Fdd's overnight brief

September 30, 2019

In The News


President Hassan Rouhani of Iran said Friday that President Trump had offered to meet with him at the United Nations this week and then lift all sanctions, but that Mr. Rouhani declined because the “optics” of such a meeting were unacceptable. – New York Times  

The leaders of the U.S. and Iran arrived here for the United Nations General Assembly with their red lines clearly drawn. French President Emmanuel Macron came determined to bend them—and engineer the first meeting between U.S. and Iranian leaders since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. – Wall Street Journal 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is denying his country would interfere with the upcoming U.S. presidential election and says his government doesn’t have a preference in the race. – Associated Press  

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman warned that war between his country and Iran would lead to a “total collapse of the global economy” and said he prefers non-military pressure to stymie Iranian ambitions. – Bloomberg 

Iran’s oil minister told the petroleum industry on Sunday to be on alert to physical and cyber attacks, amid heightened tensions with the United States in the Gulf region. – Reuters   

The United States sent a message to European leaders that it was willing to lift all sanctions on Iran, according to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who said he had rejected talks with Washington while punitive U.S. sanctions remained in place. – Reuters 

A top commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a designated terrorist organization, declared over the weekend that Israel doesn’t pose any threat to the Islamic Republic and has been surrounded to “the east, west, north, and south.” – Algemeiner   


Syria’s foreign minister demanded on Saturday that American and Turkish forces evacuate the war-ravaged country immediately or face “any and all countermeasures authorized under international law.” – New York Times   

American counterterrorism officials are voicing increased alarm about a Qaeda affiliate in Syria that they say is plotting attacks against the West by exploiting the chaotic security situation in the country’s northwest and the protection inadvertently afforded by Russian air defenses shielding Syrian government forces allied with Moscow. – New York Times  

It has taken nearly two years of fraught negotiations and international diplomacy between Damascus, Moscow and Ankara. But in New York last week, the UN finally announced that the moribund international political process for Syria had been revived — with plans to establish a committee to review the constitution of a country ripped apart by an eight-year civil war. It is arguably the biggest achievement for UN diplomacy on Syria since member states agreed a resolution on talks in 2015. – Financial Times  

Despite public domestic Christian support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, some members of minority Christian groups argue he manipulates and threatens them. – Washington Examiner 

Editorial: The Trump administration this week announced that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad used chlorine weapons against his own people back in May. Trump is right to promise some sort of retaliation. He is also right not to pursue yet another regime-change war. – Washington Examiner


Turkish fighter jets have downed a drone that violated Turkey’s airspace from Syria six times, the defense ministry said on Sunday, adding that the drone’s nationality could not be immediately determined. – Reuters

This report will review the joint U.S.-Turkish military action that has occurred in northeast Syria in recent months, Turkish plans for the area, how Turkish government statements on its possible invasion of the area have been clear and unified, and how much of the Turkish press supports it while some have criticized the intended action, and statements indicating how such an invasion may affect Turkey-Russia relations. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Soner Cagaptay, Amanda Sloat, Molly Montgomery, and Tomasz Hoskins write: To alleviate these risks, Erdogan has entered into ad hoc deals with Russia, ranging from Syria policy to the purchase of S-400 air defense systems. President Vladimir Putin has been particularly responsive to these overtures since the failed Turkish coup of 2016, but his current courtship is serving the same purpose as Russian hostility did in the past: to bully Ankara. Erdogan has also built important relationships in Eurasia and Africa, however, so if Turkey’s economy recovers soon, he may be able to continue his recent approach while leveraging Moscow and Washington against each other. – Washington Institute 


A Palestinian teenager was arrested by Israeli security forces in the West Bank city of Hebron on Monday after a knife was found in his bag. – Times of Israel  

Among dozens of Palestinians arrested over the weekend are senior activists in a terror organization whose members are suspected in an August bombing that killed an Israeli teenager. – Times of Israel  

Police arrested four East Jerusalem Muslim minors on suspicion of throwing firebombs at a security vehicle in East Jerusalem about a week ago. – Arutz Sheva  

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Saturday issued further threats against Israel, saying the Lebanese terror organization’s “unprecedented levels of intelligence” would soon lead to its fighters “entering occupied Palestine.” – Agence France-Presse 

The a-Nassar Salah a-Din Battalion, which serves as the military arm of the Popular Front terror group, has announced that it is beginning use of a new rocket. – Arutz Sheva 

Saudi Arabia

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia told “60 Minutes” that he takes “full responsibility” for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi because it was committed by Saudi government employees. – Washington Post 

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince warned in an interview broadcast on Sunday that oil prices could spike to “unimaginably high numbers” if the world does not come together to deter Iran, but said he would prefer a political solution to a military one. – Reuters  

