FPI Overnight Brief: April 1, 2011

Libya

Officials at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which early Thursday assumed control of allied operations to enforce the United Nations mandate in Libya, said they aren't considering arming Libyan rebels. Simmering debate in Washington and Europe about whether to arm rebel groups and intensified amid the opposition's recent retreat from territory they had gained under the umbrella of coalition airstrikes. – Wall Street Journal

President Obama’s top two national security officials signaled on Thursday that the United States was unlikely to arm the Libyan rebels, raising the possibility that the French alone among the Western allies would provide weapons and training for the poorly organized forces fighting Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s government. – New York Times

An operation billed as a humanitarian intervention in Libya by President Obama was described in starkly more military terms Thursday by the administration’s top two defense officials. – Washington Post

Anxiety seized the Qaddafi government on Thursday over the second defection in as many days of a senior official close to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, stirring talk of others to follow and a crackdown to stop them. – New York Times

U.S. and British officials hailed the defection of Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa as evidence that the regime of Moammar Gaddafi is crumbling, as rumors swirled around the Libyan capital Thursday that as many as 15 top regime officials had fled to Tunisia and were seeking refuge in the West. – Washington Post

Libyan dissidents and relatives of those killed in the bombing of an airliner over Scotland in 1988 said Thursday that Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s former foreign minister must be held accountable for his suspected role in acts of terrorism, despite his defection from the regime – Washington Times

The Pentagon said it would soon withdraw jet fighters and ground-attack planes from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led air campaign in Libya, a move that U.S. lawmakers warned could make the airstrikes less effective in preventing Moammar Kadafi's forces from attacking opposition-held areas. – Los Angeles Times

The rebels battling Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi are suffering from significant military shortcomings, including a shortage of trained fighters, a limited ability to control their own troops and growing problems for Western warplanes trying to distinguish between Libyan army forces and civilians. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Members of the NATO alliance have sternly warned the rebels in Libya not to attack civilians as they push against the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, according to senior military and government officials. – New York Times

Even under NATO command, the U.S. military will do the bulk of the fighting in Libya — even as the Obama administration argues that this is Europe’s conflict to lead, not America’s. The number of U.S. warplanes and ships deployed to fight Libya’s regime underscores that NATO’s other 27 members do not have the firepower and high-tech targeting capability to go solo or with little U.S. help. – Washington Times

The U.S. was locked in a new row with Libya on Thursday over Col. Moammar Gadhafi's attempt to name a former Nicaraguan foreign minister as his ambassador to the United Nations. – Wall Street Journal

The nascent rebel effort in eastern Libya, sustained for weeks by revolutionary passion and zeal, has begun to fray in the face of chaotic battlefield collapses and ineffective leadership. – Los Angeles Times

Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city and the stronghold of the uprising that swept through the nation six weeks ago, is suspended in a delicate balance between exuberance and apprehension. – Washington Post

The opening of arms depots by rebel fighters and Libyan government troops has raised concerns that shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles of the SA-7 Strela type could find their way into the hands of terrorists, a French defense official said March 31. – Defense News

British media reports say an envoy of Muammar Qaddafi's government has been in London for secret talks aimed at mapping out an exit strategy for the Libyan leader. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

British officials told a senior Libyan aide who visited London that leader Muammar Gaddafi had to step down as part of any settlement, sources said on Friday. - Reuters

Libyan rebels moved heavier weaponry toward the oil town of Brega on Friday and sought to marshal rag-tag units into a more disciplined force to regain momentum against Muammar Gaddafi's regular army. – Reuters

More than 400 people have gone missing in east Libya since the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi began six weeks ago, many feared killed or captured by government forces, human rights officials say. - Reuters

There is no doubt the outcome in Tripoli will have a bearing on the fate of the popular movement for change across the Arab world. But because this war was born in Paris it will also have consequences for Europe. - Reuters

Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) write: If there is any hope for a decent government to emerge from the ashes of the Gadhafi dictatorship, this is it. Throwing our weight behind the transitional government is our best chance to prevent Libya's unraveling into postwar anarchy—precisely the circumstance under which Islamist extremists are most likely to gain a foothold. We cannot guarantee the success of the Libyan revolution, but we have prevented what was, barely a week ago, its imminent destruction. That is why the president was right to intervene. He now deserves our support as we and our coalition partners do all that is necessary to help the Libyan people secure a future of freedom. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Ali Suleiman Aujali writes: Let us be clear what this battle is about: We are fighting extremism and terrorism, and we are fighting for freedom and self-determination. After 40 years, we have no interest in trading one kind of terrorist for another. We want the same rights as any free people: the freedom to select our leaders, the freedom to speak our minds, the freedom to live without fear. We have no tolerance for al-Qaeda or any other group that acts contrary to these goals. But we need help. With a brutal counterattack underway, the opposition to Moammar Gaddafi needs more help — quickly — to protect civilian lives and preserve the foothold of a free Libya. – Washington Post

Yemen

Negotiations between Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and opponents who want him to resign have reached a stalemate over his demand for a guarantee that his relatives won't be shut out of the military and politics after he quits. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

For 32 years, Ali Abdullah Saleh and Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar have controlled this poor but strategic Middle East nation, the former as its ubiquitous president and the latter as its invisible yet most influential military leader. Now, they are engaged in a highly personal battle to shape the future of Yemen and their own places in history. – Washington Post

Yemenis on Thursday commemorated dozens of people killed in weeks of street protests demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh resign, while efforts continued to negotiate his exit from power within the next year. - Reuters

Syria

The Syrian government, in a gesture to protesters who have shaken the country for the past 13 days, announced Thursday that it will draw up new anti-terrorism legislation as a first step toward lifting the country’s 48-year-old emergency rule. – Washington Post

As Syria braced for renewed antigovernment demonstrations, the government announced new measures on Thursday seemingly aimed at addressing the protesters’ demands. – New York Times

Even as President Obama lays out his vision of America's obligations to civilians menaced by their own governments, the limits of what some are calling an "Obama Doctrine" are evident in his differing approaches to Libya and another Arab country in turmoil: Syria. – Los Angeles Times

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has a new American critic. On Thursday, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, rapped Mr. Assad for not following through on his recent commitments to initiate political reforms. – Washington Wire

Lachen Achy analyzes: Syria's economic challenges are feeding the population's growing anger, which recently led to protests in the south and are creating a nationwide uprising. – Babylon and Beyond

Charles Krauthammer writes: Our ambassador in Damascus should demand to meet the demonstrators and visit the wounded. If refused, he should be recalled to Washington. And rather than “deplore the crackdown,” as did Clinton in her walk-back, we should be denouncing it in forceful language and every available forum, including the U.N. Security Council. No one is asking for a Libya-style rescue. Just simple truth-telling. If Kerry wants to make a fool of himself by continuing to insist that Assad is an agent of change, well, it’s a free country. But Clinton speaks for the nation. – Washington Post

Mustafa Nour writes: Because of [Assad’s] speech, many of those Syrians who called for reform will now begin calling for regime change. – New York Times

Middle East

While regional attention is riveted by the ongoing unrest in Libya, Syria and Yemen, the government of Bahrain has been left in relative peace by the international community to continue its crackdown against the anti-government protest movement there, human rights groups say. – Babylon and Beyond

Bahrain released a prominent blogger but detained several people, including a pro-opposition doctor, the latest in a series of arrests since the kingdom's crackdown on street protests, opposition sources said on Friday. - Reuters

Bahrain has stepped up arrests of cyber activists and Shi'ites, with more than 300 detained and dozens missing since it launched a crackdown on pro-democracy protests, the opposition said on Thursday. - Reuters

Egypt

A committee set up by Egypt's military rulers will travel to Europe aiming to recover frozen assets belonging to deposed President Hosni Mubarak and other leading officials, the state news agency said on Thursday. - Reuters

Kuwait

Kuwait's cabinet resigned as expected Thursday to avoid a grilling by parliament of three ministers, all members of the ruling al-Sabah family, amid calls for political and economic reform. - Reuters

