FPI Overnight Brief: July 16, 2009

Japan

Reuters reports that “Pressure mounted on Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso on Thursday after ruling party lawmakers called for a meeting to debate the party's ailing fortunes at which his critics are expected to seek his resignation. Aso's plan for an election on August 30 -- announced just a day after the opposition Democrats trounced the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in a Tokyo metropolitan vote -- has sparked chaos in the ruling party. Surveys show the Democratic Party will win the national election, which must be held by October.”

China

Bloomberg reports that “The world is watching how China deals with detained Rio Tinto Group executive Stern Hu for allegedly stealing state secrets, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said. China, the world’s largest buyer of iron ore, detained four Rio executives on July 5 and said their actions harmed the nation’s economic interests and security. Australia has sought more information on the case and has urged China to deal with it expeditiously. The world is ‘watching closely how this case is handled,’ Rudd told reporters in Sydney today, signaling his most aggressive stance since the arrest. ‘I’ll also remind our Chinese friends that China too has significant economic interest at stake in its relationship with Australia and with its other commercial partners around the world.’”

Holman Jenkins writes for the Wall Street Journal that “China was miffed by the outcome of what we last year called the corporate ‘deal of the century.’ But shareholder interests prevailed. How often will that be said in the future? Politics, that ugly dynamic when mixed with business, was already back in play last week as Rio Tinto, an Australian mining giant at the heart of the controversy, saw four of its Chinese executives arrested in Shanghai on spying charges. China says the busts are not retribution for the cancelled deal between Rio and a state-owned company, which received angry press in China. Instead, the arrests supposedly arise from skullduggery by Rio officials during fraught annual ore-price negotiations with mainland steelmakers. But the distinction may be irrelevant. Ore has become a major neuralgic concern for China. It sees its dependence on imported supply as strategically risky. It fears that its massive attempts to ‘stimulate’ domestic job growth are being drained off as fatter profits for Australian mining companies.”

The New York Times reports that “The top American energy and commerce officials called in speeches here on Wednesday for China to do more to address global warming, contending that the country was particularly vulnerable to a changing climate.”

Obama Administration

The New York Times reports that “The Obama administration has opened the way for foreign women who are victims of severe domestic beatings and sexual abuse to receive asylum in the United States. The action reverses a Bush administration stance in a protracted and passionate legal battle over the possibilities for battered women to become refugees. In addition to meeting other strict conditions for asylum, abused women will need to show that they are treated by their abuser as subordinates and little better than property, according to an immigration court filing by the administration, and that domestic abuse is widely tolerated in their country. They must show that they could not find protection from institutions at home or by moving to another place within their own country. The administration laid out its position in an immigration appeals court filing in the case of a woman from Mexico who requested asylum, saying she feared she would be murdered by her common-law husband there.”

The Washington Post reports that “CIA officials were proposing to activate a plan to train anti-terrorist assassination teams overseas when agency managers brought the secret program to the attention of CIA Director Leon Panetta last month, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the matter. The plan to kill top al-Qaeda leaders, which had been on the agency's back burner for much of the past eight years, was suddenly thrust into the spotlight because of proposals to initiate what one intelligence official called a "somewhat more operational phase." Shortly after learning of the plan, Panetta terminated the program and then went to Capitol Hill to brief lawmakers, who had been kept in the dark since 2001.”

Afghanistan

The Washington Post reports that “The prisoners at the largest U.S. detention facility in Afghanistan have refused to leave their cells for at least the past two weeks to protest their indefinite imprisonment, according to lawyers and the families of detainees. The prison-wide protest, which has been going on since at least July 1, offers a rare glimpse inside a facility that is even more closed off to the public than the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Information about the protest came to light when the International Committee of the Red Cross informed the families of several detainees that scheduled video teleconferences and family visits were being canceled.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that “The U.S. military, eager to hand the war over to the Afghan government, has placed mentors throughout the Afghan National Army. The Americans help commanders command, fliers fly and spies spy. U.S. Army Capt. James Hill, a baby-faced 27-year-old from Lawton, Okla., drew the job of mentoring Lt. Col. Abdul Haq, a 51-year-old army mullah who has never shaved. Capt. Hill's faith-based mission is to counter the propaganda of Taliban fighters, who ride motorcycles through isolated villages spreading the word that the Afghan army is led by godless communists working to purge the country of Islam. Show the people that the army is a Muslim one, and they'll be more likely to support it against the insurgents, his theory goes.”

