Fdd's overnight brief

September 7, 2018

In The News


Mr. Trump will be presiding at the United Nations Security Council, a rotating role that falls to the United States this month. […]Exercising the prerogative of the chairman, Mr. Trump plans to focus on Iran and its malign activity around the Middle East. European diplomats said they fear that this will only underscore the disunity of the West, given the unpopularity of Mr. Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal. – New York Times

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei lashed out Thursday at the United States and Israel for leading a “propaganda war” he claimed was meant to undermine the internal stability of the Islamic Republic. – Times of Israel

Washington will consider waivers for Iranian oil buyers such as India but they must eventually halt imports as sanctions are imposed on Tehran, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday. – Reuters

Iran will relaunch its nuclear program and enrich uranium at a higher level than it has previously if Russia, China, and European powers follow the U.S. example and stop honoring Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement, Iran’s nuclear agency has warned. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty


President Trump, who just five months ago said he wanted “to get out” of Syria and bring U.S. troops home soon, has agreed to a new strategy that indefinitely extends the military effort there and launches a major diplomatic push to achieve American objectives, according to senior State Department officials. – Washington Post

The presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey will meet Friday in Tehran to discuss the war in Syria, with all eyes on a possible military offensive to retake the last rebel-held bastion of Idlib. – Associated Press

Russia has warned the US military twice in the last week that its forces, along with Syrian regime units, are prepared to attack in an area where dozens of US troops are located, according to several US defense officials. – CNN

The new US envoy for Syria has said there is “lots of evidence” that Syrian government forces are preparing to use chemical weapons in Idlib. – BBC

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley echoed recent White House statements and again warned Syria and its allies Russia and Iran that the U.S. will act again if chemical weapons are used against Syrian civilians. Haley was addressing a United Nations Security Council meeting on chemical weapons use in Syria Thursday afternoon. – Fox News

Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis said on Thursday in Damascus that opposition-controlled Idlib province will soon be restored to Syrian state sovereignty, vowing to win any coming war. – Reuters

On the eve of a summit between Russia, Iran and Turkey on Syria’s military plan to retake rebel-held Idlib, the eight European UN Security Council members issued an appeal Thursday for civilian protection. – Associated Press

Elizabeth Tsurkov writes: But the assistance is significant for several reasons. It marks one more way Israel has been trying to prevent Iran from entrenching its position in Syria[…]. It also raises questions about the balance of power in Syria as the civil war there finally winds down. With the Iranian forces that helped Assad defeat the rebels showing no inclination to withdraw from Syria, the potential for the country to become a flash point between Israel and Iran looms large. – Foreign Policy


Turkey will open an embassy in Asuncion, Paraguay, the South American country said on Thursday, a day after President Mario Abdo reversed the previous administration’s decision to move its diplomatic mission in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. – Reuters

Turkey is compensating the families of Syrian rebels who died fighting in support of its offensive in Syria’s Afrin, promising them citizenship and a house in Turkey, a rebel commander and families said. – Reuters

The human rights group Amnesty International criticized a decision by the Moldovan authorities on Thursday to detain and expel a group of Turkish citizens, calling it part of a pattern of reprisals against Turkish nationals living abroad. – Reuters

Hundreds of Turkish Cypriots took to the streets of ethnically divided Nicosia on Thursday to protest huge hikes in the prices of electricity, fuel and other goods sparked by the sharp devaluation of the Turkish lira. – Associated Press


Israel is building a massive wall along its northern border, saying the barrier is needed to protect civilians from Hezbollah attacks, but the project has raised tensions with Lebanon, which fears the fence will encroach on its territory. – Associated Press

The IDF’s many successful attacks on the transfer of improved rocket technology to Hezbollah missed significant transfers, former deputy Mossad chief Naftali Granot said on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post

A ceasefire agreement with Hamas could cost Israel its relationship with the Palestinian Authority, PA chief Mahmoud Abbas warned. – Arutz Sheva

In a Rosh Hashanah conference call with Jewish faith leaders and rabbis, President Trump said he would not give money to Palestinians until they agree to make a peace deal. – CBS News

Brett Schafer and James Phillips write: Continuing the status quo will only ensure that the UNRWA and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continue their current dissatisfactory trajectories. Although it will likely cause short-term ramifications, the decision to defund this agency will, hopefully, force all parties to reevaluate their underlying assumptions and refocus attention on what is necessary to end this protracted dispute. – Heritage Foundation