Iran

Political activist and journalist Reza Alijani has been summoned to Iran's Intelligence Ministry, the latest activist to receive a summons in recent weeks. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Interview:  Hassan Yousefi Eshkevari, a prominent Iranian religious scholar, has called for a debate among intellectuals and political activists about the safety of nuclear facilities in earthquake-prone Iran...Eshkevari, an outspoken critic of the Iranian establishment who was jailed and defrocked in Iran, speaks to RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari from Germany, where he has resided for the past three years. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Israel

President Obama will host Israeli President Shimon Peres to the White House next week for a working lunch, the administration announced late Thursday afternoon. – The Hill

A bipartisan congressional letter condemning Palestinian incitement of violence against Israel gained 46 signatures from key members of Congress, according to a list of signers obtained by The Hill. – The Hill

The Israeli military on Thursday released a map detailing what it says are nearly 1,000 underground bunkers, weapons storage facilities and monitoring sites built by the militant Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon. – Associated Press

Israel's State Comptroller said on Thursday he would investigate allegations of improper private funding of overseas trips Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife made before he became prime minister in 2009. - Reuters

Turkey

Turkish security forces killed seven Kurdish militants early Friday after a large group of PKK fighters crossed over the border from Syria, Turkish military officials said. - Reuters

Afghanistan

New Kabul City - a shiny new multibillion-dollar project - sounds like a pipe dream to people living practically on top of each other in Afghanistan’s war-battered capital, where most streets are unpaved and security forces are on constant watch for suicide bombers. But urban planners, investors and government officials working to develop the modern urban area about a 30-minute drive north of Kabul say it will be home to an estimated 1.5 million people when it’s completed in 2025. – Associated Press

Craig Charney and James Dobbins write: If Afghans are more optimistic about the future than Americans are, it is because they make their judgments the same way Americans do, by comparing their present circumstances to their past and projecting that trend forward. The difference is that most Afghans are better off now than in the recent past, while most Americans are not. Consequently, they are optimistic — and we are the opposite. – Washington Post

Pakistan

A prominent Islamist politician escaped an assassination attempt on Thursday in northwestern Pakistan, the second in two days, as a suicide bomb ripped through his convoy, killing at least 12 people and injuring more than 30, police officials said. – New York Times

Lisa Curtis writes: The strongest case for moving Indian-Pakistani dialogue forward is to improve prospects for Pakistan's future. Islamist extremists whose lifeblood is regional conflict are strengthening their grip in Pakistan. Taking steps that restore confidence and trust in Indian-Pakistani relations will help inoculate Islamabad from extremist forces that threaten to reverse economic and democratic progress and undermine the stability of the state. – Afpak Channel

China

The Chinese military said Thursday that while the security situation in Asia and the Pacific was generally stable, it was becoming “more intricate and volatile,” with no clear solutions for tension points like the divided Korean Peninsula and with the United States increasing its involvement in regional issues. – New York Times

Chinese paramilitary police crushed a five-day protest by up to 2,000 Chinese villagers who complained that they weren't being paid enough to relocate for one of China's largest hydroelectric power projects, according to local officials. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

China said Thursday its army chief of staff would visit the U.S. in May, as the two countries try to bolster military relations amid their growing rivalry. - AFP

A Chinese-born Australian writer missing for several days in southern China has resurfaced, saying he is OK and apologizing for causing trouble. – Associated Press

Kelley Currie writes: Contrary to the fantasy promoted by China's fan club on Wall Street and the New York Times editorial page (looking at you, Tom Friedman), the fundamentally authoritarian quality of the Chinese government does matter when we sit down to negotiate on everything from Iran to currency matters to the environment. It should be plainly obvious by now that a government that compulsively ignores its own laws in order to brutalize its own citizens will hardly feel bound by any agreements it reaches with its frenemies in Washington. If we aren't willing to confront the Chinese government over its abusive behavior at home, the least we can do is stop deluding ourselves about who and what that government really is, even when it is sitting across the table from us. – The Weekly Standard Blog

