FPI Overnight Brief: September 21, 2010

Middle East

Bahrain stripped a powerful Shiite cleric with close ties to Iraq of his citizenship as authorities on Monday widened a crackdown against alleged dissidents ahead of next month's elections in the tiny Gulf nation. – Associated Press

Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad is appealing for more international aid, pledging continued reforms and vowing that his government will be ready for statehood "at any point" if additional assistance is forthcoming. – Associated Press

Israeli and Palestinian leaders met in New York on Monday, a week after the latest round of Middle East peace talks ended without visible signs of progress on bridging an impasse over Israeli settlements. - Reuters

A planned global uranium fuel bank, aimed at stemming the spread of nuclear weapons as more countries seek atomic energy, is at risk of losing key funding unless action is taken soon, the United States said on Monday. - Reuters

Suspected U.S. drones fired missiles at militant targets in northwestern Pakistan on Monday, killing six people in the 15th such attack this month, intelligence officials said – Associated Press

Josh Rogin reports: Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, both recently returned from touring parts of northern Pakistan devastated by widespread flooding, pledged to increase U.S. government aid to the region – The Cable

Western Europe

The Netherlands' caretaker government on Tuesday is to present a 2011 budget that will sidestep many of the country's pressing fiscal issues because talks to form a new government after June elections are still without a result. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Southern Africa

Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, a collection of companies popular with consumers around the world, is announcing a new philanthropic venture that aims to do nothing less than put Zimbabwe back on its feet. – New York Times

Concerns are growing that al-Qaeda may have expanded its East African operations into Uganda after a British man was arrested on terrorism charges on his way to Entebbe - Telegraph

China

China's main nuclear power company announced that it is in talks to build a one-gigawatt nuclear power plant in Pakistan, even as the two countries face U.S. and Indian concerns over their cooperation to build other plants in Pakistan. – Wall Street Journal

It began with a minor fender bender on the Asian seas - a Chinese boat colliding with Japanese coast guard ships. But in just two weeks the dust-up has escalated to a full-scale diplomatic standoff, with the Chinese government now officially no longer speaking to the Japanese. – Washington Post

China on Tuesday said a row over Japan's detention of a Chinese trawler captain had badly damaged ties and made it "inappropriate" for the premiers of Asia's biggest economies to meet this week at the United Nations - Reuters

 

Vaclav Havel, Dana Nemcova, and Vaclav Maly write: Next month, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee will announce the recipient of the 2010 prize. We ask the Nobel Committee to honor Liu Xiaobo’s more than two decades of unflinching and peaceful advocacy for reform, and to make him the first Chinese recipient of that prestigious award. In doing so, the Nobel Committee would signal both to Liu and to the Chinese government that many inside China and around the world stand in solidarity with him, and his unwavering vision of freedom and human rights for the 1. 3 billion people of China. – International Herald Tribune

The War

Debate on critical national security issues such as the interrogation of terrorism suspects and the future of Guantanamo Bay has ground to a halt, according to Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, who said Monday that he fears that only another terrorist attack will revive efforts to enact a sustainable legal framework to fight terrorism. – Washington Post

A former Pakistani special forces officer has emerged as al Qaeda's most dangerous field commander in charge of a network of deep-cover agents in Europe who has had contact with an American terror suspect, Western intelligence officials say. – Washington Times

As U.S. forces continue fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, some service members are struggling with a relatively new kind of training beyond marksmanship or rapid-response attacks: learning how to use cunning, charm and empathy to stabilize a war zone. – Washington Post

The head of the Department of Homeland Security stressed on Friday that a growing number of homegrown terrorist plots are the most concerning threat to national security. – The Hill

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is pushing member countries within the United Nations to establish global security standards for commercial airliners. – The Hill

Nine NATO soldiers were killed Tuesday morning in a helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan, military officials said, making 2010 the deadliest year for the U.S.-led international force in Afghanistan. – Washington Post

Russia

In more than five years as one of Russia’s most vocal gay rights campaigners, Nikolai Alekseyev has been publicly insulted, repeatedly arrested, and pelted with everything from eggs to fists.  Now, Mr. Alekseyev says, he was kidnapped by people he believes to be members of Russia’s security services and held for two days at different locations outside Moscow where plainclothes officers threatenerd and verbally abused him. – New York Times

As world military powers look to develop the biggest, baddest weapons, Russia's armed forces are toying with an alternative: inflatable missiles, tanks and planes – Moscow Times

