FPI Overnight Brief: May 11, 2012

Middle East/North Africa

Iran

Britain said Thursday that it was in talks with other European Union members about possibly easing a provision of their Iran oil embargo, set to begin in less than two months, that could cause harmful and unintended side effects because it bans Europe-based insurers from covering any ships that carry Iranian oil anywhere in the world. – New York Times

An Indian police team will visit Tehran this month as part of an investigation into the role of three Iranians suspected of carrying out a bomb attack on an Israeli diplomat’s car in New Delhi in February, a police official said Thursday. – Washington Post

Plans for a United Nations-backed conference aimed at ridding the Middle East of nuclear weapons are unraveling because of political upheaval in the region and diplomatic sparring over suspected nuclear-weapons programs in Iran and Israel, said officials involved in the event's preparations. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

An unprecedented lashing sentence against Iranian cartoonist Mahmud Shokraye has been condemned by Iranian news sites and cartoonists. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

A top U.S. Treasury official said on Thursday that he was skeptical that Iran could find an alternative payment system to its central bank, which is the target of U.S. sanctions aimed at depriving Tehran of funds needed to develop its nuclear program. - Reuters

The Islamist movement Hamas will not let itself be dragged into a war against Israel if it attacks the nuclear facilities of Hamas ally Iran, Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh said on Thursday. - Reuters

William Tobey writes: Despite sanctions, Iran's nuclear program is expanding and accelerating. Iran is to blame for that, not the United States, but whatever can be said for the administration's policy on Iran, it is not halting the nuclear program. – Shadow Government

Marc Thiessen writes: So with all respect to Joe Biden, this administration’s record on Iran is not one he should be touting on the campaign trail. President Obama’s bold declarations notwithstanding, the oceans are still rising, the Earth has not healed, and Iran is closer than ever to building a nuclear bomb. – Washington Post

Elliott Abrams writes: Dancing around the issue, Obama has never been willing to rise even to his vice president’s level of clarity, or say, paraphrasing President Carter, “Iran will not get a nuclear weapon while I am president; I will prevent it by any means necessary including military force.” Thus we are left longing for the comparative clarity and toughness of Carter foreign policy. The only people comforted by this probably live in Tehran. – National Review Online

Syria

Agreement on additional international action in Syria appeared more remote than ever following a massive suicide bombing on Thursday in Damascus, as foreign leaders pointed fingers of responsibility for the violence in opposite directions. – Washington Post

It is too early to write off as a failure U.N.-Arab League mediator Kofi Annan's efforts to bring an end to 14-months of violence in Syria, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said on Thursday. - Reuters

The Syrian army checkpoints around the northern town of Ariha are in such a dangerous spot that even food for the soldiers is brought in by tank. The soldiers at one position outside Ariha say they have not ventured inside the town for months, fearing for their safety in an area where hostility to President Bashar al-Assad has reached boiling point. - Reuters

Editorial: Administration spokesmen now publicly recognize that the United Nations diplomatic initiative it has backed for the past seven weeks has been a failure. They acknowledge — as they should have long ago — that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has no intention of ending violence against his opposition, or meeting any other condition of the “Annan plan.” Yet President Obama refuses to embrace other options. His administration’s strategy is one of militant passivity – Washington Post

Jonathan Spyer writes: The insurgents believe that the international community as a whole is unconcerned with their fate. “The world has no eyes” was the way one activist put it to me. The crucial issue now is whether a rival international effort to counterbalance Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah’s outreach to Assad will come into being. – World Affairs Journal

North Africa

The two top-rated Egyptian presidential candidates battled Thursday over the role of Islam in the Arab world’s most populous country as they took part in the first televised presidential debate in the nation’s history. – Washington Post

Saudi Arabia has deposited $1bn at the Egyptian central bank to help ease pressures on the country’s foreign currency reserves, which have been severely depleted during the long-running political turmoil. – Financial Times

Islamist militants in Algeria, thwarted by the government’s antiterrorism measures, are taking refuge in lawless areas in the Sahel to the south, contributing to the growing unrest there, say western officials and security experts. – Financial Times

Egypt's military rulers replaced four cabinet ministers on Thursday to try to placate demands from the Islamist-dominated parliament for an overhaul of the army-appointed government that is set to remain in office until the end of June. - Reuters

