FPI Overnight Brief: April 27, 2012

Middle East/North Africa

Iran
 
One day after Israeli newspapers reported that the nation’s top general had said economic and diplomatic pressures against Iran were beginning to succeed, his superior, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, said Thursday that the chances “appear low” that the Iranian government would bow to international pressure and halt its nuclear program. – New York Times
 
The U.S. hasn't threatened to impose sanctions against India for its economic relations with Iran, Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna said Thursday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
As tensions between Tehran, Washington and Tel Aviv continue to mount over Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons technologies, the U.S. has quietly begun a deployment of its premier stealthy fighter, the twin-engine F-22, to the United Arab Emirates. – Aviation Week
 
With the House poised to consider a string of cybersecurity bills on Thursday, lawmakers on the House Homeland Security Committee warned of the threat of cyberattack from Iran. – National Journal
 
Israel’s military chief said Thursday that other countries have readied their armed forces for a potential strike against Iran’s nuclear sites to keep Tehran from acquiring atomic weapons. – Associated Press
 
The Obama administration is unlikely to pull back from levying sanctions against Iran oil transactions based on a government report due on Friday, which is expected to show crude markets are sufficiently well-supplied to move forward with the penalties. - Reuters
 
Pakistan is pushing ahead with plans to build a gas pipeline from Iran despite strong opposition from Islamabad's strategic ally Washington, according to tender documents. - Reuters
 
South Korea will make sharp cuts in imports of Iranian crude from June as tightening Western sanctions make it impossible to secure insurance cover for tankers to ship the crude, industry and company sources said. - Reuters
 
Syria
 
A number of Syrian civilians died in a poor neighborhood of Hama after their houses crashed down on them, but the government and the opposition offered widely different accounts on Thursday of the cause. – New York Times
 
The Arab League urged the quick deployment of hundreds of United Nations observers in an unprecedented mission aimed at halting the killing of Syrian civilians, as the conflict took another grisly turn on Thursday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
The Internet has become another battleground in Syria, with rebels and government loyalists hacking into websites to undercut one another with online propaganda and misinformation. – LA Times’ World Now
 
Syrian opposition officials are hearing rumblings that several Middle Eastern nations are in talks about arming rebel fighters - DOTMIL
 
The Syrian government and rebels traded blame on Thursday for a huge explosion which killed 16 people in the city of Hama, as a two-week-old U.N.-backed ceasefire looked increasingly fragile. - Reuters
 
The son of Syria's last democratically elected prime minister presented what he called an "interim government" on Thursday, saying it had the legitimacy that the main opposition group, the Syrian National Council (SNC), lacked. - Reuters
 
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday the Syrian government had not complied with its pledge to a U.N.-backed peace plan aimed at stopping the country from spiraling into civil war because it had not withdrawn heavy weapons and troops from cities. - Reuters
 
Syria's infrastructure has been significantly damaged in more than a year of conflict, water and electricity supplies have been disrupted and many families cannot meet their basic daily needs, a United Nations mission has found. - Reuters
 
The Arab League plans to call on the U.N. Security Council to take immediate action to protect Syrian civilians, it said in a statement released after an Arab League meeting. - Reuters
 
Russia accused Syrian rebels on Thursday of using terror tactics and suggested they were more to blame for ceasefire violations than President Bashar al-Assad's troops. - Reuters
 
Josh Rogin reports: The Republican Party appears to be deeply split on whether the United States should call on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, a Senate committee vote revealed today. – The Cable
 
Rogin also reports: Two top Obama administration officials said [yesterday] that the diplomatic initiative to end the violence in Syria, led by U.N. Special Envoy Kofi Annan, "is failing." – The Cable
 
Charles Krauthammer writes: If we are not prepared to intervene, even indirectly by arming and training Syrians who want to liberate themselves, be candid. And then be quiet. Don’t pretend the U.N. is doing anything. Don’t pretend the U.S. is doing anything. And don’t embarrass the nation with an Atrocities Prevention Board. The tragedies of Rwanda, Darfur and now Syria did not result from lack of information or lack of interagency coordination, but from lack of will. – Washington Post
 
