FPI Overnight Brief: May 10, 2012

Middle East/North Africa


New commercial satellite imagery of an Iranian military site that has remained off limits to international nuclear inspectors shows recent activity that suggests the Iranians have tried to clean up a suspected explosives testing chamber there, a group that tracks nuclear proliferation said Wednesday. – New York Times

An Iranian trade delegation to India has sealed deals to buy shipments of rice, sugar and soybeans from the South Asian country, as part of a plan for Tehran to use such pacts to get around U.S. financial sanctions on its oil shipments. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has apparently become the latest victim of Iran's Internet censorship regime -- to which he himself has given his blessing and approval. – RFE/RL’s Persian Letters

Israel on Wednesday accused Iran of stalling in negotiations over its nuclear program with the international community, and said an upcoming round of talks can succeed only if the Iranians agree to halt all uranium enrichment. – Associated Press

Elliott Abrams writes: President Obama, like many world leaders, has called an Iranian nuclear weapon “unacceptable.” He is right, and that should remain the US position—not just that it would be a bad outcome, not just that we would be angered by it, but that we refuse to accept it and, as the president also once said, will prevent it. If we are unwilling to act, or to act soon enough, it should be our position that Israeli action is justifiable. – World Affairs Journal


More than 40 people were killed and at least 170 injured by two powerful explosions outside a key intelligence headquarters in Damascus early on Thursday, Syrian state television reported. The blasts peeled open a new, more treacherous front in the struggle for the country. – New York Times

More than a year into the Syrian uprising, protesters and fighters say, disparate opposition cells inside the country still scramble on their own for money and weapons, creating a risk that different factions will form conflicting loyalties to whoever ends up financing or arming them. – New York Times

A bomb struck a Syrian military convoy escorting the head of a U.N. observer mission Wednesday, injuring several Syrian soldiers and illustrating the vulnerability of the unarmed and unprotected mission as it struggles to monitor a badly fraying cease-fire. – Washington Post

Syria is importing significant volumes of grain via Lebanon to work around western sanctions and secure vital supplies, European traders told Reuters. - Reuters

Jackson Diehl writes: With the help of his neighbors, Assad had succeeded in releasing the ancient virus of religious hatred among his people. History shows that once loosed, that toxin is almost never quickly dispersed. – World Affairs Journal

Salman Shaikh writes: The world should abandon the fiction that the Assad regime can be persuaded to reach a political accommodation with its adversaries. Rather, it is time for a renewed effort to forge a genuine united front, including all groups in Syria's social fabric, dedicated to Assad's downfall and the establishment of a pluralistic, democratic state in the aftermath – Foreign Policy

North Africa

Islamist parties are widely expected to extend their influence over North African politics on Thursday, when Algeria holds its first parliamentary elections since the Arab Spring uprisings. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

An administrative court on Wednesday suspended Egypt’s presidential election, scheduled to start on May 23, but legal experts said the ruling was expected to have little effect, and the candidates continued their campaigns, including preparations for the first televised debate Thursday night. – New York Times

The endorsement by Burhamy's influential Salafi Call and its political party, al-Nour, has pushed Abol Fotouh towards the front of the pack and undercut Mohamed Mursi, the candidate of the rival Muslim Brotherhood. But it has divided Salafis, who number as many as 3 million devotees plus other sympathizers among Egypt's 82 million people. Their votes could help swing the May 23-24 election. - Reuters

Shadi Hamid writes: As Aboul Fotouh has risen to front-runner status in the first ever competitive presidential election in Egypt's history, he has become the Rorschach test of Egyptian politics. Liberals think he's more liberal than he actually is. Conservatives hope he's more conservative. – Foreign Policy


Missile strikes killed eight militants early on Thursday outside a town in southern Yemen which is a stronghold of al Qaeda-linked insurgents fighting government forces for more than a year, residents said. - Reuters

Yemen's fractured state and dysfunctional security apparatus provide al Qaeda's franchise there with a perfect breeding ground for bomb plots like the one the United States says it thwarted. - Reuters

As Yemen struggles to shake off ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh's legacy, the United States has intensified drone strikes on al Qaeda-linked militants, although some Yemeni officials fear this may only fuel instability. - Reuters


U.S. ally Turkey on Wednesday rejected an international police request to arrest an Iraqi politician who's being tried in absentia in Baghdad on terrorism charges, drawing renewed attention to the growing political crisis since U.S. troops left Iraq in December. – The Hill’s Global Affairs