Results of an Algerian parliamentary election to be announced on Friday were likely to hand an unprecedented share of seats to moderate Islamists, easing pressure for change in a country left behind by last year's "Arab Spring." - Reuters

Libya's interim finance minister said on Thursday he would resign soon because of "wastage of public funds", citing a now-halted scheme to compensate former fighters and pressure from them for payment. - Reuters

Several prisoners likely were tortured to death at a detention center in Libya under government control, the United Nations said on Thursday as it urged the country to make stamping out such practices a top priority. - Reuters

Sudan's loss of billions of dollars of oil revenues will bring down the government as inflation soars, the economy buckles and people grow hungrier, opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi said in an interview. - Reuters

Bahrain

Bahraini opposition activists said they blocked roads with burning tires on Thursday to demand the release of women prisoners, many of them locked up during more than a year of protests against the island kingdom's rulers. - Reuters

Courtney Radsch writes: The Bahraini authorities’ claim that they are making progress on improving human rights rings hollow amid the continuing harassment of activists, including the unfair imprisonment of well-known Bahraini human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja…Preventing international rights organizations from monitoring the situation on the ground further belies the platitudes of the government. – Freedom House’s Freedom at Issue

Yemen

The United States launched airstrikes in Yemen on Thursday that killed as many as seven militants, the second American missile attack in the country since the CIA and other spy agencies disrupted an al-Qaeda airline bomb plot, U.S. officials said. – Washington Post

As the war on al Qaeda's Yemen terror cell heats up, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday rules out any possibility of sending American troops to the Middle Eastern country. – DEFCON Hill

Iraq

The trial of Iraq's fugitive vice president Tareq al-Hashemi, accused of running death squads, was postponed for a second time on Thursday with the politician still in Turkey after his case sparked a crisis in Iraq's cross-sectarian government. - Reuters

Josh Rogin reports: So what is the administration doing about [Daqduq]? The Cable obtained the internal talking points prepared by the National Security Council and approved by Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough just yesterday. – The Cable

Israel

Charles Krauthammer writes: Netanyahu forfeited September elections that would have given him four more years in power. He chose instead to form a national coalition that guarantees 18 months of stability — 18 months during which, if the world does not act (whether by diplomacy or otherwise) to stop Iran, Israel will. And it will not be the work of one man, one party or one ideological faction. As in 1967, it will be the work of a nation. – Washington Post

Asia

China

Police officers here are being investigated over whether they used torture and other questionable methods to obtain evidence during a so-called anticrime campaign overseen by Bo Xilai, the deposed Chinese leader who for four years ran the party machinery in this fog-shrouded western metropolis. – New York Times

Family members and lawyers representing Chen Guangcheng are facing increased harassment despite an international deal brokered to help Mr. Chen, a legal activist who escaped house arrest last month and sought refuge in the American Embassy here. – New York Times

Some immigration lawyers have seen a new increase in the number of Chinese seeking foreign citizenship, a trend they suggest is tied to worries about political turmoil and economic slowdown in China, especially among businesspeople and politicians seeking to protect their families and wealth. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Chinese authorities have confiscated a lawyer's license and threatened to do the same to another after they volunteered to defend the nephew of blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng. - Reuters

Bill Gertz reports: Aggressive Chinese cyberespionage and digital warfare capabilities were major topics this week during talks between senior U.S. and Chinese defense officials. – Washington Times’ Inside the Ring

Analysis: Chinese leaders are grappling with a range of uncertainties, from the once-a-decade leadership transition this year that has been marred by a seismic political scandal, to a slowdown of growth in an economy in which deeply entrenched state-owned enterprises and their political patrons have hobbled market forces and private entrepreneurship. – New York Times

Analysis: A push by Chinese President Hu Jintao to shrink the size of the nation's nine-member leadership body, as revealed by Reuters this week, could have far-reaching implications for his anointed successor and for future economic and political reform. - Reuters

Perry Link writes: China will eventually outgrow its current spasm [of ruthless tyranny] as well, perhaps without Chen Guangcheng’s help. On the other hand, maybe this artist of miracle escapes can pull off a second miracle: changing the way the U.S. government understands “China.” – Washington Post