Levant
 
The Obama administration is intensifying its scrutiny of Lebanon's financial system, concerned that Syria, Iran and the militant group Hezbollah are using Beirut's banks to evade international sanctions and fund their activities. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
Jordan’s King Abdullah II blamed his resigning prime minister Thursday for failing to push hard enough for reforms, reflecting frustration on all sides over demands for power-sharing and fair representation in parliament.- Associated Press
 
Egypt
 
The Muslim Brotherhood and the Nour Party, which identifies with the hard-line Salafi school of Islam, captured more than two-thirds of the seats in Egypt's Parliament. But in the three months since, they have been largely ineffective. In recent weeks, the parties have faced mounting public criticism, internal defections and weakening prospects in next month's presidential vote. – Wall Street Journal
 
A court on Thursday dismissed a case against Egypt’s most popular comedian that charged him with insulting Islam in his films, just days after another court fined him in a separate case dealing with very similar charges. – New York Times
 
Egypt’s election commission released on Thursday a final list of 13 candidates eligible to run in next month’s presidential elections, bringing a close to one of the most turbulent chapters of the nation’s chaotic transition to civilian rule. – Associated Press
 
Ahmed Shafiq says he has the military and political experience needed to lead Egypt into a new democratic era, yet Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister has divided voters and drawn angry protests with his bid to become president. - Reuters
 
Eric Trager writes: Morsi’s emergence as the Brotherhood’s standard-bearer should be taken as an indicator of the organization’s modus operandi. It is internally dictatorial, ideologically intolerant, and—perhaps most importantly—only willing to embrace political gradualism when pressured by stronger authorities. – The New Republic
 
Bahrain
 
Bahraini protesters attacked a police station with petrol bombs on Thursday and riot police responded with teargas and stun grenades after a funeral march for a man killed in clashes during the Gulf Arab state's Formula One race last week. - Reuters
 
Yemen
 
U.S. counterterrorism officials are concerned about al-Qaida’s affiliate in Yemen because of increased intelligence chatter in the past several months. And in recent weeks, the group’s top bomb maker — once thought to be dead — has resurfaced, The Associated Press has learned. – Associated Press
 
Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda blew up a gas pipeline on Thursday night in the eastern Yemeni province of Shabwa, a local official and residents said. - Reuters
 
Iraq
 
[A] new documentary called "The List" artfully dovetails the plight of these Iraqis [who worked with the U.S. during the Iraq War] It had its world premiere at New York City's Tribeca Film Festival on April 21. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
 
Two political leaders who put Iraq’s prime minister in power met Thursday to discuss whether they should withdraw their support, now that a bitter sectarian political deadlock has led to calls for secession. – Associated Press
 
A simmering dispute between Iraq's central government and the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan is an internal affair, a top Baghdad official said on Thursday, in an implicit rebuff of U.S. efforts to broker a compromise between the two sides. - Reuters

Asia

Afghanistan
 
The Taliban has shuttered or partially shuttered about 50 schools in southeastern Afghanistan this week, a bold display of the insurgency’s power in a part of the country now at the center of the U.S. war effort. – Washington Post
 
A consortium of Indian state-owned companies is on a short list to bid for copper and gold projects in Afghanistan, a move likely to raise tensions among Pakistani authorities already jittery about New Delhi's growing role in the country. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
While details are still sketchy, it is increasingly apparent the U.S. military will maintain a sizable force in Afghanistan after 2014, when most American troops are slated to come home. – DOTMIL
 
Leaders on the Senate Armed Services Committee — including its Democratic chairman — are pushing back against a plan backed by the Obama administration to reduce the size of the Afghanistan security forces after U.S. troops pull out in 2014. – DEFCON Hill
 
A new Afghan youth group is making waves in Kabul with an unprecedented campaign against the country's former warlords. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
 
NATO’s chief said April 25 he counted on France’s support for NATO security operations, after Francois Hollande pledged to pull troops from Afghanistan immediately if he wins the French presidency. - AFP
 
Hackers have for the third time in less than a year crippled the main website of the Afghan Taliban, with a Taliban spokesman on Friday blaming Western intelligence agencies amid an intensifying cyber war with the insurgents. - Reuters
 
Pakistan
 
Pakistan's Supreme Court convicted Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Thursday of contempt for failing to revive a long-standing graft case against President Asif Ali Zardari, a ruling that could eventually result in the premier's ouster and ramp up political tension in an important but troubled U.S. ally. – Los Angeles Times
 