Editorial: Mr. Maliki won't be anymore willing to swallow the domestic political price to approve an extradition than he was in December to give his blessing to Daqduq's rendition. None of this would have happened if the Obama Administration had taken him out of the country. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


The U.S. military said May 9 that 12,000 troops from 17 countries are taking part in this month’s military exercises in Jordan, seeking to enhance their abilities to meet “security challenges.” - AFP


The Palestinian Authority and others close to the governor [Qadoura Moussa] say he died battling gangs that threatened to bring chaos back to the streets of Jenin, a notorious hub of violent crime during the second intifada reborn in recent years as a model of Palestinian self-rule, cooperation with Israel and economic growth.  – New York Times

The House on Wednesday approved legislation aimed at reaffirming the U.S. commitment to Israel's security, in a unanimous vote that left no doubt where members of both parties stand on the issue. – The Hill’s Floor Action Blog

The U.S. House Appropriations Committee this week released a draft defense spending bill that would provide nearly $1 billion in military aid to Israel's various antimissile efforts, the Israeli business website Globes reported – Global Security Newswire

The first rifts in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s expanded coalition emerged just a day after he brought the main opposition party into his government, with religious and secular parties exchanging threats Wednesday over draft exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jews. – Associated Press


Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey was drowning in waves of arrests of military officers accused of coup conspiracies and called for the investigations, which his government has backed, to be wrapped up more quickly. - Reuters



Chen Guangcheng, the blind self-taught lawyer whose plight has been at the center of U.S.-China diplomacy in recent weeks, said Wednesday that he still has seen no progress on his request for a new passport and that U.S. diplomats continue to be barred from the Beijing hospital where he remains confined. – Washington Post

China's biggest state-run companies could face more antimonopoly challenges from consumers and rivals under new rules that could put further pressure on the government-controlled behemoths that dominate the economy. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng and a family lawyer have accused local officials of detaining two of his relatives and hounding and harassing others in revenge for his recent escape from house arrest and for sparking an international furor. - Reuters

The University of Washington has offered a fellowship to blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, who has said that he wants to study in the United States following his dramatic escape from house arrest. - Reuters

China has moved a prominent ethnic Mongolian rights activist to a "luxury resort", a rights group said on Thursday, in the first account of his whereabouts in more than a year since he was put under house arrest. - Reuters

Josh Rogin reports: Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng's best friend in Congress, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), told The Cable on Tuesday that the Obama administration has failed to stand up for Chen's cause, the abuse of women under China's one-child policy. – The Cable

Renee Xia writes: Since the Arab Spring uprisings toppled rulers across the Middle East, Beijing has become more wary that a spark will ignite a popular revolt in China. Chen could very well be such a spark. The Chinese government is doing all it can to prevent a fire from catching on. – Los Angeles Times

Su Xiaokang writes: Chinese have learned that they cannot trust the promises of their government, including its president Hu Jintao. Unfortunately, it follows that they cannot believe in promises that U.S. Secretary of State Clinton makes, as long as her promises are based on his. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


A South Korean government-funded human rights group has released a series of raw firsthand accounts of North Korea’s political prison camps, Seoul’s first comprehensive attempt to catalogue the atrocities that Pyongyang denies take place. – Washington Post

More and more North Koreans are defying strict government controls on access to outside information that starkly contrasts with official propaganda, said a U.S. study released Wednesday. - Reuters


The father of the only U.S. Army soldier held captive by the Taliban publicly called for a prisoner exchange to free his son, revealing that the Obama administration is considering a proposal to transfer high-level militants held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to win the soldier's release. – Wall Street Journal

The Afghan central bank's efforts to curb the exodus of money abroad are bearing fruit, with recent currency auctions showing a sharp fall in demand for U.S. cash, the bank's governor told The Wall Street Journal. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

After a harsh winter killed children in refugee camps around the Afghan capital and brought attention to poor conditions there, a new study by a French aid agency said the disaster was more extensive than originally thought, with at least 100 young children claimed by the cold. – New York Times

A senior NATO commander said Wednesday that two U.S. lawmakers are flat wrong in their assessment that the Taliban is gaining steam in Afghanistan, insisting that the take by Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California "is contrary to everything we're seeing in our reporting." - DOTMIL

Military spies quietly have been inserted into Afghan units to pinpoint fellow soldiers who plan to kill U.S. and Western forces, a brash move aimed at salving wounds in the increasingly ailing NATO-Kabul relationship. - DOTMIL

Headmaster Abdul Rahman was heading to work when a man he believes was a member of the Taliban accosted him and warned him to shut his high school in eastern Afghanistan or face the consequences. Rahman agreed and his school, which teaches girls and boys, became one of more than 100 mixed or girls' schools that have closed in Ghazni province in recent weeks, in what the Ministry of Education says is a Taliban campaign against educating girls. - Reuters