Saudi Arabia threw open its doors to foreign tourists on Friday, launching a new visa regime for 49 countries and appealing to foreign companies to invest in a sector it hopes will contribute 10% of gross domestic product by 2030. – Reuters

Arabian Peninsula

Saudi Arabia is moving to enact a partial cease-fire in Yemen, say people familiar with the plans, as Riyadh and the Houthi militants the kingdom is fighting try to end a four-year war that has become a front line in the regional clash with Iran. – Wall Street Journal 

Yemeni rebels said Sunday they carried out a major assault on forces of a Saudi Arabian-led coalition near the border between the two nations, and released footage that they said shows hundreds of captured troops, including Saudi officers, and destroyed Saudi military vehicles. – Washington Post  

A fuel shortage is deepening Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, forcing drivers to wait for days in lines that stretch back from some petrol stations as far as the eye can see. – Reuters   

Iran says this month’s missile-and-drone attack by Yemen’s rebels on major Saudi oil sites was an act of “legitimate defense” by the Iran-allied Houthis. – Associated Press 

Middle East & North Africa

Russia, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates are among the handful of oil producers benefiting from the recent attack on Saudi Arabia’s largest oil-processing facility, as Asian buyers seek alternatives to the kingdom’s highest-quality crude. – Wall Street Journal 

The drone and cruise-missile strike that hit the heart of the Saudi oil industry this month laid bare the competing aims of the Trump administration’s policies in the Middle East. And what Washington does next will shape the views and actions of America’s allies—and rivals—around the globe. – Wall Street Journal 

For 13 years, the United States has used a single building in this tiny gulf state to command fighter jets, bombers, drones and other Air Force assets in a region that stretches from Northeast Africa through the Middle East to South Asia. And yet on Saturday, as 300 planes were in the air in key areas such as Syria, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf, hundreds of seats at the Combined Air and Space Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar sat empty. – Washington Post  

For the third time in a week, the United States military carried out an airstrike on Thursday against Islamic State fighters in southern Libya amid indications the terrorist group was seeking to exploit the country’s civil strife to increase its recruiting. – New York Times  

Seven soldiers and one civilian were killed in an ambush in Egypt’s North Sinai region on Friday, security sources said, in an attack claimed by Islamic State. – Reuters  

Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has approved the reopening on Monday of the Qaim border-crossing with Syria, state news agency INA said, the latest sign of normalization between Baghdad and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government. – Reuters 

The Iraqi prime minister’s removal of a top military commander from his post triggered heated political protests and uncertainty over the weekend, at a time of soaring tensions between the country’s chief security partners in the region, Iran and the United States. – Military Times  

Unknown aircraft reportedly struck bases belonging to Iranian-backed militias in Iraq close to the Syrian border late Friday night. – Times of Israel  

Korean Peninsula

North Korea accused the United States on Friday of failing to follow through on summit agreements between U.S. President Donald Trump and the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, but said it is placing hope in the U.S. president’s “wise option and bold decision.” – Military Times 

In recent weeks, Tokyo and Seoul have exchanged tit-for-tat measures as discord has widened from a long-running row over Koreans who were brought to Japan to work in mines and factories before and during the second world war. – The Guardian  

Japan and South Korea remain at an impasse over trade and the enduring issue of compensation for wartime labor, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said after her first meeting with her new Japanese counterpart. – Bloomberg   

Japan’s embassy in South Korea has begun posting data on its website to show there is little difference in radiation levels between the two countries in its latest retort in a diplomatic and trade row rooted in wartime history. – Reuters 

Van Jackson writes: But if eliminating North Korea’s nuclear and missile arsenal is the ultimate benchmark for success, then the United States lost as early as 2006, when North Korea first detonated a nuclear device. […]Only through a more realistic North Korea policy can the United States do what matters most — manage the risks of nuclear and conventional war. – War on the Rocks 


Gauges of China’s manufacturing activity rebounded in September thanks to improving domestic demand, but orders from overseas markets remained subdued amid a protracted trade fight between Beijing and Washington. – Wall Street Journal  

The Chinese Communist Party plans Tuesday to put on the largest military parade in the history of the People’s Republic of China, wheeling out new hardware designed to show the country’s advances under the leadership of Xi Jinping. – Washington Post 

China’s foreign minister warned Friday that protectionism could trigger a world recession as he vowed to stand firm in a trade row with the United States. – Agence France-Presse 

China’s top trade negotiator will lead an upcoming 13th round of talks aimed at resolving a trade war with the United States, a senior Chinese official said Sunday. – Associated Press 

In Beijing, President Xi Jinping’s grand military parade through the capital will be cheered as a display of national pride after 70 years of Communist Party rule. In Washington, many will see a growing threat to American dominance in the Western Pacific. – Bloomberg 

Citigroup Inc. has termed it the most extreme potential American move against China in the escalating rivalry between the world’s largest two economies: restricting access to U.S. finance. – Bloomberg 

