FPI Overnight Brief: April 11, 2012

Middle East/North Africa

Iranian security forces have arrested an Israeli-backed “terrorist team” that was planning attacks inside Iran, the Intelligence Ministry announced Tuesday, four days before crucial nuclear talks with world powers. – Washington Post
Faced with diminished demand for Iranian oil because of economic sanctions, Iran’s president proclaimed defiantly on Tuesday that the country had such plentiful reserves of money that it could survive for years without exporting any oil. – New York Times
Iran's oil production could fall almost 15 percent this year due to reduced foreign investment, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Tuesday in a report highlighting the growing strain on Tehran's oil sector even before factoring in the effect of new sanctions. - Reuters
Iran has cut oil exports to Spain and may halt sales to Germany and Italy, Iran's English-language state television reported on Tuesday, in an apparent move to strengthen its position ahead of crucial talks with world powers later this week. - Reuters
China's ZTE Corp, which recently sold Iran's largest telecommunications firm a powerful surveillance system, later agreed to ship to Iran millions of dollars worth of embargoed U.S. computer equipment, documents show. - Reuters
Japanese trading houses will cut Iranian crude imports from April, industry sources said on Tuesday, in the latest sign that Western sanctions are curbing the flow of Tehran's oil to its biggest customers in Asia. - Reuters
With the deadline for a cease-fire in Syria less than a day away, Kofi Annan, the high-profile special envoy who devised the timetable for a truce, on Wednesday urged Iran, Syria’s main regional ally, to support the peace effort and cautioned against arming rebel forces, saying that further militarization of the conflict would be “disastrous.” – New York Times
The Syrian peace plan that was brokered under United Nations auspices appeared to be on life support on Tuesday, with Syria disregarding the initial step of returning its security forces to their barracks and senior diplomats around the world preparing for an ever more unlikely cease-fire set for Thursday. – New York Times
Kofi Annan, the United Nations-Arab League envoy to Syria, told the U.N. Security Council that he was "gravely concerned at the course of events" in the crisis-ridden Middle East nation, after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad failed to withdraw troops from cities and towns by Tuesday's deadline – CNN’s Security Clearance
Syria has assured the United Nations it will respect a ceasefire with rebels due to take effect in less than 24 hours, peace envoy Kofi Annan said on Wednesday, but President Bashar al-Assad's forces kept up attacks in several cities. - Reuters
Syria forces are not complying with a deal to halt violence and world powers should take a strong stand if a U.N. ceasefire plan fails, including imposing an arms embargo, a spokeswoman for the opposition Syrian National Council said on Tuesday - Reuters
France denounced Syria's assurance that its forces were complying with a U.N.-backed ceasefire deal as a "blatant lie" and urged foreign governments on Tuesday to challenge President Bashar al-Assad's administration. - Reuters
Josh Rogin reports: Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) are on a surprise trip to the Turkish-Syrian border to meet with leaders of the Free Syria Army and visit Syrian refugees, who have been under attack by Syrian government forces. – The Cable
Peter Feaver writes: On Syria, no one is leading, not yet anyway. Perhaps the cross-border violence will finally prod Turkey into leading and, if so, perhaps the "Libyan model" will lead the Obama administration into acting. But until then, the Libyan lesson may simply be this: When no one leads, no one follows, and when no one follows, the international community does not act. – Shadow Government
Bruce Jones writes: Right now, the so-called international community faces all bad choices, and Assad has the choice of continued slaughter -- in slow motion or high gear. If and when diplomacy does finally fail, the decision to form a multinational force to protect civilians could turn the tables and confront Assad's supporters with bad choices of their own. – Foreign Policy
North Africa
An administrative court on Tuesday suspended a committee appointed to draft a new constitution, all but guaranteeing that Egypt will elect a president before it ratifies a new charter, and raising the stakes in the race. – New York Times
As the Obama administration scurries for clues about Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, analysts are split about whether the group would institute a strict brand of law known as sharia that could undercut Washington-Cairo relations. – US News and World Report’s DOTMIL
Tunisia is known as the birthplace of the Arab Spring, the country where a distraught fruit seller who set himself on fire launched a wave of uprisings that is reshaping the Middle East. Now, new protests are sweeping the North African nation along with renewed complaints of repression, another sign of the unrest that still grips the region. – LA Times’ World Now
A bomb was thrown at a convoy carrying the head of the United Nations mission to Libya on Tuesday, a U.N. spokeswoman said, but no one was hurt in the explosion. - Reuters
Matthew Kaminski writes: For democracy to stick in the Middle East—as it has in Europe, where today's Christian Democrats were some of the religious populists of the 1930s—Islamists will need to mature politically. The next, tough step will be to get them and their countries to that second free election without any detours. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Gulf States
Calm has mostly been restored to Bahrain's capital, Manama, where authorities put down a mass Arab Spring uprising early last year with the backing of Saudi troops. But clashes like the recent one in Sitra are widespread in small towns and villages across the country, threatening the prospect for political dialogue between the country's Sunni rulers and the mostly Shiite opposition. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
A jailed leader of Bahrain's pro-democracy protests is in "good condition" despite two months on hunger strike, the state news agency BNA said on Tuesday, but added his life could be at risk if he keeps refusing food and medication. - Reuters
A prominent Saudi rights campaigner, who has been detained for a year, is not on hunger strike, an Interior Ministry spokesman said in response to activists saying he was in deteriorating health and Saudi authorities were to blame. - Reuters
Simon Henderson writes: The advanced age of Saudi Arabia's ruling elite virtually ensures that the kingdom will undergo a series of leadership changes in the coming years, throwing an already troubled region into further turmoil. With Syria burning, Yemen in chaos, and Iran possibly inflamed by sanctions and diplomatic pressures, foreign capitals view Saudi Arabia's immediate future with unsurprising nervousness. – Foreign Policy
Heavy clashes overnight between al Qaeda-linked militants and the Yemeni military in the country’s south have killed 63 people, bringing the two-day death toll in the fighting to 127, army officials said Tuesday. – Associated Press
At least 25 militants were killed early on Wednesday in a third day of fighting with Yemeni troops in the south of the country, residents and local officials said. - Reuters
Iran is promoting a fundamentalist cleric close to its supreme leader as a possible successor for the aging spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shiites in a move that would give Tehran a powerful platform to influence its neighbor, according to sources close to Iraq’s religious leadership. – Associated Press
Israel's government is scrambling to find ways to save some of the unauthorized West Bank settlements it once promised to dismantle, including some that are built partly on private Palestinian land. – Los Angeles Times