The family of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, killed almost a year ago by American special forces in a military town in northwest Pakistan, left Pakistan for Saudi Arabia early on Friday morning, the family lawyer told Reuters. - Reuters
 
China
 
When China suddenly began cutting back its purchases of oil from Iran in the last month,  officials in the Obama administration were guardedly optimistic, seeing the move as  the latest in a string of encouraging signs from Beijing on sensitive security issues  like Syria and North Korea, as well as on politically fraught economic issues like China’s exchange rate. – New York Times
 
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has seized upon the ouster of his Communist Party rival Bo Xilai to reinvigorate what had until recently seemed a lonely campaign for Western-style economic liberalization and a battle against corruption. – Washington Post
 
Mr. Xi did not take the lead in the purge that ended Mr. Bo’s political career, these insiders say, in keeping with the political style he had honed throughout his career. He cannily stayed in the background while supporting a process that removed a man who had threatened to become his biggest rival in the next group of Chinese leaders. – New York Times
 
Chen Guangcheng, the blind rights lawyer who has been under extralegal house arrest in his rural village for the past 19 months, has escaped from his heavily guarded home and is in hiding in the capital, rights advocates said on Friday. – New York Times
 
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner pressed China on Thursday to speed reform of its state-dominated banking system, citing it as one of the chief ways the country gains an unfair trade advantage. – Washington Post
 
Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang arrived in Russia Thursday on a trip that will also include Hungary and Belgium, while Premier Wen Jiabao is still on his own European tour, signaling unusual attention from Beijing on a region deeply mired in financial woes and political uncertainties. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said Thursday that China wanted to double trade with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe to $100 billion a year by 2015, and pledged billions in loans to help promote investment in the region. – New York Times
 
China’s People’s Liberation Army is preparing to destroy U.S. computer and network infrastructure in future attacks and knock out satellites with microwave pulses, according to recently translated Chinese military writings. – Washington Free Beacon
 
A businessman whose murder sparked political upheaval in China was not a British spy, Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Thursday, trying to quell speculation that has swirled around the man's mysterious death. - Reuters
 
For two years after a cataclysmic earthquake struck a remote and wild part of China's northwestern Qinghai province, Baobao and 29 other homeless ethnic Tibetan residents occupied the area outside several government buildings to denounce a land grab. But no officials in Gyegu - known in Chinese as Yushu - would listen to their pleas, said Baobao, 41, a burly Tibetan odd-job laborer, who goes by only one name. - Reuters
 
Japan
 
The U.S. and Japanese governments said Thursday that they will move about 9,000 Marines off Okinawa to other bases in the Western Pacific, in a bid to remove a persistent irritant in the relationship between the two allies. – Washington Post
 
Editorial: [Prime Minister Noda] is willing to delay the most pro-growth reform Tokyo has contemplated in years, in the name of relentlessly pursuing a tax hike voters know is an awful idea. Mr. Noda might think taking TPP off the table is deft politics. He should ask instead whether a more vigorous pursuit of TPP could become his major selling point with voters. – Wall Street Journal Asia (subscription required)
 
India
 
India needs to fast-track reforms and cut its fiscal deficit to support a slowing economy and restore foreign investors' confidence dented by an uncertain policy environment, the managing director-general of the Asian Development Bank said Thursday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
An Indian state legislator kidnapped by Maoist rebels in the eastern state of Orissa was released Thursday after more than a month in captivity. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
U.S. companies are poised to sign defense deals totaling $8 billion with India, the U.S. Ambassador Nancy Powell said on Friday. - Reuters
 
Daniel Twining writes: The success of U.S. and Indian policy from 1998-2008 lay in creating a transformed basis for relations between the world's largest democracies for the new century. The United States would secure not an ally but an independent partner that could help anchor an Asian balance of power otherwise at risk from growing Chinese strength…This seemed like a good bargain from the vantage point of 2008. It remains one today, despite the fact that both India and America have disappointed each other on several key issues over the past three years. – Shadow Government
 
North Korea
 
Analysts who have studied photos of a half-dozen ominous new North Korean missiles showcased recently at a lavish military parade say they were fakes, and not very convincing ones, casting further doubt on the country's claims of military prowess. – Associated Press
 
