FPI Overnight Brief: March 6, 2013

Middle East/North Africa

Iran

The Obama administration is determined to stop Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon and will not let Tehran drag out negotiations indefinitely, Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday. – The Hill’s Global Affairs

The European Union said on Wednesday that Iranian stonewalling of a U.N. nuclear agency inquiry into suspected atom bomb research was "unacceptable", and voiced deep concern about Tehran's expanding atomic work. - Reuters

A top U.S. general said on Tuesday that American efforts aimed at preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon were not working, even as he voiced support for crippling sanctions and diplomatic efforts aimed at isolating the Islamic state. - Reuters

Six world powers called on Tuesday for quick and concrete results in nuclear negotiations with Iran that have resumed after an eight-month hiatus, aimed at averting the threat of a new Middle East war. - Reuters

Syria

Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that the Obama administration supported efforts by Middle Eastern nations to send arms to the opposition in Syria, and had had discussions with foreign officials to emphasize that those arms should go to moderate forces rather than to extremists. – New York Times

Qatar, which has provided weapons to rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, gently lectured visiting Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Tuesday about American reluctance to become more involved in the two-year civil war that has killed more than 70,000. – Washington Post

The relentless exodus of Syrians fleeing two years of increasingly violent conflict pushed the number of refugees in neighboring countries passed the million mark on Wednesday, the United Nations Refugee agency said, warning that resources for helping them are dangerously thin. – New York Times

The United Nations depicted the collapse of Syria’s education system in a report released on Tuesday, saying that thousands of schools have been damaged or converted into shelters for civilians displaced by civil war and that many children have not attended class since the conflict began two years ago. – New York Times

Syria‘s rebels have been locked in a bloody uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad for nearly two years. But for 27 days after it was formed last December, the Free Syrian Army’s Military Command…did not receive so much as a bullet from its Arab and Western supporters. That lack of aid threatened to crush the nascent Military Command’s credibility with the fighting men inside Syria. - Time

Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour called on Wednesday for Syria's suspension from the Arab League to be lifted in order to help find a political solution to the conflict in the country. – Reuters

North Africa

The head of Libya’s sovereign wealth fund says his efforts to recoup billions of dollars lost through sales of derivatives by Goldman Sachs and other financial institutions are now “in limbo” after the country’s prime minister moved to sack him last week. – Financial Times

Protesters demanding that ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi's former associates be barred from power blocked members of Libya's national assembly from leaving a meeting for several hours before letting them go, officials said on Tuesday. - Reuters

Independents will take over the foreign and defense ministries in Tunisia's new government under a deal by the ruling Islamist party to cede key portfolios following violent unrest over the assassination of a secular opposition leader. - Reuters

Egyptian security forces battled stone-throwing youths in the Suez Canal city of Port Said on Tuesday while in Cairo police took to the streets to protest, reflecting a country beset by discontent over a host of grievances. - Reuters

Gulf States

Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday he had voiced concerns about human rights in Bahrain with the foreign minister of the strategically vital Gulf Arab kingdom where protesters are demanding democratic reforms. - Reuters

Iraq

The inspector general for Iraq reconstruction has written a swan-song report about the shortcomings of America’s $60 billion rebuilding effort, which began a decade ago this month amid high hopes but ended mired in fraud and mismanagement. – Washington Post

Israel

The Australian government released an internal report Wednesday criticizing its foreign ministry's response to Israel's detention of a dual national who later died in jail under mysterious circumstances. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Gaza’s third marathon run, an annual fund-raising event planned for April 10, was canceled after the Palestinian territory’s Islamic leaders barred women from participating, the organizer, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency said on Tuesday. – New York Times

After months of allegations that he was no friend of Israel, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel promised full U.S. support for Israeli security during a nearly two-hour meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak at the Pentagon on Tuesday, his first sit-down with a foreign defense minister since taking office. – The E-Ring

Palestinian children detained by the Israeli military are subject to widespread, systematic ill-treatment that violates international law, a UNICEF report said on Wednesday. - Reuters

Dozens of Palestinian students at a West Bank university heckled a British diplomat and attacked his car on Tuesday, preventing him from speaking on campus. - Reuters

