FPI Overnight Brief: March 16, 2012

Middle East/North Africa

Prominent Iranian politicians and analysts are offering a gloomy assessment of upcoming nuclear talks with the United States and other world powers, insisting that Iran will not agree to any significant cuts to its nuclear program. – Washington Post
A global communication network vital to the banking industry announced on Thursday that it was expelling as many as 30 Iranian financial institutions — including the Central Bank — crippling their ability to conduct international business and further isolating the country from the world economy. – New York Times
Four more minesweepers and four more minesweeping helicopters are to be sent to the Persian Gulf, the U.S. Navy’s top officer said March 15, a move which will increase the number of mine countermeasure forces available to keep open the sea lanes around the Strait of Hormuz should Iran choose to mine that critical waterway. – Defense News
Vessels carrying at least 360,000 metric tonnes (396,832 tons) of grain are lined up to unload in Iran, Reuters shipping data showed on Thursday, a sign that Tehran is succeeding in stockpiling food to blunt the impact of tougher Western sanctions. - Reuters
Michael Adler writes: This article presents key facts about Parchin and the IAEA investigation, gleaned from IAEA documents as well as reliable sources. – AOL Defense
Syria’s diplomatic isolation in the Arab world deepened on Friday as four more Gulf states were reported to be closing their embassies in Damascus while government forces pressed offensives in the north of the country and in areas around the capital. – New York Times
Raucous pro-Assad rallies Thursday in the streets of Damascus and other Syrian cities were the latest triumphal signal from a government widely described from outside as besieged or doomed. – Los Angeles Times
The Iraqi government has refused U.S. requests to stop Iranian cargo flights to Syria, despite being aware of credible intelligence that the planes are transporting up to 30 tons of weapons, according to a U.S. official. – Washington Times
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) continued his campaign Thursday for the United States and its allies to use airstrikes in Syria to stop the army of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. – DEFCON Hill
Despite some defense hawks' calls for military intervention in Syria, a new national survey shows a majority of Americans are opposed to bombing President Bashar al-Assad’s forces or arming the Syrian rebels in their fight against him. – National Journal
A trove of hacked emails that purport to be written by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, his wife and their advisers show a ruling family largely insulated from the violence enveloping the country. – Financial Times
Syrian forces pressed their military offensive in the northern province of Idlib, driving 1,000 refugees across the Turkish border as the bloody revolt against President Bashar al-Assad entered a second year with no sign of political solution. - Reuters
Turkey said on Thursday it might consider backing a 'buffer zone' inside Syria to cope with a flow of refugees across its border that has increased sharply with a Syrian government offensive against rebels in the nearby Idlib region. - Reuters
A Syrian general was among some 1,000 refugees who fled to Turkey in the last 24 hours, bringing the number of Syrian generals now in Turkey to seven, a Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Thursday. - Reuters
Kofi Annan, the joint U.N.-Arab League special envoy for Syria, remains in close contact with senior Syrian authorities, Russia and other powers over his proposals to end the fighting, his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said on Thursday. - Reuters
A joint team of Syrian, U.N. and Organization of Islamic Cooperation staff will begin visiting besieged Syrian towns this weekend to assess the humanitarian situation, U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos said on Thursday. - Reuters
Hadeel Kouki is a young Syrian activist who was detained and tortured by Bashar al-Assad’s regime for demanding her basic human rights. At the most recent session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, she spoke on behalf of Freedom House about her treatment by the regime and called on the Human Rights Council to take action to stop ongoing atrocities committed by the Syrian regime against its people. – Freedom at Issue
Max Boot writes: The need for a coalition is real, but plenty of international opposition has been raised to the Assad regime. Notwithstanding the lack of a U.N. resolution — blocked by Russia and China — Washington could assemble a coalition of the willing as President Bill Clinton did for Kosovo. But that will happen only if the Obama administration decides that action is called for and does not allow itself to be paralyzed by the Pentagon’s reluctance to intervene – Washington Post
The Obama administration plans to resume military aid to Egypt, American officials said on Thursday, signaling its willingness to remain deeply engaged with the generals now running the country despite concerns over abuses and a still-uncertain transition to democracy. – New York Times
Hundreds of heavily armed Bedouins, pressing to release kinsmen from Egyptian prisons, have peacefully blockaded a multinational observer mission in Egypt's Sinai Desert for six days, the mission said Thursday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Egypt’s general prosecutor charged 75 people on Thursday in connection with a deadly soccer melee in Port Said last month, including the city’s top police official. – New York Times
Josh Rogin reports: Meeting with Egyptian officials in Cairo Thursday, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) characterized the recent showdown over Egypt's prosecution of more than a dozen American NGO workers as a "bump in the road" that would not derail the two countries' longstanding ties. – The Cable
Shi'ite Muslims clashed with riot police in villages across Bahrain on Thursday, the anniversary of a government crackdown last year on a pro-democracy uprising in the Gulf Arab state. - Reuters
Josh Rogin reports: [Today], the State Department will notify Congress that the U.S. Navy is handing over 19 patrol boats it's no longer using to the government of Bahrain, but the State Department says arms sales to that country are still on hold due to human rights concerns. – The Cable
Sectarian tensions are also being exacerbated, here and across Iraq, by the chaos in Syria. Support for the mainly Sunni uprising is growing among some Sunnis, while the Baghdad government has carefully refrained from calling for President Bashar al-Assad, from the Shiite-offshoot Alawite sect, to step down. – Washington Post
The Kurdish leader in Iraq has vowed not to hand over the fugitive Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Iraqi lawmakers are expected to vote soon on a controversial proposal for a new national anthem that would alter the Arabic-language anthem to make room for verses in the minority Kurdish and Turkoman languages. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
An Iraqi Islamist group linked to al Qaeda claimed responsibility for attacks in western Iraq on March 5 that killed dozens of policemen, a statement posted on Islamist websites said late on Thursday. - Reuters
Israeli aircraft and Gaza rocket squads traded strikes across the border on Thursday as the Israeli prime minister blamed Iran for the violence from the Palestinian territory. – Associated Press


