FPI Overnight Brief: January 14, 2011

Lebanon

A day after toppling the Lebanese government, the Shiite Hezbollah movement and its allies were working to gain enough support in parliament to control the selection of Lebanon's next prime minister, Lebanese officials said. – Washington Post

With Hezbollah’s toppling of the Lebanese government, the militant Shiite Muslim movement entered what may prove one of the most dangerous chapters in a 30-year history that has made it reviled in the West and popular in the Arab world: At the moment seemingly of its greatest power, the path facing it could unveil its most glaring weaknesses. – New York Times

Hezbollah-led politicians who forced the collapse of Prime Minister Saad Hariri's government here said they would block him from leading the next administration, limiting the prospects of Washington's primary ally in Lebanon. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

The collapse of Lebanon's unity government presents a dilemma to U.S. policymakers - support the pursuit of justice in a U.N. tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri or support a stable, secure and prosperous Lebanon. – Washington Times

Lebanese leaders agreed on Thursday to start talks next week on rebuilding a government after Hezbollah walked out of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri's coalition, testing political faultlines across the Middle East. - Reuters

Iraq

Vice President Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Thursday reiterated their commitment to the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of this year, at their first meeting since a new Iraqi government was formed last month, the government's spokesman said.  – Washington Post

Iraq's Muslim and Christian religious leaders on Thursday called for a united front in protecting Christians following a spate of attacks against them. - Reuters

Iran

Iran's Nobel peace laureate, Shirin Ebadi, says the ongoing crackdown on activists and lawyers shows the extent to which the regime fears human rights defenders, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

A trial due to open in Nigeria at the end of the month is set to disclose embarrassing details of an extensive arms smuggling operation run by Iran's Revolutionary Guards to supply guerrillas in West Africa. -Telegraph

Iran's proposal for a tour of its nuclear sites floundered on Thursday after China effectively rejected the invitation and Russia cautioned such a trip could never replace U.N. inspections or talks between Tehran and world powers. - Reuters

Isolation, international sanctions and the removal of subsidies all herald rocky times ahead for Iran’s redoubtable and durable president - Economist

Israel

With U.S. Middle East peace efforts at an impasse, the Obama administration has sought new ideas from outside experts on how to advance the peace process.  One task force has been convened by Sandy Berger and Stephen Hadley, former national security advisers to Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, respectively, to offer recommendations on the Middle East peace process to the National Security Council. - Politico

Israel’s next war could be fought on several fronts and result in far more destruction and casualties on all sides than recent conflicts. – Aviation Week

Turkey has urged Israel to sack Avigdor Lieberman, its controversial foreign minister, escalating a protracted row that has badly damaged one of the Middle East's most important pro-western alliances. - Telegraph

Kuwait

Kuwait's Interior Minister Sheikh Jaber Khaled Al-Sabah submitted his resignation on Thursday over the death of a detainee allegedly as a result of police torture, said a government official. – Telegraph

Middle East

The spate of clashes involving Jordan's powerful tribes -- and the recourse to tribal law over state justice -- have shaken stability in Jordan, where tribal loyalty has for decades underpinned the monarchy and the country's security forces. - Reuters

Egypt

A Muslim policeman charged with shooting a Christian man dead on a train in southern Egypt will be tried in a state security court for premeditated murder, the state news agency said Thursday. - Reuters

Yemen

Yemen’s campaign against militants is not succeeding, despite American help - Economist

China

President Obama met for more than an hour Thursday at the White House with five advocates for greater civil liberties and human rights in China, just days before Chinese President Hu Jintao's arrival in Washington for a state visit. – Washington Post

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke called Thursday for China to follow through on its pledges to open up its market to foreign firms, seeking to ensure that next week's state visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao leads to lasting results. – Wall Street Journal

China's recent test flight of a stealth fighter illustrated a worrisome "disconnect" between its military and civilian leaders, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Friday. – Los Angeles Times

China will not bow to foreign demand for faster gains in the yuan and will stick to its gradualist approach in currency reform, senior officials said on Friday, indicating Chinese President Hu Jintao may push back if President Barack Obama presses him on the issue next week. - Reuters

Josh Rogin reports:  The U.S. policy of supporting Taiwan through sales of U.S. weapons is the biggest irritant in the increasingly complicated U.S.-China relationship. This week, just before Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington, a potential new round of arms sales to Taiwan threatens to overshadow the Obama-Hu summit. – The Cable

