point of all this isn’t to be vindictive but to show Mr. Abbas and the PLO that they can’t continue to underwrite anti-Semitic textbooks and anti-Israel terrorism without consequences. If the Palestinians want to be treated with the respect of a peace partner, they have to first show a desire for peace. – Wall Street Journal

Middle East & North Africa

Violent protests in this oil-producing city have dealt a fateful political blow to pro-American Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, all but ending his bid for a second term as both allies and opponents blame him for the unrest. – Washington Post

Gunmen stormed the headquarters of Libya’s National Oil Corp. Monday in an attack that killed two people, the state-run company said, the latest sign of turmoil in the large oil-producing country at a time when global crude markets are looking for alternatives to Iranian oil. – Wall Street Journal

US Energy Secretary Rick Perry met with Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Falih on Monday in Washington, the US Energy Department said, as the Trump administration encourages big oil-producing countries to keep output high ahead of Washington’s renewed sanctions on Iran’s crude exports. – Reuters

Korean Peninsula

The White House said it is working to arrange a second meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, signaling an attempt to revive the stalled diplomatic efforts between Washington and Pyongyang. – Wall Street Journal

North Korea’s national spectacle over the weekend featured a performance of the popular Chinese folk song “Love My China” and pleased President Trump by not parading nuclear missiles, showing that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is no diplomatic dunce. – Washington Post

U.S. President Donald Trump received a “very warm, very positive” letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un asking for a second meeting and the White House is looking at scheduling one, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Monday. – Reuters

South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for a “bold decision” by US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on denuclearisation Tuesday as the White House said it was planning another summit with Pyongyang. – Agence France-Presse

Tens of thousands of North Korean students rallied in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square in the final major event of the country’s 70th anniversary, an elaborate celebration that has showcased the nation’s aspirations for economic growth and Korean unity. – Associated Press


The Trump administration is considering sanctions against Chinese senior officials and companies to punish Beijing’s detention of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uighurs and other minority Muslims in large internment camps, according to current and former American officials. – New York Times

Prices are rising in China — and that could complicate Beijing’s efforts to prop up a slowing economy and navigate President Trump’s trade war. – New York Times

A growing number of Chinese companies are adopting a crafty way to evade US President Donald Trump’s tariffs: remove the “Made in China” label by shifting production to countries such as Vietnam, Serbia and Mexico. – Agence France-Presse

China will respond if the United States takes any new steps on trade, the foreign ministry said on Monday, after President Donald Trump warned he was ready to slap tariffs on virtually all Chinese imports into the United States. – Reuters

A wave of Chinese-financed railways and other trade links in Africa and Asia that have prompted worries about debt and Beijing’s ambitions is reducing politically dangerous inequality between regions within countries, a multinational group of researchers said Tuesday. – Associated Press

President Trump needs to “cautiously and properly handle Taiwan-related issues,” a top Chinese diplomat warned Monday. – Washington Examiner

James Freeman writes: China’s most celebrated entrepreneur has decided to focus on pursuits outside of the business he built. Coincidentally, China’s government is making life harder for entrepreneurs and struggling to resolve a trade dispute with the United States. – Wall Street Journal


Taliban insurgents killed at least 57 Afghan police officers and soldiers in four attacks in northern Afghanistan on Monday, a day after more than 60 people were killed in a separate barrage, Afghan officials said. – New York Times

The United States threatened Monday to arrest and sanction judges and other officials of the International Criminal Court if it moves to charge any American who served in Afghanistan with war crimes. – Agence France-Presse

The Taliban are preparing to send a delegation for further talks with U.S. officials about ending the conflict in Afghanistan, two officials involved with the process said on Tuesday, adding that the meeting could address a possible prisoner swap. – Reuters

Editorial: There is no longer talk of winning, but much can still be lost. Taliban elements remain inextricably linked to al-Qaeda, perpetuating the risk that Afghanistan could again become a launching pad for terrorist attacks. […]After considering everything from a pullout to an unsound plan to privatize the war, Trump last year took a strong stand to show that the United States will not allow the Taliban to reclaim power. Peace talks appear underway. This is no time to quit. – USA Today


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is negotiating an agreement with China to share oil and natural-gas resources in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, a deal that would be a major policy victory for Beijing. – Wall Street Journal

The Philippines Supreme Court refused Tuesday to intervene in an attempt by President Rodrigo Duterte to ram through the arrest of his most vocal critic, deferring to two lower courts in a test of judicial independence in a U.S. ally. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. oil exports to Japan and South Korea will rise to record highs this month as Asian refiners take advantage of the steep discounts American sellers are offering after losing Chinese customers amid the trade dispute between Washington and Beijing. – Reuters

The U.S. has cleared a sale of up to nine E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft for Japan, in a deal that could be worth as much as $3.14 billion. The airborne early warning and control aircraft would represent an upgrade over the existing systems currently operated by Japan, and would work hand in hand with the Pacific nation’s incoming fleet of F-35 joint strike fighters to upgrade regional surveillance — a vital need for Tokyo given perceived threats from China and North Korea – Defense News


