Fdd's overnight brief

September 25, 2019

In The News


French President Emmanuel Macron mounted an intensive effort Tuesday to broker a meeting between President Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, but the attempt failed when the Iranian side insisted the U.S. first commit to easing sanctions, according to people briefed on the discussions. – Wall Street Journal

French President Emmanuel Macron fleshed out the building blocks of an agreement to ease tensions with Iran, saying there should be negotiations between Iran, its regional neighbors, the U.S., European countries and China. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday denounced Iran’s “bloodlust” and called on other nations to join the United States to apply pressure on Iran after attacks on Saudi oil facilities, but said there is a path to peace. – Reuters 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will give a speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday that will likely determine whether Tehran will re-engage with the United States to ease the heightened tension between the longtime enemies. – Reuters 

Iran’s delegates to the United Nations are confined to a roughly six-block radius of Manhattan, but that hasn’t limited their reach as they mount a diplomatic blitz at the U.N. General Assembly this week. President Hassan Rouhani has used his time in New York to meet with the leaders of the UK, France, Germany and Japan on the sidelines of the U.N. meeting. He also met with U.S. media leaders and gave a TV interview to Fox News. – Associated Press

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani claimed in an exclusive interview Tuesday that America, not Iran, is the key supporter of Middle East terrorism. Rouhani, in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, claimed President Trump has been misguided in his criticisms of Iran. – Fox News

Editorial: Mr. Trump has faced great scorn for withdrawing from the 2015 accord, but Iran’s behavior has shown he made the right call. Europe’s turn toward renegotiation also means that, even if Mr. Trump loses in 2020, his Democratic successor will find it difficult simply to return to the flawed 2015 deal. The next Iran deal must address the flaws of the first. – Wall Street Journal 

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: The fact remains, however, that the best defense against any future Iranian attacks and escalation may well consist of a carefully calculated offense; one where joint U.S. and partner attacks show Iran that it will face a decisive response to each new step in escalation. That is if the U.S. and its Arab partners show that their goal is to negotiate and create a new level of stability in the Gulf and the region – not to impose regime change from the outside. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Dennis Ross writes: The United States has an opportunity this week at the UN General Assembly to explain the dangers and mobilize a broad coalition, starting with the Europeans. If instead the United States fails to respond or issues empty warnings, the Iranians will be further emboldened. Sooner or later, Tehran will miscalculate and set off a wider war. – Foreign Affairs 


Turkey’s Defense Ministry says troops have completed their second joint ground patrol with the United States in northeastern Syria. – Associated Press

A bipartisan report Tuesday urged the Trump administration to halt a planned troop drawdown from Syria and to step up diplomatic efforts to counter Iran’s influence and stave off a resurgence of the Islamic State militant group. – NBC News 

An expanded “safe zone” in northern Syria could include as many as 3 million people and stretch for 50 miles as far as Raqqa, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, proposed at the UN general assembly as he pressed his case to speed up the resettlement of Syrian refugees living in Turkey. – The Guardian 

In a UN speech that blended Israel bashing and threats to settle Syrian refugees in mostly Kurdish areas of Syria, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan laid out an increasingly nationalist agenda centered on a regional policy that is underpinned by obsession with Israel and increasing interest in occupying much of northern Syria. – Jerusalem Post

Ali Demirdas writes: The Middle East is the one place where revanchism is the norm and blood feuds last for centuries. The area that PYD/YPG is currently controlling in Syria is landlocked and is surrounded by the Turks, the Arabs, the Iraqi Kurds, all wanting a piece of PYD/YPG. Thus, using PYD/YPG to counter Iran is simply not feasible. […]History shows that the United States is able to win wars but fails to implement successful nation-building plans. Thus, it tends to lose the battles that exist in the aftermath. Syria, it seems, will be no exception.  – The National Interest


Turkey’s official news agency says a bomb exploded in southern Adana province, wounding five people. The governor’s office in Adana said Wednesday the explosion went off as a riot police bus passed. The statement said a police officer was among the wounded. – Associated Press

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hinted at an interest in acquiring nuclear weapons, telling the United Nations that it is unjust for the weapons to be possessed only by major powers. – Washington Examiner

Top Israeli officials slammed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday for a series of comments he made libeling the Jewish state. – Algemeiner

Soner Cagaptay with Deniz Yuksel write: In the security realm too, Turkey needs the West, especially NATO. Although Erdogan has been brokering ad hoc deals with Moscow on missile defense and Syria, he is aware that a full rupture with NATO would put his country at the mercy of its historical Russian nemesis. Therefore, policymakers in Washington and Europe should put the growing anti-Western animus in Turkish politics in perspective—in practice, the most likely scenario is that Ankara will continue transactionalizing its ties with them. – Washington Institute 


