FPI Overnight Brief: May 2, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

Iran’s most famous hard-liner, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is off the ballot — blocked by the ayatollahs who vet the Islamic republic’s acceptable candidates, but the country’s spirited presidential race is still shaping up to be a fierce battle over the nuclear deal with the Obama administration and its allies. – Washington Times
Iran said Monday that it had discussed the issue of Americans with dual citizenship held in Iranian prisons during a meeting last week with the United States. – New York Times
Leaders from Boeing reportedly traveled to Tehran recently to meet and sign a deal with a top former Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) member who threatened to blow up U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf region, raising new questions about the U.S. aerospace company's continued efforts to ink multi-billion dollar deals with the Iranian regime. – Washington Free Beacon
Last month’s chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held Syrian town may have caught the world’s — and President Trump’s — attention, but it was not the only recent suspected use of a nerve agent by Syrian government forces. – New York Times
The distinctive green and gold banner of the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the YPG flew alongside the Stars and Stripes this week, as U.S. troops and Kurdish paramilitaries took up positions in northern Syria’s enclave of Rojava. The combination marked a dramatic show of solidarity by the Pentagon for the Kurdish force, amid Turkish airstrikes targeting those U.S.-backed forces there. – Washington Times
The Syrian government most likely used a Soviet-made weapon containing the nerve agent sarin in an April 4 attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, according to an investigation by Human Rights Watch. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
Accounts from witnesses and survivors cast doubt on American suggestions that the Islamic State group was to blame for the deaths of more than 100 people taking refuge in a house hit by a U.S. airstrike earlier this year in Mosul, the deadliest single incident of the months-long campaign to retake the Iraqi city. – Associated Press
Abdelsattar is one of tens of thousands of children orphaned or left homeless by the war on Islamic State and forced to work to support their families in Mosul, the militant's last major city stronghold in Iraq. Returning these children to school is a priority for Iraq to end the cycle of sectarian violence fueled in part by poverty and ignorance, the United Nations says. - Reuters
The Pentagon said Sunday that the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria killed 45 civilians in airstrikes between November 2016 and early March of this year. – Washington Post
The proposed 2017 federal spending bill would withhold billions in defense spending until the Trump administration submits its strategy to defeat the Islamic State group. – Defense News
Gulf States
The sharing of oil wealth through government jobs and lavish subsidies is no longer sustainable for Saudi Arabia and its neighbors in the Middle East, the International Monetary Fund said, urging the countries to focus on rolling out ambitious diversification plans. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
David Weinberg writes: It is time for Congress to evaluate which Mideast countries are fulfilling their counterterrorism pledges under the Jeddah Communiqué and which ones, such as Qatar, have broken their word. American defense cooperation, advanced weapons sales, and access to sensitive sectors of the U.S. economy are privileges, not rights, and should be granted to those allies that are pulling their weight on combating terrorist ideology. – The Hill
North Africa
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said on Monday that heavy-handed security measures by Egypt were fostering the very radicalisation it was looking to curb. - Reuters
In a sports arena festooned with national flags, Algeria's ruling FLN party pumped up supporters at one final weekend rally before Thursday's parliamentary election with Liberation-era songs and screenings of old speeches by its veteran leader, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. - Reuters
Hamas, the militant group built around violent resistance to Israel, sought on Monday to present a more moderate public face, taking its next shot in an intensifying struggle for leadership of the Palestinian cause and international recognition. – New York Times
Grant Rumley writes: A Palestinian leader needs both the willingness to sign an agreement and the ability to deliver on its implementation. That is impossible so long as a leader in the West Bank does not, at the very least, have a legitimate claim to Gaza. - Politico
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey will decide in a referendum whether to continue pursuing membership in the European Union. – Associated Press
Turkey under President Tayyip Erdogan has turned its back on joining the European Union, at least for now, the bloc's top official dealing with Ankara said, offering economic cooperation instead if both sides can restore friendly ties. - Reuters


