Fdd's overnight brief

September 26, 2018

In The News


The Trump administration issued a stark warning to the United States’ closest European allies on Tuesday, promising to sharply penalize European governments or companies that continue to do business with Iran. – New York Times

President Trump said Tuesday that he has “no plans” to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani while both leaders are attending the annual U.N. General Assembly this week. – Washington Post

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani accused the United States on Tuesday of trying to overthrow his government, rejecting bilateral talks after President Donald Trump denounced Iran’s leaders and predicted stepped-up U.S. sanctions would get Tehran to negotiate over its nuclear program. – Associated Press

The Trump administration has warned Tehran that there would be “hell to pay” if it continued to “cross” the US and its allies. The threat was delivered by the national security adviser, John Bolton. – The Guardian

An Iranian media outlet close to the hard-line Revolutionary Guard published a video Tuesday threatening missile attacks on the capitals of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, further raising tensions after a weekend militant attack on an Iranian military parade. – Associated Press

A senior United Arab Emirates (UAE) official warned European powers on Tuesday that it was offering Iran a glimmer of hope by trying to keep trade flowing, but that ultimately they would fall behind the United States’ tough approach on Tehran. – Reuters

While U.S. President Donald Trump struggles to convince the world to follow his lead on Iran, he’s got at least three key allies firmly on his side. – Bloomberg

Iran on Tuesday identified the perpetrators of a deadly attack on a military parade as “jihadist separatists”, announcing a series of arrests and appearing to tie the Islamic State group to the bloodshed. – Agence France-Presse

Saudi Arabia denied it had backed the gunmen who killed 25 people at a military parade in southwestern Iran over the weekend, almost half of them Revolutionary Guards, the Saudi state news agency reported on Tuesday. – Reuters

Since its establishment in 1979, the regime of the Islamic Revolution in Iran has made the eradication of Israel the focus of its ideology, expressing and emphasizing it openly in declarations. […]This report will focus on both the ideological aspect and the declarative aspect – i.e. in statements by regime spokesmen – of the Islamic revolutionary regime’s firm intent to eradicate the State of Israel. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Editorial: The puzzle is why Europe insists on sticking so doggedly with Barack Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal. European leaders know the deal is flawed. […]Apparently they can’t bring themselves to agree on anything with the Trump Administration. Europe would get better results—and maybe a better deal with Iran—if it coordinated with Washington to apply pressure on Iran to reopen the 2015 deal. – Wall Street Journal

Alan Goldsmith writes: There’s never been a better time to use America’s bully pulpit at the U.N. to highlight Tehran’s human rights abuses and call on the world to act. […]This is President Trump’s chance to lead and build consensus on Iran and put the regime in a corner. He can announce a new round of sanctions designations and call on the Europeans, Russia, and China to follow suit. – The Hill

Mehdi Khalaji writes:  In broad-brush terms, the Khuzestan Arab community illustrates the ways in which the Middle East divide often transcends that between Sunni and Shia, or between Arab and Persian. For the Iranian regime in particular, in light of the recent terrorist strike, complex ethnic and tribal aspirations in Khuzestan could be the source of future headaches, if not crises. – Washington Institute

Krishnadev Calamur writes: Trump’s remarks came [at the UN] a day after the European Union and other signatories to the nuclear agreement announced a new mechanism to effectively bypass U.S. sanctions. The announcement, which at the moment is mostly symbolic, represents the chipping away at the U.S. sanctions regime by arguably its most important ally. […]Trump’s remarks on Iran merely highlighted the growing divisions in the transatlantic alliance. – The Atlantic


With the military front lines frozen for now, the battle for Syria’s future shifted to the United Nations as the U.S. and Russia clashed over postwar plans and sought the world body’s approval. – Bloomberg

The Syrian government intends to retake the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib, either by force or through peaceful means, an official said in remarks published Tuesday. – Associated Press

