FPI Overnight Brief: March 8, 2011

Iran

An annual intelligence report to Congress has dropped language stating that Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions are a future option. The revision comes as U.S. intelligence agencies recently altered a controversial 2007 intelligence assessment that said Iran halted work on nuclear arms in 2003 and was keeping open its options for building an atomic weapon. – Washington Times

Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani lost his position Tuesday as head of an important state clerical body after hardliners criticized him for being too close to the reformist opposition. - Reuters

Egypt

New Prime Minister Essam Sharaf said on Monday he would work to get Egypt's economy back on its feet after weeks of protests and political turmoil, speaking after a ceremony to swear him and his new cabinet into office. - Reuters

Veteran diplomat Amr Moussa talked economics and social justice when he hit the campaign trail for the Egyptian presidency with a string of interviews that flagged him as the front runner for the job. - Reuters

Egypt has ordered the arrest of 47 state security officers accused of burning documents, in a bid to placate protesters who say information is being destroyed to cover up state abuses and violations. - Reuters

Analysis: The amendment to Egypt's constitution recently announced by Chancellor Tareq Bishri's commission -- if adopted by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and approved by a majority of citizens in a general referendum -- will lay the foundation for constraining the near-absolute powers granted to the president by the 1971 constitution. – Babylon and Beyond

Iraq

Two political parties that led demonstrations in Baghdad over the past two weeks said Monday that security forces controlled by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki had ordered them to close their offices. – New York Times

Built about three years ago to prevent attacks on passing military convoys, the three-mile-long blast wall here in the sprawling Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City gradually took on a life of its own, becoming an emblem of people’s anger and despair at years of killing and military occupation…But recently, a bulldozer and crane rumbled into the neighborhood and, with little fanfare, began a task that astonished the old men and children who gathered to watch from the sidewalk — they took away the wall. – New York Times

Middle East

Kuwaiti youth groups will take to the streets on Tuesday to demand the removal of the prime minister and for more political freedom in the Gulf Arab state, the world's fourth largest oil exporter. - Reuters

In the first protest of its kind here, journalists from state-controlled media demonstrated Monday for press freedom and demanded the ouster of the editor of the main government-controlled newspaper – Washington Post

The Jordanian government has presented a revised draft budget for 2011 to include some 460 million Jordanian dinars ($650 million) in additional expenditures, to cover a package of new social safety measures taken following public demonstrations. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Oman made another bid to end daily antigovernment demonstrations Monday by meeting one of the protesters' key demands—a sweeping cabinet reshuffle that includes the removal of the country's powerful economy minister. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Hundreds of hard-line Bahraini opposition protesters gathered in Manama's financial center on Monday, defying a police order to disperse, in a new escalation of tensions between antigovernment demonstrators and the ruling Al-Khalifa family. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Saudi Arabia

With a growing number of Saudi citizens calling for change, the kingdom is turning to old tactics to keep dissent at bay, banning protests, detaining some activists and blocking Web sites carrying petitions for reform. – Washington Post

Israel

Palestinian leaders are embarking on a risky statehood strategy that will seek to isolate Israel's hawkish government in the international community and rely less on U.S. backing, a move that reflects growing disappointment here with the Obama administration – Los Angeles Times

Israel will need to boost military spending and may seek an additional $20 billion in U.S. security assistance to help it manage potential threats stemming from popular upheavals in the Arab world, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Israel's National Security Council chair Uzi Arad stepped down on March 6 after two years in the post, a statement from the prime minister's office said on March 7. - AFP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is formulating a plan to break a diplomatic deadlock by offering Palestinians some limited "steps on the ground" in the absence of direct peace talks, an Israeli official said. - Reuters

Afghanistan

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arrived in Afghanistan Monday to meet with U.S. troops and Afghan leaders, as the Obama administration looks for signs that its strategy there is starting to pay security dividends. – Wall Street Journal

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, heartened by recent military operations to push back the Taliban from major population centers, said the U.S. was likely to begin pulling out some troops from Afghanistan this summer. – Washington Post

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' surprise visit to Afghanistan Monday likely left him with a sobering assessment of just how far U.S. and NATO forces have to go before a scheduled drawdown of U.S. forces begins in July, according to Americans in that country. Many U.S. troops and Afghan officials are concerned that war efforts are lagging and that the Obama administration, desperate to begin ridding itself of an unpopular war, is not listening. – Washington Examiner