What has happened to the “harmonious world” that China’s president, Hu Jintao, once championed? Where is the charm offensive that was meant to underpin it? Recent revelations about its military programmes are the latest Chinese moves to have unsettled the world. Strip the charm from Chinese diplomacy and only the offensive is left. - Economist

Open Letter:  In an open letter released on January 13, nine human rights and foreign policy organizations pressed President Obama to make a shift in U.S.-Chna policy by meeting with dissidents in advance of the state visit of General Secretary Hu Jintao on January 19 and “speaking frankly abou the deterioration in human righs in China” to Hu during the leaders’ meetings - Foreign Policy Initiative

Henry Kissinger writes: The upcoming summit between the American and Chinese presidents is to take place while progress is being made in resolving many of the issues before them, and a positive communique is probable. Yet both leaders also face an opinion among elites in their countries emphasizing conflict rather than cooperation – Washington Post

Thomas Donnelly writes: Whether or not Hu Jintao had been briefed on the J-20 test-flight schedule is immaterial: The decision to invest in such an airplane no doubt began well before his rule and is a reflection of the ambitions that China’s leaders – indeed, probably a majority of Chinese people – share. They’ve sent a message that the Aussies (and Japanese and Koreans and Indians) hear loud and clear. What does the Obama administration hear? - The Weekly Standard Blog

Michael Green writes: Next week Chinese President Hu Jintao will travel to the United States for his eighth meeting with President Obama, his first state visit with an U.S. president, and his valedictory call on the American people before he retires as part of the Chinese leadership transition in 2012. There will be no breakthroughs, transformations, or stirring visions for the future of U.S.-China relations, but the trip is badly needed in terms of relationship management. It will also serve as a good opportunity for a stock-taking of U.S.-China relations. – Shadow Government

Korean Peninsula

South Korea would have U.S. support if it retaliates in the event of another North Korean attack, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Thursday as he called on all the countries in the region to work together to ward off such a provocation. – Washington Post

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates met with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and the defense minister here on Friday as South Korea and the United States again declared their solidarity against North Korean aggression. – New York Times

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates Jan. 13 urged North Korea to take concrete steps to show it is "serious" about talks after the nuclear-armed regime offered to resume dialogue after months of tension. - AFP

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Friday held out the possibility of a resumption of six-party talks if North Korea ceases provocations and meets its obligations, but said there was no sign of it changing its ways. - Reuters

China said that six-party talks were more "suitable" than the U.N. Security Council for solving the nuclear standoff on the Korean peninsula, a senior Chinese diplomat said on Friday, days before a summit with President Barack Obama. - Reuters

Japan

Worried about North Korean belligerence and an increasingly aggressive China, Japan's military wants to cooperate in unprecedented ways with the United States and is even considering putting its military in the line of fire in areas outside Japan, Japanese defense officials said Thursday. – Washington Post

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in a speech to university students here, pushed for the Japanese to look beyond a recent controversy over a U.S. military base in Okinawa, arguing that a strong alliance between Tokyo and Washington is vital to Asian security. – Wall Street Journal

Japan's Coast Guard said Thursday that it had arrested the captain of a South Korean fishing vessel after a brief standoff in disputed waters that Japan considers its own. – Washington Post

Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s appointment of Kaoru Yosano as economic and fiscal policy minister came as a surprise to some, particularly since he’s a documented critic of Mr. Kan’s party. – WSJ’s Japan Real Time blog

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Jan. 13 suggested Japan should consider buying U.S. fighter jets, during talks in Tokyo, as the country plans for new warplanes, a U.S. official said. In a meeting with Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, Gates "suggested Japan consider three U.S. planes to upgrade their fleet," the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the F/A-18 Hornet and the F-15 Eagle, the senior defense official said. - AFP

Interview: The Washington Post interviews Japan’s Defense Minister.