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House National Security Adviser John Bolton appeared to set different conditions Monday for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, although Mattis insisted there was “no daylight” between them. – Military.com

The IDF will continue to strike at Iranian target in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after Russia announced plans to transfer to Syria an advanced anti-missile system known as the S-300. – Jerusalem Post

A senior Syrian official has warned that Israel will need to think twice before attacking Syrian targets, following a Russian announcement that it will be supplying an S-300 anti-missile system to its ally. – Ynet

Paul R. Pillar writes: The sudden ruffling of Israeli-Russian relations over the accidental shootdown by Syria of a Russian surveillance aircraft, killing fifteen crew members, is the sort of incident apt to happen when a modus vivendi joins parties with much different perspectives, one of them broad and the other narrow. – National Interest


Now the frenzy is crashing to a halt as Turkish companies’ heavy foreign debts come due and the boom’s excesses surface. Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian turn, which has led him to consolidate power on a nationalist platform and left him slow to take the measures needed to rein in a runaway economy, has investors on edge. – Washington Post

U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met briefly backstage at the United Nations General Assembly, shaking hands but not engaging on key tensions dividing the two NATO allies. – Bloomberg

European Union lawmakers say they are canceling 70 million euros ($82.4 million) in funding meant to help Turkey join the EU due to what they see as Ankara’s failure to improve rule of law and human rights. – Associated Press

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will pay a state visit to Germany this week as the two countries seek to rebuild ties after a series of sharp spats but the controversial trip is likely to be overshadowed by protests. – Agence France-Presse

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said a Turkish court, not politicians, will decide the fate of an American pastor whose detention on terrorism charges has hit relations between Ankara and Washington. – Reuters

Turkish authorities detained 33 soldiers and six others for suspected links to the network of the U.S.-based cleric Ankara says orchestrated the 2016 attempted coup, state-run Anadolu news agency said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that his country could not remain silent over the use of sanctions as weapons while it is in a bitter standoff with the United States over the fate of an American evangelical Christian pastor detained by Ankara. – Reuters


Britain’s main opposition Labour Party has passed a motion strongly criticizing Israel, as a senior lawmaker warned the party must root out anti-Semitism. – Associated Press

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged Tuesday to continue combatting Iranian “entrenchment” in Syria and coordinating with Russia after the downing of one of Moscow’s planes. – Agence France-Presse

Trampling on the Palestinians and pushing unilateral initiatives will not resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday, taking a swipe at U.S. counterpart Donald Trump’s policy on the issue. – Reuters

The continued Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a sign of the United Nations’ failure in conflict resolution, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi told the General Assembly at the start of its opening session on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Jordan will thwart any attempts to change Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian character, King Abdullah II told the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni met Tuesday night with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the sidelines of the United Nations, urging him to reopen diplomatic channels with the US for the sake of reaching a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. – Times of Israel

Russian officials reportedly rebuffed an Israeli attempt to dispatch a high-level government representative to Moscow last week following the downing of a Russian spy plane by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli airstrike. – Times of Israel

Mossad head Yossi Cohen is flying Tuesday to the US with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the crisis in ties with Russia, in the aftermath of last week’s downing of a Russian plane by Syrian anti-aircraft fire during an Israeli airstrike. – Times of Israel

Arabian Peninsula

Bahrain charged 169 people on Tuesday with being part of a militant group they referred to as the “Bahraini Hezbollah,” the latest mass prosecution in the kingdom amid a yearslong crackdown on all dissent. – Associated Press

Germany is working with Saudi Arabia on an agreement toward resolving a diplomatic rift that has lasted almost a year, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. – Bloomberg

Karen Elliott House writes: Oil prices are on their way up. Iranian sales have declined under pressure of a U.S. embargo. Venezuelan production is disintegrating apace with the country. Saudi production is nearing its limit[…]. Good news for oil-rich Saudi Arabia? In the very short run the answer is yes. But an increase in oil revenue only compounds the kingdom’s larger problems of economic and social malaise. – Wall Street Journal