U.S.-led military forces have captured or killed more than 900 Taliban leaders in the past 10 months, making it harder for the insurgency to maintain its offensive capabilities, according to the U.S. military in Afghanistan. – USA Today

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday that both the U.S. and Afghan governments agree the American military should remain involved in Afghanistan after the planned 2014 end of combat operations to help train and advise Afghan forces. – Associated Press

The United States is beginning to decide what its responsibilities will be in Afghanistan after U.S. combat troops leave, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Monday, but he ruled out permanent military bases in the strategically important country. – Associated Press

Pakistan

Pakistan is in negotiations with the U.S. to get more Lockheed Martin F-16s beyond those it has on order, while at the same time it is developing its defense manufacturing capability to reduce its reliance on the U.S. – Aviation Week

Militants set off a car-bomb at a natural gas filling station in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad on Tuesday killing about 20 people and wounding more than 100, police and city officials said. - Reuters

Pakistan and the United States cannot afford any downturn in their relationship, President Asif Ali Zardari told the new U.S. envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan on Monday amid a dispute over a detained American CIA contractor. – Associated Press

China

As increasing numbers of Chinese go online, China's state media outlets are aggressively expanding beyond their traditional roles as propaganda outlets and competing with private Internet companies. – Wall Street Journal

One week after foreign journalists were physically harassed by security officers - and one videographer beaten so badly that he had to be hospitalized - China's foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, denied that the police took part in beating any reporters and said the government follows "the rule of law." – Washington Post

China plans to shrink its trade surplus further this year but is looking for ways other than rapid yuan appreciation to ease tensions with global trading partners, said the nation's commerce minister. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Buoyed by President Hu Jintao’s successful visit to Washington, China’s relations with the U.S. are warming again, after a year of disputes over issues from Taiwan to Internet freedom, China’s foreign minister said Monday. – Associated Press

ICYMI: As matters stand now, even close allies, like Australia and Japan, have had second thoughts about America‘s ability to maintain its military‘s dominant position in the Asia-Pacific region. To truly deter China and maintain a balance of power that favors U.S. interests in the region, the American military will need to do more, not less, than it is currently doing...None of which is cheap and none of which can be done with a declining defense budget. However, allowing the military balance of power to shift in China‘s favor in a region of the world vital to U.S. interests is a recipe for instability, diminished economic and political sway, and potential conflict — all of which comes with costs likely to be greater than the expenditures required to keep the peace. - Defending Defense

Taiwan

A general at the center of Taiwan's worst spy case in 50 years is suspected of leaking sensitive details to China about an electronic defense system being sold to the island by U.S. contractor Lockheed Martin Corp., according to a senior member of Taiwan's parliamentary national defense committee. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Taiwan plans to slash the number of its troops by 9,200 this year amid warming ties with China, but the cut will be offset by more advanced weaponry, an official said March 7. - AFP

The United States will put improved relations with Beijing at risk if it does not stop selling arms to Taiwan, China's Foreign Minister said on Monday. - Reuters

Asia

China must apply the lessons of the Middle East unrest to its mostly Muslim, far western Xinjiang, its top official said on Tuesday, adding that he was confident the region would remain stable. - Reuters

Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, does not have a right to choose his successor any way he wants and must follow the historical and religious tradition of reincarnation, a Chinese official said Monday. - Reuters

Roza Otunbayeva writes: The new country we are building is inclusive and grounded in the rule of law. We choose to celebrate our differences and to resolve them not in the streets but in parliament, via democratic channels. Through all of this, the Kyrgyz people have persevered, as will our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. The path to democracy is not easy, but it is the only way forward. – Washington Post

Japan

A member of parliament from Japan's ruling party called on Tuesday for Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan to step down as soon as possible, Kyodo news agency said, as pressure grows on the unpopular premier to resign or call a snap election. - Reuters

Russia

The host nations for the Olympic Games inevitably worry about terrorism. But a glimpse at a map shows why the 2014 Winter Olympics, to be held in this Russian resort on the Black Sea, seem to be facing security concerns unlike any Games in recent memory. – New York Times