Shai T. writes: What is clear is that three months after Pillar of Defense’s unprecedented display of air power, quiet is prevailing across our southern border and life has returned to normal for the more than 1 million Israelis within rocket range. – Defense News

Turkey

Kurdish militants detonated a bomb under a military vehicle in southeast Turkey, wounding four soldiers, security officials said on Tuesday, in a potential challenge to a fledgling peace process between Ankara and the rebels' jailed leader. - Reuters

Asia

Afghanistan

The American commander in the Middle East said on Tuesday that he had recommended that 13,600 United States troops remain in Afghanistan after the combat mission ends in 2014, a number slightly higher than the one being considered by NATO and Pentagon officials. – New York Times

An Afghan court on Tuesday delivered the first convictions in connection with the near collapse of Kabul Bank, a scandal that has become a byword for Afghanistan’s rampant corruption. The bank’s founder and its former chief executive were found guilty of charges similar to fraud, sentenced to five years in prison and fined hundreds of millions of dollars. – New York Times

Taliban insurgents killed 17 Afghan National Army soldiers in a single incident in northern Badakshan Province, an area far from insurgent strongholds and one that had been generally quiet until recent months, Afghan officials announced Wednesday. – New York Times

The U.S.-led military command in Afghanistan will no longer count and publish the number of Taliban attacks, a statistical measure that it once touted as a gauge of U.S. and allied success but now dismisses as flawed. – Associated Press

South Asia

The Pakistani military on Tuesday denied suggestions by American officials quoted in an article in The New York Times that Pakistan had used the C.I.A. drone program as cover for its own military operations in the tribal belt. – New York Times

North Korea

The United States and China introduced a resolution that would target North Korean bankers and overseas cash couriers, tighten inspections of suspect ship and air cargo, and subject the country’s diplomats to invasive scrutiny and increased risk of expulsion. – New York Times

North Korea said on Tuesday that it would cut off a hot line with the United States military in South Korea, calling the truce that stopped the Korean War in 1953 null and void and threatening to strike the United States with “lighter and smaller nukes.” – New York Times

The South Korean military warned on Wednesday that if provoked by North Korea, it would strike the North’s "command leadership," in a sharp escalation of a war of words between the two Koreas that hinted at a direct attack on the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. – New York Times

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said he would soon introduce new legislation to bleed Kim Jong Un's regime dry. Royce convened a hearing Tuesday aimed at creating bipartisan support for tougher measures following what he called the “bipartisan failure” of U.S. policy in recent years. – The Hill’s Global Affairs

The U.S. government should sanction Chinese banks with ties to North Korea in order to convince the rogue state to finally abandon its nuclear weapons drive, issue experts advised lawmakers on Tuesday. – Global Security Newswire

An anonymous South Korean analyst this week said a missile assembly site at North Korea's new launch complex is being expanded for the purpose of allowing more than one long-range rocket to be put together at once, Kyodo News reported. – Global Security Newswire

The United States should revive a crackdown on drug trafficking, counterfeiting and other illicit business by North Korea that was succeeding before it was dropped to facilitate a nuclear deal with Pyongyang, architects of that policy said on Tuesday. - Reuters

The new face of North Korea's military threat to the United States is a man who once disarmed his opponents by narrating sections of his favorite South Korean soap operas during tense negotiations. - Reuters

China

Wen Jiabao, in his final address as China’s prime minister, warned on Tuesday of the growing divisions between rich and poor, the hazards of unchecked environmental degradation and the risks posed by unbalanced economic growth. – New York Times

On Tuesday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao called again for China to remake its economic system so it relies more on domestic consumption than investment and overseas exports. As part of the necessary changes, he pledged to "accelerate the reform" of the residence-permit system and "expand the coverage of basic public services in urban areas to all their permanent residents." – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

East Asia

Mandatory defense cuts are making it impossible for the Navy’s 285-ship fleet to protect U.S. interests around the globe, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, the head of U.S. Pacific Command said Tuesday. – Military Times

Southeast Asia

The Vietnamese government has opened a dialogue with Amnesty International, allowing the human rights group to meet with key dissidents and government officials in the first such contacts since the end of the Vietnam War, Amnesty said on Wednesday. – New York Times