A U.S. Treasury official said there are no current plans to stop Chinese companies from listing on U.S. exchanges, a day after a report that the Trump administration is discussing ways to limit U.S. investors’ portfolio flows into China. – Bloomberg 


Afghans trickled to polling stations to vote for a new president on Saturday, their numbers depleted by fears of attacks by Taliban insurgents and concerns that fraud and other voting irregularities would render any vote meaningless. – Wall Street Journal 

United States and Afghan troops may be at risk of losing their nighttime advantage after the United Nations warned in a report that Taliban fighters were acquiring night vision goggles and sniper rifles. – Washington Examiner 

An airstrike by U.S.-led forces overnight in eastern Afghanistan killed at least five civilians, local villagers said Sunday. – Military Times  

Yaroslav Trofimov writes: “If the foreign forces leave Afghanistan precipitously, the country will go back to the same situation as after Najibullah’s collapse, and civil war will erupt once again,” said Mohammad Mohaqeq, a former civil-war-era warlord and now Afghanistan’s deputy chief executive. – Wall Street Journal


Sunday’s demonstrations were some of the worst unrest in the city since the protest movement began in early June and were timed ahead of China’s National Day anniversary on Tuesday. The protesters see the anniversary as a chance to broadcast their resentment of Beijing’s growing influence over life and politics in their semiautonomous Chinese city. – New York Times   

Pakistan’s leader castigated India over its Kashmir crackdown from the podium of the United Nations on Friday, warning of a “blood bath” when and if Indian authorities lift a curfew over the disputed territory. – New York Times  

Two of India’s top investors made statements deriding the nation’s archenemy Pakistan, as a wave of populism sweeping the country extends to a segment typically averse to political commentary. – Bloomberg 

Malaysia does not want to take a confrontational stance towards China over the disputed South China Sea and Beijing’s alleged mistreatment of its minority Uighur Muslims, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said in an interview published on Saturday. – Reuters 

New Zealand police said on Monday they arrested a man for making threats in the capital city of Wellington which local media reported were related to bombs. – Reuters  

During a hearing of the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee, Taiwanese Defense Minister Yen Teh-fa confirmed to legislators that Taiwan will seek to acquire the BAE Systems M109A6 Paladin self-propeller howitzer from the United States. […]This requirement is in response to China fielding artillery rockets capable of attaining such ranges, which would put Taiwan’s west coast within range from mainland China. – Defense News 


For decades, as Ukraine has drawn a parade of visiting American diplomats and officeholders and investors and political fixers, Russia has rarely been out of anyone’s line of sight. […]While Ukraine has a starring role in the impeachment inquiry in the House, Russia is never far away from anything that happens in Kiev’s territory. – Washington Post 

The White House kept transcripts of President Trump’s calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Saudi royal family on a highly classified computer system to keep them from becoming public. – Washington Examiner 

Janusz Bugajski writes: If it continues to liberate itself from Moscow’s influences, Bulgaria will have an opportunity to strengthen NATO’s Eastern Flank, help secure the Black Sea region, and demonstrate its importance as an American ally. To disentangle itself from Russian dependence and pressure, the government needs to cut several tentacles that tether the country to Moscow. These include political corruption, energy dependence, and media penetration through which Russian officials depict Bulgaria either as a loyal Russian outpost or a traitor to Slavdom and Christian Orthodoxy. – Center for European Policy Analysis 

Dmitriy Frolovskiy writes: In other words, Russia has managed to expand its position in Middle East, but when it comes to truly securing a role as a regional power, it seems unlikely that the Kremlin has any trump cards left to play. Moreover, the winds of change will start blowing again at some point, and in the long term Moscow’s growing resemblance to the regimes of the Middle East might actually become a self-inflicted wound. Coupled with lackluster economic growth and increasing public pressure linked to widespread domestic corruption, it is hard to imagine that, apart from the Kremlin’s hard power and some personal ties on the leadership level, there are other factors capable of sustaining Russia’s gains. – Middle East Institute 


Prime Minister Boris Johnson has refused to be drawn on whether he had asked one of his fellow European Union leaders to veto an extension to the scheduled Brexit departure date on Oct. 31. – Associated Press 

Hungary believes it can end an acrimonious EU disciplinary dispute by the end of the year, insisting other member states are tiring of a stand-off that is driving a wedge between eastern Europe and the rest of the bloc. – Financial Times 

Italy’s new finance minister has said he will pursue a “wise middle ground” between exceeding budget constraints agreed with the European Commission and increasing government spending to stimulate the country’s stagnant economy. – Financial Times 

The EU and Japan have signed an ambitious deal to build infrastructure and set development standards in joint projects around the world, in a riposte to China’s far-reaching Belt and Road Initiative. – Financial Times  