Chinese and Russian troops begin joint maneuvers Tuesday, marking the first time Moscow has invited a country outside a tight circle of former Soviet allies to its largest annual exercises and offering Chinese generals rare and valuable experience training outside their country’s borders. – Wall Street Journal

A federal judge imposed a complete gag order Monday in the case of accused Russian covert operative Maria Butina, saying both sides have jeopardized the chances of finding an impartial jury for a trial that already has drawn international attention. – Politico

Accused Russian spy Maria Butina will remain in jail without bail during her trial, according to the judge overseeing the case against her. Citing a risk of flight, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan said she could see no conditions that would prevent Butina, who has been held in a local jail for two months, from fleeing the country if she wished.- Washington Examiner

Russia has launched its biggest military exercise since the Cold War, involving about 300,000 service personnel, in eastern Siberia. – BBC News

Russia is engaged in a frantic new scramble for influence in Africa, which is being spearheaded by a rash of military cooperation and arms deals signed across the continent in 2018. – The Guardian

A group composed of Russian and Chinese businesses is considering 73 joint investment projects cumulatively worth more than $100 billion, according to a Tuesday statement. Cooperation between China and Russia is an issue of global importance as both nations try to achieve economic stability despite the pain of U.S. penalties. – CNBC


Top trade officials from the U.S. and the European Union reached no breakthrough Monday in Brussels on laying out a pact that would deliver on their presidents’ earlier agreement to avert a trans-Atlantic economic fight by slashing tariffs and boosting commerce. – Wall Street Journal

European lawmakers will challenge Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to his face on Tuesday over what they see as his right-wing populist threat to EU founding values. – Agence France-Presse

A plan by eurosceptics in Prime Minister Theresa May’s party to publish an alternative plan for the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the European Union has fallen apart, the Financial Times reported on Tuesday. – Reuters

Spain says it is holding talks with Saudi Arabia to resolve differences over a shipment of bombs that, according to Spanish defense authorities, could end up targeting civilians in Yemen. – Associated Press

The U.S. Army is expanding its presence in Germany by adding 1,500 forces to be permanently stationed in the country. The additional troops are a “display of our continued commitment to NATO and our collective resolve to support European security,” according to a statement issued Friday by U.S. Army Europe, based in Wiesbaden. – Defense News

The Americas

City Comptroller Scott Stringer Sunday night called for the resignation of state Democratic Party executive director Geoff Berman over a controversial party mailer that falsely accused gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon of condoning anti-Semitism. – New York Post

Native American tribes in Montana and South Dakota sued the Trump administration on Monday, claiming it approved an oil pipeline from Canada without considering potential damage to cultural sites from spills and construction. – Associated Press

Hundreds of peasant farmers and indigenous Maya blocked a major highway in Guatemala’s western highlands on Monday, demanding that President Jimmy Morales reverse a policy aimed at forcing a U.N.-backed anti-graft unit to leave the country. – Reuters

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland will meet U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Washington on Tuesday for another round of talks to renew the NAFTA trade pact, an official said on Monday, as time runs short to seal a deal. – Reuters


Russia’s and China’s expanding economic and military reach could foster extremism in developing nations, and the U.S. must engage the rest of the world in trying to prevent that threat from materializing, a task force spearheaded by the leaders of the 9/11 Commission argues in a new report. – Politico

Marines training on the ground on the Horn of Africa will see a new set of wings pulling the classic close air support mission: The F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. – USNI News

Boeing on Monday bagged a $2.9 billion contact for the fourth lot of KC-46 tankers, raising the total to 52 aircraft on order. – Defense News

The U.S. has sold more weapons to other nations in the first half of fiscal year 2018 than it did in all of fiscal year 2017. […]Thompson points to new policies put forth earlier this year from the Trump administration, designed to encourage American arms exports and bolster domestic industry, as a factor that will have a direct impact next fiscal year. – Defense News

Erica D. Borghard & Shawn W. Lonergan write: The news about loosening some of the restrictions on Cyber Command has been met with concern in some cyber policy circles, on the grounds that making the approvals process less rigorous creates undue risks of escalation and threatens to prioritize military over intelligence requirements. – Defense One

Trump Administration

President Trump’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, fleshed out his boss’s “America First” foreign policy on Monday[…]. Mr. Bolton’s unyielding remarks and the White House’s upbeat analysis revealed the crosscurrents in this White House: The president’s aides have translated his instincts into a range of conservative policies – New York Times

A lawyer for Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended on Monday his client’s congressional testimony about a Trump campaign meeting in March 2016 where an adviser proposed that the candidate meet with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. – New York Times

President Trump is renewing a post-9/11 emergency proclamation that gives him broad powers to mobilize the military, hire and fire military officials, and work around limits on the number of generals that can serve. For the second time during his presidency, Trump announced Monday his administration is renewing the post-9/11 emergency proclamation. – Washington Examiner

Convicted former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos has unleashed a spray of tweets about the man who reportedly dobbed him in to the FBI and launched the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer. – Buzzfeed