The U.S. suffered a major blow in Afghanistan as President Hamid Karzai made a surprise demand that the American-led coalition pull its troops from villages back to bases, opening a new rift that threatens the U.S. strategy in the country. – Wall Street Journal
The Pentagon acknowledged Thursday that a security breach during Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s visit to Afghanistan was much more serious than officials first reported, saying that an Afghan man tried to ram a stolen truck into a group of VIPs who were waiting to greet Panetta just moments after his plane landed at a military base. – Washington Post
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Thursday that he did not believe that the Afghan who crashed a stolen pickup truck near his plane, and then emerged from the truck in flames, was trying to attack him. But the Afghan was an interpreter working for coalition forces at the complex where Mr. Panetta was landing, raising the possibility that he knew someone of importance was arriving. – New York Times
An Afghan interpreter in a speeding truck tried to run down a top American commander and his British deputy, forcing the two and others to scatter as Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s plane taxied toward them at a military base in Afghanistan, defense officials said on Friday. – New York Times
The American staff sergeant suspected of killing 16 Afghan villagers had been drinking alcohol — a violation of military rules in combat zones — and suffering from the stress related to his fourth combat tour and tensions with his wife about the deployments on the night of the massacre, a senior American official said Thursday. – New York Times
The attorney for an Army staff sergeant who allegedly killed 16 Afghan villagers in a shooting spree said Thursday that he has urged his client, who is detained in Kuwait, not to discuss details over the phone because of worries that Army personnel could be eavesdropping. – Washington Post
Twelve Turkish soldiers were killed Friday when their helicopter crashed in the outskirts of Kabul, officials said. It was the deadliest incident for international troops in Afghanistan so far this year. – Washington Post
A new poll shows half of Americans calling for the United States to accelerate its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, days after a U.S. service member was alleged to have shot and killed 16 Afghan civilians. – DEFCON Hill
Afghans in restive parts of the country Thursday protested the removal of a U.S. soldier accused of killing 16 civilians while others said it will not cause problems if justice is served. – USA Today
U.S. spokesmen said the administration will press on with trying to reconcile Afghanistan’s government and Taliban forces willing to renounce terrorism, despite Thursday’s announcement by the militants that they were suspending contacts with the United States. – Associated Press
Now, Afghanistan has turned into Iraq: an inconclusive slog in which the United States cannot always tell enemy from friend. And as he did with Iraq, Obama has concluded that the fight in Afghanistan is best put to rest. Just as he patterned his troop surge in Afghanistan on a successful military strategy in Iraq, now Obama is basing his withdrawal from Afghanistan on the Iraq template as well. – Associated Press
Around the home base of the American soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians there is a sense of dedication to a tough job, but stress from years of battle in repeated tours in the "sand box" of Iraq and Afghanistan is eating away at troops. - Reuters
Symposium: In the wake of this weekend’s shootings by a U.S. soldier and the recent Koran burning incident, many in the United States—including leading GOP presidential candidates—are calling for the United States to accelerate its withdrawal from Afghanistan. What is the way forward for the U.S. in Afghanistan? We asked a number of experts and policymakers what the next steps for America should be - The Enterprise Blog

