FPI Overnight Brief: January 3, 2011

Iran

Signaling that Iran might be ready to punish the leaders of the country’s opposition movement more than a year after the last major antigovernment protests, a top Iranian judicial official has vowed to prosecute them. – New York Times

Iran is overhauling its education system to rid it of Western influence, the latest attempt by the government to fortify Islamic values and counter the clout of the country's increasingly secularized middle class. – Washington Post

Nearly a week after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad launched a plan to overhaul a long-standing system of state subsidies, Iranians are reeling from drastic government-ordered price increases for staples such as fuel and bread amid signs of growing frustration and anger. – Washington Post

The grim theater of the Sakineh Ashtiani case gets stranger by the day as rumors of a commuted sentence coincided with a press conference at which Ashtiani lashed out at the Western press and her own lawyers for attempting to "politicize" her case. – Babylon and Beyond

After making startling advances in expanding public education and increasing literacy over the last three decades, Iran appears to be facing a major setback in education. The number of students dropping out of school is more than 25%, says the secretary of the Assn. of Iranian Social Workers, according to news website Aftabnews. – Babylon and Beyond

Iran has shot down two unmanned western reconnaissance drone aircraft in the Gulf, a senior Revolutionary Guards commander was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency on Sunday. - Reuters

Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz write: Current sanctions and the regime’s atrocious economic management have brought hard times. For the United States and its allies to be successful, the times need to be made a good deal harder still. – The Weekly Standard

Egypt

The New Year's Day bombing of a church in the northern coastal city of Alexandria sparked calls for calm Sunday as Egyptian security officials scrambled to find suspects and the death toll rose to 25, according to a statement issued Sunday by the nation's Coptic Orthodox Church. – Los Angeles Times

Egyptian police are focusing their investigation into the New Year's suicide bombing of a church on a group of Islamic hard-liners inspired by al Qaeda and based in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, where the attack killed 21 people, security officials said Sunday. – Associated Press

Egypt's military has resisted U.S. pressure to modify its strategy to counter new regional threats, stressing the country's national security was "a red line" the United States could not cross, leaked U.S. diplomatic cables showed. - Reuters

Iraq

[I]n many cases, such as that of the Jadriyah Lake park, the investments under the scheme, known as the Commander's Emergency Response Program, have created no more than a temporary illusion of progress. They have also shown a lack of U.S. foresight and have highlighted the shortcomings of an Iraqi government the Americans were trying to boost. – Washington Post

Two U.S. service members were killed in central Iraq on Sunday night in a rare loss of life for the American military here since the last U.S. combat troops left the country in August. – Washington Post

Nearly 4,000 Iraqi civilians, police and soldiers died through violence in 2010, making it the least deadly year since the war began, the Web site Iraq Body Count said Thursday in its latest report. – Washington Post

Israel

Frustrated by the collapse of U.S.-sponsored peace talks, Palestinians are preparing to take their case to the U.N. Security Council in the coming days with a resolution declaring ongoing Jewish settlement in the West Bank a major obstacle to ending the conflict. – Los Angeles Times

Israel's army chief told a US Congress delegation in late 2009 he was preparing for a large war in the Middle East, probably against Hamas or Hizbollah, leaked US diplomatic cables showed today. - AFP

Israel's prime minister said Sunday that he's ready to sit down with the Palestinian president for continuous one-on-one talks until they reach a peace deal. – Associated Press

Syria

When Robert S. Ford, a career diplomat with deep experience in the Middle East, presents his credentials as ambassador to Syria, he will be the first person to hold the job since 2005, and the public face of the Obama administration’s belief in engagement over isolation.  Yet few hold out much hope that Mr. Ford’s arrival in Damascus will change much - New York Times

United Arab Emirates

Documents made public recently show the United Arab Emirates sought U.S. government help in tracing prepaid credit cards used by those linked to the assassination of a Hamas arms dealer last year. – Washington Times

Afghanistan

Janet Napolitano, the United States homeland security secretary, said Saturday that her department planned to triple the number of agents in Afghanistan to train border and customs workers — an effort that is partly aimed at curbing the smuggling of cash out of the country. – New York Times

A U.S. troop buildup in 2010 was meant to blunt the momentum of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Now it is 2011 that has become the make-or-break year. – Los Angeles Times