A long-term security partnership and the presence of U.S. forces beyond the end of 2014 will be needed to ensure Afghanistan’s stability and “give the right messages” to both its population and its enemies, Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said Tuesday. – Washington Post
Afghanistan’s defense minister said Tuesday that his government and the international coalition paying for the war effort had agreed in principle that Afghan security forces would undergo a significant reduction to about 230,000 personnel after the NATO mission ends in 2014. – New York Times
Top Afghan security officials outlined a series of steps Tuesday to prevent attacks by Afghan security forces on U.S. and international troops, a rising cause of death among allied service members. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Afghan officials say a deadly car bomb that went off in Herat on Tuesday is believed to have been meant for the governor of the western province. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
U.S. military commanders are pushing to reopen key supply routes through Pakistan and expand logistics lines in central Asia as the Army begins to draw down from Afghanistan. – Military Times
While successive attacks by rogue Afghan security forces against NATO allies worry Western commanders, less-known incidents of Afghan-on-Afghan violence within the security forces point to Taliban infiltration nearer to home. - Reuters
Paul Miller writes: The United States and United Nations should work with the Afghans instead to push for a grand political bargain that could actually make a difference in the counterinsurgency against the Taliban: a new Loya Jirga to amend the constitution, devolve power, adjust the electoral calendar, change the voting system, and invite the Taliban to form a political party. Neither Kabul nor the international community stands to gain from holding another round of elections, but a new political bargain can break the paralysis in Kabul and break the logjam in talks with the Taliban. – Shadow Government
A gathering of young people in a hookah bar, an annual kite-flying festival heralding the arrival of spring, and an outbreak of deadly sectarian violence. These three scenarios share an unlikely nexus: They have all been declared subject to a catch-all law that allows Pakistani authorities to restore “public order.” – Washington Post
Rebecca MacKinnon writes: As in Pakistan, Tunisian and Egyptian human rights activists are concerned that any censorship mechanisms, once put in place, will inevitably be abused for political purposes no matter what censorship proponents claim to the contrary. Whether anti-censorship activists in those countries and beyond succeed in the same way their Pakistani comrades did depends on whether they can devise a winning strategy that fits their own countries' political, economic, and religious circumstances.  The struggle for Internet freedom may be global, but stands the highest chance of success when driven locally. – Foreign Policy
North Korea on Wednesday further burnished new leader Kim Jong Eun, naming him as first secretary of the Workers’ Party, a newly created position that seemingly places him atop the party, the country’s state-run media said. – Washington Post
North Korea said on Tuesday that it had completed preparations to launch a satellite into orbit, as South Korea and other Asian nations told their airlines and ships to change their routes to avoid the North Korean rocket. – New York Times
The United States and its allies are deploying missile defenses on land and sea so they can, if necessary, shoot down a multistage rocket that North Korea says it will launch within a few days. – Washington Times
[I]n advance of Wednesday’s parliamentary elections, both of South Korea’s major parties, beset by fresh controversies, have squandered the sense that they are offering something new, pundits say. – Washington Post
It's what administration officials refer to as the North Korean "two-step," in which one daring act by Pyongyang is followed by another. This time, Washington and its allies are expecting North Korea to conduct a third nuclear bomb test shortly after the launch. – CNN’s Security Clearance
While no one knows if North Korea’s upcoming rocket launch will be a terrifying commemoration of Kim Il Sung’s 100th birthday or if the missile will sputter and die in the sea like the last launch, Japanese airlines aren’t taking any chances with their upcoming flight schedules. – WSJ’s Japan Real Time
Impoverished North Korea rejected international protests over its planned long-range rocket launch and said on Wednesday that it was injecting fuel "as we speak", meaning it could blast off as early as Thursday. - Reuters
Recent satellite images show North Korea is digging a new tunnel in what appears to be preparation for a third nuclear test, according to South Korean intelligence officials. – Associated Press
The U.N. Security Council should agree on a credible response if North Korea flouts U.N. resolutions banning Pyongyang from using ballistic missile technology, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said on Tuesday. - Reuters
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned on Tuesday that history points to "additional provocations" from North Korea after its expected rocket launch this week, suggesting isolated Pyongyang feared closer relations with the outside world. - Reuters
The U.S. human rights envoy for North Korea said Tuesday conditions in the communist country's "brutal" prison camps are worse than in the Soviet Union's gulag during the Cold War. – Associated Press
South Koreans voted on Wednesday in parliamentary elections that pit the ruling conservatives and their "Queen of Elections" against the mostly liberal Twitter generation of younger voters, and the outcome could hinge on how many turn out to cast ballots. - Reuters
Editorial: Perhaps after this episode, too, the United States can finally face the fact that seeking to negotiate deals with North Korea is invariably counterproductive. The administration explained this latest bargain by saying it wished to test the intentions of the new leader. When the missile is launched, it will have a clear understanding. – Washington Post
Bo Xilai, a charismatic politician once headed for top office, was dismissed from his Communist Party positions and his glamorous wife detained as a suspect in the killing of a British businessman, in the biggest crisis to shake China's leadership in decades. – Wall Street Journal
The Chinese state media left no doubt Wednesday about their view of Bo Xilai, the charismatic son of a revolutionary and until recently one of China's most powerful people. – Los Angeles Times
Ni Yulan, a rights advocate who was crippled by abuse in prison and was later left homeless on the streets of Beijing, was sentenced by a Chinese court on Tuesday to a new prison term of two years and eight months, an advocacy group said. – New York Times
Chinese social media sites exploded late Tuesday evening after state media announced that ousted former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai had been stripped of his party positions and that his wife was a suspect in the death of a British businessman. – WSJ’s China Real Time Report
A Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team said it has no evidence that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi had any role in the 2002 deadly religious riots in the western Indian state, a local court reviewing the report said. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Southeast Asia
The Philippine government said its newest warship is locked in a standoff with two Chinese surveillance vessels in a fresh dispute over fishing rights in the resource-rich South China Sea, potentially escalating an already-tense security environment in the contested region. – Wall Street Journal
The Malaysian government introduced legislation on Tuesday that would limit the time it could detain people suspected of security-related offenses without formal charges to 28 days. The bill would replace the Internal Security Act, a law enacted decades ago that allows indefinite detention without trial. – New York Times
[A]ctivists who have spent their lives campaigning against [Malaysia]’s feared laws – which once allowed for indefinite detention without trial – say the new laws are not going far enough to guarantee protections for political dissidents. – WSJ’s Southeast Asia Real Time
The Philippines and China traded diplomatic protests on Wednesday over a standoff in a jointly claimed area in the South China Sea, but Manila ruled out the use of force in its enforcement of local maritime laws. - Reuters
Editorial: Mr. Najib raised expectations last year when he promised to lead Malaysia into a new era of free and fair political competition. So far he is barely keeping up with society's demands for change. He deserves credit for overcoming resistance from the reactionary wing of UMNO and dragging the party into the modern era. The voters will soon have a chance to decide whether they trust Mr. Najib enough to give him a mandate to do more, or whether the opposition should take his reforms to fruition. – Wall Street Journal Asia (subscription required)


