Fdd's overnight brief

September 18, 2018

In The News


The Trump administration is disowning a plan presented by U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley for President Trump to hold a meeting at the United Nations next week focused on Iran, according to diplomats familiar with the planning. – Washington Post

The U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal struck between Iran and major powers is “doomed” to seriously affect peace and security in the Middle East, Iran’s atomic chief said on Monday. – Reuters

OPEC must stick together for the good of the global economy as founding member Iran faces renewed U.S. sanctions, the head of the cartel said Tuesday — though he did not address how an already-tight market will make up for the loss of Iranian supply. – Associated Press

Aggressive and undiplomatic, certainly, but also extremely effective. With nearly 50 days to go before new U.S. oil sanctions against Iran enter into force, President Donald Trump has already managed to crush the country’s petroleum exports, dealing severe economic damage to Tehran. – Bloomberg


Russia and Turkey reached a tentative agreement to create a demilitarized buffer zone in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, a move that could help avert a fight and likely humanitarian catastrophe. – Wall Street Journal

Russia’s Defense Ministry blamed Israel Tuesday for the loss of an aircraft over Syria’s Mediterranean coast, saying it was downed after Israeli pilots used it as cover during an attack. – Washington Post

Missiles were fired from the sea at several locations in the Syrian coastal city of Latakia on Monday but were intercepted by air defenses, Syrian state media said. – Reuters

Assad wants to recover “every inch” of Syria and is already militarily on top. Finishing off the Idlib rebels would take him closer to victory, help secure Aleppo from attack and open roads to the coast and Damascus. – Reuters

Michael O’Hanlon & Steven Heydemann write: As government forces close in on Idlib province in northern Syria, a catastrophe looms for the roughly 3 million Syrians living there. […] The United States must take a stand. We can’t reverse the course of the war, but we can at least take action to ensure that the people of Idlib are spared the worst — even if this entails some unpalatable moral compromises. – Washington Post

Thomas Donnelly writes:  That the Assad regime survives at all is something of a wonder, after seven years of bloody war arising from relatively small and peaceful protests in January 2011. The process of survival, however, has cost Assad much of his autonomy, mortgaged to Russia and, especially, Iran. Indeed, what is emerging from Baghdad to Damascus is a kind of “Larger Lebanon,” where Tehran-backed Shia militias, created in the image of Hezbollah, hold the keys to the kingdoms. – The Weekly Standard


American-born Israeli citizen Ari Fuld, who was killed Sunday in what Israeli authorities said was a terrorist attack, was hailed as a hero by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who paid a surprise visit to the man’s grieving family in the hours before Fuld was laid to rest. – Washington Post

Gaza medics said on Tuesday two Palestinians were killed by an Israeli missile strike near the enclave’s boundary with Israel after the Israeli military said it attacked a group suspected of tampering with the border fence. – Reuters

Proposed legislation in Ireland to ban imports of goods from Israeli communities in the West Bank could run afoul of European Union trading regulations, the European Commission has said. – Algemeiner

Gilead Sher writes: Forty years since Camp David, all central players are still present — except the Palestinians have moved onto the stage from behind curtain, and Jordan has stepped back from representing them. That happened with the signing of the Oslo Accords, providing mutual recognition and a goal, yet to be attained, to separate Israel and the Palestinians into two distinct national entities through negotiations. – War on the Rocks

Michael Rubin writes: Forty years ago Monday, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed the Camp David Accords […] Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama each launched their own initiatives, but each went nowhere. And as for President Trump’s “ deal of the century”: it increasingly appears the diplomatic equivalent of OJ Simpson’s hunt for the real killer. – American Enterprise Institute

Middle East & North Africa

The Saudi-led coalition said pro-government forces in Yemen launched a new offensive on Monday night against the rebel-held port city of Hodeida, after an 11-week pause during UN efforts to hold peace talks. – Agence France-Presse

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says it has been given a jet worth around $500m (£380m) by Qatar’s emir. Mr Erdogan said Sheikh Tamim Al Thani had donated the Boeing 747-8i to the Turkish state after hearing that it was interested in buying it. Opposition MPs had expressed concern that the president was using taxpayers’ money to buy a jet as the country struggles to avert a financial crisis. – BBC News

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has met with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Monday during a one-day visit to the country to discuss migration and the situation in neighboring Libya. – Associated Press

Michael Knights, Barbara A. Leaf, Matthew Levitt, and Phillip Smyth write: Sanctioning AAH and HHN is legally justified, but the timing and sequencing of any such move is critical to maximizing the desired effects and minimizing Tehran’s ability to exploit Iraqi backlash. If the Iranian Proxies Terrorist Sanctions Act becomes law, the Trump administration should carefully calibrate the manner in which militias and individuals are sanctioned under it, closely coordinating U.S. efforts with the next Iraqi government. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

South Korean President Moon Jae-in arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday to a lively welcoming party that included North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, kicking off a three-day summit aimed at reviving a diplomatic process that has stalled. – Wall Street Journal