South Asia
More Afghans who assist U.S. forces could get a chance to come to the United States under a budget deal unveiled Monday by Congress. – Washington Examiner
India accused Pakistani forces on Monday of killing two Indian soldiers — and mutilating their bodies — near the de facto border in the Kashmir region, and has vowed to retaliate. – Financial Times
Pakistan has extended by three months the house arrest of Hafiz Saeed, accused by the United States of masterminding the 2008 attacks on the Indian financial capital Mumbai that killed 166 people, a Pakistani official said on Monday. - Reuters
Eli Lake reports: President Donald Trump will soon have to decide what to do about Afghanistan. After weeks of wrangling inside his national security cabinet, top officials on Friday agreed on the broad outlines of a strategy to prosecute America's longest war. The interventionists prevailed. – Bloomberg View
Wu Xiaohui, the Chinese tycoon who was in failed talks with President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to buy into a skyscraper project in Manhattan, is fighting allegations of financial chicanery and has threatened to sue a Chinese magazine that examined his company’s labyrinthine funding. – New York Times
China on Tuesday issued tighter rules for online news portals and network providers, the latest step in President Xi Jinping's push to secure the internet and maintain strict party control over content. - Reuters
Korean Peninsula
An American missile-defense system whose deployment in South Korea angered China has gone into operation, officials said on Tuesday, even as turmoil over who would pay for the system continued to roil the South’s presidential campaign. – New York Times
The C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, visited the South Korean capital on Monday amid heightened tensions with North Korea, and about a week before South Koreans vote for a new president, an embassy spokesman said on Monday. – New York Times
Donald Trump said on Monday he would be “honoured” to meet Kim Jong Un under the right circumstances, despite soaring tensions between the US and North Korea over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. – Financial Times
North Korea accused the United States on Tuesday of pushing the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war after a pair of strategic U.S. bombers flew training drills with the South Korean and Japanese air forces in another show of strength. - Reuters
Josh Rogin reports: President Trump threw a wrench into his own plans to coordinate diplomatic action on North Korea last week when he started a new dispute with South Korea over funding for a joint missile defense program and threatened to scuttle the U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement. On Tuesday, congressional leaders will attempt to bring the focus back to where they think it belongs — increasing pressure on Pyongyang, not on U.S. allies. – Washington Post
Christian Caryl writes: If any current regime can be described as genocidal, North Korea is it. We don’t know the precise total of those who have fallen victim to their own government’s Orwellian fanaticism, but we know that the number is big. When the regime falls, as it likely will one day, the mass graves will come to light and many people will squeak with horrified indignation: How could such a thing happen in the modern world? Why didn’t anyone tell us this was going on? Yet that shock will ring hollow, considering that we already know what we know. And on that day, history will look back upon Trump’s words and deliver its darkest verdict. – Washington Post
A Japanese warship accompanied a United States Navy supply ship on Monday on its way to join an American aircraft carrier and three other warships in a strike force that entered the Sea of Japan over the weekend. – New York Times
To counter immediate and growing North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile threats, three former Japanese ministers of defense said Tokyo needs to work with Washington to enhance ballistic missile defense capabilities to better defend itself and develop an effective counterstrike if attacked. – USNI News
Japan’s explicitly pacifist constitution turns 70 on Wednesday. Ahead of the big birthday, a mail-in survey was conducted as to whether the Japanese population wants the constitution revised — and it seems about half the country does. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
Brian Moore writes: The fog of war during a North Korea crisis could breed unlimited scenarios, including the use of nuclear weapons and chemical warfare against millions. Coordination on the knowns is a concrete way that Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo can begin working toward a broader North Korea strategy. – Defense One
Southeast Asia
President Donald Trump widened his efforts to build cooperation in isolating North Korea with White House invitations to the leaders of Thailand and Singapore, following an invitation to the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The 2006 painting has become the symbol of a global initiative by the Indonesian youth wing of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest mass Islamic organization in the world, that seeks to reinterpret Islamic law dating from the Middle Ages in ways that conform to 21st-century norms. – New York Times
Thailand's navy defended on Monday its plan to buy three submarines from China amid growing public criticism and questions over the need for the costly vessels. - Reuters
The leader of Thailand's military junta said on Tuesday that U.S. President Donald Trump assured him that ties would become "closer than ever before", marking an abrupt change in stance from the one taken by Washington following the coup in 2014. - Reuters
The White House on Monday tried to bat away criticism of President Donald Trump’s decision to invite the Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte to Washington. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines said on Monday that he might not accept President Trump’s invitation to visit the White House, because he was “tied up” with a busy schedule. – New York Times
Editorial: A subtle U.S. policy would recognize the need for U.S.-Philippine cooperation without endorsing the contemptible offenses of the current president. Instead, President Trump has offered Mr. Duterte an unqualified embrace that effectively blesses his murderous campaign. In so doing, Mr. Trump sends Asians the message that there is no difference between China’s amoral foreign policy and that of this U.S. administration. – Washington Post
North Korea’s threat against the country, far-fetched as it might seem, is an example of how Australia’s most important military alliance faces a new challenge: the risk that President Trump will draw the nation into a conflict or other unexpected crisis that destabilizes the region, angers its trading partners or forces it to side with either the United States or China. – New York Times