As the year draws to a close, there are, say senior US military officials, some clear differences emerging in the way Petraeus is now handling the Afghanistan war. Chief among the changes is one that represents something of a gamble to some in the Pentagon. – Christian Science Monitor

This winter, the Air Force is set to deploy to Afghanistan what it says is a revolutionary airborne surveillance system called Gorgon Stare, which will be able to transmit live video images of physical movement across an entire town – Washington Post

Northern Afghanistan, traditionally the region most resistant to Taliban encroachment, saw a steady increase in the presence of anti-NATO insurgents in the past year, according to U.S. officials. – Washington Examiner

The recent arrest of a Taliban fighter suspected of trafficking weapons from Iran to Afghanistan comes at the end of a year in which Iran greatly increased its efforts to disrupt the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, military and intelligence officials say. – Washington Examiner

During a recent raid in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz, Coalition and Afghan special operations teams killed the Taliban's deputy shadow governor who had "direct ties" to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. – Long War Journal

A leading GOP lawmaker on U.S. military policy says he wants American officials to consider establishing permanent military bases in Afghanistan. – Associated Press

The number of Afghan police killed during 2010 fell about seven percent to 1,292, the government said on Monday, despite violence spreading across the country as the war entered its tenth year. - Reuters

Worsening security and enduring conservative Islamic customs prevented almost five million Afghan children from going to school in 2010, a government official said on Saturday. - Reuters

Josh Rogin reports: A full year has passed since a bipartisan group of senators began calling for the sacking of Arnie Fields, the embattled Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), and those senators are as frustrated as ever that the White House refuses to address the situation – The Cable

Pakistan

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani struggled to muster support on Monday for his government, a day after a major ally quit the ruling coalition, and threw the fate of his ruling Pakistan Peoples Party into question. – New York Times

The second-largest party in Pakistan's ruling coalition said Sunday that it would defect to the opposition, greatly imperiling the U.S.-allied government by leaving it without a parliamentary majority. – Washington Post

Countless U.S. officials in recent years have lectured and listened to Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the man many view as the most powerful in Pakistan. They have drunk tea and played golf with him, feted him and flown with him in helicopters. But they have yet to persuade him to undertake what the Obama administration's recent strategy review concluded is a key to success in the Afghan war - the elimination of havens inside Pakistan where the Taliban plots and stages attacks on coalition troops in Afghanistan. – Washington Post

The US carried out its first three Predator strikes of 2011, again targeting Taliban, al Qaeda, and Haqqani Network fighters based in Pakistan's enemy-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. – Long War Journal

Korean Peninsula

In an annual New Year’s commentary that is widely seen as an indicator of the country’s political and economic goals for the coming year, North Korea has called for dialogue with South Korea and a relaxation of tensions “as soon as possible.” – New York Times

The North Korean military, the world’s fourth-largest, has bolstered its special-forces units during the past two years and has deployed a new battle tank, called the Storm, while expanding its tank brigades, the South Korean Defense Ministry said on Thursday in its biennial white paper. – New York Times

South Korea said on Monday it was open to dialogue with Pyongyang if it was ready to dismantle its nuclear facilities, as the U.S. envoy for North Korea prepared to travel to the region to discuss how to reduce tensions. - Reuters

China

While China is seizing the spotlight in East and Southeast Asia with its widening economic footprint and muscular diplomacy, it is also quietly making its presence felt on its western flank, once primarily Russia’s domain. – New York Times

This persistent dependence on Russian arms suppliers demonstrates a central truth about the Chinese military: The bluster about the emergence of a superpower is undermined by national defense industries that can't produce what China needs. Although the United States is making changes in response to China's growing military power, experts and officials believe it will be years, if not decades, before China will be able to produce a much-feared ballistic missile capable of striking a warship or overcome weaknesses that keep it from projecting power far from its shores. – Washington Post

China’s first known stealth aircraft just emerged from a secret development program and was undergoing high-speed taxi tests late last week at Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute’s airfield. Said to be designated J-20, it is larger than most observers expected—pointing to long range and heavy weapon loads. Its timing, Chengdu’s development record and official statements cast doubt on U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s 2009 prediction (in support of his decision to stop production of the Lockheed Martin F-22) that China would not have an operational stealth aircraft before 2020. – Aviation Week