Europe’s relationship with the U.S. has been stretched to the limit by President Donald Trump’s “America First’’ foreign policy. But disputes about aircraft subsidies and auto tariffs coming to a head over the next two months could put the allies in a trade war. – Bloomberg 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson could be forced out of office next week as opposition lawmakers try to join forces to replace him with an interim administration in order to secure another Brexit delay. – CNN  

Hal Brands writes: Yet Europe’s nations are still capable of playing a critical role in the defining contest of this century: that between China and America. Or, they can allow the continent to be reduced to a weak, divided region that struggles to make its influence felt. China desires the latter, and has a strategy for achieving it. The U.S. should prefer an active and capable set of European allies, but its policies have too often played into Beijing’s hands. – Bloomberg 


Russian mercenaries have fanned out across the nation to train local soldiers. A former Russian spy has been installed by the Central African president as his top security adviser. Russians shuttled warlords to peace talks with the government, helping lead to a deal with more than a dozen armed groups to stop fighting. – New York Times 

Sudan’s prime minister said on Friday he had held useful talks with U.S. officials while at the United Nations this week, and expressed hope Khartoum could reach an agreement to be removed from Washington’s state-sponsored terrorism list “very soon.” – Reuters 

Corinna Jentzsch writes: Regardless of the electoral outcome, tensions could end up building again. Even if Renamo makes big electoral gains, Frelimo can always use its favored tactic for diluting democracy: parallel institutions that negate the power of elected officials. Such a scenario would likely invite renewed conflict. – Foreign Affairs

Latin America

The United Nations Human Rights Council agreed on Friday to set up an international fact-finding mission to document violations in Venezuela, including torture and thousands of summary executions. – Reuters  

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government accused Peruvian authorities on Sunday of fomenting “xenophobia” against the large Venezuelan exile population after a series of incidents of apparent mistreatment of migrants. – Reuters  

The European Union warned on Friday it was ready to impose new economic sanctions on the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to hasten change, saying the “grave situation” in Venezuela must end with a transition to new elections. – Reuters


Concerns that planes could be targeted in cyberattacks are prompting U.S. officials to re-energize efforts to identify airliners’ vulnerability to hacking. The revived program, led by the Department of Homeland Security and involving the Pentagon and Transportation Department, aims to identify cybersecurity risks in aviation and improve U.S. cyber resilience in a critical area of public infrastructure, a DHS official said. – Wall Street Journal

In tandem with the Pentagon’s latest update of its civilian casualty policy, the way the US prioritizes and sells weapons overseas is also undergoing a series of deep reforms to more closely align sales with broader US policy objectives, and curb potential misuse by allies. – Breaking Defense 

President Donald Trump is raising a large chunk of the money for his border wall with Mexico by deferring several military construction projects slated for Guam, a strategic hub for U.S. forces in the Pacific. – Air Force Times 

Many of the nation’s foremost sea power experts met on Friday to consider the role of aircraft carriers as guarantors of national security. – Defense News 

Two years to the month from when the idea was first floated publicly, the Pentagon on Wednesday inaugurated its new Defense Security Cooperation University, with the aim of creating a workforce able to more quickly move security assistance for allies and partners. – Defense News 

The Navy’s West Coast-based fleet welcomed a new commander on Friday as Vice Adm. Scott “Satan” Conn took the helm of San Diego-based U.S. 3rd Fleet from Vice Adm. John D. “Sarge” Alexander. – USNI News 

The commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 2 has been removed from command due to a loss of confidence by the commander of U.S. 2nd Fleet, service officials told USNI News. – USNI News 

The Navy’s Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron is seeking experienced maintainers to be in place by July 2020 as the team transitions to using F/A-18E/F Super Hornet airframes, the service said this week. – USNI News 

Trump Administration

The now-famous phone call between President Trump and Ukraine’s inexperienced new president has upended politics in the United States. Here, not so much. Volodymyr Zelensky, the popular former television comedian who took office in May, has gotten a pass so far from most of Ukraine’s political establishment over a rough White House transcript of the getting-to-know-you phone call in which Trump proposed he open a criminal investigation against the son of one of his rivals. – Washington Post  

Kurt D. Volker has resigned as the Trump administration’s special envoy for Ukraine, a person with knowledge of the event said Saturday. He is the first casualty of Congress’s impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s conduct with that country. – Washington Post 

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff revealed the whistleblower who filed a complaint about President Trump’s communications with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has reached an agreement to testify in front of the committee. – Washington Examiner 

A man who has served not once, but twice, as the acting secretary of the Army, is now officially confirmed for the highest civilian post in the service. Ryan McCarthy previously served as the under secretary of the Army, but became the acting secretary when Mark Esper was nominated to become the defense secretary this summer. McCarthy had also served as acting secretary until Esper was confirmed in late 2017. – Defense News