Scott Kennedy writes: If China continues with a system in which the well-connected try to bake their cake and eat it, too, there eventually won't be much of anything left except a few crumbs. – Wall Street Journal Asia (subscription required)

Afghanistan

The United States government is doing everything possible to locate Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who is being held captive by insurgents after being seized in Afghanistan in 2009, the Pentagon’s top civilian and military leaders said Thursday. – New York Times

Afghan commanders have refused more than a dozen times within the past two months to act on U.S. intelligence regarding high-level insurgents, arguing that night-time operations to target the men would result in civilian casualties, Afghan officials say. The defiance highlights the shift underway in Afghanistan as Afghan commanders make use of their newfound power to veto operations proposed by their NATO counterparts. – Washington Post

Allegations of corruption have long swirled around Afghan government and security institutions. Now, such allegations are set to fall on a United Nations body that channels billions of dollars into the country. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

An attack by six Taliban infiltrators in the eastern province of Paktika on Thursday killed three police officers but was put down before it reached the government offices that were its target, Afghan officials said. – New York Times

An attacker wearing an Afghan Army uniform opened fire on coalition soldiers in remote eastern Afghanistan on Friday, killing one NATO service member, NATO said in a statement. – New York Times

The U.S.-Afghan post-war agreement requires NATO to address three key challenges if it's going to be successful, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said Thursday during a hearing ahead of the NATO summit in Chicago. – The Hill’s Global Affairs

Concerned France's new president-elect will remove French troops from Afghanistan this year, senior Obama administration officials are headed to Paris for high-level talks. - DOTMIL

After five years of rising deaths, civilian casualties in Afghanistan dropped 20 percent in the first four months of the year, the United Nations said, a rare piece of good news as foreign combat forces prepare to pull out by the end of 2014. - Reuters

Afghanistan faces tougher security challenges in the next phase of a transition from foreign to Afghan forces as insurgents step up their attacks, Afghan officials said on Thursday. - Reuters

Sam Schulman writes: The bloody, self-sacrificial work of our soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan, and those of our allies, has enormously benefited the Afghan people and particularly Afghan women. But never mind. If their sacrifice harms our own self-image, it is a sacrifice too far. Bugging out therefore will be the biggest favor we can do the Afghans. Someday those who survive our desertion will thank us for it, our idealistic liberals flatter themselves, as they head for the exits. – The Weekly Standard

Pakistan

Husain Haqqani writes: Until their priorities shift, the empty pronouncements of our leaders against terrorism and the sacrifices of our soldiers in battle with militants will not suffice to change the nation’s course. – New York Times

Koreas

US and UK officials are seeking stronger action against North Korean arms sales in the Middle East and Africa, amid fears that the country could eventually look to sell nuclear technology in the region. – Financial Times

North Korea on Thursday vowed it would continue to advance its nuclear weapons program and other military projects in an apparent rebuttal to the U.N. Security Council's demand that the nation refrain from carrying out new missile and nuclear tests – Global Security Newswire

The United States and South Korea have been unable yet to bridge their differences on allowing Seoul to develop ballistic missiles with longer ranges, the Yonhap News Agency quoted an informed insider as saying on Wednesday – Global Security Newswire

A South Korean presidential candidate from the governing political party on Thursday called for U.S. nonstrategic nuclear weapons to be sent back to his country as a deterrent to North Korea – Global Security Newswire

Josh Rogin reports: Frustration with North Korea's ongoing nuclear weapons and missile programs has pushed Congress to reopen the debate in Washington over whether the United States should reintroduce tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea. – The Cable

Southeast Asia

China escalated its quarrel with the Philippines over an island in the South China Sea on Thursday, halting Philippine bananas at customs for longer inspections and starting an official media campaign that suggested that any claims on the island represented an infringement of Chinese sovereignty. – New York Times

Tensions between China and the Philippines remain high and U.S. officials say the likelihood Beijing will take some type of military action is growing. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has taken a hands-off approach to the dispute over a 10-mile square South China Sea lagoon called Scarborough Shoal and is not vocally supporting Manila in its dispute over fishing rights. – Washington Free Beacon

Filipino activists, carrying placards and banners and waving small Philippine flags, held a noisy but peaceful protest on Friday outside a Chinese consular office in Manila over islands in the South China Sea claimed by both nations. - Reuters

