FPI Overnight Brief: February 27, 2012

Iran has significantly increased its stockpile of a purer form of enriched uranium that is closer to weapons grade, according to the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, and has begun to produce it at a fortified mountain site seen as potentially immune from a military strike. – Wall Street Journal
Document: Read the latest report from the IAEA (PDF format)
Even as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said in a new report Friday that Iran had accelerated its uranium enrichment program, American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb. – New York Times
The Pentagon is beefing up U.S. sea- and land-based defenses in the Persian Gulf to counter any attempt by Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
More than two years after massive anti-government demonstrations over a disputed election exposed a rift between Iran’s leaders and its urban middle class, their diverging worlds are again set to collide in an upcoming vote for a new parliament. – Washington Post
A classified cable sent by America’s top diplomat in Tel Aviv warns that Israeli officials believe Iran’s uranium enrichment efforts are nearing the “point of no return” on the country’s alleged path toward a nuclear weapon. The latest indication that Israeli air strikes are imminent? Not exactly. This cable, part of the once classified library made available by WikiLeaks, captures the state of play back in 2005. – Checkpoint Washington
Iran and Lebanon talked up their defense ties and warned Israel against any aggression, during a visit to Tehran on Feb. 26 by Lebanese Defence Minister Fayez Ghosn. - AFP
Editorial: President Obama has misjudged Iran at every turn—starting with his assumption that the mullahs would negotiate with him because he wasn't George W. Bush, that he would engender goodwill by downplaying Iran's stolen election in 2009, and that sanctions would make them bend. Wishful intelligence thinking won't deter Israeli leaders from defending their interests any more than it will stop Iran from obtaining weapons of mass destruction. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Frederick Kagan and Maseh Zarif write: Those who oppose military action against Iran under any circumstances must say so, and must accept the consequences of that statement. Those who advocate military action must also accept and consider the consequences—regional and possibly global conflict and all of the associated perils of war. But neither American nor Israeli nor any Western interest is served by lying to ourselves and pretending the predicament will go away. – Wall Street Journal
Syrians voted in a referendum on a new constitution, as Homs city remained under artillery attack, in a stark display of the divide between President Bashar al-Assad's support base and his opponents. – Wall Street Journal
Aid agencies were unable to evacuate any people Saturday from a battle-scarred neighborhood in the central Syrian city of Homs, one day after the United States and other nations demanded that President Bashar Assad allow humanitarian aid into strife-ridden Syria. – Los Angeles Times
With deep divisions preventing forceful international action, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton suggested security forces long loyal to Bashar Assad and his family could oust the Syrian president and end the bloodshed that is ripping his country apart. – Los Angeles Times
A major Syrian opposition group has said Western and Arab officials must allow individual countries to arm forces fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. – Washington Times
International leaders meeting here Friday agreed on a unified plan for pressure they hope will stop Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s bloody crackdown on civilian opponents and drive him from power, but they stopped well short of approving military assistance to the Syrian opposition. – Washington Post
As the dead pile up and diplomacy fails to stem the violence, it is clear that this conflict is unique in significant ways, difficult to predict and far riskier to the world. Unlike Libya, Syria is of strategic importance, sitting at the center of ethnic, religious and regional rivalries that give it the potential to become a whirlpool that draws in powers, great and small, in the region and beyond. – New York Times
Hamas has thrown its political clout behind an uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Palestinian Islamist group's longtime patron and host, a shift that cracks a formidable alliance and further widens the Middle East's sectarian divide. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Three hawkish senators said Friday that a “Friends of Syria” meeting of nations was not sufficient to stop the violence from the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, reiterating their call for arming the Syrian opposition. – DEFCON Hill
Josh Rogin reports: The State Department has begun coordinating with Syria's neighbors to prepare for the handling of President Bashar al-Assad's extensive weapons of mass destruction if and when his regime collapses, The Cable has learned. – The Cable
Lee Smith writes: The administration has not only an interest but an obligation to fight back against the Iranian-Syrian assault on America—first, by bringing an end to the regime in Damascus. – The Weekly Standard
Josef Joffe writes: But the West will not unleash its air forces. Libya was no precedent for Syria. Remember the rule: We bomb only where the campaign promises to be short, cheap and decisive. And where the target—like Qaddafi—has no allies. Assad does: Russia, China, and Iran. – The New Republic
An Egyptian judge adjourned a trial of 43 civil-society workers, including at least 16 Americans, who are charged with taking illegal foreign funding, prolonging a legal dispute that is inflaming relations between the U.S. and its crucial Mideast partner. – Wall Street Journal
Okail, an Egyptian citizen and director here for the U.S.-based Freedom House, is caught in a diplomatic battle between the United States and Egypt. The Egyptian government has accused three U.S.-based organizations, along with two other foreign non-governmental organizations, of working illegally in Egypt, failing to pay taxes and sowing unrest in the country. – Washington Post
Editorial: In the end, an aid suspension might have a useful result beyond punishing the generals. It would give the United States and a new democratic government in Egypt a chance to start fresh and discuss from first principles how much aid, and what mixture of military and economic support, would best encourage Egypt’s development. – Washington Post
The Obama administration is embarking on an ambitious and potentially risky plan to help the new government in Yemen overhaul its military to combat the Qaeda franchise that has exploited the political turmoil there to seize control of large swaths of the country’s south. – New York Times
Hours after Yemen’s new president was sworn in, formally ending President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year rule, a car bomb exploded outside a presidential compound in southern Yemen, killing at least 25 people, security officials said Saturday. – Washington Post
The American military announced Sunday that it had recovered the remains of the last American service member who had been unaccounted for in Iraq, an Army interpreter seized by gunmen after he sneaked off his base to visit his Iraqi wife in Baghdad during the height of the insurgency. – Associated Press
Several hundred Palestinians clashed with Israeli police at Jerusalem’s holiest site on Friday, after calls posted on right-wing Jewish Internet sites for Jews to push Muslims from it prompted Palestinians to mass there in resistance. – New York Times
When President Obama sits down face-to-face with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next week to discuss Iran, he will be staring down the greatest challenge on Israel he’s faced during his presidency. – DEFCON Hill
More than 100,000 people in Darfur have left the sprawling camps where they had taken refuge for nearly a decade and headed home to their villages over the past year, the biggest return of displaced people since the war began in 2003 and a sign that one of the world’s most infamous conflicts may have decisively cooled. – New York Times