The unceremonious firing Thursday of Bo Xilai, the populist Communist Party chief of the southwestern mega-city of Chongqing, was seen by some observers here as a victory for China’s reformers and a stinging defeat for those known as the “new leftists,” for whom Bo had emerged as a champion. – Washington Post
The fall of a Communist Party leader who led a Maoist revival could inflame an increasingly public struggle for China's top leadership, as two opposing wings of the party elite angle for dominance. – Wall Street Journal
[T]he ouster on Thursday of Bo Xilai, the Communist Party secretary of Chongqing municipality who was openly campaigning for a spot in that elite leadership, threatens to puncture the veneer of comity at a crucial time, raising concerns of unsettling conflict within the Communist Party. – New York Times
China is holding back the approvals Chinese airlines need to buy 10 more Airbus A330 jetliners, a person close to the situation said Thursday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Human rights activists are concerned that a newly ratified Chinese criminal procedure law will officially sanction the torture and mistreatment of government critics. – LA Times’ World Now
China expressed its shock, joy and disappointment on Thursday as the ouster of a once-highflying Communist Party official became the first major Chinese political scandal to unfold in the era of social media. – WSJ’s China Real Time Report
Editorial: The irony is that Mr. Bo might have proved to be a real politician, capable of forging a public consensus for change. While the Communist Party had good reason to fear him, it may regret casting him out of the fold. There is growing recognition that a closed leadership can't cope with the complexity of an open market economy and an assertive public. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Editorial: The U.S. government and the private sector here and in Japan and Europe need to continue their efforts to diversify global sources of rare-earths. With luck, this strategic vulnerability will already be easing in a couple of years, which is about how much time it may take for the WTO to rule on the Obama administration’s complaint. – Washington Post
North Korea announced on Friday that it planned to launch a satellite into orbit next month, testing a technology that the United States and the United Nations Security Council have condemned as a cover for developing and testing long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles. – New York Times
North Korea’s increasingly spiteful vitriol against Mr. Lee — and South Korea’s tit-for-tat verbal jabs at the leadership of the North’s young new leader, Kim Jong-un — have raised concerns that the two sides are drifting further apart even as the North has moved to improve ties with the United States, the South’s closest ally. – New York Times
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has overseen an attack drill and ordered the military to “mercilessly wipe out” their enemies in case of war, Pyongyang’s official news agency said March 15. - AFP
Southeast Asia
Myanmar’s ministry of mining has rejected allegations of corruption raised in a government audit report that highlighted tensions within the government over efforts to tackle graft. – Financial Times
Indonesia said March 15 it had no problem with U.S. plans to station Marines in northern Australia as Canberra flagged the possibility of four-nation military drills with China. - AFP
Matthew Smith writes: Now is a crucial time for Myanmar’s ethnic minority populations. Ignoring their plight for fear of disrupting reforms will only stifle development and democracy in the long run. – International Herald Tribune
Central Asia
Kyrgyzstan’s flag has flown for 20 years since the country’s independence from the former Soviet Union - a tangible representation of the people’s history, heritage and pride, full of symbolism and meaning. There’s the rub. – Washington Times
A Kazakh newspaper editor critical of strongman President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been pardoned and released from jail, while dozens of other people were awaiting trial after Kazakhstan's worst violence in decades. - Reuters


House Republicans are planning to pull the defense-spending cuts mandated by sequestration off the table in their version of the budget expected to be released next week, according to two Hill aides. – National Journal
The Navy’s push to develop biofuels to run its fleet of planes and warships could devolve into a “Solyndra situation” for the Pentagon, a top Republican senator said [Thursday] – DEFCON Hill
Mackenzie Eaglen writes: Conventional wisdom holds that the Navy and Air Force escaped the budget drill mostly intact while the Army endured the bulk of cuts. But the truth is that all of the services are shrinking and aging under the Obama budget. – AOL Defense
The War
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Thursday demanded that the White House hand over documents that detail the administration’s legal case for killing U.S. citizens abroad who are believed to be terrorist threats. – DEFCON Hill
The hunt for Osama bin Laden took nearly a decade. It could take even longer to uncover U.S. government emails, planning reports, photographs and more that would shed light on how an elite team of Navy SEALs killed the world’s most wanted terrorist. – Associated Press
May Habeck writes: Any evaluation of al Qaeda's progress in achieving this objective would have to admit that the group has done far better here than expected, is a real threat in many of these countries, and will require far more effort than the U.S. or its allies is currently willing to exert if the extremists are to be stopped. – Shadow Government
Jack Goldsmith writes: [I]t’s now clear that Ratner and progressive activists like him have had an outsized impact on national security policy—though not exactly the one they would have wished…They ultimately helped cement the political and legal consensus in support of the counterterrorism policies that emerged at the end of the George W. Bush administration, and they enabled Barack Obama to continue those policies. By successfully challenging the government’s authority, Ratner and his friends mostly ended up strengthening it. In that irony lies the most important constitutional lesson of the last decade. – The New Republic
Nuclear Weapons
A Senate panel chairman on Wednesday questioned why the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration has withheld future funding figures for key atomic complex programs in its fiscal 2013 budget request, contrary to a reporting requirement in law – Global Security Newswire
Kenneth C. Brill and Kenneth N. Luongo write: Nuclear terrorism is a real and present danger for all states, not just a few. Preventing it is an achievable goal. The current focus on nuclear security through voluntary actions, however, is not commensurate with either the risk or consequences of nuclear terrorism. This must be rectified. If the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit makes this a priority, there can be an effective global nuclear security regime in place before this decade ends. – New York Times
FBI Director Robert Mueller said Thursday he is concerned about the potential for terrorists mounting cyber attacks and that the bureau is working "to stay ahead of these threats, both at home and abroad." – CNN’s Security Clearance