Bipartisan congressional negotiators have agreed to a sweeping $1.16 trillion omnibus spending bill for 2017, with $593 billion for the military. The deal, if passed, would fund the government through Sept. 30. – Defense News
House and Senate appropriators reached an agreement to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year that includes a $593-billion defense spending package to allow the Navy and Marine Corps to continue with planned ship and aircraft procurement and readiness increases. – USNI News
The omnibus spending bill to emerge from a bipartisan congressional committee early Monday morning includes funding to implement major recommendations made by the National Commission on the Future of the Army well over a year ago. – Defense News
An institution whose influence has waxed and waned over the years, today’s War College has become Gen. Mark Milley’s personal thinktank, getting bigger budgets — a rarity in today’s Army — to study urgent issues of great power war. – Breaking Defense
In the same way, the Navy aviation community writ large is trying to get “crazy smart” about its own maintenance and testing procedures for the aircraft, overcoming a sense of remote-control upkeep that has been associated with the Hornets and Super Hornets. – Scout Warrior
The U.S. Air Force is making headway on improved training for officials tasked with facilitating foreign military sales, as well as plans to move its first security cooperation officer through the new process within a year, a top service official told Defense News. – Defense News
Strategic Issues
Scientists and researchers at the federal government’s largest national laboratory are pushing ahead with work related to national security and the proliferation of nuclear weapons as new managers take over New Mexico-based Sandia National Laboratories for the first time in decades, officials said Monday. – Associated Press
Michaela Dodge writes: The [NPR], a comprehensive reassessment of U.S. nuclear weapon policy and the capabilities needed to execute them will take months to complete. Done right, it will: guide the administration to strengthen U.S. nuclear deterrence, correct the Obama administration’s flawed nuclear weapon policies and assure more than 30 allies around the world that rely on extended deterrence from the U.S. for their national security. – Washington Times