In January, North Korean defector Ji Seong-ho stood in the U.S. Capitol and raised a pair of homemade crutches above his head as President Trump, in a State of the Union address, decried Pyongyang’s human-rights abuses and praised the tenacity of those who escaped the Kim regime. Eight months later, Mr. Ji said a diplomatic process aimed at persuading North Korea to dismantle its nuclear arsenal has neglected human-rights concerns. – Wall Street Journal

Britain’s top diplomat says it’s time for North Korea to take concrete actions toward eliminating its nuclear weapons. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Tuesday in Tokyo that dialogue has helped improve the atmosphere “but we need to see actions now.” – Associated Press


President Trump said Monday he will impose new tariffs on about $200 billion in Chinese goods and threatened to add hundreds of billions more as part of his campaign to pressure Beijing to change its commercial practices, escalating trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies. – Wall Street Journal

China has warned it will strike back with tariffs on another $60 billion in American imports following President Trump’s escalation of the trade war, a move that could slap levies on almost everything the United States sells to the nation as early as next week. – Washington Post

There is an unintended consequence of the White House’s trade battle with China: Companies in the Pearl River Delta, the center of China’s manufacturing might, are accelerating toward making higher-quality products to compete against American goods. – Wall Street Journal

As the trade war between the world’s two largest economies unfolds on the international stage, analysts say Trump’s brash approach to try to win concessions from Beijing has provoked a public fury that could ultimately thwart his efforts. – Washington Post

Russia recently concluded the 2018 edition of the massive Vostok exercise series that included Chinese forces for the first time. At Moscow’s invitation, Beijing sent People’s Liberation Army soldiers, helicopters, tanks – and one uninvited Chinese surveillance ship. – USNI News ​

An outspoken critic of China’s internment camps who now lives in Istanbul says his wife and son face potential deportation to China because Turkish authorities might bar them from entering the country. – Associated Press

A trio of South American countries will host China’s top diplomat in the days following the United Nations General Assembly, Beijing announced Monday. – Washington Examiner

Editorial: The totalitarianism of the 21st century is being pioneered in a vast but remote region of western China inaccessible to most outsiders and subject to a media blackout by China’s Communist authorities. In Xinjiang province, twice the size of Germany, an estimated 1 million people have been forcibly confined to political reeducation camps, where they are required to memorize and recite political songs and slogans in exchange for food. – Washington Post

Benny Avni writes: Xi increasingly uses China’s economic prowess to squeeze resistant neighbors and reward those willing to accept Beijing’s dominance. Once successful, China will control regions rich in minerals, rare earths, oil and other resources necessary for China’s economic growth. […]Beijing will also export its model of controlled capitalism, using economic incentives and punishment as well as military tactics honed in the East and South China Seas. – New York Post

South Asia

The U.N. envoy for Afghanistan said Monday that the war-torn country is in its best position since 2001 to start the process leading to peace talks with the Taliban. – Associated Press

An Afghan official says at least nine members of the local police force were killed when another policeman opened fire and shot them at a checkpoint in northern Balkh province, the latest in so-called “insider” attacks in Afghanistan. – Associated Press

India has delayed the implementation of higher tariffs on some goods imported from the United States to Nov. 2, according to a government order that put off for a second time retaliatory action against U.S. import tariffs on steel and aluminum. – Reuters

T.V. Paul writes: For the foreseeable future, India will likely pursue soft balancing, limited hard balancing and diplomatic engagement with China. The limited hard balancing involves asymmetrical capability acquisition and the building of additional strength on the border and naval assets in the Indian Ocean. – War on the Rocks


Like the rest of Japan, the country’s military is getting older—and a shortage of young recruits has raised concerns among defense planners about maintaining the strength of its forces. – Wall Street Journal

Japan sent a submarine to join three destroyers in an exercise in anti-submarine warfare in the South China Sea, strengthening the resistance by U.S. allies to China’s military expansion. – Wall Street Journal

A senior Deutsche Bank AG executive has been interviewed by authorities in Singapore as part of their investigation into the multibillion-dollar scandal at Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB, people familiar with the probe said. – Wall Street Journal

A United Nations Fact Finding Mission report on Tuesday cited the slaughter in Min Gyi, in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine, as evidence that the army committed “the gravest crimes under international law” in clearance operations a year ago targeting the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority. – New York Times

The Asian Development Bank said on Tuesday it is expanding its presence in the Pacific islands, at a time of competition for influence there, opening seven new country offices and expecting its loans and grants in the region to top $4 billion by 2020. – Reuters


The United States ambassador to the United Nations accused Russia on Monday of “actively working to undermine the enforcement” of sanctions aimed at curtailing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. – New York Times ​

President Trump on Monday ordered the Justice Department and FBI to immediately declassify key documents related to the FBI’s investigation on Russian actions during the 2016 presidential election — including text messages from former FBI Director James Comey and other top officials. – Washington Examiner ​

Hundreds of Russian Communist Party supporters took to the central square of Vladivostok on Monday to protest against what they said was the brazen rigging of a regional election in favor of a politician backed by President Vladimir Putin. – Reuters

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Monday condemned Russia’s efforts to use its money and influence to build opposition to an upcoming vote that could pave the way for Macedonia to join NATO, a move Moscow opposes. – Associated Press