President Reuven Rivlin will delay his decision of whether he will give the mandate to form a government to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Kahol Lavan’s Benny Gantz until next Wednesday. – Haaretz 

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday urged Middle Eastern nations to fully normalize diplomatic relations with Israel, while maintaining that crippling US sanctions imposed on Iran would continue until the Islamic Republic changed its behavior. – Times of Israel 

Douglas J. Feith writes: The interests of the United States and Israel in the region largely align. Both countries aim to uphold Western democratic principles, counter Iran, oppose radical Islamism, prevent the further proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and support freedom of navigation at sea and in the air. Both are committed to preserving Israel’s ability to defend itself. – Hudson Institute 

Saudi Arabia

U.S. troops and air defenses deploying in the wake of attacks on Saudi oil production facilities will likely spend their time at the newly reopened Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia’s central desert. – Military.com 

Saudi Arabia is unlikely to list its state-owned oil giant Aramco this year after attacks this month on its facilities, two sources with direct knowledge of the company’s thinking said. – Reuters 

Robert W. Jordan writes: Suspending U.S. arms sales at this juncture also could help seize a brief window to end the war in Yemen by making clear to Saudi Arabia that it cannot prevail militarily in its conflict with the Houthis. Last year, an end to U.S. midair refueling of Saudi jets helped persuade Riyadh to back a limited ceasefire for Yemen’s main port for humanitarian aid. A suspension of bomb sales by Congress now could similarly incentivize the Saudis to return to negotiations, before the metastasizing of the conflict renders peace out of reach. – Politico 

Middle East & North Africa

Since Sissi assumed power after a 2013 military coup he engineered, tens of thousands of people have been arrested, with some of them tortured, according to extensive documentation by human rights groups. Last year, Amnesty International said Sissi’s crackdown on journalists and critics had turned Egypt into an “open-air prison.” […]But Trump has consistently praised Sissi in public, while apparently celebrating the Egyptian president’s authoritarian rule in private. – Washington Post

A military court in Algeria on Wednesday jailed for 15 years two former intelligence chiefs, the brother of a former president and the leader of a political party for “conspiring against the army”, private television channels said. – Reuters 

Libya’s Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj will be representing only part of the country when he addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday. – Associated Press

Zine Labidine Ghebouli writes: The stability of Algeria is contingent upon a quick and peaceful transition of power. It unlikely this will happen without a new understanding of civil military relations, which requires some effort and sacrifices from both sides, the military junta and the protesters. […]In the meantime, while national and international actors should hope for the best, their calculations should take the country’s current trajectory into account and begin preparing for the worst. – Washington Institute

Bilal Wahab and Barbara A. Leaf write: To keep other countries from turning Iraq into a proxy battleground, Baghdad needs to rein in the unruliest militias. This is a tall order because Tehran has spent fifteen years building them into a parallel force of its own. Given the willingness these “special groups” have shown when asked to attack U.S. troops, fight on the Assad regime’s behalf in Syria, or secure other Iranian interests, they risk implicating Iraq in Tehran’s regional confrontations with the United States, Saudi Arabia, and/or Israel. – Washington Institute 

Korean Peninsula

Mr. Moon’s overtures come as the South Korean leader is pressing to win back his role as a trusted intermediary for the U.S. and North Korea, after Pyongyang recently signaled it was open to resuming working-level talks. Those talks could begin within two to three weeks, according to South Korean lawmakers briefed by Seoul’s intelligence agency on Tuesday. – Wall Street Journal 

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, speaking in front of the 74th United Nations General Assembly Tuesday, called for economic engagement with North Korea in exchange for progress on nuclear disarmament. – Fox News 

The South Korean start-up BTL Advanced Material is about to start selling a product that took 10 years to develop at a price that is 30 to 50 per cent higher than the competition. Happily for BTL, the competition has been blunted. South Korea’s trade war with Japan has forced local companies to start building domestic supply chains in case they run short of Japanese components. – Financial Times


A former United States intelligence officer who tried to pass secret military information to the Chinese government was sentenced Tuesday to 10 years in prison — a term that was five years less than expected because he provided information that could help prevent foreign agents from targeting other Americans, the authorities said. – New York Times

Beijing is increasingly tapping private Chinese firms to acquire foreign technology for its military, according to officials and a new report, in a strategy that is prompting calls by leaders in Washington to retool U.S. national security policy. – Wall Street Journal