Russia's army faces a 15-25 percent shortage of conscripts this year, a newspaper report said Sept. 20, leaving the military understaffed amid a government reform drive. - AFP

Backers of President Dmitry Medvedev’s re-election in 2012 are behind a campaign to unseat Yury Luzhkov because his loyalty is not guaranteed, said Yelena Baturina, the Moscow mayor’s billionaire wife. - Bloomberg

Lebanon

Saad Hariri returned home yesterday to confront the worst political crisis of his year as prime minister, as his supporters traded insults and accusations with the Hizbollah-led opposition over an international tribunal investigating the assassination of Mr Hariri’s father in 2005 – The National

United States of America

A physicist and his wife who are accused of trying to help Venezuela develop a nuclear weapon pleaded not guilty on Monday. – Associated Press

Brazil

Until last week, Dilma Rousseff, the candidate hand-picked by Brazil’s president to succeed him next month, appeared to be cruising to an easy first-round victory in an election that would make her the first woman to become president in the country’s history. – New York Times

France will propose a package of ocean patrol vessels (OPVs), frigates and an auxiliary refueling tanker in competition with Britain and Italy in response to Brazil's modernization of its surface fleet, the international director for the Direction Générale de l'Armement (DGA) procurement office said Sept. 20. – Defense News

Kuwait

Kuwait’s cabinet approved yesterday the withdrawal of citizenship from Yasser al Habib, a Shiite cleric at the centre of a controversy that has stoked sectarian tension and led to a ban on public demonstrations in Kuwait. – The National

Ideas

Even with the brutal global recession, the ranks of the world's desperately poor are likely to shrink to 15 percent of the population by 2015, less than half of the original 42 percent, said a recent U.N. report. The World Bank, in a separate analysis, said the [Millennium Development] objective appears "well within reach." – Washington Post

The 2008 financial meltdown slowed the progress governments have made in their effort to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015, the heads of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund said Monday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pressed debt-ridden donor countries on Monday not to cut aid to the poor despite their budgetary woes - Reuters

Balkans

Failure to arrest fugitive Serbian general Ratko Mladic could undermine the work of war crimes tribunals after the U.N.'s Yugoslavia tribunal wraps up its work in three years, its chief prosecutor said Monday. - Reuters

The head of NATO's peacekeeping force in Kosovo has said the situation in northern Kosovo requires a political solution, RFE/RL's Balkan Service reports. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Israel

The Quartet of Middle East peace mediators will on Tuesday call on Israel to extend its settlement moratorium, saying the freeze has had a positive impact as the two sides seek a peace deal within the next year, according to a draft statement seen by Reuters. - Reuters

Israeli officials have tried to float a trade-off in which they would extend the temporary moratorium on settlement construction in exchange for the release by the United States of Jonathan Jay Pollard, the American who pleaded guilty to spying for Israel and is serving a life term in an American jail, Israel’s Army Radio reported Monday. – New York Times

North Korea

North Korea will hold a landmark political meeting on Sept. 28 to elect "its supreme leadership body," state media said Tuesday, in what outside analysts view as a key step in leader Kim Jong Il's hereditary succession plan. – Washington Post

Iran

Iran accused the US of human rights violations [yesterday] over plans by the state of Virginia to execute a woman for the first time in nearly 100 years, despite claims that she has severe learning difficulties. - Guardian

Turkey and other U.S. allies have been allowing Iranian banks with suspected links to Tehran's nuclear program to do business within their borders, frustrating Western countries trying to put a financial squeeze on the Islamic Republic, Reuters has learned. - Reuters

A senior U.S. official said on Tuesday he did not rule out a resumption of talks on a stalled nuclear fuel swap with Iran, but made clear Tehran must also engage on broader concerns about its disputed nuclear program. - Reuters

Iran said on Monday the U.N. nuclear watchdog was suffering a crisis of "moral authority and credibility," underlining worsening relations between Tehran and the International Atomic Energy Agency. - Reuters

The United States will continue to pressure Iran to meet its international commitments and come clean about its nuclear program, a senior U.S. official said Monday. – Associated Press

Analysis:  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's list of enemies is long, spreading from his feud with the West to reformists at home to emerging rivals in his own hardline camp. But support from Iran's strong Revolutionary Guards and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei still ensures him the upper hand - Reuters

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says that "the future belongs to Iran," and he challenged the United States to accept that his country has a major role in the world. – Associated Press