Julian Assange had just pulled off one of the biggest scoops in journalistic history, splaying the innards of American diplomacy across the web. But technology firms were cutting ties to his WikiLeaks website, cable news pundits were calling for his head and a Swedish sex crime case was threatening to put him behind bars. Caught in a vise, the silver-haired Australian wrote to the Russian Consulate in London. – Associated Press

The Russian military said on Monday that the missile that shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, killing all 298 people on board, came from the arsenals of the Ukrainian army, not from Russia. – Associated Press


British negotiators remain resolute that a new free-trade accord can be hammered out with Europe.[…] Yet, at the same time, the British government is also warning British consumers and companies that they should brace themselves for a cold-turkey withdrawal, a “no-deal Brexit” or “Brexit doomsday” — causing some degree of panic. – Washington Post

Poland was banned Monday from the EU body representing the member states’ judicial institutions over its perceived lack of independence after controversial government reforms. – Agence France-Presse

The European Union should steer funds to individual member countries to help them guard their own borders against illegal migration, rather than emphasize funding for Frontex, the common EU border force, the Czech and Slovak premiers said on Monday. – Reuters

Brussels and Washington believe they have found a recipe for a speedy transatlantic trade deal: Think small. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is pushing to “finalize outcomes” with the EU by November, when America will hold critical midterm elections that will determine President Donald Trump’s ability to govern. – Politico

The range of issues left to solve to secure a smooth Brexit is “daunting,” which makes a Brexit deal with a transition period crucial to avoid “serious disruptions” in the short term and “substantial costs” to the economy in the long term, the International Monetary Fund said today. – Politico

A Spanish district court has annulled a BDS resolution passed by the municipal council of Ayamonte, a town in the country’s southwest, banning any association or economic agreement with Israeli companies and organizations. – Jerusalem Post

President Donald Trump on Monday reaffirmed Washington’s support for a business summit that aims to boost connectivity in Eastern Europe and improve ties between the region and the U.S. and European Union. But the West is not the only major player in the region. – Associated Press

Bruno Macaes writes: Brussels wants to turn Macedonia into a normal country. Russia also has an interest in the outcome of the [name change] referendum. To lose Montenegro — the small Balkan nation joined NATO in 2017 — might be deemed a misfortune. To lose both Montenegro and Macedonia would look like carelessness. – Hudson Institute


Boko Haram extremists have killed a Red Cross worker who was abducted earlier this year during an attack in the Kala Balge government area in northern Nigeria’s Borno State, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Monday. – Associated Press

Armed men attacked a school in Cameroon’s southwest English-speaking region, wounding more than 20 people, a government official said Monday. – Associated Press

The number of people detained over the deadly violence which broke out near Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, on Saturday has risen to 200, police are quoted by the state-linked Fana Broadcasting Corporate as saying.  – BBC News

Cyber Security

The Nov. 30, 2010, missive is part of a much larger trove of WikiLeaks emails, chat logs, financial records, secretly recorded footage, and other documents leaked to the AP. The files provide both an intimate look at the radical transparency organization and an early hint of Assange’s budding relationship with Moscow. – Associated Press

Cyber policy may not lurch in a dramatically new direction if Democrats capture the House, Senate or both in November. But the new majority is sure to scrutinize Trump administration efforts and could pursue structural changes such as creating a high-level cybersecurity position within the White House, according to Democratic lawmakers and policy veterans. – Washington Examiner

Facebook is willing to pay you to strengthen its security. The social media giant, which faced intense congressional and public scrutiny this year after political consultant Cambridge Analytica improperly accessed the data of millions of its users, is offering cash to individuals who detect vulnerabilities in third-party apps. – Washington Examiner


The Air Force must grow its air power substantially by 2030 to meet rapidly evolving threats from China and Russia, senior officials said. A new internal study found that the service needs to increase the number of operational squadrons by about 25 percent by 2030, from 312 today to 386. – Washington Post

The U.S. Air Force estimated start up costs for a proposed U.S. Space Force, a new military service backed by President Donald Trump, will be around $13 billion in the first five years, according to a Department of Defense memo seen by Reuters. – Reuters

Insitu Inc, a unit of Boeing Co, on Monday launched a military drone enabled with satellite communications and an extended range of operations aiming to land both U.S. and international customers. – Reuters

The general overseeing the Air Force’s space operations says future operators must be prepared to fight there as the U.S. braces to face off against a near-peer enemy far above the planet. – DOD Buzz

U.S. Army weapons and munitions technology development is getting a big cash injection in the fiscal 2019 spending bill, which emerged from conference committee late Sept. 13. – Defense News

The U.S. surface Navy is moving rapidly toward buying a new large surface ship that will replace the aging cruisers, a ship that Navy leaders and experts say will need to be spacious to accommodate future upgrades and weapon systems. – Defense News

Robert O. Work & Elbridge Colby write: For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the Pentagon has a genuinely new strategy: Focus on our rivals — Russia and, in particular, China — and maintain a competitive advantage over them. […] So will the Defense Department take the big steps needed to implement this strategy? That’s the key question — and this is a key moment. – Washington Post