Support for the war in Afghanistan has reached a new low, with only 27 percent of Americans saying they back the effort and about half of those who oppose the war saying the continued presence of American troops in Afghanistan is doing more harm than good, according to an AP-GfK poll. – Associated Press


A House panel on Wednesday moved to cut the foreign aid budget by some 9 percent, targeting economic aid and contributions to the United Nations and the World Bank. – Associated Press

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has stopped most of its work in Pakistan following the murder of a staff doctor in Quetta, pending a risk assessment of its operations in the country, the agency said on Thursday. - Reuters

Southeast Asia

Several leading Chinese travel agents said Thursday they have suspended tourism to the Philippines as relations between the countries worsen over a standoff between government vessels around disputed islands in the South China Sea. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

China’s largest offshore oil producer Cnooc has started its first deep-sea drilling project in the South China Sea, a move analysts see as a response to domestic pressure on Beijing to assert its claims in the disputed area. – Financial Times

The Philippines said May 9 that the United States had pledged to protect it from attacks in the South China Sea, a day after China issued a warning over a territorial row in the waters - AFP

China warned its citizens in Manila to stay off the streets and take precautions during planned anti-Chinese protests on Friday, a sign of mounting tensions during a standoff in the resource-rich South China Sea. - Reuters

The first of a new class of U.S. coastal warships will be sent to Singapore next spring for a roughly 10-month deployment, the Navy said on Wednesday, spotlighting a move that may stir China's fears of U.S. involvement in South China Sea disputes. - Reuters



The House Armed Services Committee is working on an “incremental step” toward restoring defense spending, cut by last fall’s bipartisan budget agreement, with an $8 billion increase in the 2013 budget. – Military Times

House conservatives will be holding their noses as they vote for legislation to replace defense cuts slated for 2013 on Thursday, with one member denouncing the bill as a piece of “election-year grandstanding.” – DEFCON Hill

The House Armed Services Committee, which omitted the Pentagon’s request to authorize two more rounds of base closings, voted 44-18 on Wednesday to add a provision, proposed by Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., to the 2013 defense authorization bill that would specifically bar spending any money next year “to propose, plan for or execute” the base closing and realignment process. – Military Times

The U.S. House Armed Services Committee approved legislation that directs the Pentagon to provide battle-ready dates for all versions of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter by the end of the year. – Defense News

The F-22 maintainers who reported dizziness, nausea and other signs of oxygen deprivation were working inside the cockpit while the plane was on the ground, Brig. Gen. Daniel Wyman, surgeon general of Air Combat Command, said Wednesday. – Military Times

Even as two Navy admirals praised the Littoral Combat Ship to reporters in a hastily convened conference call, the House Armed Services Committee ordered the Government Accountability Office to investigate the program. – AOL Defense

Boeing is looking ahead to a 2013 critical design review of the U.S. Air Force’s KC-46A refueler after wrapping up a monthlong preliminary design review (PDR) in April. – Aviation Week

Lawmakers say they have serious questions about whether the nation can afford the new intelligence agency being proposed by the Pentagon. – DEFCON Hill

With Iran likely to employ swarms of small water craft to attack U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf, the Navy is looking for ways to get early warnings of surprise attacks. It’s turning to the same sort of behavioral-detection software that intelligence analysts use to scan video imagery for signs of suspicious behavior. – Defense News

Snipers have quietly emerged as one of the most effective but least understood weapons in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Advancements in technology and training have made them deadlier than in any previous generation. Their ability to deliver accurate shots minimizes collateral damage — a key factor in counterinsurgency — and they are often more effective than much ballyhooed drones at secretly collecting intelligence. – USA Today

The War

U.S. and Saudi intelligence services are sharing security information and surveillance technology in their covert operations against Yemen's branch of al Qaeda, according to people familiar with this cooperation, describing operations on a scale unimagined in the years of mutual blame for security failures surrounding the attacks of Sept. 11, 2011. – Wall Street Journal

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey said the Obama administration is releasing and leaking too much information about terror plots and intelligence operations, including details about the foiled underwear bomber who turned out to be a double agent working with the CIA. – Washington Times

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III on Wednesday urged the reauthorization of an act passed by Congress in 2008 — but slated to expire at the end of this year — that gives federal authorities the ability to conduct warrantless searches. – Washington Times

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars by allowing screening machines to languish in warehouses rather than deploying them at U.S. airports, congressional investigators said Wednesday. – Washington Times