Georgia

When Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. sits down with Russia’s leaders later this week, a central topic will be the payoffs of the “reset” between Russia and the United States, among them Russia’s long-awaited accession to the World Trade Organization, which American officials have vigorously supported. – New York Times

Interview: Grigol Vashadze is Georgia's foreign minister and a close ally of President Mikheil Saakashvili. During a recent visit to Prague, RFE/RL correspondent Salome Asatiani asked him about the conflict over Georgia's separatist regions, its troubled relations with Russia, and the country's contribution to the war effort in Afghanistan. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Europe/Russia

Hungary's parliament on Monday amended a controversial media law to comply with the requirements of the European Union, which said the changes were satisfactory but implementation must be monitored. - Reuters

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is in Finland for the start of a weeklong, three-nation trip focused primarily on expanding U.S.-Russian ties but bookended by visits to Helsinki and European Union hopeful Moldova. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Libya

Col. Moammar Gadhafi's inner circle is debating whether the man in charge of Libya since 1969 should remain in power or relinquish his role, as his government invited rebels and tribal leaders to negotiate a political solution and Western nations took steps to prepare for a possible military intervention. – Wall Street Journal

Government and rebel forces engaged in a fierce battle Monday for control of this oil depot on the Mediterranean coast, as regime loyalists mounted assaults on several fronts to reclaim ground lost since the Feb. 17 uprising began. - Washington Post

President Obama addressed comments directly to Moammar Gaddafi's inner circle Monday in an attempt to pressure those helping prop up the embattled Libyan dictator with a tacit threat of future criminal prosecution. – Washington Post

Nearly three weeks after Libya erupted in what may now turn into a protracted civil war, the politics of military intervention to speed the ouster of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi grow more complicated by the day — for both the White House and Republicans. – New York Times

Even as the Obama administration insists that a no-fly zone remains an option, a senior U.S. envoy said Monday that directing Western militaries to suppress Libyan air attacks on rebels would not have a great effect on the conflict. – Los Angeles Times

White House press secretary Jay Carney on Monday said deploying ground troops is not at the “top of the list” when it comes to potential responses to the ongoing violence in Libya, but he said it’s one of many options being considered. – Washington Times

NATO military planners should have completed an assessment of a no-fly zone in Libya in time for the issue to be considered by alliance defense ministers at a meeting in Brussels on Thursday, according to the U.S. ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

The British government on Monday revealed embarrassing details about a British mission that was apparently meant to reinforce relations with opposition leaders in eastern Libya, but that ended with eight Britons being handcuffed and detained on a military base for two days. – New York Times

Many members of the new ruling class taking shape in eastern Libya are from long-privileged tribes that were relegated to second-class status under Col. Gadhafi. – Wall Street Journal

The conflict in eastern Libya is a battle between two forces with serious weaknesses. Supremacy in air power, which opposition leaders are seeking to blunt by asking for a no-fly zone, and other weaponry gives Kadafi's forces an advantage. But they suffer from erratic leadership and the questionable loyalty of some fighters. Despite their undisciplined ways, the rebels exhibited remarkable resilience and esprit de corps in seizing two oil complexes last week. – Los Angeles Times

The administration of President Barack Obama has come under mounting pressure to arm Libyan rebels facing an emboldened and regrouping military, amid charges Washington missed recent chances to oust the country's strongman. - AFP

President Barack Obama warned Libya’s leaders that the U.S. and its NATO allies are still considering military options in response to what he called “unacceptable” violence perpetrated by supporters of Moammar Gadhafi. – Associated Press

Rebels fighting to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi have rejected an offer from the Libyan leader to negotiate his exit even as they battled to hang on to early gains in the insurrection. - Reuters

Josh Rogin reports: NATO countries convened in Brussels on Monday to discuss the international response to the crisis in Libya but never discussed whether to impose a no-fly zone, according to the U.S. ambassador to the organization, Ivo Daalder. He seemed to play down the effectiveness of the measure, however, adding that a no-fly zone wouldn't protect most Libyans anyway. – The Cable

Kori Schake writes: The Obama administration is going to miss the tide yet again unless it begins floating more creative ideas than just economic sanctions and international investigation. They ought to be focusing effort on peeling supporters away from Qaddafi and helping him develop an exit strategy. – The Cable