The New York Times reports that “The new American commander in Afghanistan said Wednesday that United States Marines had faced less resistance than expected in their operation to clear Taliban safe havens in the south, but that British troops just to the north were running into fiercer fighting than anticipated. The commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, also said that he was surprised by the resilience of pockets of Pashtun militants in western and northern Afghanistan, areas that he expected to be relatively calm but that now needed more troops and stronger local governance.”

The New York Times reports that “When Britain’s top army commander visited British frontline troops in Helmand Province in Afghanistan on Wednesday, his means of transport — a United States Army Black Hawk helicopter — made almost as much news back home as the fact that he was in Afghanistan at all. The commander, Gen. Sir Richard Dannatt, chief of the general staff, acknowledged — perhaps more candidly than he would have if he were not retiring imminently — that he had been forced to fly in an American helicopter because British forces, with only 30 helicopters for their 9,100 troops, could not spare one. Instead, he relied on American forces, which have deployed hundreds of helicopters in the war zone."

Chechnya

The Washington Post reports that “Chechnya's most outspoken human rights activist was found shot to death hours after being kidnapped Wednesday, provoking international outrage and calls for renewed scrutiny of Russia's violent policies in the Caucasus. Police said Natalya Estemirova, a former schoolteacher who had angered Chechen authorities with reports of torture, abductions and extrajudicial killings, was discovered with two close-range gunshot wounds to the head in woods in the neighboring province of Ingushetia.”

Al Jazeera reports that “A Russian human rights group has blamed Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya's Kremlin-backed president, for the kidnap and murder of an award winning activist. Natalya Estemirova's body was found on Wednesday near the city of Nazran in Ingushetia, the region neighboring Chechnya, just hours after she was seized from her home in Grozny, the Chechen capital.  ‘I know, I am sure of it, who is guilty for the murder of Natalya ... His name is Ramzan Kadyrov,’ Oleg Orlov, the chairman of Memorial, said in a statement posted on the group's website late on Wednesday. ‘Ramzan already threatened Natalya, insulted her, considered her a personal enemy… The RIA Novosti news agency reported that Kadyrov had personally pledged to oversee the investigation into Estemirova's murder.”

Colombia

The Los Angeles Times reports that “The United States and Colombia are poised to sign an agreement to transfer anti-drug flight operations from Ecuador to at least three Colombian air bases, a move that has drawn criticism here that it will leave the country even more dependent on Washington. Although the deal is not yet nailed down, Colombia's defense, interior and foreign ministers held a public forum in Bogota, the capital, on Wednesday to discuss details of the plan.”

Honduras

The Washington Post reports that “Honduras' interim leader said Wednesday he is willing to step down to help end his country's political crisis, but only if ousted President Manuel Zelaya isn't allowed to regain power. Roberto Micheletti also accused unspecified groups of handing out weapons and planning an armed rebellion, and his government reinstated an overnight curfew. The move came a day after Zelaya called for an insurrection in Honduras.”

The AP reports that “Roberto Micheletti, the interim leader of Honduras, said Wednesday that he was willing to step down to help end the country’s political crisis, but only if the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, was prevented from regaining power.”

