FPI Overnight Brief: July 17, 2009

North Korea

The Washington Post reports that “The U.N. Security Council on Thursday banned travel and froze assets of 10 North Korean individuals and businesses linked to the country's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, marking the first time the United Nations has directly penalized members of the nation's military and business elite.”

AFP reports that “US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell will hold talks on the North Korean nuclear standoff during his first visit to South Korea starting Saturday, Seoul officials said. Campbell, who took over last month as assistant secretary for East Asia and Pacific affairs, arrives Saturday afternoon from Tokyo. "His visit will provide a chance for the two countries to have comprehensive discussions on ways of promoting the denuclearisation of North Korea and its return to the six-party talks," a foreign ministry spokesman told AFP Friday. Campbell will also discuss alliance matters such as the relocation of US military bases in South Korea and global issues when he meets Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Yong-Joon Saturday, other officials said.”

Defense

The AP reports that “The Pentagon and Congress all but dared each other Thursday to a showdown over funding for fighter jets in a multimillion-dollar squabble that each side said they were fighting in the interests of U.S. security. The chairman of a key House Appropriations panel said he's confident that plans to add $369 million to the Pentagon's budget for a dozen more F-22 jets will survive a White House veto threat. ‘We'll work it out,’ said Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, head of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee. ‘In the end, the bill won't be vetoed.’”

The Wall Street Journal reports that “Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he was determined to forge ahead with changing the priorities of the U.S. military on the same day lawmakers voted to thwart a key component of his plan. The dueling visions of what the U.S. fighting forces should look like looms as one of the major battles between the Obama administration and Congress. Mr. Gates unveiled a $534 billion Defense Department budget in April that would cut back or cancel costly weapons systems he believes aren't relevant to the military's needs. But some members of Congress are pushing back, restoring funding to weapons systems that Mr. Gates had sought to kill.”

AFP reports that “A US lawmaker angrily threatened to cut funds to the Pentagon over accounts that it helped China harshly interrogate prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Chinese agents in 2002 traveled to the controversial US detention camp in Cuba and grilled 22 Muslims from the Uighur minority, whom the United States later cleared of wrongdoing. Three of the men who have since been freed told the US Congress that US soldiers pinned them down, deprived them of sleep and exposed them to extreme cold to soften them up for the Chinese interrogators. ‘I had never thought that American soldiers would work with Chinese and treat us like this,’ Abu Bakker Qassim, who now lives in Albania, said in written testimony. At a tense hearing on Capitol Hill, lawmakers berated the director of the Defense Department's Office of Detainee Policy who repeatedly told them he could only reveal details of the incident behind closed doors. Representative Jim Moran, who sits on the appropriations subcommittee that sets the defense budget, threatened to cut funding for the office, set up in 2004 under then president George W. Bush, until he received answers. A visibly angry Moran told the official, Alan Liotta, that he was ‘singularly uncooperative, uninformative and evasive.’”

The AP reports that “The Pentagon is considering a plan to add 30,000 soldiers to the Army to bolster a force depleted by a growing number of wounded, stressed and other soldiers who can't be deployed with their units. Struggling to wage wars on two fronts, the Army says it needs a temporary increase in order to fill vacancies in units heading to the battlefront. The 547,000 member active duty force was beefed up by 65,000 in recent years, but military leaders say it hasn't been enough to make up for the roughly 30,000 soldiers who — at any one time — are injured, pregnant, suffering from post-traumatic stress or health problems, or have been assigned to other jobs.”

Russia

The New York Times reports that “Russia’s new nuclear-capable Bulava missile has failed again, the Defense Ministry said Thursday, the Ria Novosti news agency reported. The missile, which Russian officials have said would be among the world’s most advanced weapons, was test-launched from a submarine in the White Sea on Wednesday and blew up after a first-stage malfunction, the ministry was quoted as saying. Out of 11 tests, fewer than half have been at least partly successful. The ministry said it would create a panel to investigate the new failure.”

Iraq

The Wall Street Journal reports that “The U.S. agreed to resettle 1,350 Palestinians displaced by fighting in Iraq, marking the largest resettlement ever of Palestinian refugees in the nation.”

