Fdd's overnight brief

September 27, 2018

In The News


Mr. Trump had started the session by telling fellow leaders that the nuclear deal was “horrible” and that “the Iranian regime exports violence, terror and turmoil.” […]But far from siding with the U.S. stand on Iran policy, heads of state and foreign ministers rejected it, delivering an unusual diplomatic repudiation to the U.S. on the sidelines of the annual General Assembly. – Wall Street Journal

A proposed plan by the European Union, Russia and China to sidestep U.S. sanctions on Iran by using an alternative payment system won’t give its oil buyers a free pass to handle Iranian crude. – Bloomberg

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday his country doesn’t want a war with the United States and believes America will “sooner or later” support the Iran nuclear agreement again following the Trump administration’s withdrawal. – Associated Press

The Islamic State jihadist group on Wednesday threatened to carry out new attacks in Iran, days after it claimed a deadly shooting at a military parade in the country’s southwest. – Agence France-Presse

US President Donald Trump has urged other members of the UN Security Council to work with America to ensure Iran never acquires a nuclear bomb. Chairing a council meeting, he said anyone who failed to comply with US sanctions would “face severe consequences”. – BBC News


President Donald Trump is claiming credit for saving the rebel-held Syrian stronghold of Idlib from a Russian-backed offensive that could have resulted in thousands of deaths and a humanitarian crisis. – Associated Press

The same day that Russian diplomats struck a deal with Turkey over a demilitarized zone in Syria’s last rebel-run region, dozens of Russian businessmen were flying home from Damascus, contracts in hand for trade with a postwar Syria. – Associated Press

Syrian mainstream rebel groups said on Thursday they have growing confidence that their jihadist rivals will comply with a requirement to leave a demilitarized buffer zone set up by Turkey and Russia under a deal that averted a Russian-backed Syrian army offensive. – Reuters

A top Syrian official has said a new air defence system from ally Russia will force Israel to “think carefully” before carrying out any more air strikes in the country. – Agence France-Presse

Israel managed to obtain several guarantees from US President Donald Trump regarding its freedom of operation in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday. – Times of Israel

In Syria, the Pentagon appears poised to embark on a conflict with no clear end-strategy, members of the House Armed Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations said Wednesday. – USNI News


A year ago, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey told Germans of Turkish origin not to vote for Chancellor Angela Merkel, branding her governing coalition “enemies of Turkey.” On Thursday, Mr. Erdogan is arriving in Berlin for a full state visit, complete with military honors, a state banquet and a lunch with Ms. Merkel. – New York Times

President Tayyip Erdogan, on the eve of a visit to Germany, urged it to designate as a terrorist organization the Fethullah Gulen movement, which Turkey blames for a 2016 coup attempt. – Reuters

A day after giving a United Nations address that was deeply critical of the U.S.’s hardline economic policy, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made an appeal for U.S. investment in his country to business leaders from both countries at a conference in New York. – Newsweek

Bobby Ghosh: For Erdogan, used to warmer welcomes on his travels, this visit will be a test of reserve — not his strongest suit. It may help to remind himself of his main purpose: to repair his relationship with Chancellor Angela Merkel. – Bloomberg


President Trump said Wednesday that he hoped to present his long-anticipated peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians within four months, and said he favored a two-state solution to the decades of conflict between the two sides. – New York Times

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he would be open to a one-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if that was the preference of the parties themselves. – Reuters

British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn announced on Wednesday that one of the first steps he would take if elected prime minister would be the recognition of a Palestinian state. “Immediately after I am elected as prime minister, we will recognize a Palestinian state,” Corbyn declared. – Ynet

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Wednesday to discuss the situation in the Gaza Strip and other regional developments. – Times of Israel

Arabian Peninsula

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister called on Canada to apologize for demanding the release of imprisoned human rights activists on Wednesday, saying that a bitter dispute between the two countries was “very easy to fix.” – Wall Street Journal