James G. Lindsay writes: The administration may be hoping that this approach will force UNRWA into more-serious discussions of reform—or, at the very least, it will mean no more American support for an agency that many U.S. officials view as recalcitrant and dysfunctional. From their perspective, the monies saved may be reprogrammed to assist Palestinians (or other communities) in ways that better support U.S. regional objectives. – Washington Institute

Middle East

The 15-month embargo of Qatar by Saudi Arabia and three other Arab nations has been a “blessing” for the gas-rich nation’s economy, its economy minister said. – Bloomberg

Three mortar shells were fired into Baghdad’s green zone early Friday as a curfew was imposed in the southern Iraqi city of Basra after a fresh outbreak of violent protests over poor public services left one person dead and 35 injured. – Agence France-Presse

U.N.-mediated Yemen peace talks hung in the balance as the government delegation warned that it would leave on Friday if representatives of the Houthi movement had not shown up. – Reuters

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: In all three cases, the most flattering description that can be given to such approaches to the wars in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan is that the road to hell will be paved with good intentions. However, even the intentions seem far too vague to be good and it is far from clear whether such advocates can even begin to describe a road. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Hassan Hassan writes: The collapse of ISIS’s caliphate and its subsequent flight from much of its former territory has been a triumph for the anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq and Syria. However, for ISIS, expulsion from former urban strongholds is the end of one chapter and the beginning of another: the group has since rolled out a well-developed strategy to assure its future resurgence. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

Stephen Biegun, named Special Representative for North Korea last month by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, will travel to Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing between Sept. 10 and Sept. 15. The State Department didn’t announce any travel by Mr. Biegun to North Korea. – Wall Street Journal

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told a team of South Korean envoys that he continues to trust President Trump and said he hoped to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula while Trump is in office, the chief envoy said Thursday. – Washington Post

US President Donald Trump pledged Thursday to complete a deal on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula together with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, signaling that negotiations remain alive after weeks of an apparent deadlock. – Agence France-Presse

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Friday that he’s pushing for “irrevocable progress” on efforts to rid North Korea of its nukes by the end of this year as he prepares for his third summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. – Associated Press

Australia and New Zealand said on Friday their governments were deploying three maritime patrol aircraft to Japan to assist with efforts to enforce United Nations sanctions against North Korea. – Reuters


Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week in a sign of strengthening ties between the two Asian giants. – Associated Press

Britain could have hurt its chances of sealing a post-Brexit free trade deal with China, a major Chinese state-run newspaper warned on Friday after a Royal Navy warship sailed close to islands in the South China Sea claimed by China. – Reuters

A new offensive in the U.S.-China trade war appeared to loom on the horizon on Friday. […]Beijing has indicated any such move would be quickly followed by its own retaliation. As those tensions threaten to spill over into more areas of commerce, some economists are predicting that the conflict between the world’s two largest economies could last well beyond the U.S. midterm elections in November. – CNBC

Some of America’s most prominent technology companies and retailers made a last-minute push to convince President Donald Trump​ to reverse course on a plan to impose tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports. – Bloomberg

A proposed U.S. development finance institution with a lending cap of $60 billion is aiming to be “a clear alternative” to China’s controversial Belt and Road program, according to stakeholders. – CNBC

Josh Rogin writes: Most importantly, Trump officials must persuade the president that defending Taiwan is not an irritant in the U.S.-China relationship. It is a test case for America’s willingness to respond to Beijing’s global aggression. – Washington Post


As Sergeant Major Bolyard, the top-ranking American enlisted soldier in the 3rd Squadron, 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, walked with other advisers across the base in Logar Province, two Afghan police officers opened fire with a rifle and a machine gun, killing Sergeant Major Bolyard and wounding another American soldier, according to an American military official familiar with the episode. – New York Times

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis landed in Kabul on Friday for an unannounced visit to war-torn Afghanistan, adding his weight to a flurry of diplomatic efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. – Agence France-Presse

The Islamic State (IS) terrorist group has claimed responsibility for a twin bomb attack in Kabul on September 5 that killed more than 20 people. – Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty


The International Criminal Court said it had jurisdiction to investigate Myanmar officials over violence against the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority, with potential crimes-against-humanity charges. – Wall Street Journal