Mexico

Two Honduran diplomats were briefly kidnapped in Mexico this past weekend by a presumed drug gang, prompting Honduras to warn Mexico on Monday that it might close several consulates here if Mexico can’t provide adequate security for diplomats. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Besieged journalists in Ciudad Juarez are vowing to continue covering the drug violence along the border, even after gunmen executed a second reporter from the city's newspaper last week. – Washington Post

It was by turns defiant and deferential, part plea and part plaint, a message as much to the drug gangs with a firm grip on Ciudad Juárez, the bloodiest city in Mexico’s drug battles, as to the authorities and their perceived helplessness – New York Times

A respected Mexican newspaper has asked drug cartels for guidance on how not to offend them following a photographer's murder, deepening alarm that drug-related violence has stifled media freedom - Guardian

Yemen

The Yemeni wing of al Qaeda has claimed the August kidnapping of a senior intelligence official in the northern province of Saada and demanded the release of two imprisoned militants - Reuters

Up to 12,000 civilians have fled their homes in the southern Yemeni province of Shabwa because of heavy fighting between government forces and suspected al Qaeda militants, according to Yemen's Red Crescent. - Reuters

Afghanistan

Opposition candidates are cautiously optimistic that they may have greatly improved their strength in the next Parliament, despite widespread charges of fraud and low voter turnout that may yet discredit the results of Saturday’s election – New York Times

 

Complaints of fraud mounted in Afghanistan on Monday, two days after parliamentary elections meant to shore up the country's fragile democracy. But all sides said it was too soon to tell whether voting irregularities had significantly tainted the outcome of the balloting. – Los Angeles Times

There are no statistics about how many Afghan girls masquerade as boys. But when asked, Afghans of several generations can often tell a story of a female relative, friend, neighbor or co-worker who grew up disguised as a boy. To those who know, these children are often referred to as neither “daughter” nor “son” in conversation, but as “bacha posh,” which literally means “dressed up as a boy” in Dari. – New York Times

American forces have been accused of ignoring British tactical advice by dismantling numerous bases as a row overshadowed the handover of Sangin in Afghanistan on Monday. - Telegraph

[Yesterday], ISAF announced that its forces captured a "a suspected Taliban media and propaganda facilitator, who participated in filming election attacks, during an overnight operation in Ghazni province."…According to Pajwhok Afghan News, the person detained works for The Associated Press and Al JazeeraLong War Journal

Josh Rogin reports: As the Afghan government counts the votes cast during Saturday's parliamentary elections, the United States is working hard to train the bureaucrats that will run the local and provincial governments that will be crucial to increasing the Afghan government's credibility. – The Cable

United Kingdom

Nick Clegg, now the deputy prime minister in a coalition led by the Conservative prime minister, David Cameron, has since learned that with power comes vulnerability — vulnerability to criticism, to ridicule, to the perceptions of marginalization, to the suspicion that he has sold out his [Liberal Democratic] party’s principles for a not-so-important seat at the table of power. – New York Times

Europe/Russia

Baroness Ashton has demanded an eight per cent budget increase for her new EU diplomatic corps at a time when national government departments, including Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office, face deep cuts. - Telegraph

Iraq

The daughter of an al-Qaeda in Iraq militant who forced her mother into marriage and motherhood, then disappeared, Zahraa is one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of children whose births amid the anarchy and insurgent violence of Iraq were never legally recorded – Washington Post

Combat operations are officially over in Iraq. But don’t tell the U.S. Air Force, which is still flying tens of thousands of missions over Iraq. – Danger Room

Defense

The Senate is planning to vote Tuesday on whether to end debate on a $725.7 billion annual defense policy bill, a measure that includes a repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" law, which bans gays from serving openly in the armed forces. – Washington Post

Generals are often accused of planning to fight the last war, but the Army is making a virtue of it in the service's latest projections about future needs and capabilities. – Washington Times

With six weeks to go before midterm elections, leaders in the House and Senate have decided that there won't be any action on the $678.2 billion Defense Appropriations bill that President Barack Obama has requested, or the $726 billion Defense Authorization act. – Defense News

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said the defense authorization bill may not win approval this year if it does not pass a key procedural hurdle on Tuesday. – The Hill

Ashton Carter writes:  Our challenge is to sustain a military at war, take care of our troops and their families, and invest in new capabilities—all in an era when defense budgets will not be growing constantly as they were in the years following 9/11. Last year, we identified savings in the defense budget by cancelling unnecessary programs. Now we must find savings within programs and activities we do need. The department must achieve what economists call productivity growth: Learning to do more without more. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

France

France has stepped up its vigilance against terror threats, a top official announced Monday amid reports of various new threats, including one against the Paris transport network. – Associated Press