Saudi Arabia has put the U.S. on its shortlist of potential partners competing to build nuclear-power plants in the kingdom, while the two countries negotiate how to do a deal without spreading nuclear weapons, Energy Secretary Rick Perry said. – Wall Street Journal

A U.S. decision to remove anti-missile systems from several Arab allies was an “internal and routine procedure”, Kuwait said on Wednesday, adding that its defenses would not be affected. – Reuters

While speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, President Donald Trump said the situation in Yemen is improving, but civilian casualties in Yemen’s war have increased dramatically since June, when the Saudi-led coalition began its offensive to gain control of Hodeidah. – Newsweek

Middle East & North Africa

In a switch from the past, the military has begun arming Bedouin tribesmen like Abu-Sefira and having them patrol in operations against the IS militants deep in the peninsula’s interior, where their local knowledge gives them an advantage, Abu-Sefira and other Bedouin say. – Associated Press

Lebanon’s Parliament has ratified the international Arms Trade Treaty, angering Hezbollah legislators, some of whom walked out in protest. – Associated Press

Hasan Salemeh, Karam Idris and Kamal Hasan were sentenced Tuesday by Lebanon’s Military Tribunal chaired by Brig.-Gen. Hussein Abdallah after they were found guilty of providing Israel with intelligence about Hezbollah’s military arsenal and operations as well as images of strategic locations in Lebanon. – Jerusalem Post

Bilal Y. Saab writes: When pundits speak of a post-American Middle East, they are often referring to American fatigue in the region, coupled with Russia’s resurgence following its successful intervention and subsequent military expansion in Syria. But the bigger story of the geopolitical transition underway in the Middle East is the rise of local powers, and how they increasingly operate outside the US strategic orbit due to their decreasing confidence in US leadership. – Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Barbara A. Leaf writes: Iran achieved its overriding strategic goal in Iraq over the course of the past decade and a half: ensuring that Iraq could not pose a national security threat to Iran. But I would argue that much of Iran’s earlier success was a product of exploiting three factors: the internal circumstances in Iraq; U.S. mistakes in both policies and activities; and the external environment in Iraq’s immediate neighborhood and the wider region[…]. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

Plans for a summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un advanced as the president said the U.S. would no longer insist that Pyongyang move to rapidly dismantle its nuclear arsenal. – Wall Street Journal

President Donald Trump on Wednesday defended his work to settle a nuclear deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying he has given up nothing but his time during a June summit yet stands on the cusp of denuclearizing the North. – Associated Press

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday agreed to return to North Korea next month to push forward denuclearization talks as President Donald Trump predicted breakthroughs soon. – Agence France-Presse

Senate Armed Services Committee members expressed concerns over the Trump administration’s position on military exercises and U.S. troop presence South Korea in exchange for vague promises from Pyongyang about denuclearization during a confirmation hearing for the top U.S. military officer in Korea. – USNI News


President Trump accused Beijing of trying to damage him politically and said he would call President Xi Jinping Thursday to discuss the escalating U.S.-China trade dispute, amid signs of a broader chilling in the relationship between the two global powerhouses. – Wall Street Journal

China says it will take another step to cut tariffs on imported goods, as it seeks to combat a slowing economy amid escalating trade tensions with the U.S. – Wall Street Journal

The Vatican’s breakthrough agreement to give China some say over bishop appointments has critics accusing the church of caving in to the ruling Communist Party just as it is waging a sweeping crackdown on religion. Others say it’s an imperfect but much-needed step toward uniting Catholics in the world’s most populous country. – Associated Press

Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s “friendship” with President Trump could be on the rocks over the ongoing trade war, the U.S. leader acknowledged Wednesday. – Washington Examiner

President Donald Trump is accusing China of meddling in the U.S. midterm elections, but when pressed for evidence, a senior White House official provided scant examples of a Russia-style disinformation warfare campaign. – Roll Call

US B-52 bombers have recently conducted transit operations in the South China Sea and East China Sea, the Pentagon said Wednesday, amid soaring tensions with Beijing over trade tariffs. – Agence France-Presse