The Saudi-UAE military alliance fighting in Yemen says it will open humanitarian corridors between two rebel-held areas, the Red Sea city of Hodeidah and the capital Sanaa, to allow life-saving aid to be delivered to millions of starving Yemenis. – Al Jazeera

An international watchdog on Tuesday accused Yemen’s Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, of committing abuses including hostage taking, torture and enforced disappearances of people they hold in detention. – Associated Press

The United Arab Emirates will support United Nations proposals for new peace talks on Yemen, a senior Emiriati official said early on Wednesday after meeting with U.N. Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

The Pentagon is removing U.S. missile systems from the Middle East next month, U.S. military officials said, a move that will leave American allies with fewer defenses as the White House ramps up its rhetoric against what it says are threats posed by Iran. – Wall Street Journal

American and Iranian officials have taken unusually visible roles in trying to influence the makeup of the new Iraqi government, but both sides have so far come up short, failing to place their allies in key positions. – Washington Post

Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote to Congress to explain why he was releasing $195 million in U.S. military aid for Egypt that the Trump administration had earlier withheld over human rights concerns. […]The document, obtained this week by POLITICO, offers insight into one of two recent cases in which Pompeo has decided that U.S. national security interests should override human rights concerns when it comes to offering military support to foreign allies.- Politico

Masked gunmen shot dead a human rights activist and mother of four outside a supermarket in Basra on Tuesday, a brazen afternoon assassination that threatens to worsen tensions in the southern city wracked by violent protests. – Associated Press

Pietro Marzo writes: Tunisia, indeed, shows how low the impact on national politics is when it comes to issues which have long impeded competitive politics elsewhere. The country can count on a large network of international democratic promoters which operate on the ground, avoiding regression to authoritarianism. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

While Kim Jong Un isn’t attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week, he had what amounted to a de facto spokesman singing his praises: South Korean President Moon Jae-in. – Bloomberg

U.S. President Donald Trump praised North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday for his courage in taking steps to disarm, but said much work still had to be done and sanctions must remain in place on North Korea until it denuclearizes. – Reuters

The Pentagon’s nominee to be the next commander of U.S. forces in South Korea said on Tuesday that a decision to suspend some joint exercises between South Korea and the United States was a “prudent risk” but had caused a “slight degradation” in military readiness. – Reuters

Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has said he is willing to meet Kim Jong-un in a move that could lower simmering tensions between Tokyo and Pyongyang. But he insisted that any summit with the North Korea must lead to resolution of the regime’s cold war abductions of Japanese citizens. – The Guardian

Adam Taylor writes: Right now, this looks like a winning strategy for Moon — and it is far better than the grim situation on the Korean Peninsula last year. But we may have to check in again next year at Trump’s speech to see whether this new attitude sticks. As we now know, a lot can change in 12 months. – Washington Post

Patrick M. Cronin writes: Peace and denuclearization are the two tracks of North Korean diplomacy that must run in tandem, each depending on the other to maintain momentum, and both tracks exposing the U.S.-South Korean alliance—and North Korea—to new risks and vulnerabilities. – National Interest


China rejected a request by an American warship to make a port visit to Hong Kong next month, officials from both nations said on Tuesday, as tensions between the two countries flared on military as well as economic fronts. – New York Times

Tension between China and Sweden over the treatment of a group of tourists in Stockholm has escalated after a satirical skit depicted Chinese travelers as people who eat dogs and need to be told not to defecate in public. – New York Times

China and the United States can compete but should not view each other with a Cold War mentality and should avoid falling into a zero-sum game trap, the Chinese government’s top diplomat said, amid deteriorating ties between the superpowers. – Reuters

China Tuesday defended the Hong Kong government’s decision to ban a political party that promotes independence and expressed “strong dissatisfaction” at countries which criticised the move. Agence France-Presse