Upgrades for the U.S. Air Force’s B-1 and B-2 bomber forces have passed major milestones with production of a new navigation system beginning for the B-1 and validation of a computer upgrade for the B-2 recently completed. – Aviation Week
The likely pick for next Air Force Chief of Staff possesses acquisition experience and would bring a vibrant leader and strong communicator to head the nation's air and space force. – AOL Defense
The U.S. Navy said April 10 it grounded its fleet of unmanned MQ-8B Fire Scout helicopters after what it termed “two unrelated operational mishaps” with the aircraft. - AFP
Nuclear Weapons/Arms Control
The debate over the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) is heating up following the release of a National Academy of Sciences report, which says the United States is able to maintain a safe and effective nuclear weapons stockpile without testing. – Defense News
The United States has hundreds more nuclear weapons deployed and aircraft capable of dropping atomic bombs than Russia, according to State Department data released Tuesday – US News and World Report’s DOTMIL
Leaders of the House Intelligence Committee moved on Tuesday to head off civil-liberties concerns over proposed cybersecurity legislation. – National Journal
Key vulnerabilities in the communication and computer networks among U.S. allies are hamstringing Pentagon plans to develop critical cyberwarfare capabilities with those partner nations. – DEFCON Hill
International cooperation on developing better tools and methods to prevent cyberattacks is being undermined by poor computer security among U.S. allies, a senior Pentagon official said Tuesday. – Associated Press