Gunther Fehlinger writes: Ukraine is a big challenge, in terms of its size and issues, but it could also be viewed as the biggest opportunity and a natural leader of such a group because of its size and significance. A confident, independent, and pro-European Ukraine should support the Balkan countries as well as Moldova and Georgia, and secure its own EU membership by forming such an alliance on EU accession with those countries, coordinating their efforts to adopt EU standards, and sharing networks and friends to ensure a common future for all inside the European Union. – Atlantic Council
Russian President Vladimir Putin was set to talk with the West’s two most powerful leaders Tuesday, with a face-to-face meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, followed by a phone call with President Trump later in the day. – Washington Post
The Russian police detained about 20 gay rights protesters on Monday, among them the leader of a group that is helping gay men escape from the southern province of Chechnya, where they face abuse, including torture. – New York Times
OVD-Info is now run out of a one-room office in downtown Moscow with computer work­stations and a large whiteboard for strategy-planning sessions…After six years of monitoring, the team might be the country’s best repository of knowledge about arrests at demonstrations and ongoing prosecutions of opposition figures. – Washington Post
Russia has installed a modern mobile electronic warfare system in Crimea to eavesdrop on U.S. ships in the Black Sea and potentially jam their communications, a U.S. defense official confirmed to USNI News on Monday. – USNI News
The leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have reached a decision that’s sure to disappoint Russia hawks: They’re not taking up a Russia sanctions bill anytime soon. - Politico
Opposition leader Alexander Navalny’s success in using social media to mobilise youthful anti-corruption protesters has sparked calls for the Kremlin to step up internet censorship. – Financial Times
Western Europe
The Nordic countries have further deepened cross-border collaboration with the launch of the Nordic Defence Materiel Agreement. The NDMA aims to strengthen collective security in the region and bolster the joint role played by Nordic states in the international defense and security arena. – Defense News
Interview: Three months into his presidency, the rest of Europe too is still deeply unsettled over this new president unlike any other, confused about whether he’s a dangerous ideologue or merely dangerously ignorant—and desperately seeking ways to stop him from pursuing the foreign policy of Russia-reconciling and European Union-bashing he promised on the campaign trail. - Politico
United Kingdom
No one expects negotiations over Britain’s exit from the European Union to go smoothly over the next two years, but a German newspaper’s account of a dinner last Wednesday between the British prime minister, Theresa May, and senior European Union officials suggests that round one, at least, was particularly discordant. – New York Times
Britain can no longer rely on U.S. leadership on Middle East policy and must work more closely with Europe to ensure the Iran nuclear deal stays in place, among other policies, a committee of lawmakers said in a report on Tuesday. - Reuters
France’s presidential campaign entered its last week on Monday, coinciding with May Day labor demonstrations around the country that reflected a split among unions over whether to endorse Emmanuel Macron, the centrist candidate, against Marine Le Pen, his far-right opponent. – New York Times
Jonathan Fenby writes: The worst thing would be for the victors on May 7 to heave a great sigh of relief at having delivered France from fascism, rather than recognizing that the discontents that fueled the rise of the National Front have to be addressed, and fast. Otherwise, Ms. Le Pen will be back, with even more wind in her sails. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
John Vinocur writes: For symbolism to counter the palpable Russian threat hanging over the Baltic states, the deployment is an admirable NATO stop sign. But it’s an uncomfortable matter for the two candidates in France’s final presidential round on Sunday— Emmanuel Macron, the favorite and self-described man of neither left nor right, and Marine Le Pen of the far right-wing National Front. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Eastern Europe
At the 11th hour, the United States renewed sanctions relief for Belarus, even as the country shows little sign of continuing its tepid shift toward the West. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
A high-level U.S. envoy met with Macedonian leaders on May 1 and urged them to allow a newly formed parliamentary majority made up of Social Democrats and ethnic Albanian parties to form a new government. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Thousands of Hungarians marched across central Budapest on Monday in a show of support for the European Union, protesting against what a new political movement sees as a creeping rise in Russian influence under Prime Minister Viktor Orban. - Reuters
Editorial: Viktor Orban’s Hungary isn’t a Putin -style authoritarian state, but it’s moving in that direction. The prime minister’s latest power play is to use a new education law to fan fears of foreigners in advance of next year’s election. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is considering appointing a senior official to oversee counterterrorism efforts, a move aimed at meeting one of President Donald Trump’s demands that the alliance focus more on terror threats. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