U.S. officials visited the capitals of all five Central Asian republics [last] week amid a broader diplomatic push to negotiate new transportation agreements that will enable the military to withdraw from Afghanistan when the time comes without having to rely mainly on land routes through Pakistan. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
In the course of one week, the burning of copies of the Koran by U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan has set off a deadly chain of events that has not only inflamed tensions but possibly exposed a crippling weakness in the American strategy to wind down the war. – Washington Post
American officials sought to reassure both Afghanistan’s government and a domestic audience on Sunday that the United States remained committed to the war after the weekend killing of two American military officers inside the Afghan Interior Ministry and days of deadly anti-American protests. – New York Times
President Hamid Karzai on Sunday urged Afghans to avoid violent retaliation for the burning of a pile of Korans at the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan last week and called for the punishment of those behind the act, which sparked nationwide protests. – Washington Post
The U.S. commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan pulled scores of advisers from Afghan ministries after two high-ranking American military officers were gunned down Saturday at the nation's Interior Ministry headquarters. – Wall Street Journal
America's plan to hand over responsibility for securing Afghanistan faced unprecedented strains, as the U.S. and its allies withdrew hundreds of military and civilian advisers in Kabul following a string of deadly attacks by Afghan soldiers on American troops. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The spasm of violence that has shaken the country since copies of the Koran were dumped in a trash incinerator at a U.S. military base is emblematic of a culture war among Afghans themselves, one that is likely to grow more intense as the Western military presence wanes. – Los Angeles Times
Paul Miller writes: Obama himself has repeatedly stressed the need for a responsible withdrawal.  The war is only now entering its culminating phase and the ultimate outcome, for good or ill, will probably be decided by the choices, battles, and negotiations of the next two years more than the previous ten.  It is a poor time to indulge in politically-expedient ambiguity. – Shadow Government
The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan sent a top-secret cable to Washington last month warning that the persistence of enemy havens in Pakistan was placing the success of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan in jeopardy, U.S. officials said. – Washington Post
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani urged Taliban leaders and other Afghan militant groups on Friday to participate in negotiations to end the war in neighboring Afghanistan, and he pledged that Pakistan would do “whatever it can” to facilitate peace talks. – Washington Post
The Pakistani authorities moved on Saturday to demolish the house where Osama bin Laden died at the hands of Navy SEALs last May, erasing a three-story building that had acquired a painful symbolism for Pakistan’s powerful military, which was badly embarrassed by the American raid. – New York Times
North Korea said on Saturday that “nuclear weapons are not the monopoly of the United States,” a day after an American special envoy reported after two days of talks with North Korean officials that there was little change in their negotiating style on their nuclear programs under a new leadership taking shape in Pyongyang. – New York Times
North Korea's authoritarian government, in its first direct contact with the U.S. since the death of dictator Kim Jong Il and succession of his son Kim Jong Eun, made no substantive moves that indicated greater cooperation or openness to change, officials said over the weekend. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered the military to launch a “powerful retaliatory strike” if provoked by the South, the North’s state-run media reported on Sunday. – New York Times
South Koreans continue to express their displeasure over the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, which is set to go into effect March 15. – LA Times’ World Now
China will face increasing challenges to sustain growth over the next two decades without substantial, structural changes to its economy, financial system and society, according to a voluminous new report that was presented here Monday afternoon jointly by the World Bank and one of China’s main government research units. – Washington Post
The Communist Party chief of Sichuan Province, a large area in western China that includes restive Tibetan towns, visited some of the Tibetan areas earlier this week and urged residents to follow the law and oppose separatism, according to a report Friday in Sichuan Daily, an official newspaper. – New York Times
If the place that the Chinese writer Yu Jie and his family live in nowadays, a modest house in this pleasant Northern Virginia suburb, seems ordinary, the story of what brought them here is anything but. In January, Mr. Yu, one of the foremost critics of China’s leadership, left China after months of abuse, house arrest and round-the-clock surveillance by the state. At its worst, it was flat-out torture – New York Times
A senior Chinese communist party leader who dispatched armed forces to a U.S. consulate to head off the defection of a former police chief was shown on state-run television [last] week, a sign he has survived allegations of corruption. – Washington Free Beacon
Prime Minister Julia Gillard successfully fended off a leadership challenge from her former foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, handing her rival a resounding defeat in a vote by members of their governing Labor Party on Monday morning. – New York Times
Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda flew to Okinawa on Feb. 26 on a tough mission to persuade local islanders into accepting a plan to move a controversial U.S. military base to another part of the island. - AFP
Southeast Asia
A delicate détente between Thailand's powerful armed forces and a populist government led by the younger sister of ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra is looking increasingly fragile after the country's parliament Saturday began moves to change the country's military-backed constitution. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Central Asia
Critics of the 22-year-old authoritarian rule of President Nursultan Nazarbayev staged protests in four cities Saturday and were met by overwhelming police forces but little violence, according to press and opposition reports. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Gen. Ray Odierno, chief of staff of the U.S. Army, says the service could drop from today’s 45 brigades down to 32, depending on the results of an internal Army study. – Defense News
America's new long-range bomber program is "underway," will involve somewhere between 80 and 100 planes and will be delivered sometime in the mid-2020's. "And that's about all we're saying," Air Force Secretary Mike Donley told reporters. It's been known for some time that the bombers will not fly alone but will be part of a family of systems that may include UAVs and other systems. – AOL Defense
F-35A Lightning II local area flights might start as early as this week at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), Fla., an Air Force source said. Such flights would commence once the Air Force issues a military flight release (MFR). – Defense News
In a move that could trim about $1.4 billion from its shipbuilding plan, the U.S. Coast Guard lost two of its newest, largest, most capable — and most expensive — cutters in the fiscal 2013 budget request sent to Congress on Feb. 13. – Defense News
Mackenzie Eaglen and Michael O’Hanlon write: Sequestration cannot stand - and it cannot wait for the lame ducks of December. It is little more than a dream to suggest that Washington can reclaim bipartisanship and a spirit of compromise in that brief period of time. Policymakers must appreciate the seriousness of this challenge, appreciate the very real threat to our national security that sequestration represents, and make the needed deal now. In this case, leadership of this great nation requires compromise - and a sense of urgency. – CNN’s Global Public Square
The War
Lawyers representing six of the highest-profile detainees at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, sent a letter on Friday to the Pentagon complaining that their clients’ living conditions have deteriorated since a new commander took over the prison last year. – New York Times