Prominent organizers of the big antigovernment protests in Moscow descended on this regional capital in southern Russia on Tuesday to take up the cause of an opposition mayoral candidate who is in the fourth week of a hunger strike to protest alleged ballot fraud. – New York Times
German authorities have settled money-laundering charges against four banking officials, closing a high-profile corruption investigation that had implicated a former Russian government minister, but that Russian authorities said had failed to show that any Russian laws were broken. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
President-elect Vladimir Putin called on all political forces to unite on Wednesday to help Russia develop peacefully after elections that caused tension and triggered "political battles" that divided the country. - Reuters
United Kingdom
Editorial: [I]t's worth asking what the ECHR has contributed to this process, other than to allow five noxious men to delay their reckoning with justice and put the U.K. and U.S. legal systems on trial. Terrorism is always an assault on democracy. In presuming to adjudicate this case, the ECHR has made itself an accessory to that assault. – Wall Street Journal


While Canada is technically still a key member of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) international consortium, it won't be buying any new jets anytime soon. – DEFCON Hill
Carlos Eire writes: As he said to tens of thousands of oppressed Cubans last week in his Mass homily—with Raúl Castro and his military junta present up front—Christianity “opens the doors of the world to truth,” especially the truth that “apart from God we are alienated from ourselves and hurled into the void.” It was a beautiful sentiment and a pithy summation of the Christian message—but not exactly a transparent critique of a Marxist-Stalinist totalitarian state. – The New Republic
South America
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will attend the Summit of the Americas in Colombia this weekend, Colombia's foreign minister said on Tuesday, in what would be a show of strength for the socialist stalwart who has been weakened by cancer - Reuters
A Costa Rican diplomat kidnapped last weekend and held for ransom in the latest attack on foreign envoys in Venezuela was released on Tuesday and is in good health despite having suffered a blow to the head, authorities said. - Reuters


West Africa
Around 2,000 Malians marched through the capital Bamako on Tuesday appealing for foreign help to dislodge Tuareg-led rebels in the north, saying a humanitarian crisis was looming and civilians had been abused. - Reuters
Editorial: With several towns along the north-south fault line sliding toward all-out guerrilla war, Nigeria is only the most visible in a cluster of African countries now under jihadist attack. Western policy makers already have trouble keeping pace with the evolving threats in Pakistan, Yemen and Libya. Their focus will soon have to widen to West Africa as well. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
East Africa
Sudanese authorities have prevented hundreds of South Sudanese citizens from returning to their country as clashes along the nations' oil-rich border resumed Tuesday, underscoring deteriorating relations between the former civil war foes. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Zimbabwean officials on Tuesday dismissed reports President Robert Mugabe was seriously ill in Singapore, saying he was well, on holiday there with his family and expected to return home this week. - Reuters

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