FPI Overnight Brief: May 15, 2012

Middle East/North Africa

Iran

As Iran starts a critical round of talks over its nuclear program, its negotiating team may be less interested in reaching a comprehensive settlement than in buying time and establishing the legitimacy of its enrichment program, Iranian officials and analysts said. – New York Times

The Obama administration is moving to remove an Iranian opposition group from the State Department's terrorism list, say officials briefed on the talks, in an action that could further poison Washington's relations with Tehran at a time of renewed diplomatic efforts to curtail Iran's nuclear program. – Wall Street Journal

Iran said on Tuesday it had executed a man accused of being an Israeli intelligence agent responsible for the assassination of one of its nuclear scientists, Iranian state media reported. – New York Times

Opponents of Mr. Najafi are using a recent fatwa by a leading cleric, Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi-Golpayegani, which labels all those insulting the 10th Shiite imam, Ali al-Hadi al-Naqi, also known as Imam Naghi, as apostates. An Islamist Web site then offered a $100,000 bounty to anyone who kills Mr. Najafi, who was born in Iran, raps in Persian but lives in Germany. – New York Times

The United States must team up with Israel to draft a new set of "red lines" on Iran's growing nuclear program as a way to pressure Tehran into opening up those efforts to the international community. – DEFCON Hill

A U.S. or Israeli military strike on Iran's alleged nuclear weapons facilities is unlikely this year, but could happen as soon as 2013, say several former senior American officials. - DOTMIL

A close ally of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad has criticised the Islamic regime’s nuclear talks with world powers in a sign of the president’s rising frustration at being sidelined in the negotiations. – Financial Times

A drawing based on information from inside an Iranian military site shows an explosives containment chamber of the type needed for nuclear arms-related tests that U.N. inspectors suspect Tehran has conducted there. Iran denies such testing and has neither confirmed nor denied the existence of such a chamber. – Associated Press

A senior U.N. nuclear agency official urged Iran on Monday to allow access to sites, people and documents it seeks in its probe of suspicions that Tehran conducted secret research into nuclear weapons development. – Associated Press

Iran's talks with the U.N. nuclear watchdog about Tehran's atomic activities are going well, a senior Iranian official said on Tuesday, the second day of discussions. - Reuters

The United States is not impressed with India's efforts to cut its oil imports from Iran, a top U.S. diplomat said on Tuesday, throwing into doubt whether New Delhi would be given a waiver from U.S. financial sanctions before a June deadline. - Reuters

Syria

European Union foreign ministers imposed new sanctions on Syria on Monday, citing continued violence there, while some officials expressed frustration with the time it was taking United Nations mission leader Kofi Annan to establish a cease-fire. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Nearly two dozen Syrian government soldiers were killed in intense clashes with the opposition over control of the central, rebel-held city of Rastan, opposition groups said Monday, deepening questions about the viability of a cease-fire engineered under United Nations auspices. – New York Times

As the violence across Syria reaches a treacherous new phase and the numbers of displaced and injured swell, such individual and ad hoc efforts have grown into an increasingly organized underground network of volunteers willing to brave injury and arrest to deliver relief supplies to those trapped, wounded or displaced by the fighting. – New York Times

Syria’s conflict is increasing instability in Lebanon, which already is grappling with sectarian tensions, a crumbling economy and a weak, divided government, even as it has so far avoided the popular uprisings of its Middle East neighbors. – Washington Times

International efforts to unite Syria’s opposition suffered a fresh blow on Monday when the Syrian National Council, the main umbrella group, said it would boycott a planned Arab League unity conference in Cairo. – Financial Times

When it comes to influencing Syria's bloody struggle between President Bashar al-Assad and rebels trying to unseat him, the exile opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) seems as helpless an onlooker as world powers groping for a strategy. - Reuters

Firing assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, Lebanese gunmen clashed in street battles Monday as sectarian tensions linked to the 14-month-old uprising in Syria bled across the border for a third day. – Associated Press

Damascus wants to manage the delivery of all humanitarian aid to a million people in need of assistance as a result of the 14-month-old conflict in Syria, but the United Nations insists on having some control, envoys say. - Reuters

Kosovo's Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj voiced strong support on Monday for Syria's opposition, saying his government had already established diplomatic contacts with Syrians fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad. - Reuters

Foreign Islamist fighters appear to be a fringe element only in the conflict between assorted Syrian rebel groups and Assad's armed forces. But the fate of this one band of Tunisian friends offers some of the hardest evidence yet that Syria could become a magnet for the kind of young Muslim men from around the world who once sought jihad and martyrdom in Iraq or Afghanistan. - Reuters