Laos on Thursday handed over the suspected leader of a drug gang accused of killing 13 members of Chinese boat crews on a lawless stretch of the Mekong River, an incident that caused Beijing to send gunboat patrols to the region downstream from its borders. - Reuters

Security

Defense

The Air Force late last month convened a summit in Ohio to address the most vexing problem of its premier jet fighter - pilots becoming dizzy from oxygen deprivation while flying the supersonic F-22 Raptor. – Washington Times

The White House has nominated Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and a former senior official at the CIA, to be the next Air Force chief of staff. – Washington Post

A senator from Alaska who has threatened to place a hold on all Air Force officer nominations is not budging, posing a potential roadblock to the confirmation of Gen. Mark A. Welsh III as next chief of staff. – Military Times

The House voted Thursday to override steep cuts to the Pentagon’s budget mandated by last summer's debt deal and replace them with spending reductions to food stamps and other mandatory social programs. – The Hill’s On the Money Blog

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Thursday afternoon that the House would vote next week on a $643 billion defense authorization bill and a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). – The Hill’s Floor Action Blog

The vice-chiefs of the Army and Marine Corps warned legislators today that sequestration would force the military and the nation to break enlistment contracts with up to 225,000 troops who would have to be precipitately discharged to save money. – AOL Defense

Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney would spend $2 trillion more than the current Pentagon budget over the next decade, according to an analysis of his proposal to tie the Defense budget to the gross domestic product. – DEFCON Hill

Facing mounting debt and a slow-to-recover economy, 62 percent of Americans prefer defense cuts over other debt reduction options, a survey by the Program for Public Consultation found. – Defense News

Making the nation’s future bomber aircraft capable of flying by remote control could prove unaffordable, a senior U.S. Air Force general said on Thursday – Global Security Newswire

Thomas Donnelly writes: The Romney 4 percent Pentagon budget is no “spike”; it’s more like a return to normal, even very constrained military spending given the global mission of America’s armed forces. It’s Obama’s levels of spending that are abnormal, digging a deep hole that even now will take a decade of reinvestment to repair. That’s what is really “piling up.” – The Weekly Standard

Peter Feaver writes: [W]hile it is fine to remain rhetorically committed to Plan A (improving State capacity), the military should train and equip for Plan B (State and other civilian agencies  more and probably less capable than they were in 2008). – Shadow Government

Missile Defense

One day after the House Armed Services Committee voted to back a third U.S. missile interceptor site for the East Coast, the Pentagon’s top military general said there was no need for the new site. – DEFCON Hill

The Pentagon has made the Aegis ballistic interceptors a cornerstone of its missile defense system, and this week it successfully tested the second generation of the launchers. – CNN’s Security Clearance

The War

The double-agent sent by Saudi Arabia to disrupt an al Qaeda suicide-bomb plot held a European Union passport, and grew up in the West, a security expert said, providing new insight into the unusual infiltration of the tight-knit terrorist group. – Wall Street Journal

The Yemeni branch of al Qaeda now has "a whole outfit designated to target the U.S. homeland," according to a source closely working with U.S. intelligence agencies and the military. – CNN’s Security Clearance

President Obama said it shouldn't "be any surprise" that al Qaeda is continuing efforts to attack the United States, but said of the recently foiled plot to bomb an America-bound airliner that he was "on top of this the entire time." – DEFCON Hill

British intelligence played a central role in the undercover operation to foil an underwear bomb plot involving al Qaeda's Yemeni offshoot, counterterrorism sources told Reuters. - Reuters

Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens and Peter Neumann write: For the foreseeable future, AQAP will remain the group's most ambitious affiliate—and the one that is most determined to strike against the West. – Wall Street Journal Europe (subscription required)

Law of the Sea Treaty

Josh Rogin reports: The Obama administration and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) are beginning a new push to seek ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, known around Washington simply as the Law of the Sea Treaty. – The Cable

Russia/Europe

Russia

[T]he announcement on Wednesday that Mr. Putin would skip the Group of 8 summit meeting of world leaders next week at Camp David — which Mr. Obama had promoted as an opportunity to “spend time” with Mr. Putin — bewildered foreign policy experts in both countries who have been waiting to see how the two leaders would get on. – New York Times