With relations between Russia and the United States on edge over Syrian policy and strident anti-American statements by the Russian government in response to political protests here, the Obama administration and its Democratic allies in Congress have begun an aggressive push to end cold-war-era trade restrictions and make Russia a full trade partner. – New York Times
Thousands of anti-Kremlin protesters donned white ribbons and held hands along downtown Moscow’s 10-mile ring highway on Sunday, demonstrating the resilience of the protest movement and the continued dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin a week before he is to be on the ballot in a crucial presidential election. – New York Times
The demonstrators who have turned out in the tens of thousands to protest Vladimir Putin’s rule are confronting a deeply entrenched power structure that winds through government and industry, extracting great profit and heavily invested in the status quo. Those relationships give a network of bureaucrats, businessmen and corrupt hangers-on a vital stake in the March 4 presidential election. – Washington Post
[T]he protests are just the visible cracks from much deeper shifts that are eroding the foundation of his support. Russians at the very pinnacle of power in the system that he has built are starting to prepare for the once-unthinkable: life after Putin. – Wall Street Journal
Moscow’s City Hall has rejected an opposition request to hold a rally in a central square of the city planned for the day after Russia’s presidential election in March, offering alternative sites that the rally organizers say they won’t accept. – WSJ’s Emerging Europe Real Time
As he hones his presidential campaign theme, Vladimir Putin is accusing the United States of working to weaken Russia and push it back into the chaos that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. – Associated Press
Mikhail Khodorkovsky writes: In France and in the United States, the presidential vote is about choosing between differing political visions. In my country, the electoral calculus is a little simpler: choose Putin in the first round or in the second round. But do not be fooled: “President” Putin’s return to the Kremlin, after either manipulating the first round or being forced into a second round, puts the world on notice that real political change in Russia is unavoidable. It will be welcomed. – International Herald Tribune
Mark Palmer, Miklos Haraszti, and Charles Gati write: When it seemed that pluralistic democracy and a free market had taken root in Hungary, Radio Free Europe appeared to have fulfilled its mission. Now those values are officially deposed, and a legal system has been built to prevent their comeback even after the next elections. Restoring the Hungarian service could be a crucial step in promoting fair and decent values in Hungary, and in protecting democratic achievements elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe. – Washington Post
Serbia and Kosovo, its former province, reached an agreement Friday that helps pave the way for Serbia’s gaining official “candidate” status to join the European Union. – New York Times