North Korea

Radio Free Asia reports that “North Korea's political elite is in a state of intense uncertainty over who will succeed the chairman of its ruling Workers' Party, Kim Jong Il, amid rumors of his failing health, experts say. Sources inside North Korea say that Kim's third son by a mistress, Kim Jong Un, is currently trying to gather support for his succession bid among the isolated Stalinist country's ruling class… Jong Un's position as third-generation would-be successor is considerably less certain than his father's, according to North Korea experts. ‘Kim Jong Un’s pedigree is going to be his greatest challenge, because his mother, Ko Young Hee, was a Japanese-born Korean who was never officially married to Kim Jong Il,’ said James Person, program associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. ‘Ko Young Hee did not have an official title in North Korea. She was just Kim Jong Il’s concubine,’ Person said.”

The Washington Post asks, “Who Will Succeed Kim Jong Il?” The article provides “Recollections of teachers and former students at a state school in Switzerland [that] may offer a glimpse of the young man some say is destined to lead North Korea.”

The New York Times reports that “A South Korean court has for the first time accepted a lawsuit brought by North Korean citizens trying to establish their rights to property in the South. Legal experts say it is a harbinger of what reunification might bring and are urging a study of what policies and legislation should govern North-South civil disputes.”

Reuters reports that “The U.N. Security Council neared agreement on Wednesday on North Korean firms and individuals to be added to a blacklist for involvement in Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs, diplomats said… Diplomats from several countries said a council committee that has been discussing the issue for a month was on target to meet a weekend deadline for completing its task and could do so as early as Thursday. As diplomats put the finishing touches on expanding U.N. sanctions, U.S. officials said they had succeeded in increasing international awareness of methods North Korea uses to disguise its trade in illicit weapons as legal business transactions…A U.S. team is traveling to key world capitals to warn governments and banks that North Korean practices make it ‘virtually impossible to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate business,’ the official said in Washington.”

India

VOA reports that “U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leaves Washington for India Thursday on a mission aimed at advancing an emerging U.S.-Indian strategic partnership. The trip will also take her to Thailand for meetings with Southeast Asian foreign ministers on issues including North Korea's nuclear program.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that “India selected two sites where U.S. companies can plan to build nuclear-power reactors, a significant step in the two countries' agreement last fall to end a 34-year moratorium on nuclear trade. India already has designated sites for French- and Russian-built nuclear reactors. The selection of U.S. sites could be announced when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits India this week, according to people familiar with the matter. But it's unlikely to lead to quick contracts for companies such as GE-Hitachi and Westinghouse Electric Co. to begin building plants. The U.S. companies must still overcome a range of regulatory and legal hurdles in both countries, and they remain concerned that state-backed rivals from France and Russia -- which face fewer barriers both in India and on their home turf -- have an advantage in India's $100 billion nuclear energy sweepstakes.”

Iran

The Wall Street Journal editorializes that “That didn't take long. President Obama last week gave Mahmoud Ahmadinejad an autumn deadline to negotiate over Iran's nuclear program. ‘We remain ready to engage with Iran, but the time for action is now,’ Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations. So much for waiting to see how Iran's post-election drama plays out. Premature would be a generous description of this diplomatic outreach. Leave aside that this regime can't be trusted to negotiate anything. More immediately relevant is that millions of Iranians refuse to accept the ‘leaders’ of the ‘Islamic Republic’ (in Mrs. Clinton's words) that the Administration so eagerly aims to engage.”

Iraq

Reuters reports that “Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will visit President Barack Obama on July 22 as the United States presses the Iraqi leadership to take more responsibility for reconciling divided factions.”

The New York Times reports that “At least 11 people were killed and 61 wounded in bombings in Baghdad and the western city of Ramadi on Wednesday, according to witnesses and Iraqi security and hospital officials. The attack in Baghdad occurred shortly after sundown in Sadr City, a congested and predominantly Shiite district. An improvised explosive device exploded at the entrance of a funeral tent that had been set up on the street, witnesses at the scene said. Five people were killed and 26 wounded, according to the main hospital in Sadr City.”

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