A Chinese citizen living in Chicago was arrested Tuesday for allegedly spying, including by helping with the recruitment of U.S. engineers, defense contractors and scientists for intelligence services in China, federal prosecutors said.  – Associated Press

Any plots to sow discord in China’s ties with Pakistan will not prevail, the Chinese government’s top diplomat said on Tuesday, as Beijing fends off criticism of its economic projects in Pakistan and a clampdown in China’s western Xinjiang region. – Reuters


The United Nations mission in Afghanistan expressed concern Tuesday over a surge of civilian casualties from airstrikes conducted by Afghan and U.S.-led forces while battling insurgents. – Washington Post

Between a sandy cliff and cracked riverbed on the edge of this small provincial capital, 380 families are camped in a cluster of hand-sewn, sun-bleached tents, waiting for rain and peace to let them return to their ancestral villages. But across drought-stricken, war-torn Badghis province in far-western Afghanistan, the wait will not end soon. – Washington Post

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Monday that the U.S. military is adjusting tactics in Afghanistan as the Taliban continue to inflict heavy casualties on local forces. – Agence France-Presse


Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is slamming Norway for arresting a Russian parliamentary official suspected of spying. – Associated Press

Pyotr Verzilov, an anti-Kremlin activist being treated in a Berlin hospital for suspected poisoning, has been given a police guard for his own protection, a close friend who visited him in hospital said on Tuesday. – Reuters

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday he wants a more constructive relationship with Russia — even as the Western alliance is taking measures to respond to Moscow’s increasing military assertiveness. – Associated Press


Trump said: “Germany will become totally dependent on Russian energy if it does not immediately change course. Here in the Western Hemisphere, we are committed to maintaining our independence from the encroachment of expansionist foreign powers.” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas could be seen smirking alongside his colleagues. – Washington Post

The Balkans is a theater of tug-of-war between the West and Russia and resolving the dispute would be a rare victory in a volatile region where nations still struggle to mend ties going back to the bloody conflicts of the 1990s. Greece has agreed to drop its objection to the Republic of Macedonia joining the European Union and NATO as part of an agreement struck in June. – Bloomberg

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday urged world leaders to reject “the law of the most powerful,” offering a rebuke to Donald Trump’s go-it-alone approach to global challenges. – Agence France-Presse

The European Union security chief Julian King has called for the “closest possible cooperation” on defense and security issues after the U.K. leaves the 28-member bloc. – Defense News

EU member countries are expected to sign off on the new “Asia connectivity strategy” — which aims to improve transport, digital and energy links while promoting environmental and labour standards — in time for a major summit of European and Asian leaders next month. – Agence France-Presse

Edward Lucas writes: Far from preventing conflict, economic activity can be part of it. Hostile foreign states use money as a weapon, to buy clandestine political influence, in the overt creation of useful business and financial relationships and even to weaken adversaries’ economies. – Center for European Policy Analysis

North America

The Trump administration appears virtually certain to miss its self-imposed weekend deadline for reaching an agreement with Canada on a new North American trade deal, according to U.S. officials and people close to the talks. – Washington Post

The Trump administration’s top trade negotiator threatened to move forward with a bilateral accord with Mexico amid a lack of progress with Canada on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: Robert Lighthizer wants Canada to know he can pass a revised Nafta trade deal with Mexico whether or not the Canadians join, or so the U.S. Trade Rep claimed Monday. The question is whether this is a bluff, or if Mr. Lighthizer has some special political insight that no one else has. – Wall Street Journal

Latin America

The United States slapped sanctions on the inner circle of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on Tuesday, accusing the first lady, defense minister, vice president and other allies of helping the socialist leader “plunder” the nation’s wealth. – Washington Post

Argentina’s central bank chief resigned Tuesday amid negotiations with the International Monetary Fund. The surprise resignation of Luis Caputo was announced in a bank statement that said he was leaving for personal reasons. But it came as the government was pushing for a new financing deal with the IMF aimed at helping Argentina’s struggling economy. – Associated Press