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the so-called decoupling of the world’s two largest economies would have disastrous results and that China and the U.S. need to work cooperatively through their disagreements – Wall Street Journal 

A Chinese government official and his allies allegedly tried to convince at least seven U.S. universities to sponsor visas for purported Chinese research scholars who in reality aimed to recruit American science talent, according to a recently unsealed criminal complaint filed by the Justice Department. They succeeded at least once, the complaint says. – Wall Street Journal 

Like Mr. Erdogan, the world has been noticeably quiet about Xinjiang, where China has built a vast network of detention camps and systematic surveillance over the past two years in a state-led operation to convert Uighurs into loyal, secular supporters of the Communist Party. […]Backed by its diplomatic and economic might, China has largely succeeded in quashing criticism. – New York Times

The head of China’s central bank said that the country’s interest rates were appropriate and that it wouldn’t aggressively ease monetary policy, even as other central banks lower borrowing rates in a bid to spur growth. […]Central banks in the U.S. and Europe cut interest rates this month to counter signs of weakening in their economies as they contend with trade tensions that have pressured global growth. – Wall Street Journal 

President Trump says U.S. tariffs are battering the Chinese economy, throwing millions of Chinese workers out of jobs—and pressuring the country’s president, Xi Jinping, to strike a trade deal. The reality is more nuanced. It is clear that China, after decades of rapid development, is grappling with a slowing growth pace and weaker sentiment among businesses and consumers. – Wall Street Journal 

The United States led more than 30 countries on Tuesday in condemning what it called China’s “horrific campaign of repression” against Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang at an event on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly that was denounced by China. – Reuters 

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned global leaders Tuesday of the looming risk of the world splitting in two, with the United States and China creating rival internets, currency, trade, financial rules “and their own zero sum geopolitical and military strategies.” – Associated Press

China’s intellectual property theft of both civil and military information is no secret. […]But they might not be far behind, according to Defense Secretary Mark Esper. At the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cybersecurity Summit on Thursday, he warned that China is perpetrating “the greatest intellectual property theft in human history.” – Business Insider 

Elbridge Colby writes: The 2018 National Defense Strategy warned that America’s military edge against great-power competitors has eroded substantially. The past 18 years of Middle East focus have taken a toll. Weapons systems, manpower, money and expertise that might have been directed to the Pacific theater have instead been focused on the Middle East. A significant conflict with Iran would only worsen this deterioration. Reorienting U.S. power-projection toward the Pacific requires deprioritizing other things. That means making hard choices. – Wall Street Journal 


U.S. President Donald Trump urged India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday to improve ties with Pakistan and “fulfil his promise to better the lives of the Kashmiri people,” the White House said in a statement after the pair met on the sidelines of the annual U.N. gathering of world leaders. – Reuters 

US President Donald Trump put China on notice at the United Nations on Tuesday over its handling of the Hong Kong crisis, urging Beijing to protect the former British territory’s “democratic” way of life. – Agence France-Presse 

Michael Sobolik writes: Today, the biggest threat to Chinese integrity is found in Hong Kong, and the PRC’s threats of military pacification are intended to strip away the city’s uniqueness. But Beijing’s bluster is a double-edged sword, because if the United States and other countries were to truly roll back special status for Hong Kong, it would imperil the assets of Chinese elites. – The Diplomat


For decades, the Russian military conducted trials at a restricted site near this northern city, testing missiles that Moscow loaded onto Cold War-era submarines Residents paid little heed for years. That changed on Aug. 8, when an explosion during a missile test killed at least seven people and caused radiation levels to spike in the area around Severodvinsk. – Wall Street Journal

EU efforts to prevent Russia forging an alliance with China are a test case for the bloc’s desire to develop a more assertive foreign policy in a world of growing geopolitical tussles — and the results so far are messy. – Financial Times

Putin’s spokesman emphatically defended Russian law enforcement in the video clip that surfaced on Tuesday. Police in Russia “might not entirely courteously put you in a bus, break your arms and take you away,” said Peskov, “but in America and Canada, they’ll shoot you to hell. For a cup, for a thrown newspaper.” – Newsweek


The U.K. Supreme Court’s ruling that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s five-week suspension of Parliament was unlawful ramps up the pressure on Mr. Johnson to reach a Brexit deal with the European Union. As Parliament reconvenes this week, the prime minister’s ability to deliver on his signature pledge to take the U.K. out of the EU on Oct. 31 is dwindling. – Wall Street Journal

On one of the most difficult days in both of their tenures, President Trump and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, stars of an emerging trans-Atlantic buddy story, met in New York to talk global affairs only to have to fend off troubles back home. – New York Times

