Fdd's overnight brief

September 25, 2018

In The News


President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, visiting the United States for the first time since President Trump exited the 2015 Iran nuclear accord, said Monday that the only way his country would consider new talks with Washington is for Mr. Trump to reverse himself and honor the agreement. – New York Times

A showdown looms at the United Nations over Iran on Tuesday as President Donald Trump and Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani are set to square off during the world’s biggest diplomatic gathering. – Agence France Presse

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Monday he would not meet with President Donald Trump this week when the two world leaders are both in New York for the United Nations General Assembly session. In an interview with NBC News, Rouhani said “there is no such program for a meeting” and accused the Trump administration of escalating tensions between the two countries. – USA Today

The remaining parties to the Iran nuclear deal on Monday agreed to keep working to maintain trade with Tehran despite skepticism this is possible as U.S. sanctions to choke off Iranian oil sales resume in November. – Reuters

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Monday dismissed Iran’s threats of revenge after Saturday’s deadly attack at a military parade in southwestern Iran and said it was “ludicrous” for Tehran to allege U.S. involvement. – Reuters

Simon Henderson writes: Reporting on Saturday’s attack on a military parade in the Iranian city of Ahwaz is missing a significant angle – oil. Ahwaz is the capital of Khuzestan province, where Iran’s major oilfields are. Tehran could well regard the attack in which 29 died, including some children and other civilian spectators, as an attack on its oil infrastructure. – The Hill

Omer Carmi writes: Following the strike, Iranian officials responded in typical fashion by blaming the United States and its Gulf allies for serving as sponsors. Some officials even floated a broader “Hebrew-Arab-Western” conspiracy, reflecting an inherited paranoia regarding foreign intervention and destabilizing actions in their country. Yet as the dust settled, two main sets of suspects emerged: Localized Arab groups [and] Islamic State. – Washington Institute

Jon B. Alterman writes: The United States needs an Iran strategy. The Islamic Republic has been so troubling to so many U.S. policymakers across such a wide array of issues for so long that it would be irresponsible not to have one. Similarly, Iran needs a U.S. strategy. U.S. antagonism not only presents the pre-eminent threat to Iranian forces, but it has shaped the way the entire world understands Iran. – Center for Strategic & International Studies


White House national security adviser John Bolton said Monday that the United States wouldn’t be leaving Syria so long as Iranian forces continued to operate there, suggesting the Trump administration had embraced an expanded mission in the embattled country beyond the defeat of the Islamic State. – Washington Post

Russia said Monday it would equip Syria with sophisticated air defense systems, a move that could worsen a rift with Israel by limiting its ability to bomb across its northern border. – Washington Post

The main jihadist group in northwest Syria will announce its position on a Turkish-Russian deal over Idlib in the next few days, it said on Monday, with its acceptance or rejection vital to the success of efforts to contain the war. – Reuters

As world leaders talk peace at the U.N. this week, the people of Idlib cling to fragile hope that diplomacy will avert a blowout battle over Syria’s last rebel stronghold. Yet diplomacy hasn’t served Syria well so far. Those same world powers trying to negotiate a peaceful outcome in Idlib have been using Syria as a proxy battleground for years. – Associated Press


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday that supplying advanced weapon systems to “irresponsible players” would increase dangers in the region, Netanyahu’s office said. – Reuters

A U.N. agency that supports Palestinian refugees said schools and health centers are at risk if it is unable to plug a $185 million funding gap needed to keep operating until the end of the year, the agency’s head said on Monday. – Reuters

Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian man and wounded dozens of others on Monday taking part in a protest near the border between Israel and Gaza, Gaza health officials said. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

France said on Monday it wanted the U.N. Security Council to implement sanctions on militias involved in month-long clashes between rival factions in Libya’s capital Tripoli, which has undermined U.N. efforts to hold elections by year-end. – Reuters

The United Nations and individual donors are rushing food to a desperate corner of northern Yemen where starving villagers were found to be living off leaves. Aid officials are searching for ways to ensure aid reaches those in need amid alarm that the country’s hunger crisis is worsening beyond the relief effort’s already strained capabilities. – Associated Press

Sebnem Koser Akcapar writes: Renewed fighting could lead to an enormous number of civilian deaths and a new wave of refugees toward Turkey. There is the fear of hard-line militants mixing with the refugees and entering the country. There is also the danger that the militants, including many with links to Al Qaeda, might resent the efforts to disarm them and launch terrorist attacks in Turkey and elsewhere in Europe. – New York Times

Mithal Al-Alusi writes: The United States of America has invested significant time and effort in Iraq over the last fifteen years, yet the Iraqi political process continues to falter. The damage of the country’s limited adoption of democratic values is continually demonstrated in each election cycle. This is especially complicated by the outsized role of Iraq’s Islamist political parties connected to Iran. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

U.S. relations with North Korea are better now than a year ago due to a thawing of tensions between the two countries’ leaders, Central Intelligence Agency Director Gina Haspel said, despite Washington’s cancellation of a recent diplomatic visit to Pyongyang. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump signed a revised free-trade pact on Monday with South Korea. Mr. Trump also hopes by Wednesday to persuade Japan to enter formal bilateral trade talks, part of a commercial diplomacy effort this week by the president and his advisers on the sidelines of United Nations meetings in New York. – Wall Street Journal