Guatemala’s government reiterated Tuesday that it is refusing to readmit the head of a U.N. commission investigating corruption in the country, including one pending case against President Jimmy Morales. – Associated Press

A former Colombian guerrilla leader has returned to her country after serving prison time in the United States, only to find herself re-arrested on old money-laundering charges. – Associated Press

Donald Trump has suggested that Venezuela’s leader Nicolás Maduro could be easily toppled by a military coup as the US stepped up financial pressure with fresh sanctions on Maduro’s inner circle. – The Guardian

U.S. President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead U.S. military operations in Latin America said on Tuesday there is no planning under way for any kind of military option to address the economic and political crisis in Venezuela. – Reuters

An update of Peru’s trade agreement with China could be completed as soon as 2020, and certainly by the time President Martin Vizcarra leaves office, Peruvian Trade Minister Roger Valencia said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Cyber Security

The Marine Corps is aggressively trying to recruit cyber talent. Beginning in October, all enlisted Marine applicants will be given a cyber test while at a military entrance processing station, according to Capt. Alex Ryan, operations analyst for manpower studies and analysis branch at Manpower and Reserve Affairs.  – Defense News

A former National Security Agency employee has been sentenced to 5 ½ years in prison for taking top secret U.S. defense materials back to his Maryland home. – Associated Press

The Navy has to get software updates and patches to the fleet within days if it’s going to win in the future, the Department of the Navy’s acquisition boss said Sept. 25 at Modern Day Marine. – Defense News


The U.S. Air Force is making changes to the way it sustains the B-1B Lancer bomber and C-5 Super Galaxy cargo plane, moving to a maintenance approach that will allow it to use data analytics to predict problems, the acting head of Air Force Materiel Command said. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy, Air Force, Army and Marine Corps recently participated in Valiant Shield 2018, a biennial exercise run by Indo-Pacific Command designed to test the joint force’s ability to conduct operations in the region. – Defense News

The powerful chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services committees are telling the Pentagon to pump the brakes on plans to pay contractors less money up front when it buys major weapons systems. – Defense News

The Navy and Marine Corps will build upon the successes of previous technology demonstration exercises by hosting a series of “Fight the Naval Force Forward” exercises in late 2018 and early 2019 to work with prototypes that could aid future amphibious operations. – USNI News

The Marine Corps has canceled its Amphibious Assault Vehicle Survivability Upgrade effort with SAIC and will instead focus its efforts on the Amphibious Combat Vehicle that will eventually replace the AAV. – USNI News

Trump Administration

President Trump thrust his commitment to an “America First” foreign policy back onto the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. But in his second address on this diplomatic stage, he sounded as eager to claim credit for his achievements after 20 months in office, as he was to disrupt the world order. – New York Times

President Trump, whose apocalyptic speech in his United Nations debut last year riveted much of the world’s attention, spoke again on the world’s most important diplomatic stage on Tuesday, at the organization’s New York headquarters. – New York Times

President Trump revived one of his favorite talking points Tuesday in an address at the U.N. General Assembly as he called for an end of foreign aid to countries that disrespect the United States. – Washington Post

President Trump criticized international organizations and alliances as unaccountable and defended his administration’s hard-line trade policies, urging fellow world leaders on Tuesday to chart their own paths toward sovereignty. – Wall Street Journal

Dalibor Rohac writes: But there is one thing that President Trump got right. The UN and other forms of international cooperation are not substitutes for accountable national governments. […]The real choice (or rather, a myriad of small choices) is how exactly major democratic countries should structure their cooperation. – American Enterprise Institute

Harry J. Kazianis writes: All in all, the speech was what you would expect from Trump these days, a mix of populism, nationalism, a call for nations to exercise sovereignty over themselves and their borders but — and most important of all — a detailed explanation of where Trump will use America’s still-ample diplomatic power and military muscle – The Hill