An air and ground assault by Malaysian forces killed at least 13 of the nearly 200 militants seeking to reclaim part of Borneo Island for a Filipino sultan, Malaysian police officials said on Wednesday afternoon. – New York Times

Malaysian security forces said they had killed 13 suspected Philippine militants as they expanded their hunt for an elusive armed group on Borneo island on Wednesday, a day after an assault with fighter jets, mortars and hundreds of troops. - Reuters

Security

Defense

The White House and Pentagon have not yet released their 2014 budget, but the House and Senate Armed Services committees nevertheless kicked off their budget posture hearings on Tuesday with the military brass. – DEFCON Hill

The White House on Tuesday voiced its opposition — but not a veto threat — to a House spending measure that includes a full 2013 Pentagon appropriations bill. – Defense News

A senior U.S. House lawmaker warned Tuesday that if Congress fails this month to pass a full 2013 defense spending bill, there likely will be no other chance to do so this year. – Defense News

The Pentagon is expecting a $35 billion shortfall in operations and maintenance (O&M) funding in 2013 should billions of dollars in defense spending reductions and other budget restrictions remain in place for the rest of the fiscal year. – Defense News

Flexibility. That’s what the military says it needs to better manage the budgetary havoc it’s facing amid steep and sudden reductions to its accounts, but that’s precisely what it doesn’t have. – Roll Call

Commandant Gen. Jim Amos and other service chiefs detailed to Congress on Tuesday how the federal budget crisis will hurt the U.S. military, while acknowledging that a new spending proposal now under consideration could provide relief. – Military Times

The Pentagon’s top procurement official is considering a strategy of funding research and development projects despite ongoing budget pressure, a slight shift from his fervent push to only proceed with well understood, affordable programs. – Aviation Week

The Air Force’s long-stalled effort to replace its fleet of Eisenhower-era aerial refueling tankers has become a poster child for the disruption caused by funding the Defense Department through a yearlong continuing resolution while the Pentagon sheds $46 billion in across-the-board sequester cuts at the same time. – Roll Call

The U.S. general in charge of the multinational F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program has softened the tone of the controversial comments he made about the program’s contractors last week, saying they were blown out of proportion and that the program is in good shape. – Defense News

The Pentagon has released an updated blueprint that shows how the Army’s force structure in Europe will change by 2016. – DoD Buzz

Jim Talent writes: Perhaps the sequester will force the president actually to show some responsibility and produce a budget plan. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves. Decisions have consequences, and bad decisions have bad consequences. There are rough times coming for America. – National Review Online’s The Corner

The War

Attorney General Eric Holder Tuesday stopped short of entirely ruling out a drone strike against an American citizen on U.S. soil—without trial. – CNN’s Security Clearance

United Nations' torture investigator Juan Mendez said on Tuesday the Obama administration showed no sign of reversing its position and allowing him access to terrorism suspects in long-term detention at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. - Reuters

Cybersecurity

A new report for the Pentagon concludes that the nation’s military is unprepared for a full-scale cyber-conflict with a top-tier adversary and must ramp up its offensive prowess. – Washington Post

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) writes: The House Committee on Homeland Security is working with all stakeholders and colleagues in Congress to foster consensus on necessary, bipartisan cybersecurity legislation. Threats to the U.S. homeland are evolving, both in the real and virtual worlds, and so too must the defenses evolve. Congress needs to act: The threat is real, and this time we have to see it coming. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Nuclear Weapons

A newly imposed across-the-board budget cut and other spending restrictions are likely to diminish the responsiveness and reliability of the nation's nuclear deterrent if they remain in place, the head of U.S. Strategic Command told lawmakers on Tuesday. – Global Security Newswire

George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn write: The continuing risk posed by nuclear weapons remains an overarching strategic problem, but the pace of work doesn't now match the urgency of the threat. The consequences of inaction are potentially catastrophic, and we must continue to ask: How will citizens react to the chaos and suffering of a nuclear attack? Won't they demand to know what could have been done to prevent this? Our age has stolen fire from the gods. Can we confine this awesome power to peaceful purposes before it consumes us? – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Russia/Europe

Russia

Russian authorities announced new fraud charges against U.S.-born investor William Browder, escalating pressure in a politically charged case that has fueled tensions between Moscow and the West. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