United States of America
President Obama’s apology to his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, has resurrected the politically vexing issue of national contrition at a delicate moment in both the war in Afghanistan and in the presidential campaign at home. – Washington Post
A retired British businessman extradited to the U.S. Friday on charges that he plotted to illegally export missile parts to Iran will contest prosecutors' plans to detain him pending trial, his lawyer said Saturday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
GOP hopeful Mitt Romney blasted President Obama’s Afghanistan policies, after a week of violent protests in the country left more than 20 people dead, including two US military officers. – DEFCON Hill
Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie write: Obama has failed to become a strong international leader, and the Republican nominee must reinforce this message -- one most Americans already believe. Foreign policy is a weakness for this president, not a strength. – Foreign Policy
Michael Ledeen writes: Rick Santorum doesn't fit any of the stereotypes of current foreign-policy ideologies. He's too idealistic to be a "realist," too conservative and too religious to be a "neocon," and too revolutionary to be a "paleocon." He's an old-fashioned, feisty patriot, in the mold of Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan. – Wall Street Journal
Opposition politicians in Canada accused the ruling Conservative Party of wide-scale voter fraud over alleged voter suppression in last May's national polls. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Senior senators met Thursday in Havana with President Raúl Castro of Cuba and with an imprisoned American aid worker, but they reported no immediate breakthrough on Friday on winning the American’s freedom. – New York Times
The prime minister of Haiti, whose abrupt resignation on Friday threw the country into political turmoil once again, said he knew his job was finished when he called cabinet ministers to a meeting a day earlier: None showed up. – New York Times
South America
Latin America’s last major rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, announced Sunday it was giving up kidnappings in a policy reversal that could be a step toward peace talks after decades of conflict. – Washington Post
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will undergo cancer surgery in Cuba for the third time in eight months as early as Monday, an indication that he may be facing an aggressive tumor that could spread throughout his body, oncologists and gastroenterologists say. – Washington Post
Jose Cardenas writes: [A] better question to ask is whether there will be an election at all if Chávez succumbs to his illness before October -- and whether the Obama administration is prepared for an interruption of the democratic order in Venezuela if hard-line Chavistas see their political fortunes going south. – Shadow Government

Western Africa
Since 2009, the group has killed well over 900 people, Human Rights Watch says. Yet on the streets of Kano, the government is more readily denounced than the militants. Anger at the pervasive squalor, not at the recent violence, dominates. Crowds quickly gather around to voice their heated discontent, not with Boko Haram, but with what they describe as a shared enemy: the Nigerian state, seen by the poor here as a purveyor of inequality. – New York Times
A volatile test for [Senegal]’s established democracy unfolded on Sunday as voters decided whether the country’s elderly president should be permitted to stay in power. – New York Times
President Abdoulaye Wade's plan was to transform this seaside republic into a "Singapore of Africa," an ultraefficient trading port and financial gateway to the continent…Mr. Wade's bid for a controversial third term in Sunday's election has left that dream in jeopardy, and the direction of French-speaking West Africa as uncertain as ever. – Wall Street Journal
Southern Africa
Former President Nelson Mandela was discharged from the hospital on Sunday after an overnight stay and a diagnostic procedure, Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s current president, announced. – New York Times
Zimbabwe's indigenization minister has rejected a plan by Aquarius Platinum Ltd to meet the country's law requiring foreign miners to sell 51% of assets to the state, an apparent move by the government to increase pressure on the issue. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Obama Administration

Analysis: In a post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan, post-Libya world, the White House reaction to both calls illuminates the conditions under which the 44th president is willing to use force, or see it used by others. But it also sheds light on that ill-defined concept that the administration refuses to call the Obama Doctrine. – New York Times


FPI Director Robert Kagan discussed his new book, The World America Made, in a Meet the Press at Brookings event, Friday – Brookings Institution

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The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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