The Obama administration is pushing to free $50 million in long-stalled aid to promote democracy and civil society in Russia, an effort that comes amid a drumbeat of accusations that the United States is meddling in Russia’s internal politics. – New York Times
The husband of a prominent opposition leader was convicted a second time on fraud charges Thursday and sentenced to five years in a labor camp. Activists interpreted the sentence as a warning to protesters who have been demonstrating against Vladimir Putin. – Washington Post
EU lawmakers have adopted a resolution in which they "strongly criticize the shortcomings and irregularities in the preparation and conduct" of the Russian presidential election earlier this month. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The U.S. Senate Committee on Finance has held a hearing to consider the permanent normalization of trade with Russia, a move that the Obama administration and business leaders are pushing for, but which raises the sensitive issue of Moscow's human rights record. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Less than half of all Russians trust the official results of the election in which Vladimir Putin won a return to the presidency for a six-year term, a state-controlled polling agency said on Thursday. - Reuters
Josh Rogin reports: Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) announced in a hearing Thursday that he will mount an opposition to the repeal of U.S. trade sanctions on Russia, complicating the Obama administration's plan to repeal the 1974 Jackson-Vanik law. – The Cable
In a move seemingly taken from a Soviet dictator’s handbook, the government of Belarus has apparently started barring opponents of President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko from leaving the former Soviet republic. – New York Times
The mother of jailed Belarusian activist Syarhey Kavalenka has warned that her jailed son, who is on hunger strike, could die at any moment. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty


United States of America
Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Thursday decried the fact that the U.S. military is apparently buying tens of millions of dollars' worth of helicopters for the Afghan national army from the very same state-sponsored arms manufacturer in Russia that is weaponizing Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria. – DEFCON Hill
Charles Djou writes: Serving with the U.S. Army on a forward operating base in a violent combat zone in Afghanistan taught me many things. I have a newfound appreciation for basics like running water. I treasure, more than ever, time with my family. But mostly, I have a renewed respect and appreciation for the men and women who place themselves in harm’s way to answer our country’s call. - Politico
South America
Argentina said Thursday it plans to go after any company involved in oil exploration off the disputed Falkland Islands, the latest in a series of moves by Argentina to ramp up the quarrel ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


East Africa
Ethiopian forces have stormed into Eritrea, the Ethiopian government announced on Thursday, attacking several militant bases and stirring new tensions between the two archrivals. – New York Times
The assault on the Ugandan legislators on a fact-finding mission last week was the latest flare-up in a long-running border dispute that dates back years before South Sudan became the world’s newest nation in July 2011. The squabble, which South Sudan inherited from Sudan, is threatening security and trade between Uganda and its northern neighbor. – Washington Times
A group screening a popular video about fugitive African rebel leader Joseph Kony suspended showings in northern Uganda after angry viewers pelted members with stones and callers to radio stations objected to the portrayal of victims in the conflict. – Wall Street Journal
Bomb attacks in Nigeria, Kenya and Somalia rose in 2011 as al-Qaida-affiliated terror groups used more sophisticated devices to kill more people with each explosion, the Pentagon’s anti-IED unit said. – Associated Press
West Africa
Nigeria's government has in the last week held its first indirect peace talks with Islamist sect Boko Haram, meeting mediators to discuss a possible ceasefire, political and diplomatic sources told Reuters on Thursday. - Reuters

Democracy and Human Rights

The economic transformation of Arab Spring countries will take a long time and won't immediately produce more and better jobs, the head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said on Thursday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Sunday Shows

As of publication, the following shows had announced that they will host foreign policy-related guests on their programming, Sunday:
Meet the Press: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), George Clooney

Mission Statement

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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