Burma

The United Nations' nuclear watchdog has asked Myanmar's reclusive military junta to allow the agency's inspectors to visit amid growing concern that the Southeast Asian nation's rulers may be trying to build a nuclear weapon. – Washington Times

Prison inmates sent to frontline fighting between the Burmese army and a rebel faction have been used by the regime's military as human mine sweepers. - Telegraph

Afghanistan

An Afghan presidential commission has determined that military operations in the Kandahar area have caused more than $100 million in damage to homes and farms over the past six months, its chairman said in an interview on Thursday. – New York Times

U.S. officials are rushing to strengthen local governments across southern Afghanistan before the weather warms and militants have a chance to launch a fresh round of attacks. – Associated Press

Pakistan

U.S. and Pakistani leaders publically praised each other and renewed pledges of cooperation during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visit to Islamabad on January 12.  But despite the displays of good faith, long-time observers of U.S.-Pakistani relations say that the two sides have a long way to go to overcome their significant differences. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

US President Barack Obama will on Friday welcome Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to the White House for talks on ties between the uneasy war partners, spokesman Robert Gibbs said. - AFP

Kyrgyzstan

Security officials in Kyrgyzstan are linking an attack on a synagogue last September, the bombing of a sports arena in Bishkek in November, and the murder of four law enforcement officers in early January to an Islamic radical group. - EurasiaNet

Asia

Kazakhstan's parliament on Friday approved a referendum to extend President Nursultan Nazarbayev's term for a third decade, clearing the way for the veteran leader of Central Asia's largest economy to bypass two elections. - Reuters

Russia

Russia said further cuts in nuclear weapons sought by the U.S. can be achieved only as part of a multinational accord limiting other types of armaments, a position that dims the Obama administration's chances for swift progress toward one of its biggest foreign policy goals. – Wall Street Journal

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has praised the emergence of what he calls an increasingly democratic and stable world order, saying less confrontation and more cooperation had created a "new paradigm" in international relations. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

A key ingredient to improving relations with the West will be the creation of a common European missile shield with NATO, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday, further raising the stakes in the reset of Russian-U.S. relations. – Moscow Times

Lawyers for jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky vowed to press ahead on multiple fronts to contest charges against their client on Thursday, while Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the case would not deter foreign investors.  – Moscow Times

President Dmitry Medvedev opened a new front in the war against corruption Thursday, ordering a thorough check of government officials' income declarations and tough penalties against those who provided false information. – Moscow Times

Russia placed 143rd among the 183 countries on the Heritage Foundation’s annual economic freedom rating. – Moscow Times

Belarus

The authorities in Belarus have issued a warning to a prominent human rights group, accusing it of unlawfully distorting information about the situation in the country amid a continued crackdown on opponents of President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko. – New York Times

The new head of Europe's top rights watchdog and a senior U.S. official urged Belarus on Thursday to free those imprisoned after disputed elections, warning that sanctions could be on the horizon. - Reuters

Eastern Europe

Poland’s prime minister said Thursday that a Russian-led investigation of the crash that killed the Polish president and dozens of other top officials in April was “incomplete” and that his government would not accept a “unilateral account of the crash.” – New York Times

The crash last spring of a plane carrying Poland's president and other top officials outside the Russian city of Smolensk unexpectedly drew Poland and Russia closer together. Now, Russia's report on the crash is driving the longtime antagonists apart again - and dividing Polish politicians, too. – Washington Post

Ukraine

A former Ukrainian economy minister was granted political asylum by the Czech Republic, a sign of increasing international disquiet over the Ukrainian government's investigations of leading opposition figures. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Georgia

A former member of the pro-Georgian South Ossetian leadership has warned that the Georgian leadership needs to embark immediately on talks with Russia to avert a new conflict, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reports. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

United Kingdom

U.K. commanders committed troops to operations in Afghanistan because they feared that the army would be cut if they didn't use them, the government's former envoy to Kabul said Thursday.  Sherard Cowper-Coles said he had been told by the former head of the army, General Richard Dannatt, that if he didn't redeploy troops coming back from Iraq, he would lose them in a future defense review. – Press Association (WSJ Subscription required)

Italy

Italy’s highest court revoked automatic immunity for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi Thursday, a move that could restart three criminal cases against him and further jeopardize his tenuous hold on power. – New York Times

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi faces a prostitution investigation in Milan over a teenaged nightclub dancer who attended parties at his private residence, an investigation source told Reuters on Friday. - Reuters

Africa

Tunisia's longtime president, rocked by weeks of unprecedented nationwide protests against his rule, suggested Thursday that he would abide by a constitutional age cap for head of state by not running again for office in 2014. He also promised freedom of speech, including lifting restrictions on the press and Internet as well as opening up the political system of his tightly controlled nation of 10 million. – Los Angeles Times