Somalia

Somali government troops and allied militias have repelled Islamist militants from two towns near the Kenyan and Ethiopian borders in a string of recent victories, Somali officials said Monday. – New York Times

Somalia's al Shabaab rebels are on the verge of being defeated after a four-year insurgency and could be driven out of the capital Mogadishu, the country's president said Monday. - Reuters

Africa

Tunisia's interim authorities on Monday named a new government and disbanded the feared state security apparatus, notorious for human rights abuses under the ousted autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. - Reuters

Ivory Coast rebels have seized a third town in the west of the African country, forces loyal to incumbent leader Laurent Gbabgo said Monday, while at least six died in violence around the main city Abidjan. - Reuters

The government of the democratically elected president of Ivory Coast confirmed Monday that rebels allied with their leader had seized control of a nearly 30-mile corridor along the country’s border with Liberia following an intense weekend battle. – Associated Press

A Zimbabwean court on Monday freed 39 of 45 people charged with plotting an Egypt-style uprising against the country's longtime ruler, while a magistrate ordered six others to face treason charges later this month. – Associated Press

Sudan

As violence increases before southern Sudan’s expected independence this summer, a satellite image emerged of a razed village in the contested region of Abyei, offering a rare glimpse of fighting there. – New York Times

At least 56 people were killed in clashes between militia fighters and soldiers in south Sudan's Upper Nile state just four months before the region is due to become independent, the army said on Monday. - Reuters

United States of America

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., defended this week's scheduled hearings on homegrown radical Islam against protests that his Homeland Security Committee is unfairly targeting a single religious group. – National Journal

Mexico

An experiment in law enforcement in a drug-ravaged border town ended Monday when the 20-year-old police chief was fired after failing to turn up for work. – New York Times

Colombia

Suspected FARC guerrillas have captured 23 Colombian oil contractors carrying out exploration work for Canada's Talisman Energy in a rare mass kidnapping, authorities said on Monday. - Reuters

Defense

General Dynamics executives are expressing concern over the lack of orders for the M1A2 Abrams tank after 2013, which leaves a gap until modernization orders slated to begin in 2016. – Aviation Week

Weeks after a major program shakeup, senior Pentagon and F-35 program officials suddenly sound optimistic about the future of the jet fighter — and lawmakers are voicing few concerns. – The Hill

Senior Navy and Marine Corps officials will face questions from two congressional committees this week about their 2012 spending plans, including the controversial decision to end the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV). – The Hill

The U.S. military is too white and too male at the top and needs to change recruiting and promotion policies and lift its ban on women in combat, an independent report for Congress said Monday. – Associated Press

ICYMI: Mackenzie Eaglen testified: If America continues to under-resource the military, it will not mean a less ambitious foreign policy. It will hollow our nation’s security and treaty commitments, greatly increase the risk of conflict, and cause substantially greater casualties for the men and women who serve in the military. - House Armed Services Committee Readiness Subcommittee

ICYMI, Thomas Donnelly testified: As a good number of recent analyses have suggested, the United States needs a different force. After a lost generation of military modernization and in the throes of a series of technological shifts related to the revolution in information technologies, this should come as no surprise. Indeed, if there is a surprise, it is that modified and upgraded versions of the basic platforms bought during the Reagan buildup have had such long and useful service. But absent a significant recapitalization of the force, the era of unquestioned American military advantage is drawing to a close. - House Armed Services Committee Readiness Subcommittee

The War

President Obama signed an executive order Monday that will create a formal system of indefinite detention for those held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who continue to pose a significant threat to national security. The administration also said it will start new military commission trials for detainees there. – Washington Post

In a span of weeks, popular uprisings in the Islamic world have upended counterterrorism relationships that the United States spent much of the past decade trying to build. – Washington Post

Editorial: No one has done more to revive the reputation of Bush-era antiterror policies than the Obama Administration. In its latest policy reversal, yesterday Mr. Obama said the U.S. would resume the military tribunals for Guantanamo terrorists that he unilaterally suspended two years ago, and he may even begin referring new charges to military commissions within days or weeks. – Wall Street Journal

Obama Administration

President Barack Obama will name Commerce Secretary Gary Locke as ambassador to China, creating the first opening in his cabinet since Mr. Obama assembled his initial team, White House officials said Monday. – Wall Street Journal

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