Josh Rogin reports: Syrian government forces continue to attack opposition forces, civilians, and aid volunteers, preventing the international community from getting emergency aid to the Syrian people, USAID has detailed in a series of internal reports obtained by The Cable. – The Cable

Egypt

Candidates for Egypt’s highest office have sharpened their anti-Israel rhetoric with barely a week left until voters cast their ballots in the first presidential election since last year’s revolution. – Washington Times

Near the rock-strewn scene of a bloody anti-army protest, Islamist, liberal and other politicians sat with ruling generals this month to haggle over Egypt's future after its first presidential vote since Hosni Mubarak's fall. - Reuters

Libya

Diplomats and other observers in Libya say that with elections one month away, the National Transitional Council is struggling to exert control over various militia prominent in the uprising against Moammar Gadhafi. The situation is further complicated by tribal rivalries and a growing presence of Islamist militants in some areas. – CNN’s Security Clearance

At least 72 civilians, a third of them under the age of 18, were killed by NATO airstrikes, according to a report released Monday by Human Rights Watch — one of the most extensive investigations into the issue. – Associated Press

Abdel Hakim Belhadj, one of Libya's most powerful militia leaders, is quitting to devote himself full-time to politics, an aide said on Monday, in a vote of confidence for the fragile transition from rebellion to democracy. - Reuters

A candidate for Libya's national elections was killed in the desert south shortly after submitting his registration, security sources said, highlighting the North African country's volatility a month before the polls. - Reuters

Spat at in public by a fellow Libyan who called him a thief, watching his back on long walks through Vienna, eating poorly; Muammar Gaddafi's fugitive oil supremo was a troubled man in the months before he was found drowned in the Danube two weeks ago. - Reuters

Gulf States

Saudi Arabia pushed ahead Monday with efforts to forge a single federation with its five Persian Gulf neighbors as the conservative monarchy seeks to build a new bulwark against the waves of change sweeping the Middle East. – New York Times

Gulf leaders balked at Saudi Arabia's call to confederate their nations in a broad security and economic union, telling the country—the region's economic and military power—that they needed to hear more specifics first about what such a union would entail, the Saudi foreign minister said on Monday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Yemen

Obama administration officials were tight-lipped about the weekend visit of counterterrorism advisor John Brennan to Yemen this past weekend. – CNN’s Security Clearance

At least 32 people, including 23 al Qaeda-linked militants were killed in Yemen, officials and residents said on Tuesday, as the government pressed ahead with a new U.S.-backed offensive against insurgents in the south of the country. - Reuters

Suspected Islamist militants blew up a gas pipeline in eastern Yemen on Monday for the third time in recent months and a bomb in Sanaa killed one person, as the government ratcheted up its campaign against al Qaeda linked insurgents in the south. - Reuters

Iraq

A clandestine jail and alleged torture site under the control of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki continues to operate more than a year after the government ordered it shut down, Human Rights Watch claims in a report being released Tuesday. – LA Times’ World Now

Israel

Israeli and Palestinian officials announced Monday that more than 1,600 Palestinian prisoners had agreed to end a nearly month-long hunger strike in exchange for concessions by Israel, including a modification to its practice of detention without charge or trial. – Washington Post

Amb. Michael Oren writes: Israel must confront the acute dangers of delegitimization as it did armies and bombers in the past. Along with celebrating our technology, pioneering science and medicine, we need to stand by the facts of our past. "The Spirit of Israel" has not diminished since 1973—on the contrary, it has flourished. The state that Life once lionized lives even more vibrantly today. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Asia

Afghanistan

Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, is expected to leave his post early next year and take over the U.S. European Command, officials said. – Washington Post

A U.S.-backed program to recruit police in rural Afghanistan has failed to significantly stem the insurgency, with some units becoming deeply entangled in criminal activity, including bribe-taking and extortion, according to a Pentagon-funded study. – Los Angeles Times

One of the most powerful men on the Taliban council, Agha Jan Motasim, nearly lost his life in a hail of bullets for advocating a negotiated settlement that would bring a broad-based government to his beleaguered homeland of Afghanistan. – Associated Press

Intensifying violence as NATO combat troops prepare to leave by end-2014 and a poor economic outlook in the face of shrinking aid could spell a humanitarian disaster for Afghanistan, where a third already live beneath the poverty line. - Reuters

David Meyers writes: As commander in chief, President Obama needs to engage the country in a serious discussion of the issue. And he needs to explain what he would do if faced with a choice between these two unappealing options. The American people should demand no less. – The Daily Caller

Pakistan

Two cases filed last week raise an uncomfortable point for the Pakistani government: Despite three resolutions by Parliament calling for a halt to the drone attacks, they have not only continued but escalated. – Washington Post