Is the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas the world’s most dangerous place, or a tourist trap? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. – Associated Press
 
Southeast Asia
 
China is quietly extending its influence among poor island nations dotted across the South Pacific, encroaching in a region of strategic importance to the U.S. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
The U.K. will end its policy of discouraging trade with Myanmar, as part of efforts to facilitate political and economic overhaul in the Southeast Asian nation, Foreign Secretary William Hague said Thursday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
Not long after Ms Yen and her brother Dang Thanh Tam became the first tycoons to be elected to the [Vietnam]’s Communist party-controlled parliament, or National Assembly, last year, they came under personal attack in a number of obscure state-owned publications. – Financial Times
 
China’s military on April 26 vowed to defend the country’s territory amid a stand-off with the Philippines in the disputed South China Sea, the official Xinhua news agency said. - AFP

Security

Defense
 
Defense Department officials are quick to say the formal process of selecting U.S. military bases for closure will not begin until Congress says so. But people inside the Pentagon already are talking about candidates for the politically charged process that often triggers intense opposition from governors, mayors and local business leaders. – Washington Times
 
The Pentagon on Thursday announced that a change in policy allowing female troops to serve in ground combat units below the brigade level will take effect May 14. – Washington Times
 
House Republicans are hammering out the details on a spending plan that would open the door to financing weapons systems that could be used in a potential conflict with Iran. – DEFCON Hill
 
U.S. House lawmakers frustrated by Air Force and Army decisions to cancel weapons in the 2013 budget have taken the first steps toward reinstating funding for those programs. – Defense News
 
The odds keep getting better that the Navy will get two Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines in 2014 instead of one, with senators of both parties chiming in this morning to support yesterday's pro-sub action by the House, and the Navy's top acquisition official pointedly did not say no. – AOL Defense
 
Defense lawmakers in the House have blocked a move by the Navy to retire several warships from the fleet before they are due, according to their version of the fiscal 2013 defense bill. – DEFCON Hill
 
In an otherwise pro-forma meeting to approve legislative language for the 2013 national defense authorization, the Seapower panel of the House Armed Services Committee paused to add just one amendment to the otherwise unmodified bill: a provision by California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter demanding that the Navy 'fess up to Congress on problems with its Littoral Combat Ship. – AOL Defense
 
The House Armed Services Committee is not including two new rounds of base closures that were requested by the Pentagon in its Defense authorization bill, making the proposal all but dead in Congress this year. – DEFCON Hill
 
A key panel of the House Armed Services Committee has drafted legislation that would require the Defense Department to ensure its future bomber has a nuclear-weapons capability immediately upon fielding – Global Security Newswire
 
Josh Rogin reports: The Defense Department's new espionage unit is so secret, even the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee weren't told about it. – The Cable
 
John Lehman writes: While we do not need 600 ships today, no naval experts believe a 300-ship Navy is large enough to guarantee freedom of the seas for American and allied trade, for supporting threatened allies, for deterring rogue states like Iran from closing vital straits, and for maintaining stability in areas like the western Pacific. For example, the bipartisan Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel led by Stephen Hadley and William Perry last year concluded that the Navy should have at least 346 vessels. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
Missile Defense
 
When the U.S. House Armed Services Committee meets next month to debate the 2013 defense authorization bill, expect a robust discussion over missile defense and nuclear weapons. – Defense News
 
The House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee is placing a high priority on Boeing’s Ground-based Midcourse Defense system (GMD) — recommending the addition of more than $300 million to the program over what President Barack Obama requested in the fiscal 2013 budget proposal. – Aviation Week
 
Two prominent Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Wednesday proposed that the military explore establishing silo-based missile interceptors somewhere on the East Coast, Reuters reported – Global Security Newswire
 
The War
 
No credible information has emerged that terrorist networks are plotting an attack to coincide with the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death, the White House said Thursday. – DEFCON Hill
 
A nearly three-year-long investigation by Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats is expected to find there is little evidence the harsh "enhanced interrogation techniques" the CIA used on high-value prisoners produced counter-terrorism breakthroughs. - Reuters
 
Editorial: The refusal of the United States to take in even one Uighur darkens an already sorry chapter in this country’s history. – Washington Post
 