Sudan

Sudan is less than four months away from a vote that is expected to break it into two countries, a move that could spark another civil war and imperil the Obama administration's efforts to calm a troubled swath of East Africa marked by tribal conflict, oil wealth and gunrunning – Los Angeles Times

Delaying the Jan. 9 referendum on whether to divide Sudan into two countries would create instability and renew violence in the African nation, Sudanese First Vice President Salva Kiir, president of southern Sudan, warned Monday. – Washington Times

Central Asia

 

Tajikistan on Monday blamed Islamic militants, some with ties to Afghanistan and Pakistan, for an assault on a military convoy that killed at least 23 soldiers in the nation over the weekend. – New York Timesc

A brazen attack by Islamist militants who killed at least 23 Tajikistan soldiers on Sunday is stoking concerns that the war in Afghanistan is spilling across the border into former Soviet Central Asia, destabilizing the already fragile governments there and endangering key coalition supply routes. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

The lead judge in the case that led to ethnic Uzbek rights activist Azimjan Askarov being sentenced to life in prison in Kyrgyzstan denies that the charges were politically motivated and says one of the co-defendants testified against Askarov, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Security analysts say Central Asian militants who have fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan could attempt to exploit political turmoil and ethnic divisions to gain a foothold in the Ferghana valley, where three former Soviet republics intertwine. - Reuters

Germany

In what is seen as a direct challenge to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s energy strategy and style of leadership, the opposition Social Democrats called Monday for a referendum on the future of the country’s nuclear power plants. – New York Times

Central America

The race to rule Nicaragua is shaping up as a choice between two modern-day caudillos — strongmen — who are very familiar, for good and for bad, to this troubled country's voters. – Los Angeles Times

The race to rule Nicaragua is shaping up as a choice between two modern-day caudillos — strongmen — who are very familiar, for good and for bad, to this troubled country's voters. – Los Angeles Times

Turkey

 

An event that many had hoped would be a watershed on the road to the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia became instead a source of controversy Sunday when Turkish authorities failed to place a cross atop a newly renovated church in time for a highly anticipated service – Washington Post

Turkey's president questioned the effectiveness of sanctions as a tool to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions and indicated his country's relations with Israel won't improve until the Jewish state apologizes for its deadly May raid on a flotilla trying to reach Gaza – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Georgia

Georgia said Sept. 20 that French plans to supply Mistral-class helicopter carriers to the Russian navy posed a threat to regional security. - AFP

Somalia

A Shabaab suicide bomber entered the presidential compound in Mogadishu [yesterday] and detonated his vest. – Long War Journal

Somalia's Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke said he had resigned Tuesday, after months of intense pressure to quit the United Nations-backed interim government - Reuters

Scandinavia

Sweden's prime minister sought help from the opposition Greens on Monday to avoid a political deadlock after an Islam-bashing far-right group spoiled his center-right government's control of parliament – Washington Post

Colombia

A Colombian guerrilla commander for whom the United States had offered a $2.5 million reward was among more than 22 rebels killed in a weekend military assault on a jungle camp, authorities said on Monday. - Reuters

Saudi Arabia

Saudi King Abdullah and the security chief Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz have held talks with top intelligence and counter-terror officials from the United States and Canada, according to the Spa state news agency – The National

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic has a big choice to make as it moves to boost nuclear generating capacity: whether to align the country's energy sector with Russia or the West. CEZ AS, the Czech state-controlled power utility, is preparing to choose a company to help it design, build, operate and possibly decommission two new reactors. The "project is going to tie local industry with the winning bidder and its home power sector probably for several decades," says Vaclav Bartuska, the Czech government's special energy envoy. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Caribbean

Former President Bill Clinton hopes that pledges to help quake-devastated Haiti at his philanthropic "summit" this week will push governments to fulfill promises of billions of dollars in reconstruction - Reuters

Taiwan

Thailand

 

About 30 rocket-propelled grenades have gone missing from a military base in Thailand, officials said Sept. 20, raising fears of fresh violence. - AFP

Ukraine

The European Union and the United States [yesterday] pressed Ukraine over the disappearance of Ukrainian journalist Vasyl Klymentyev. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Chechnya

In a new 12-minute video clip posted yesterday on kavkazcenter.com and hunafa.com, North Caucasus insurgency head Doku Umarov announces the dismissal of the four Chechnya-based field commanders who withdrew their formal pledge of loyalty to him last month. He did not, however, name anyone to replace them – RFE/RL’s Caucasus Report

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