Pakistan’s foreign minister suggested Monday that the country should open its Afghan border to NATO troop supplies, saying the government has made its point by closing the route for nearly six months in retaliation for deadly U.S. airstrikes on its troops. – Associated Press

China

[A] visit to this municipality in eastern China, where Mr. Chen and his family most recently spent 20 months as prisoners in their own home, offers no hint of a change in the way China deals with its dissidents. – New York Times

[S]o far, like a four-year-old air-quality monitoring program in Beijing and one in Guangzhou, the U.S.’s Shanghai reading of the situation is worse than what is reported by local authorities. – WSJ’s China Real Time

The United States must ensure that China cannot "do as they please" while smaller Asian countries suffer, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Monday in a Washington speech. – DEFCON Hill

China's top military newspaper warned officers on Tuesday to remain the ruling Communist Party's "most loyal" defenders in the face of what it called Western plotting, describing recent cases of ill-discipline and corruption as a "profound warning". - Reuters

China is beset by a moral crisis, widespread corruption and lawlessness, leading millions of Chinese to seek solace in Buddhism, Tibet's exiled Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, said on Monday. - Reuters

Analysis: Despite a spectacular political scandal and swirling rumors of high-level infighting, signs are that China’s once-in-a-decade leadership change is still on track for this autumn, according to party insiders and observers. – New York Times

Bob Fu writes: In the Bible, the book of Romans says, "Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil and cling to what is good and always serve each other in love." With this kind of message, Christianity will blossom. This is the only way freedom -- both individually and nationally -- will spread in China. – Foreign Policy

Koreas

Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee are calling for bolstering nuclear and conventional forces in Asia in response to China’s nuclear buildup and missile proliferation to North Korea. – Washington Free Beacon

The Obama administration has no intention of deploying tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea in response to North Korean provocations, the State Department reaffirmed on Monday – The Hill’s Global Affairs

The South Korean armed forces oppose the refielding of U.S. nonstrategic nuclear weapons in their country, a move that was recently hinted at by a key U.S. House of Representatives committee, the Yonhap News Agency reported on Sunday – Global Security Newswire

South Korea, Japan, and China are in agreement that a third North Korean nuclear test or other hostile act would be unacceptable, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said on Sunday – Global Security Newswire

East Asia

The United States should demand that Mongolia, the only functioning democracy in Central Asia and a close U.S. ally, respect its citizens' legal rights amid a crackdown on political opponents, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said on the House floor Monday. – The Hill’s Global Affairs

The former Mongolian president jailed pending charges of corruption, has been released on bail after a 10-day dry hunger strike, temporarily soothing a dangerous stand-off that has roiled Mongolia’s democratic politics ahead of elections next month. – Financial Times

Taiwan is arming more of its fleet with its new “carrier killer” anti-ship missiles as China conducts further sea trials of its first aircraft carrier, local media said May 14. - AFP

Southeast Asia

Prosecutors in the impeachment trial of Renato C. Corona, the chief justice of the Philippines, presented evidence on Monday that he had deposited $28.7 million into various bank accounts. – New York Times

The news coming out of Myanmar these days is of hope and reconciliation as the country moves from military dictatorship to fledgling democracy. But what is actually coming across Myanmar’s border here is a surge of illicit drugs. – New York Times

Josh Rogin reports: Senators from both parties are now urging the Obama administration to drastically scale back U.S. sanctions on Burma in light of that country's moves toward reform and democratization. – The Cable

Australia

Funding for Australian land and air programs and naval operations will be reduced under a plan that cuts 971 million Australian dollars ($980.5 million) from Australia’s defense budget to help reverse a growing national deficit and return the budget to surplus. – Defense News

Security

Defense

On Monday, the Pentagon opened for female troops about 14,000 support positions that previously had been withheld from them, allowing women to fill jobs below the brigade level. – Washington Times

A House Armed Services Committee member is taking the obscure concept of "sequestration" to the streets, kicking off a nationwide tour Monday to discuss the potential $1 trillion in automatic cuts threatening the defense budget. – CNN’s Security Clearance

A House GOP plan to cut social welfare programs to stave off automatic defense spending reductions is yet another example of the political "games being played with defense and national security" by Republicans, a top House Democrat said Monday. – DEFCON Hill

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta opted for a familiar ally to pilot the Air Force through its latest period of turbulence and transition, as it searches for a niche with an aging fleet in the post-9/11 era. - DOTMIL

To squeeze the most it can out of every training dollar in an era of shrinking budgets, the Army Reserve will rely more on simulators and long-distance learning to replace traditional drill weekends, outgoing Chief of Army Reserve Lt. Gen. Jack Stulz said – AOL Defense

The Marine Corps is keeping tabs on the Army’s plan to test face shields, some of which can stop 7.62mm rifle rounds. Deployed Marines already see the benefit, some paying out of pocket to wear them in Afghanistan, according to industry sources. – Military Times