The mounting protests threaten not only to overturn a close United States ally in the fight against terrorism but also to pull back the veneer of tranquil stability that draws legions of Western tourists to Tunisia’s coastal resorts. – New York Times

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called on Tunisia on Thursday to investigate police killings of scores of civilians and voiced concerns that detained activists have been tortured. - Reuters

Mobs loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, the president who refuses to give up power after losing an election, burned and stoned five United Nations vehicles on Thursday, including an ambulance, a United Nations spokesman said. – New York Times

Al Qaeda declared on Thursday it was behind the kidnap of two young Frenchmen in Niger, as prosecutors began to unravel the murky circumstances of the battle in the Sahara that led to their deaths. - Telegraph

Goodluck Jonathan swept to victory in Nigeria’s ruling party primary, taking a big step towards turning his accidental presidency into a full mandate to govern Africa’s biggest oil and gas producer. – Financial Times

Caribbean

A regional group of international monitors Thursday gave Haiti's government long-awaited recommendations on how to resolve its disputed presidential election, one day after the first anniversary of a massive earthquake devastated this beleaguered island nation. – Washington Times

Haitian President Rene Preval has reservations about a report from a regional organization that challenges the official results of Haiti's chaotic November elections, an official said on Thursday. - Haiti

Colombia

Bernard Aronson writes: The new leaders in the House, unlike their predecessors, support ratification of the free-trade agreements with Colombia and Panama and count significantly more free-traders among their ranks. A White House push to ratify the three agreements as a package offers an opportunity for the kind of bipartisan cooperation with Congress the administration says it seeks – Washington Post

Defense

A military advisory panel appears poised to recommend allowing female troops to serve in combat units without any restrictions, calling the current prohibition an out-of-date idea that unnecessarily discriminates against women. - Stars and Stripes

An upcoming reorganization of the subcommittees of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee will shift oversight of certain weapons programs, including Navy and Marine Corps tactical jets, according to committee staff. – Defense News

U.S. Air Force Secretary Michael Donley says the service is committed to funding an F-16 life extension, especially in light of the most recently announced Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) slip, as well as a new bomber aircraft in the forthcoming Fiscal 2012 budget due next month on Capitol Hill. – Aviation Week

General Dynamics’ Electric Boat is in the hunt for more engineers as it gears up for the U.S. Navy’s replacement program for the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines — one of the service’s biggest shipbuilding programs for decades to come — President John Casey says. – Aviation Week

Accusations from supporters that Private Manning is being mistreated, perhaps to pressure him to testify against Mr. Assange, have rallied many on the political left to his defense. – New York Times

The War

The Justice Department prosecutor who led government efforts to prevent a number of serious security threats to the nation, including the attempted bombing of Times Square, the al Qaeda plot to bomb the New York subway system and the attempted detonation of a bomb aboard an airliner on Christmas Day 2009, announced his resignation Thursday. – Washington Times

Bruce Riedel writes: Al Qaeda has been undeniably tenacious, but we should keep its successes in perspective. The organization is not Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. Smart policies that isolate it from the majority of Muslims, along with continued attacks on its havens and its ideology, are likely to eventually bring about the group's demise. – Los Angeles Times

Democracy and Human Rights

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, adopting a tone reminiscent of the Bush administration, blasted Arab governments for stalled political change, warning that extremists were exploiting a lack of democracy to promote radical agendas across the Middle East. – Wall Street Journal

Report: Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2011

Editorial: When the United States does not advocate strongly for freedom, other democracies tend to retreat and autocracies feel emboldened. If the disturbing trend documented by Freedom House is to be reversed, Mr. Obama will need to make freedom a higher foreign policy priority. – Washington Post

Jackson Diehl writes:  It may be too late for the United States to head off a rolling social upheaval in the Middle East this year - or a war involving Hezbollah and Hamas. But if it follows up on what Clinton has been saying, it can at least place itself on the right side of those events. – Washington Post

Obama Administration

Laura Rozen reports: World leaders are arriving in Washington to attend Richard Holbrooke's memorial service at the Kennedy Center Friday, which President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are both due to attend…Holbrooke, meanwhile, is "proving very hard to replace," a U.S. diplomat tells POLITICO. "My understanding is that the secretary wants someone senior and is interviewing lots of people." – Politico

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