Global stocks edged up Tuesday as investors parsed the most recent wave of tariffs between Washington and Beijing and after the U.S. signed a revised free-trade deal with South Korea. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump said Monday he expects to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “quite soon,” expressing optimism that his efforts to negotiate a denuclearization deal are still on track. – Washington Post

North Korea maintains embassies in nearly 50 nations — including Algeria and Zimbabwe — and could emerge swiftly as a normalized global power if nuclear talks with South Korea and the United States play out the right way. And that’s a problem. – Washington Times


China’s State Council accused the Trump administration of being a trade bully and abandoning important communication channels, as a new round of tariffs took effect. The white paper from China’s cabinet stopped short of making new trade threats against the U.S. – Wall Street Journal

China said on Tuesday it was impossible to hold trade talks with the United States while Washington is imposing tariffs that are like “holding a knife to someone’s throat”. Speaking a day after Washington activated tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods, vice commerce minister Wang Shouwen said China is open to negotiations but that the two sides must treat each other “equally and with respect”. – Agence France Presse

China hopes that Britain can stand by its position of not taking sides in the South China Sea and earnestly respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, the Chinese government’s top diplomat told Britain’s foreign minister. – Reuters

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Monday he was seeking a way ahead for military ties with China after Beijing postponed military talks in protest at last week’s U.S. decision to impose sanctions over China’s purchase of Russian weaponry. – Reuters

Fred Hiat writes: Many academics who specialize in China fear that if they are critical, the Communist rulers will deny them a visa. If you are an anthropologist who needs to interview Chinese villagers, being banned from the country can end your career. – Washington Post

Mark Wang and Cecilia Joy-Perez write: After decades of blind faith in its draconian one child policy, the CCP is waking up to the problems of low fertility. China’s population is greying rapidly, reducing the size of the PRC labor force. But whether the CCP will be successful in raising fertility rates is another question all together. Because, needless to say, Beijing is going about its newfound reproductive zeal with its signature Orwellian style. – American Enterprise Institute


Japan and the United States will begin a second round of trade talks in New York on Tuesday, Japan’s top government spokesman said, amid concerns in Tokyo that Japan will face greater pressure to reduce its large trade surplus. – Reuters

A U.S. government investigation has found that Myanmar’s military waged a “well-planned and coordinated” campaign of mass killings, gang rapes and other atrocities against the Southeast Asian nation’s Rohingya Muslim minority. – Reuters

The U.S. State Department has approved the sale to Taiwan of spare parts for F-16 fighter planes and other military aircraft worth up to $330 million, the Pentagon said on Monday. – Reuters

Myanmar’s army chief on Monday warned against foreign interference as world leaders gather at the United Nations to find ways to hold the country’s powerful generals accountable for atrocities against Rohingya Muslims last year. – Reuters

The United States almost doubled its aid for displaced Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh and Myanmar, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announced on Monday as she pushed for U.N. investigators to brief the U.N. Security Council on the crisis. – Reuters


The European Union and the United States are still in exploratory talks about how they can pursue a limited trade agreement, with no real negotiations yet started, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said on Monday. – Reuters

Russia’s foreign ministry summoned Norway’s ambassador on Monday to protest against the arrest of a Russian citizen in Oslo on suspicion of spying while Norwegian authorities sealed off what was described as a “compromised room” in parliament. – Reuters

Gone is the shoulder squeezing, the affectionate dandruff-brushing — and French President Emmanuel Macron’s hope that he could use his unlikely friendship with Donald Trump to rein in the American president’s more incendiary instincts. – Associated Press

Sten Rynning writes: European allies clearly prefer continuity when it comes to NATO, but are also coming to realize that as power shifts, so too must institutions. If the big shift comes and the United States leaves NATO, Western Europe may scrape by, but Eastern Europe will pay the price with the loss of sovereignty. Averting this major shift requires a stronger Europe within NATO, not only in terms of budgets but also political influence. – War on the Rocks


The Central Intelligence Agency is rededicating itself to the kinds of missions that defined the agency for most of its seven-decade existence, focusing on foreign nations that challenge or threaten the United States, its director said here Monday. – Washington Post

The U.S. Air Force awarded Boeing Co a $376 million contract to build four helicopters in the first leg of a $2.38 billion deal to replace the fleet of 46-year-old UH-1N Huey helicopters. – Reuters

A joint Navy and Air Force test successfully deployed a 2,000-pound shallow-water mine from altitude and at speed from outside a presumed enemy’s anti-aircraft range – a first for the U.S. military – during the recently completed Valiant Shield 2018 exercise. – USNI News

Aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) will remain tied up in maintenance at Norfolk Naval Shipyard until early 2019, resulting in a maintenance availability about triple the expected six-month length. – USNI News

Trump Administration

President Trump sought Monday to shape the 73rd U.N. General Assembly around his agenda, announcing he will soon hold another summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and sending a pointed warning to Iranian leaders. – Washington Post

Just after 8 a.m. on Monday, President Trump set off from Trump Tower for his annual week on the diplomatic stage at the United Nations General Assembly. By the time he walked into the General Assembly building 10 minutes later for a session on the illicit global drug trade, domestic politics had already intervened. – New York Times

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Monday said they have never discussed invoking the 25th Amendment or heard of those discussions taking place inside the Trump administration. – CNN