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri has urged Muslims to avenge the burning of copies of the Koran on a U.S. base in Afghanistan earlier this year, dismissing apologies for the incident as a "ridiculous farce". - Reuters

Missile Defense

The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday backed construction of a missile-defense site on the East Coast, rejecting Pentagon arguments that the facility is unnecessary and Democratic complaints that the nearly $5 billion project amounts to wasteful spending in a time of tight budgets. – Associated Press

Nuclear Weapons

In the first debate over nuclear issues at Wednesday’s House Armed Services Committee markup, Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) included two amendments to the Defense authorization bill, including one for $160 million to build a new nuclear facility. – DEFCON Hill

International Affairs

American influence in the Middle East will dwindle to Iran's benefit if the United States responds to the Arab Spring upheaval by pulling government aid, the Obama administration's top diplomat for the region told Congress Wednesday. – The Hill’s Global Affairs


Most Americans are more concerned about hacking and cyberattacks on the nation’s infrastructure than they are about terrorism, according to opinion research published Wednesday by the computer security firm Unisys. – Washington Times

Law of the Sea Treaty

The United States joining the Law of the Sea Treaty would help strengthen the U.S. Defense Department’s position in the Pacific, at a time when the Pentagon places more emphasis on that region, top DoD officials said. – Defense News



Russia’s newly inaugurated president, Vladimir V. Putin, will not attend a summit meeting of world leaders in Maryland next week, the White House said on Wednesday, postponing until June the much-anticipated first meeting of President Obama and Mr. Putin as the leaders of their respective countries. – New York Times

Speaking at Russia’s giant yearly parade of high-stepping cadets and heavy weaponry through Red Square, the newly inaugurated president, Vladimir V. Putin, said on Wednesday that the country had “a great moral right” to the respect of other nations, particularly on matters of global security. – New York Times

On Wednesday, protesters used a celebrating city as cover to elude their pursuers. They infiltrated a Communist parade, mingled with families strolling near the Kremlin and joined a city-sponsored festival in a park where riot police routed them the night before. – Washington Post

Two Kremlin critics were sentenced to 15 days in jail on Wednesday, as Russian authorities moved to crack down on "walkabout" protests that have become the latest form of opposition to newly inaugurated President Vladimir Putin. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Since Monday, the police have been arresting any people they think even remotely resemble antigovernment demonstrators, sometimes just because they are wearing white ribbons or even white T-shirts. In response, protesters in Moscow have adopted new tactics, “dilemma protests” and flash mobs, to avoid the mass arrests. – New York Times


Jailed ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko called off a hunger strike on Wednesday after she was transferred to a hospital for treatment of a back complaint, as the increasingly isolated Ukrainian government sought to defuse Western disquiet over her condition. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Poland’s president urged Ukraine to lift the law that allowed a Ukrainian court to imprison the country’s former prime minister for a political decision made while in office. The call came amid an escalating international row that threatens to undermine the European soccer championship the two countries are set to co-host in June and July. – WSJ’s Emerging Europe

United Kingdom

The British government is set to announce it has changed its mind for the second time in two years on the type of Joint Strike Fighter it wants to operate from the deck of its new aircraft carriers. – Defense News

A radical preacher accused of giving spiritual inspiration to one of the 9/11 hijackers lost a legal bid in the European courts on Wednesday to challenge Britain's long-running attempts to deport him to Jordan to stand trial on terrorism charges. - Reuters


United States of America

Sen Jim Webb (D-Va.) is looking to close a critical "loophole" in the administration's war powers, which could be used to take military action against Syria without congressional approval. – The Hill’s Floor Action Blog

George W. Bush's national security advisers never met to discuss the wisdom of going to war with Iraq in 2003, former Secretary of State Colin Powell writes in a new book reviewed by the Huffington Post. – The Hill’s Global Affairs

Josh Rogin reports: The departure of Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN) from Congress will cause a reshuffle of foreign policy leadership in the GOP Senate caucus and could thrust Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) into a prominent role. – The Cable


East Africa

South Sudan could run out of reserves and possibly face "state collapse" as soon as July after shutting off its oil, according to a confidential report leaked to news media that appears to be from the World Bank. – LA Times’ World Now

Sudan resumed its aerial bombardment of South Sudan, violating international calls for a cessation of hostilities between the two countries, a South Sudanese military official said Wednesday. – Associated Press

South Africa

Power-starved South Africa plans to increase its nuclear reactor capacity, and energy companies around the world are lining up to bid for contracts. – Associated Press

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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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