A dancer at the Bolshoi Ballet and two other men have confessed to carrying out an acid attack in January on the company’s artistic director, Sergei Filin, a crime that gripped Moscow and left one of Russia’s most revered institutions in turmoil, the police announced on Wednesday. – New York Times

The United States and other Western nations should be doing more to respond to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s human rights violations, members of Congress and foreign policy experts said Monday during a United States-Russia relations event hosted by the Foreign Policy Initiative, Freedom House, and the Institute of Modern Russia. – Washington Free Beacon

Europe

British troops will leave Germany by 2019 — a year earlier than planned — ending one of the enduring legacies of World War II, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said Monday. – Defense News

A Ukrainian court again postponed on Tuesday the start of the trial of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on tax evasion and embezzlement charges after she refused to attend the hearing on health grounds. - Reuters

Americas

United States of America

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday voted 12 to 3 to confirm John O. Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency after the White House agreed to provide more information on the legal basis for targeted killings of Americans abroad who are believed to pose a terrorist threat. – New York Times

Battalions of pro-Israel advocates marched up to Capitol Hill on Tuesday in a vigorous lobbying campaign to win support for tighter sanctions against Iran, relief for Israel aid from automatic spending cuts, and a new designation of the Jewish state as a “major strategic ally,” a status that would help insulate Israel from any further aid cuts. – Roll Call

The U.S. oil-and-gas boom will not lessen the Obama administration’s diplomatic focus on the Middle East even as reliance on imports is declining, a senior State Department official said Tuesday. – The Hill’s E2 Wire

Venezuela

Hugo Chávez, a former tank commander turned populist politician who used Venezuela's oil riches to challenge the U.S. with his fiery brand of socialism, died Tuesday from complications related to cancer. He was 58 years old. – Wall Street Journal

Shortly before announcing that Hugo Chávez died, Venezuela's government resorted to one of the late president's favorite ploys to try to unite his supporters: allege a conspiracy by the U.S. to destabilize the country. – Wall Street Journal

Some of the most significant ramifications of the death of Hugo Chávez for the U.S., both short-term and long-term, may have little to do with the late ruler's politics and more to do with his country's oil. – Wall Street Journal

The death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Tuesday left a large void in the leftist leadership of Latin America and raised questions about whether the oil largesse he generously spread through the region would continue. - Reuters

Editorial: The Constitution requires that new elections be held in 30 days, assuming Mr. Maduro honors the law. Let's hope Venezuelans seize the chance to bury the tragic legacy of Chavismo alongside its author's corpse. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Cuba

A Spanish politician who was convicted of vehicular manslaughter for his role in the crash that killed two Cuban dissidents in July said in an interview with The Washington Post that the car he was driving was struck from behind just before the accident and that he was heavily drugged when he appeared to admit to reckless driving. – Washington Post

Interview: Ángel Carromero, a leader of Spain’s ruling party, was visiting Cuba last July when a car he was driving crashed, killing Cuban dissidents Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero. Mr. Carromero was convicted of vehicular homicide; in December, he was released to Spain to serve out his term. This week he agreed to be interviewed by The Washington Post about the crash. – Washington Post

Editorial: The only proper course of action is to convene an international investigation that can be truly independent and untainted by the Castro regime’s thuggish ways. The legacy of Mr. Payá must be to expose the truth of his death, and to put that truth on display for all to see, especially the people of Cuba, for whom Mr. Payá aspired to nothing less than the right to live free from tyranny. – Washington Post

Africa

Confusion and anxiety rose in Kenya on Wednesday as results from the presidential election were delayed by electronic breakdowns and officials announced a late-night change in tabulating votes, leading several observers to predict that a runoff might follow. – New York Times

The U.N. Security Council hopes to approve by the end of March a special force to combat rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but some members have concerns that need to be addressed first, Russia's U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin said on Tuesday. - Reuters

Armed riot police broke up a meeting called by Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on Tuesday, his spokesman said, raising tensions in a fragile power-sharing government ahead of elections this year. - Reuters

Obama Administration

A former State Department adviser calls President Obama a “dithering” chief executive with control issues that jeopardize America’s foreign affairs policy, in a new book that makes the case the current administration has damaged U.S. interests in the Middle East. – Washington Times

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