Taiwan

John Lee writes: Greater economic and social integration with the mainland is inevitable. But Taipei's decision to accelerate integration is not an unthinking one. There is a plan. Taiwanese are well aware that the mainland's apparent largesse is an act of economic seduction designed to accelerate eventual reunification on Beijing's terms. But Taipei believes increased integration can lead to a different endgame—one that will strengthen the prospect of Taiwanese preserving their democratic way of life. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

India

India Thursday released the first results of a new census showing that the world's second-most populous nation added 181 million people—equivalent to about five Canadas—in the past decade to reach a total of 1.21 billion. – Wall Street Journal

Vietnam

Vietnam has increased repression of indigenous minority Christians in the country’s Central Highlands, closing small informal churches, compelling public renunciations of faith and arresting worshipers, Human Rights Watch said in a report on Thursday. – New York Times

Russia

Russian police detained dozens of anti-Kremlin protesters as they tried to demonstrate for the right to assemble on Triumph Square in central Moscow. Similar protests and detentions were reported in St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

The Russian government this week released the first preliminary results from last year's census, so far confirming a long-running demographic crisis and sparking debate about the latest headcount's accuracy and the government's response. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

United Kingdom

Former Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, having defected to the U.K., faces possible prosecution there after the government said he wouldn't receive immunity. At the same time, Scottish law officials said they wanted to interview Mr. Koussa, a former longtime intelligence spy chief, in connection with the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. – Wall Street Journal

Belarus

Belarus's central bank ruled out a sharp devaluation of the country's currency, even as the International Monetary Fund and a top-level government official said such a move may be needed. The announcement came amid a heightened level of worry in Minsk, where local residents stocked up on metro tokens and gasoline amid fears that the Belarussian ruble will lose its value. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

The European Union says it will continue to press for the release of all political prisoners in Belarus following Minsk's decision to soften the charges against two former presidential candidates. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Georgia

The International Court of Justice have declined to hear a case filed by Georgia accusing Russia of ethnic cleansing in Georgia's breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Georgian police said they found three bombs outside government buildings in the ex-Soviet republic's second-largest city on Thursday, and blamed Russia. - Reuters

Ukraine

Taras Kuzio writes: The U.S. Embassy cables from Ukraine leaked recently by the website WikiLeaks prompt two observations. The first is that the embassy believed Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych had changed from what he was during the 2004 election, when he sought to come to power through election fraud. The second is that U.S. officials believed Yulia Tymoshenko was not a better option than Yanukovych in the 2010 presidential election. One cable quotes former President Leonid Kuchma as saying the 2010 election was one of "choosing between bad and very bad" -- with Tymoshenko allegedly being the latter. Both of these positions were fundamentally wrong -- especially as seen from the hindsight of Yanukovych's first year in power. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Africa

The end of the Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo‘s rule appeared to be nearing on Friday as his rival’s troops pressed into the country’s main city of Abidjan, his own army chief of staff abandoned his post and his opponents claimed substantial defections of his troops and police officers. – New York Times

According to the United Nations, more than 100,000 people have fled to Liberia, an exodus visible in the women with bundles on their heads and babies on their backs, trudging on or sitting exhausted by trail sides. And as the struggle over Ivory Coast spills beyond its borders, many fear it will rattle a region still trying to recover from its own history of civil war. – New York Times

Presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara's forces battled loyalists of incumbent Laurent Gbagbo on Friday after attacking his Abidjan residence and seizing control of Ivory Coast's state television, a Ouattara spokesman said. - Reuters

Josh Rogin reports: As Washington focuses its attention on the international military intervention in Libya, a top State Department official emphasized that the tragedy unfolding in the Ivory Coast has not been forgotten. But an armed intervention similar to the Libya war is not called for, he said. – The Cable

Editorial: As the fighting in Abidjan intensified Thursday, the State Department delivered another useful statement warning Mr. Gbagbo that if there is “major violence” in Abidjan because he does not step aside, he and those around him will be held responsible. In the end, the strongman must be pushed out by force if necessary. But once that happens, Mr. Ouattara should be prepared to reach out to Mr. Gbagbo’s supporters, as he has suggested he would do. Stability in Ivory Coast will require not just the end of the Gbagbo regime, but also a concerted process of national reconciliation. – Washington Post