A European Union arms embargo clamped on China in 1989 following the Tiananmen crackdown could be lifted in early 2011, Brussels sources told France's Le Figaro daily. - AFP

Veteran Hong Kong democracy activist Szeto Wah, a leading campaigner for the victims of Beijing's 1989 crackdown on protesters at Tiananmen Square and a voice for mainland dissidents, died Sunday of lung cancer. He was 79. – Associated Press

Mark Stokes and Dan Blumenthal write: With the New START treaty ratified, the Obama administration can turn its attention to the real source of nuclear instability among the great powers: China's buildup of conventional ballistic missiles. The latest destabilizing system is China's anti-ship ballistic missile, the "carrier killer" that the head of the U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Robert Willard, deemed operational last week. – Washington Post

Russia

A Moscow judge's decision Thursday to impose the harshest possible penalty on Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky signaled that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin intends to keep a firm grip on power and is unwilling to bend to American and European concerns about the quality of Russian justice. – Washington Post

Police detained at least 130 protesters at New Year's Eve rallies in Moscow and St Petersburg on Friday against restrictions on freedom of assembly and a court decision to keep former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky in jail. - Reuters

Three Russian opposition leaders received short jail terms Sunday for "disobedience towards police" after a rally, a party spokesman said, a sign of a new crackdown on critics of the Kremlin. - Reuters

Russia will pay France 1.37 billion euros ($1.81 billion) for two Mistral-class assault warships that Moscow agreed to purchase from the NATO member last week, news reports said Dec. 30. - AFP

Julia Ioffe writes: There is one word that comes to mind when watching the drama surrounding the Mikhail Khodorkovsky verdict and sentence today of 13.5 years in prison. Perhaps tellingly, it is a Russian word: naglost'. English simply doesn't have one word that packs into so few letters all that naglost' means: arrogance, contemptuous malice, obnoxiousness, brazenness, insolence, impudence, and sheer nerve. Google Translate suggests no fewer than 22 synonyms, none of which captures the fullness of the word as well as the Russian government has embodied it in this case – Foreign Policy

Belarus

International monitors pushed back Saturday against an announcement by Belarus that it was closing the office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which had criticized the conduct of the country's recent presidential election. – Washington Post

RFE/RL's Belarus Service has launched a project meant to call attention to the hundreds of activists and opposition supporters jailed in the wake of the country's controversial elections on December 19. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

ICYMI, FPI Director of Democracy and Human Rights Ellen Bork writes: Outsiders who press for real elections, and thereby encourage the political opposition and ordinary citizens to bravely confront a brutal government, incur an obligation to stay involved.  All efforts, sanctions, diplomatic pressure, and support for the opposition should all be intensified.  When the U.S. Congress convenes in January, it should take up the case of Belarus and the democrats held in jail by Lukashenko.  No one knows what further actions might work in Belarus.  That is always the case with dictatorships, as many of Mr. Lukashenko’s neighbors know. – FPI Bulletin

Ukraine

In a secret operation to secure nuclear material, the United States has helped Ukraine send to Russia enough uranium to build two atomic bombs. – Associated Press

United Kingdom

Nine men arrested in Britain on terrorism charges [two weeks ago] found inspiration and bomb-making instructions in an English-language Internet magazine published by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, British investigators reportedly said. – Washington Post

France

France's secretive international spy agency, the DGSE, is recruiting hundreds of people and getting a budget boost, despite frugal times, to better fend off threats like terrorism and nuclear proliferation. France's answer to the CIA is buffing its image as well, with its first-ever spokesman and a new website. – Associated Press

Sudan

The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor has confirmed reports that he told diplomats that his office had found evidence that President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan had a huge personal fortune skimmed from his country’s oil income and kept in foreign accounts. – New York Times

U.S. officials are growing optimistic that Sudan will fulfill a central part of an American-brokered 2005 peace agreement - and potentially avert a bloody war - by holding a referendum next month that could split the African country in two. – Washington Post

Hollywood actor George Clooney brought his star power to the political theater of the Sunday talks shows to continue his efforts to stop the violence in Sudan. – Washington Times

Africa

The defeated president of Ivory Coast has only days in which to leave power peacefully with immunity from prosecution, the prime minister appointed by his successful electoral rival said Saturday. – Washington Post