The Washington Post reports that “Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region and the Iraqi government are closer to war than at any time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the Kurdish prime minister said Thursday, in a bleak measure of the tension that has risen along what U.S. officials consider the country's most combustible fault line. In separate interviews, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and the region's president, Massoud Barzani, described a stalemate in attempts to resolve long-standing disputes with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's emboldened government. Had it not been for the presence of the U.S. military in northern Iraq, Nechirvan Barzani said, fighting might have started in the most volatile regions. The conflict is one of many that still beset Iraq, even as violence subsides and the U.S. military begins a year-long withdrawal of most combat troops from the country.”

China

The AP reports that “Beijing officials shut down a legal research center led by activist lawyers Friday, while China revoked the licenses of more than 50 lawyers, many known for their human rights cases. The moves appear to be a new government push to oversee Chinese activist lawyers, who run the risk of being detained, harassed, attacked and threatened with disbarment for their work.”

Afghanistan

Matt Sanchez of FOX News writes “The media may just be the deadliest foe in Afghanistan, I know they were almost fatal in Iraq.  As a war correspondent, I have covered somewhere between 50 to 75 military units from nations throughout the world.  Army pilots, Air Force medics or Marine infantrymen, the variety of teams working in a war zone runs the gamut, but no matter how many different American troops I speak to, I'm asked the same question from the men and women serving overseas. ‘Why is the media so biased against the military?’”

VOA reports that “U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he does not expect to send many additional troops to Afghanistan this year, beyond the 68,000 already approved.”

AFP reports that “A majority of Canadians in a poll released Thursday opposed their country's military participation in Afghanistan, where Canada has had troops since 2002. The poll taken by national public broadcaster CBC and the Ekos polling firm found that 54 percent of subjects polled disapprove of the mission, while 34 percent approve and 12 percent were undecided.”

The New York Times reports that “America’s top military officer said Thursday that Pakistan’s army had learned from previous failed campaigns to oust the Taliban from the Swat Valley, and that it was now defeating the militants there and dealing effectively with the nearly two million people displaced by the conflict.”

Indonesia

Paul Wolfowitz writes in the Wall Street Journal that “It's rare when any political leader wins a 60% mandate in a free and fair election, which is why commentary on last week's Indonesian election has focused on the personal success of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. However, Indonesia's success in building democratic institutions in just 10 years is equally remarkable. It is yet another demonstration of the appeal of free institutions, in this case to people with East Asian value systems and in a country with the largest Muslim population in the world… When Mr. Obama visits in November he will receive a hero's welcome. He should use that to speak forcefully on behalf of the great majority of Indonesians who believe in tolerance and equality for all the country's citizens.”

The Los Angeles Times reports that “Two powerful bomb blasts targeting major international hotels rocked the business district of the Indonesian capital today, killing nine people and wounding at least 50 others. Authorities did not immediately identify the perpetrators of the explosions at the Ritz-Carlton and Marriott hotels in Jakarta, but anti-terrorism forces were at the scenes of both explosions. Bombings have been a familiar risk in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, but a security crackdown in recent years has made the country calmer and given it a sense of greater security. Past bombings have been blamed on Jemaah Islamiyah, an Islamic militant group affiliated with Al Qaeda, and coordinated attacks are a hallmark of groups associated with the terrorist network.”

Iran

Al Jazeera reports that “The US government has sent a strong message to Iran, saying it is running out of time to engage in dialogue over its nuclear programme to avoid further isolation or even military action. Warning that Washington would only grant Iran a limited amount of time to respond to its offer to hold talks, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said: ‘The choice is clear: we remain ready to engage with Iran, but the time for action is now. The opportunity will not remain open indefinitely.’”

Radio Free Europe reports that “This week's Friday Prayers in Tehran have the potential to be the first nonscripted event of its kind in years, and even to become a platform for the opposition. Former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is due to lead the official prayers in Tehran, and reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Musavi is expected to attend. Many of those who protested in recent weeks against the reelection of Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad say they plan to attend the weekly prayers at Tehran University.”

The Washington Post reports that “For the past three decades, the United States has been Iran's ‘Great Satan.’ Schoolchildren learned to chant "Down With U.S.A." Conservative clerics sermonized against America. Anti-American murals depicting images such as a skull-faced Statue of Liberty dotted Tehran. But since Iran's disputed presidential election last month, another Satan has gained ground: Great Britain. Since Iranians took to the streets to protest the official vote results, the government has expelled two British diplomats, kicked out the longtime British Broadcasting Corp. bureau chief, and arrested British Embassy staff members, accusing them of fomenting the unrest. Last week, an adviser to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called Britain "worse than America" for its alleged interference in Iran's post-election affairs.”

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