The United States and India signed a major military communications agreement Thursday during a visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to New Delhi, highlighting the growing partnership between the two nations as they seek to manage a rising China. – Washington Post

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has offered to send troops to Jordan to help combat Islamist militants, after agreeing to deepen military cooperation with the Middle Eastern nation to fight extremism. – Reuters


Conservative House Republicans are calling on President Trump to declassify and release documents they say will show the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election is politically biased against him. – Wall Street Journal

Special Counsel Robert Mueller wants President Donald Trump to commit to a follow-up interview to written answers to questions in his probe of any coordination between Trump campaign members and Russia in the 2016 U.S. election, Rudy Giuliani, who is representing the president, said on Thursday. – Reuters

U.S. lawmakers discussing possible new sanctions on Russia for meddling in U.S. elections and other international actions said on Thursday they may consider measures targeting the country’s sovereign debt or wealthy and politically connected business leaders known as oligarchs. – Reuters

Two U.S. F-22 fighter jets escorted Tu-95MC Russian strategic bombers over the Arctic Ocean, the Interfax news agency cited the Russian Defence Ministry as saying on Friday. – Reuters

Russia’s military chief of staff says that the military exercises that begin next week, expected to be the biggest in three decades, will involve nearly 300,000 troops. – Associated Press

Russia’s rouble joined the ranks of emerging market currencies descending to multiyear lows, with the currency hitting its weakest level since 2016. […]Russia is attempting to meet president Vladimir Putin’s ambitious growth and spending targets despite turmoil from global jitters on emerging markets and the possibility of new US sanctions. – Financial Times


The leaders of the United States, France, Germany and Canada on Thursday endorsed Britain’s assessment that a nerve-agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in March was conducted by Russian military officers and “almost certainly” approved at a senior level of the Russian government. – Washington Post

Sergei V. Skripal, the former Russian spy poisoned in Britain with a powerful nerve agent, appears to have been working in recent years with intelligence officers in Spain, a country locked in a pitched battle with Russian organized crime groups, some with ties to the Russian government. – New York Times

A top Russian diplomat on Thursday denounced British accusations that Russian military intelligence agents poisoned a former spy in England, calling them base untruths aimed at whipping up hostility toward Moscow. – Associated Press


The United States should suspend military aid to Uganda over the government’s human rights record, the U.S. lawyer for a prominent critic of President Yoweri Museveni said on Thursday. – Reuters

African leaders attending this week’s summit with China don’t think that cooperation between the continent and Beijing has added to their debt burden, the Chinese government’s top diplomat said on Thursday. – Reuters

A military court in South Sudan sentenced 10 soldiers to prison on Thursday for raping foreign aid workers and killing a journalist in an attack on a hotel in 2016. – NPR

The Americas

Brazil’s far-right presidential candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, was stabbed in a near-fatal attack during campaigning Thursday as tensions ran high ahead of the country’s most unpredictable election in decades. – Wall Street Journal

Lawyers for an Uzbek-born man accused of killing eight people by driving a truck down a New York City bike path have asked a U.S. judge to rule out the death penalty, contending that President Donald Trump’s statements against him have made a fair legal process impossible. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Talks between the United States and Canada will continue Friday after the two sides made “good progress” in their effort to rewrite NAFTA, as Washington was poised for a possible escalation in its trade war with China. – Agence France-Presse

Guatemala’s Foreign Minister said on Thursday that United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres should not interfere with the country’s decision to bar an anti-corruption prosecutor. – Reuters

Cyber Security

The U.S. announced charges against a North Korean operative in connection with cyberattacks including the 2014 Sony Pictures hack and a global ransomware attack last year, intensifying pressure against a cyber army that has morphed into one of the world’s most sophisticated hacking operations. – Wall Street Journal

British Airways said that the personal and financial details of customers making bookings between August 21 and September 5 had been stolen in a data breach involving 380,000 bank cards. – Agence France- Presse

Two House Homeland Security subcommittees today will examine cyber threats to the U.S. aviation industry. “As devices, aircraft and systems become more interconnected, cybersecurity will increasingly play a larger role in aviation security,” Rep. John Ratcliffe, chairman of the cyber subcommittee, is expected to say according to his draft opening statement. – Politico