Taiwan said on Thursday its relationship with the Vatican is stable, although it will closely watch what it described as “suppression” by China following a landmark deal between Beijing and the Vatican on the appointment of bishops on the mainland. – Reuters

Greg Ip writes: Now, as both dig in on their trade dispute, some see an economic cold war looming in which the U.S. and China seek to lead competing economic blocs. […]In the short run, China would clearly be the loser: It still depends heavily on the U.S. for intellectual property, know-how and investment, and as a market for exports. – Wall Street Journal

South Asia

The United Nations mission in Afghanistan said 21 civilians were killed in two airstrikes last weekend and urged all parties to the conflict to take stronger measures to protect civilians. After the release of the United Nations statement, an airstrike on Tuesday in the Chardara district of Kunduz Province killed three more people[…] – New York Times

The quest to end America’s longest war, 17 years in Afghanistan with no end in sight, now partly falls on the shoulders of Zalmay Khalilzad, an urbane veteran U.S. diplomat who describes the experience as “deja vu all over again.” – Washington Post

Pamela Constable writes: The collapse of the recent, short-lived thaw between Pakistan’s new government and the country’s longtime nuclear-armed rival, India, was much more than a postal change of heart. It was rooted in decades of bad blood and bouts of armed conflict, lately exacerbated by a war of words and resurgence of violence in the Kashmir region, which is claimed by both countries. – Washington Post


President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to hold bilateral talks aimed at reaching a trade agreement, Mr. Trump’s top trade negotiator said Wednesday. – Wall Street Journal

Japan’s biggest warship, the Kaga helicopter carrier, joined naval drills with Britain’s HMS Argyll in the Indian Ocean on Wednesday as the frigate headed toward the contested South China Sea and East Asia. – Reuters

Australian shipbuilder Austal is expanding its presence in the Philippines in support of a potential programme to supply the Philippine Navy (PN) with six offshore patrol vessels (OPVs). – IHS Jane’s


The finance ministry in Moscow does not believe U.S. sanctions against Russian state debt are inevitable, and sees no imminent need to intervene in the bond market to support it, a senior ministry official said. – Reuters

Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) push to lift U.S. sanctions on Russian lawmakers failed on Wednesday, with his colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee questioning the motives behind the proposal. – The Daily Beast

Although Russia claims it has filed an appeal to overturn its doping ban from track and field competition, the Court of Arbitration for Sport said Wednesday it had not received any such document. Russia’s track team was banned by the IAAF in November 2015 after a World Anti-Doping Agency investigation found widespread drug use by elite athletes from the country. – Associated Press


A group of investigative journalists from Britain and Russia on Wednesday named a highly decorated colonel in Russia’s military intelligence service as one of the men accused of poisoning a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain earlier this year. – New York Times

Moscow has scoffed at a report by a respected investigative group claiming that one of the suspects in the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal was a highly decorated colonel in Russian military intelligence. – Agence France-Presse

A near-forgotten sensation of hope surged through anti-Brexit campaigners in Britain this week. It began with one or two Labour Party delegates standing to applaud, saluting an abrupt policy change that had been forced onto the party’s reluctant leader.  […]For the first time in months, people there realized, there was a chance—however small—that Brexit could be stopped. – The Daily Beast

French President Emmanuel Macron said he’d welcome Britain back should its voters decide in a second referendum to stay in the European Union. – Bloomberg

The British Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Labour Friends of Israel organization both criticized a motion passed by the Labour Party’s annual conference on Tuesday calling for an arms sales boycott against Israel. – Jerusalem Post

The Americas

President Trump said he rejected a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada during the United Nations General Assembly this week and threatened on Wednesday to punish Canada by taxing the cars it exports into America, signaling a new low in relations between the two nations. – New York Times

Five Latin American countries and Canada on Wednesday urged the International Criminal Court to consider prosecuting senior officials in Venezuela for extensive human rights abuses, the first time that member nations have referred another member to the tribunal. – New York Times