US President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he wanted to strike a “magnificent trade deal” with Britain, which has been pitched into crisis over its planned exit from the European Union. – Agence France-Presse

There’s trouble at the White House and Number 10 Downing Street. Rising pressure on U.S. President Donald Trump and UK PM Boris Johnson has disturbed global stock markets, coming as they do amid investor worries about recession and growth-sapping trade wars. – Reuters

The European Commission declined to comment on “internal constitutional matters” of the United Kingdom after the Supreme Court there ruled Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament was unlawful. – Reuters

The Americas

President Trump delivered a sharp nationalist message and assailed “globalists” in remarks to the world’s leading international body on Tuesday, while stopping short of urging any specific action against Iran for a major attack on Saudi oil facilities that his administration has said was Tehran’s responsibility. – New York Times

Colombian officials are planning to make a highly charged presentation against Maduro’s government Wednesday at the U.N. General Assembly, alleging that it is evolving from a domestic threat to an international threat by harboring guerrillas they describe as “terrorists.” – Washington Post 

Mr Maduro now hopes that an official visit to Moscow this week will give him a fresh opportunity to remind the world that he remains in charge in Caracas and enjoys a powerful ally in the form of Russian president Vladimir Putin. – Financial Times


Italian defense group Leonardo (LDOF.MI) is seeking partnerships with hi-tech companies in the cyber security sector, Chief Executive Alessandro Profumo said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Hackers used previously unknown tools to target transportation and shipping companies in Kuwait in May and June, according to a new report from Unit 42, the global threat intelligence unit at Palo Alto Networks. – The National

Arthur Herman writes: In the end, America can’t achieve an effective 5G strategy without leadership from the White House. Without that, we would have lost World War II and the race to the moon. The future of 5G, and the other amazing technologies it will support, represent the same race for the future. The U.S. can’t afford to lose this time, either. – National Review


Ninety-five countries now own military drones, a sharp increase from 2010, and drone operations are becoming deeply embedded in armed forces world-wide in ways that are changing global security, according to a report due for release on Wednesday. – Wall Street Journal

The head of NASA said Wednesday that space security is necessary so that the United States, Japan and others can safely explore the moon and Mars. – Associated Press

The Air Force has given its new combat rescue helicopter the green light to go into production, its manufacturer Lockheed Martin Sikorsky said Tuesday. – Defense News 

When the Space Development Agency formally launched in March, it was billed as a major step forward for the Pentagon’s growth in space, with an ambitious plan to launch hundreds of small satellites into orbit. – Defense News 

The Pentagon’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate is hoping to reframe the talk about non-lethal weapons amid a push by the Defense Department to boost lethality for high-end warfare. – USNI News 

Republicans will be “forced” to vote as soon as Wednesday whether to end the president’s emergency diversion of military funding to his border wall, according to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. – Defense News 

Mark F. Cancian writes: The Trump administration’s 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) drives its FY 2020 budget proposal, which aims to fix readiness and increase modernization to prepare for long-term competition with China and Russia. […]The future poses two risks to the administration’s plans: (1) the lack of real growth in future budgets will hamper the launching of further initiatives; and (2) a softening of public, and then political, support could undermine both budgets and an engagement strategy. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Trump Administration

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would move ahead with an “official” impeachment effort after reports that President Trump withheld aid to Ukraine while he was pressing the country to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump said he ordered the release on Wednesday of the unredacted transcript of his July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, as probes into whether he pressured Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden intensified on Capitol Hill. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump’s attempt to pressure the leader of Ukraine followed a months-long fight inside the administration that sidelined national security officials and empowered political loyalists — including the president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani — to exploit the U.S. relationship with Kiev, current and former U.S. officials said. – Washington Post

The Justice Department experienced two major setbacks in its crackdown on agents of foreign governments on Tuesday, dealing a blow to a high-profile enforcement effort that took center stage during special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. – Wall Street Journal

As Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry into President Trump, she looked into the camera and delivered a sharp ultimatum to Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence. – Wall Street Journal

The White House is preparing to release to Congress by the end of the week both the whistleblower complaint and the inspector general report at the center of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, according to a senior administration official, reversing its position after withholding the documents from lawmakers. – Politico

Eli Lake writes: There is an important difference, though. Adam Schiff is one of 435 members of Congress. Donald Trump is the president. He has more power than Schiff to abuse — and his violations of long-held norms are more consequential. A normal president, sensitive to this disparity, would steer clear of entangling a foreign leader in domestic politics. But Trump is not — say it again — a normal president. – Bloomberg