The Representative on Freedom of the Media from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has expressed concern over the "indiscriminate detention" of journalists reporting on street protests in Moscow and recent cyber attacks on Russian media websites. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Authorities might have hoped that Moscow's tenacious protest movement would die down after hundreds of demonstrators were summarily arrested at a May 6 rally ahead of Vladimir Putin's presidential inauguration. But rather than giving up, protesters are adapting their tactics. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

NATO members are worried that unprecedented billion-dollar arms sales to Russia by France, Germany and Italy could destabilize security, a U.S. congressional report said May 10, 10 days before the NATO summit. - AFP

Russian agents have foiled terror attack plans on the Black Sea resort of Sochi, host of the 2014 Winter Olympics, authorities said Thursday, blaming Chechen separatists and neighboring Georgia of jointly masterminding the plans. – Associated Press

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin will join the board of the state oil and gas holding company, a sign he is likely to keep a leading role in the world's largest energy industry even if he quits the cabinet. - Reuters

David Satter writes: Russia needs a commission similar to the South African Commission on Truth and Reconciliation to review publicly not only the crimes of the Putin era but also crimes committed during the eight-year rule of his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. Only this can provide a basis for democracy. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Eastern Europe

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's speechwriter would be well-advised to start brushing up his resume -- if, that is, he was behind the gaffe committed by Lukashenka during his annual address to the nation on May 8. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Lithuania's president says she will attempt to visit former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in the hospital where she is currently being treated, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Ukraine a Belarus-like "dictatorship." – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell are set to be awarded the rights to explore for unconventional gas in Ukraine, potentially catapulting it to the forefront of Europe’s fledgling shale gas industry as it seeks to reduce its dependence on neighbouring Russia. – Financial Times

United Kingdom

In an embarrassing policy change driven by pressure on its defense budget, Britain said Thursday that it was changing the type of fighter jet it intended to buy so it could avoid making expensive alterations to a new aircraft carrier. – New York Times

NATO

The black clouds of the American and European economic crises will loom ominously over NATO leaders when they assemble next week in Chicago for three days of high-level talks. - DOTMIL

Americas

Latin America

A brewing rebellion from ex-members of Haiti's disbanded army is adding uncertainty to the poor country one year after President Michel Martelly began his term with a pledge of renewal in the wake of a devastating 2010 earthquake. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Peru’s defense and interior ministers resigned Thursday shortly after the Congress opened a debate to consider censuring them for their handling of an antinarcotics operation in a valley known for coca cultivation and the presence of the leftist rebel group Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path. – LA Times’ World Now

Politicians across the spectrum in Venezuela are trading dire predictions of impending violence in the vacuum left by uncertainty about the health of President Hugo Chávez. – Financial Times

[D]espite an exhausting "house-by-house" tour intended to galvanize the nation behind him, Capriles remains firmly stuck behind President Hugo Chavez in most polls. - Reuters

Africa

East Africa

South Sudan’s years of conflict were meant to be over when it won its independence from Sudan last July after generations of fighting with the people of the north. But the jubilation quickly faded, and now, not even a year later, after weeks of pointed barbs and border skirmishes, this vast and vastly underdeveloped country is once again mobilizing for war – New York Times

Just a month after South Sudan announced an austerity budget designed to fend off economic collapse, the struggling country had already failed to meet its targets, a source close to the South Sudanese government acknowledged. – LA Times’ World Now

South Sudan said on Thursday it was ready to reopen negotiations immediately with its northern neighbor Sudan to try to resolve oil, security and frontier disputes that ignited border fighting last month. - Reuters

Ethiopian troops and Somali government forces killed 17 al Shabaab rebels on Thursday after the Islamist militants blocked a road in southern Somalia and stole goods, a regional official said. - Reuters

Sub-Saharan Africa

Inequality in sub-Saharan Africa could threaten political stability and growth after a decade of rapid economic expansion, a report by activists, business executives and politicians has warned. – Financial Times

A group of Congolese soldiers who created a rebel group after defecting from the army have no intention of laying down their weapons, despite an ultimatum from the government and the expiration of a cease-fire with the military, one of their leaders said Thursday. – 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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