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro proposed a meeting with President Trump at the United Nations on Wednesday, despite deriding the U.S. leader as an “imperialist” oppressor. – Washington Examiner

Trump was forced to sit through a lengthy tongue-lashing from Morales on Wednesday at a meeting of the UN Security Council that the U.S. president hosted. It’s likely the harshest any foreign leader has ever spoken to Trump in public. – Bloomberg

US President Donald Trump hinted Wednesday at a military response to Venezuela, vowing to take action against the leftist-ruled country whose economy has gone into a tailspin. – Agence France-Presse

This week’s meeting of the United Nations General Assembly marked the first time in nearly 60 years that Cuba’s delegation was led by someone not named Castro. But the communist island’s new president stuck to the same old script when he delivered his first address on Wednesday. – USA Today

Jorge G. Castañeda writes: Long before justifying or backing a coup, if the international community is convinced that regional peace and security are in danger, and that it has a responsibility to protect Venezuela and its neighbors, it must first exhaust every other option. Oil is the remaining one. Only then — if at all — will secretary general Almagro’s outburst acquire legitimacy. – New York Times

Cyber Security

For the Department of Defense, President Donald Trump’s new cybersecurity strategy means additional authority to hack foreign countries. But for the cybersecurity industry, the new American doctrine could mean a lucrative payday. – Defense News

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. Officer candidates won’t be administered the test. – Defense News

Jason Parry writes: Federal agencies have until April 2019 to identify critical work roles and skill shortages in IT and cybersecurity as part of the Federal Cybersecurity Workforce Assessment Act. While this is a first step in determining a holistic approach to address this issue, most CIOs can already tell you that they are struggling to fill open IT and cybersecurity positions, and the situation has become critical. They need solutions now. – Defense News

James Andrew Lewis writes: Cyberspace has become the preferred battleground. Opponent actions inhabit a “grey area,” that is neither peace nor war, where the United States and its allies, unable to use military force in response, have often been stymied in designing an effective response. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The president has four days to sign the $674 billion appropriations bill before the end of the fiscal year and avoid another one of the gaps in funding that have plagued Pentagon planners and military forces for years. – Washington Examiner

Aircraft carriers – the most visible tools of U.S. military power – are spending more time in maintenance and at home even as the Pentagon has declared it’s entered a new era of competition with China and Russia. – USNI News

The House of Representatives is expected to pass the $717 billion FY 2019 defense appropriations act next week. Anticipating the vote, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), said the pending appropriations bill goes a long way to rebuilding a military that has for too long suffered from operating under spending caps or temporary spending bills. – USNI News

Boeing is already building the fuselage that will go in its first MH-139 after it won the US Air Force’s (USAF’s) UH-1N replacement programme contract on 24 September, according to a company official. – IHS Jane’s

Kathleen H. Hicks writes: Advancing the defense agenda laid out by Secretary Mattis in February requires far-reaching changes in how the U.S. military links strategic and operational levels of conflict, integrates its capabilities with others, rigorously and systematically harnesses innovation to meet operational challenges, and rationalizes force sizing, shaping, and resourcing approach. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Trump Administration

A day after President Trump appeared before the United Nations and made clear his disdain for a global approach to problem solving, he returned on Wednesday to wield the gavel at a meeting of the Security Council, the world organization’s most powerful body. – New York Times

The House Intelligence Committee will hold a meeting Friday to discuss the public release of transcripts of witness interviews conducted as part of its Russia investigation. – Washington Examiner

Domestic Policy Council Director Andrew Bremberg is leaving the White House at the end of the year[…]. Bremberg, who has been with the administration since President Donald Trump’s election, will be nominated as the next ambassador to the United Nations Mission in Geneva, the White House confirmed in a notice published this afternoon. – Politico

Donald Trump attacked China and Canada, praised North Korea and defended his embattled Supreme Court nominee during a rare news conference in New York. – Sky News (UK)