Will the U.S. Army soon start blasting incoming rockets and mortars with laser beams to protect its forward operating bases? Not quite, but according to people involved in industry and the Army, that day might not be that far off. – Defense News

Missile Defense

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) writes: President Obama has a responsibility to defend America against all threats. Assuring any nation that our missile-defense systems will be ineffective against their nuclear ballistic missiles is clearly at odds with that responsibility. Mr. Putin must be made to understand that a desire to cooperate is not the same thing as a willingness to trade away our fundamental right to self-defense, and that America will always retain the right to defend itself. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Russia/Europe

Russia

President Obama won't attend this year's Asia-Pacific economic summit in Russia because of his reelection bid, White House spokesman Jay Carney confirmed Monday. – The Hill’s Global Affairs

United Kingdom

Britain’s defense budget is in balance for the first time in decades following a two-year effort by the government to eliminate a 38 billion pound ($61.1 billion) black hole in funding, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told Parliament here. – Defense News

Britain’s Ministry of Defence is considering changes to the way the construction of the Royal Navy’s 65,000-ton aircraft carriers is run, according to defense sources. – Defense News

Ukraine

The European Union has decided against calling for a blocwide boycott of European soccer championship games scheduled to be held next month in Ukraine. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

A Ukrainian court delayed hearings on Tuesday into former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko's appeal against last year's abuse-of-office conviction, a verdict seen by many Western nations as politically motivated. - Reuters

Editorial: During two decades of independence, Ukraine has wavered between the authoritarian model to its east and the democratic model to the west. The United States, its allies and, above all, the Ukrainian people will be best served if Ukraine can escape the temptations of Putinism. – Washington Post

Americas

Latin America

The North American Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect in 1994, has been the key driver of Mexico’s economic and social transformation of the past 20 years, analysts say. – Washington Times

With the July 1 presidential vote only weeks away, Peña Nieto holds a solid double-digit lead in the polls, and yet Mexican voters and U.S. observers confess that they do not really know what the candidate stands for. – Washington Post

The International Committee of the Red Cross was mobilizing vehicles and personnel in southern Colombia on Monday to help facilitate the expected release of a French journalist captured in the jungle more than two weeks ago by Marxist rebels. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Mr. Chavez has been praying for divine intervention during increasingly infrequent appearances on television, holding up a crucifix while vowing to overcome his illness. He says living with cancer has made him “more Christian,” talk that has spurred speculation that cancer might cut short his bid for re-election in October. – Associated Press

Africa

West Africa

West Africa’s 15-nation Ecowas bloc threatened on Monday to impose new sanctions on Mali’s coup leaders and their allies, accusing them of blocking a return to civilian rule and further destabilising the divided nation. - Reuters

West Africa's regional bloc ECOWAS will deploy troops to Guinea Bissau by Friday to oversee reform of the local army and a gradual one-year transition to civilian rule after an April 12 coup, Nigeria said on Monday. - Reuters

East Africa

American military advisers in Uganda are drawing on lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan to help train African Union soldiers to fight Somalia’s most powerful insurgent group, al-Shabab. – Associated Press

Armin Rosen writes: Ten months into South Sudan’s independence, the hazards of building a Western-leaning country in a region that’s being shaped by conflict, mass migration, and war criminals like Omar al-Bashir are clear. In ten years, South Sudan could be stable and prosperous. It could just as easily become a dysfunctional failed state. – The Weekly Standard

Congo

Seven United Nations peacekeepers in Congo were wounded when gunmen opened fire at a protest in the East of the country on Monday, drawing condemnation from the U.N. Security Council. - Reuters

The Hague war crimes prosecutor announced new charges on Monday against a Democratic Republic of Congo general accused of conscripting child fighters and an arrest warrant for a militia leader. - Reuters

South Africa

Peter Godwin writes: Likewise, all nations that care about countering crimes against humanity should pressure South Africa to accept the court’s decision. By letting this judgment stand, Mr. Zuma’s government has a historic opportunity to show its critics that it has a genuine commitment to human rights. If, however, South Africa seeks to reverse the ruling, it will be a tragedy for Zimbabwe’s many torture victims, past and future. – New York Times

Democracy and Human Rights

Sohrab Ahmari writes: The moral and cultural crisis of Arab liberalism is serious. It threatens nothing less than the future of freedom in the Middle East. Yet, as daunting as it may seem in light of recent developments, there really is no other path than the freedom agenda as far as U.S. policy should be concerned. After the Arab Spring, the U.S.-led order in the region is frayed, but it still stands. If it is to persist and thrive, that order must be decoupled from classical Arab authoritarianism. - Commentary

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.
Read More