United States of America

The U.S. military's involvement in Libya likely can be paid for by amending a war-funding request already submitted to Congress, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told lawmakers Thursday. – The Hill

A pair of House Republicans on Wednesday moved to force the Obama administration to use funds from other federal accounts to pay for the Libyan military campaign. – The Hill

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is pressuring the Obama administration to condition recognition of the Libyan rebellion on the Lockerbie bomber's return to prison. – The Hill

Even if it isn't official, the U.S. is very much involved in regime change in Libya, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) said Thursday. – The Hill

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said Thursday that CIA involvement in Libya is not akin to military boots on the ground. – The Hill

Sen. Marco Rubio’s call to authorize President Obama to take action to remove Libyan dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi would be a "rash" mistake, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday. – The Hill

Mexico

Aided by technology and intelligence from the United States, including overflights by drone aircraft and sophisticated software to eavesdrop on cellphone calls, Mexican forces have hit the La Familia drug cartel harder than any other criminal organization in Mexico. 19 Now, for the first time, Mexican officials are declaring that a major cartel is on the brink of collapse. – Washington Post

Locked in a grueling and bloody war with drug cartels, Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Thursday replaced the nation's top legal official, whose lackluster stint had failed to improve paltry narcotics conviction rates or stem human rights abuses. – Los Angeles Times

Six Mexican drug cartels would be labeled as terrorist groups under legislation introduced Thursday by a Texas Republican. – The Hill

Colombia

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos told U.S. business leaders in Bogotá Wednesday that he has "reasons to be optimistic" that a deal on a long-stalled U.S.-Colombia trade pact is in the offing. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Venezuela

The U.S. and its ideological foe Venezuela are in a bitter fight over the extradition of Walid "The Turk" Makled, an alleged cocaine kingpin currently jailed in Colombia. And Venezuela appears to have the upper hand. – Wall Street Journal

Defense

The European Union plans to appeal as soon as Friday parts of a World Trade Organization ruling that aircraft maker Boeing Co. received billions of dollars in illegal subsidies from U.S. federal and state governments, EU officials said. – Wall Street Journal

As the U.S. Navy begins to design the SSBN(X) — the next class of ballistic-missile submarines — the service needs to define requirements with a keen eye toward life-cycle costs and tube-launching options, according to former Navy officers. – Aviation Week

The commander of the wing in charge of F-35 training was relieved of command Thursday following an investigation into personal misconduct – Military Times

The U.S. Army is once again having problems acquiring a new intelligence-collection aircraft, and this latest snag is likely to squelch its plan to field the new system by mid-2012. – Aviation Week

Northrop Grumman has completed the spin-off of its shipbuilding unit Huntington Ingalls Industries, the defense contractor said March 31. - Reuters

Josh Rogin reports: With the United States embroiled in three wars and global instability on the rise, the House GOP is entrenched in an internal battle over whether to push for cuts to the defense budget next year. The battle pits the head of the Armed Services Committee against Tea Party freshmen, with the House GOP leadership caught squarely in the middle. – The Cable

Josh Rogin reports: As Congress struggles to negotiate a budget deal to keep the government running, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) told lawmakers Wednesday that the GOP version of the budget bill would result in the deaths of at least 70,000 children who depend on American food and health assistance around the world. – The Cable

Obama Administration

Laura Rozen reports: Last Thursday March 24th, President Barack Obama, just back from a five-day trip to Latin America, convened his national security team for a White House meeting on Libya…The Thursday meeting appeared as a sort of afterthought in the publicly announced March 24 schedule for the president: "Also in the afternoon, the President will meet with his national security team to review our efforts in Libya." But the confab stretched from the afternoon into evening--and by the time it wound down, CIA Director Leon Panetta had offered to send CIA personnel covertly to work on the ground in Libya. – The Envoy

Elliott Abrams writes: Mr. Gates is a short-timer and apparently now feels free to escape White House discipline and substitute himself for the President.  If that is his view he should resign his post now.  The right answer – indeed the only acceptable answer – to the question about “boots on the ground” was “The President will make that decision.” – Pressure Points

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