A delegation of regional African leaders is set to travel to Ivory Coast on Monday to try again to persuade entrenched Ivorian leader Laurent Gbagbo to step down from the post of president that international observers say is no longer his. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

UN peacekeepers have been ordered to do everything in their power to investigate reports of atrocities and mass graves in Ivory Coast, where post-election violence is alleged to have left more than 200 people dead. - Guardian

Now, peacekeepers patrolling the streets of Abidjan are coming under growing threat — one was wounded with a machete this week when a crowd in a pro-Gbagbo neighborhood attacked a convoy and set a U.N. vehicle on fire. The next day, a U.N. patrol was fired upon from a nearby building as an angry crowd surrounded them. They were forced to fire into the air to disperse the crowd, a U.N. statement said – Associated Press

The dearth of jobs and prospects in the north helps drive the region’s twin ills — narcotics trafficking and Islamic radicalism. By setting up military barracks, infirmaries, schools, shopping areas and animal markets in 11 northern towns, the Malian government hopes to establish a more visible government presence, foster economic activity and form a bulwark against lawlessness. – New York Times

Zimbabwe is likely to postpone a parliamentary election that President Robert Mugabe's party wanted by mid-year in order to allow completion of constitutional reforms, a state-owned newspaper reported on Sunday. - Reuters

Brazil

Accepting the green and yellow mantle of power from her immensely popular mentor, former Marxist guerrilla Dilma Rousseff was sworn in Saturday as Brazil's first female president and faced two immediate tasks: keeping the booming economy on track and fleshing out Brazil's developing role on the world stage. – Los Angeles Times

Mexico

Four years and 50,000 troops into President Felipe Calderon's drug war, the fighting has exposed severe limitations in the Mexican army's ability to wage unconventional warfare, tarnished its proud reputation and left the U.S. pointedly criticizing the force as "virtually blind" on the ground. – Los Angeles Times

Cuba

Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega assured on Saturday that "in coming months" Cuban leaders would release 11 political prisoners as promised under a landmark deal with the government. - Reuters

Venezuela

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez dared the U.S. to expel his ambassador in retaliation for his move to reject the U.S. envoy to the South American country.  On Wednesday, that's just what the Obama administration did. – Associated Press

Defense

Heading into a new year and the start of his reelection campaign, President Barack Obama faces two major battles with Congress and the military on the defense front: one over Afghan war policy, the other over the size of the Pentagon’s budget. - Politico

The Navy wasted little time in taking advantage of congressional support for the service’s dual-block-buy plan for its Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), awarding fixed-price-incentive contracts tonight to both Lockheed Martin and Austal USA for the design and construction of a 10 ship block-buy each. – Aviation Week

Missile Defense

Congress wants the U.S. Navy to submit a report by March 31 to show how the service plans to incorporate its ship-based ballistic missile defense requirements with its force structure needs, according to the recently passed defense authorization legislation. – Aviation Week

Gary Schmitt writes: No doubt it’s difficult to kill a program, such as MEADS, in which so much has already been invested. And Patriot is by no means a perfect fix for every air defense problem. But, when likely threats, relative capabilities and total costs are factored in, continued investment and deployment of enhanced Patriots is almost certainly the better solution than continuing with MEADS. – The Weekly Standard Blog

What to do about Russia's overwhelming advantage in tactical nuclear weapons was among several tough issues for the Obama administration that emerged from the Senate debate on the strategic nuclear arms reduction treaty. – Washington Post

Josh Rogin reports:  The New START ratification drive is over, but the post-game maneuvering has just begun and each stakeholder is putting out their own message about the treaty's passage last week in an attempt to set the tone of the arms control debate going forward. – The Cable

Obama Administration

Unresolved issues and new challenges face President Obama on the foreign policy front in 2011, including a new Republican House with lawmakers raring to confront what they see as failing policies. – The Hill

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the incoming chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, has angrily denounced President Obama’s recess appointment of James Cole as deputy attorney general. – The Hill

Writers for Foreign Policy magazine’s blog Shadow Government offer a review of President Obama’s performance in foreign and national security policy in 2010.

Jackson Diehl writes: So much for a fresh start on human rights. Clinton's Bahrain visit reflected what seems to be an intractable piece of the Obama administration's character: a deeply ingrained resistance to the notion that the United States should publicly shame authoritarian regimes or stand up for the dissidents they persecute. – Washington Post

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