United States of America
The Trump administration is moving to make the United States the world’s leading exporter of natural gas as a central component of both energy and trade policy. But whether global markets, currently awash with gas, will play along remains a long shot over the next several years. Any breakdown of talks to remodel the North American Free Trade Agreement, which set the regulatory framework that allowed gas exports to Mexico to triple over the last six years, could also get in the way. – New York Times
The estimated amount of sexual assault on both men and women in the military has declined over the last decade, according to a new Pentagon report. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
A prominent militant who fought with Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine and participated in far-right European politics recently completed U.S. Army training and is serving in an American infantry division in Hawaii, according to Army and other records. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
A group of lawmakers has begun pressuring Defense Secretary James Mattis to look into whether China’s effort to acquire additional access to the largest dedicated infrared telescope in the Northern Hemisphere would allow it to spy on some of the Pentagon’s space secrets. – The National Interest
A U.S. judge said he wants to know whether Iran employs any lawyers for a wealthy Turkish-Iranian gold trader accused of helping Tehran evade U.S. sanctions. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
United Nations
Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Chris Coons (D-DE) write: For too long the world body has fallen far short of those ideals. In order for it to be more effective in advancing peace and human rights around the world, America must remain vigilant. We stand ready to lead sustained bipartisan efforts in Congress and with our international partners to eliminate the U.N.’s anti-Israel bias, and to fight anti-Semitism in all its forms. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Latin America
President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela said Monday that he would convene an assembly to rewrite the country’s Constitution, which he said would quell mounting protests against him. But the plan was quickly rejected by his opponents as an attempt to avoid elections. – New York Times
The Car Wash probe uncovered a complex kickback scheme in which, among other things, Brazil’s largest construction companies paid lawmakers in return for lucrative contracts and favorable legislation. The investigation has been propelled by a string of plea-bargain agreements, leaving longtime friends and allies pitted against one another as more and more defendants turn state’s witness. – Washington Post


Nigeria's ailing President Muhammadu Buhari, who had nearly two month's medical treatment in Britain earlier this year, should take medical leave immediately, civil society leaders have said in an open letter. - Reuters
Somali Islamist militants said they publicly stoned one man to death and shot dead another on Monday after both were accused of raping a girl in central Somalia. - Reuters
Some 1.4 million children in drought-hit Somalia are projected to suffer acute malnutrition this year, 50 percent more than estimated in January, the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday. - Reuters
South African President Jacob Zuma made a hasty exit from a May Day rally on Monday after the crowd of workers that he was due to address became rowdy, with some booing and chanting slogans against him. - Reuters

Trump Administration

Mr. Trump’s unorthodox overtures — to a nuclear-armed despot who brutally purged his rivals, and an insurgent politician accused of extrajudicial killings of drug suspects — illustrated the president’s confidence in his ability to make deals and his willingness to talk to virtually anyone. Above all, they highlighted his penchant for flouting the norms of diplomacy, no matter his larger aim. – New York Times
The role of Sebastian Gorka, a controversial and often combative senior adviser to President Trump, has become the subject of debate inside the White House with some senior administration officials pressing for him to be reassigned even as others insist his job is safe. – Washington Post
The No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. House is calling for the withdrawal of President Trump’s nominee for Army secretary over his “clear record of homophobia and transphobia.” – Defense News
Hal Brands writes: [Trump] is making America a country that zig-zags haphazardly in foreign policy, thereby continually undermining its own credibility and reputation for seriousness in addressing an array of difficult issues. Mainstream observers have long worried about Trump’s radicalism in foreign policy, but it is his incompetence that may ultimately be our undoing. – War on the Rocks
P.J. Crowley writes: Fundamentally, Trump is not serious about the world. His presidency is a reality show where politics, not policy, is the priority. He keeps coming back to the issues that dominated his presidential campaign—trade, the wall and the Muslim ban foremost among them—in the process passing off tough rhetoric as results. So far, his base continues to cheer him on. - Politico
Joseph Bosco writes: For all the discomfiture Trump’s unorthodox negotiating style may bring to the foreign policy establishment, it seems to be working. Who knows — after Kim sees what a newly-motivated China and/or a fed-up United States can do to his regime, he may be happy to trade his nukes for a hamburger at Mar-a-Lago. – The Diplomat

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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