Seth Jones writes: Predictions of al Qaeda's imminent demise are rooted more in wishful thinking and politicians' desire for applause lines than in rigorous analysis. Al Qaeda's broader network isn't even down -- don't think it's about to be knocked out. – Foreign Policy
 
Cybersecurity
 
A secure communications channel set up to prevent misunderstandings that might lead to nuclear war is likely to expand to handling new kinds of conflict — in cyberspace. – Washington Post
 
The House voted to approve cybersecurity legislation late on Thursday, defying a civil-liberties backlash and a White House veto threat. – National Journal

Russia/Europe

Russia
 
During a two-hour interview on Russian television on Thursday, President Dmitri A. Medvedev admitted disappointment over some of the goals of his four-year presidency, saying that his anticorruption drive was stymied “because officials are a corporation, and they do not want anyone to meddle in their affairs.” – New York Times
 
Ukraine
 
The European Union pressed Ukraine on Thursday to allow “independent medical specialists” to visit the country’s jailed former prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, after she claimed to have been beaten by prison guards last week. – New York Times
 
Thousands of Ukrainian opposition activists and supporters have rallied in Kyiv, demanding the release of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
 
Interview: The daughter of jailed former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko says her mother is badly bruised after prison guards forcibly took her to a clinic last week for treatment. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
 
Hungary
 
Kurt Volker writes: I believe in Hungary and the Hungarian people. I know that Hungarians cherish freedom and democracy, and will fight to see them realized at home. I know that perfecting Hungary's democracy is the intention of the government, the opposition, and the West as well. Democracy is never perfect—that's why we have to keep working at it. Let's try to do it together. – Wall Street Journal Europe
 
NATO
 
More than two decades after an independent Macedonia was born from the bloody ethnic wars in the Balkans, its desire to join NATO remains stalled by an old question: “What’s in a name?” – NYT’s At War
 
NATO will push at its May summit for members to keep up their commitments to international security in spite of hard economic times, its secretary general said April 26. - AFP

Americas

United States of America
 
Shifting the battle with Mitt Romney from jobs and taxes to the safer realm of foreign policy, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. traveled to New York City on Thursday to praise President Obama as the man who got Osama bin Laden and to paint Mr. Romney as a cold war relic who would leave American troops stranded in Afghanistan. – New York Times
 
Jack Goldsmith writes: He will have many chances to attack Obama’s counterterrorism positions on the campaign trail. But in pressing his advantage, Romney should respect established legal limits and convey a responsible conception of the presidency. The reputation that Romney develops on these matters the next six months will inform how his policies fare should he become president. – Washington Post
 
Paul Miller writes: [Gen. Petraeus] would bring gravitas and seriousness to a campaign season that, so far, has been more memorable for the parade of not serious GOP challengers who, thankfully, had the decency to drop out. His intelligence and ethic of public service would be a good match for Romney's own. – Shadow Government
 
Richard Williamson writes: Events are demonstrating on an almost daily basis that the team running the show is far out of its depth. A Mitt Romney presidency will not come a day too soon. – Foreign Policy

Africa

West Africa

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Thursday to maintain sanctions on Ivory Coast for another year, including an arms embargo and a ban on importing rough diamonds from the West African nation. – Associated Press
 
The West African regional bloc ECOWAS said on Thursday it would send troops to Mali and Guinea-Bissau to help swiftly reinstate civilian rule after their coups, and threatened sanctions if junta leaders try to cling to power. - Reuters
 
Suicide car bombers targeted the offices of Nigerian newspaper This Day in the capital Abuja and northern city of Kaduna on Thursday, killing at least four people in apparently coordinated strikes. - Reuters
 
East Africa
 
The United States on Thursday circulated to the U.N. Security Council a draft resolution that warns Sudan and South Sudan of sanctions if they do not comply with African Union demands to swiftly stop border clashes and resolve their many disputes. - Reuters

Obama Administration

Josh Rogin reports: As part of a set of ongoing staffing changes in the national security leadership at the White House, Biden will get a new deputy national security advisor Monday, Pentagon official Julianne Smith. Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller announced Smith's move in a Thursday note to staff, obtained by The Cable. – The Cable
 
Analysis: But in the No. 2 job over the past three years, Biden has excelled—to the point where he now ranks as one of the most powerful and influential vice presidents in American history. – National Journal

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