FPI Overnight Brief: May 23, 2012

Middle East/North Africa

Six global powers including the United State resumed negotiations with Iran here on Wednesday a day after Tehran signaled willingness to allow potentially intrusive international inspections of secret military facilities, raising expectations that it was searching for a diplomatic solution to the standoff over its nuclear program. – New York Times
Iran has recalled its ambassador from neighboring Azerbaijan, citing a religious insult, in the latest sign of escalating tensions between the countries. – New York Times
A tentative deal between Tehran and the United Nations' chief nuclear official offered a potential breakthrough on crucial inspections on the eve of international talks, but U.S. officials feared Iran won't honor the pact and is just seeking to divert its Western critics. – Wall Street Journal
The White House said it would not immediately lift sanctions on Iran as a result of progress in talks to allow an investigation into Tehran’s nuclear program. – Washington Times
Iran's decision to allow U.N. officials to inspect an alleged nuclear weapons site is an attempt to secure leverage over western officials on the eve of high-level talks and perhaps avert a European Union oil embargo, national security officials say. - DOTMIL
World powers will test Iran's readiness under pressure of sanctions to scale back its nuclear program at talks on Wednesday aimed at easing a decade-old standoff and averting the threat of a Middle East war. - Reuters
Iran said on Tuesday it had delivered two batches of domestically made nuclear fuel to a research reactor in an apparent attempt to trumpet nuclear advances before negotiations with six world powers on Wednesday. - Reuters
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will visit China in June for a security summit and discuss his country's disputed nuclear programme with Chinese President Hu Jintao, a senior diplomat said on Wednesday, criticizing new sanctions aimed at Iran. - Reuters
Josh Rogin reports: Don't expect any breakthroughs with Tehran at the six-power nuclear talks beginning Wednesday in Baghdad, the Obama administration's former top official for Iran Dennis Ross said Tuesday, despite a recent flurry of reporting suggesting otherwise. – The Cable
Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) write: The meetings in Baghdad could be one of our best and last chances to peacefully resolve the Iranian regime's pursuit of a nuclear-weapons capability. But this opportunity will be lost if we allow Iran's negotiators to fool us into easing the pressure before the Tehran regime has truly abandoned its military nuclear ambitions. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz write: A new red line at 20 percent enrichment would leave Jerusalem two options: strike or give up. The euphoria in Western and certain Israeli circles that Judgment Day has been avoided will vanish rapidly as it becomes obvious how much Khamenei can cheat with this new standard. For those who fear another conflagration in the Middle East, that ought to be a compelling reason to hang tough in Baghdad. Odds are, however, we won’t. – Washington Post
Michael Singh writes: Negotiations and agreements are useful insofar as they advance our national security interests, but should never be seen as ends in themselves. The leverage the U.S. has built up has been hard-won, but can be easily lost, and should not be yielded too readily. – Shadow Government
After weeks of fevered debate, speculation and argument, Egyptians went to the polls on Wednesday in the Arab world’s first competitive presidential election, choosing between a dozen candidates spanning the nation’s secular and Islamist traditions after decades of authoritarian rule. – New York Times
As they begin slipping ballots into boxes Wednesday in what is widely expected to be the country’s first free and fair presidential vote, some Egyptians have been left feeling underwhelmed, if not bitter. The results could widen rifts that have strained the country’s social fabric during the turbulent post-revolutionary period. – Washington Post
On the eve of the vote to choose Egypt’s first president since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, this pervasive lawlessness is the biggest change in daily life since the revolution and the most salient issue in the presidential race. – New York Times
Egypt's army and mainly Islamist politicians have deferred talks on what powers the new president will have until after this week's presidential vote, which is unlikely to produce an outright winner, political sources said on Tuesday. - Reuters
Youth activists like Adel say they have been squeezed out in past 15 months, partly by the organized power of Islamists who triumphed in a parliamentary election completed in January, and partly by the military council and establishment loyalists whom they accuse of hiring thugs to attack them during protests. - Reuters
Eleven Lebanese men were kidnapped near the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Tuesday, officials and witnesses said, the latest spillover of the conflict next door to create waves in Lebanon. – New York Times
A Lebanese court on Tuesday released on bail an Islamist whose arrest earlier this month triggered deadly clashes between rival Syrian groups in the northern city of Tripoli. – LA Times’ World Now
A dissident from President Bashar al-Assad's minority Alawite sect is urging his co-religionists not to fear for their fate if the Syrian leader falls, arguing the "end of totalitarianism" is the best guarantee for the survival of their community. - Reuters
Syria's political opposition in exile, the Syrian National Council, called on rebels in Syria on Wednesday to help secure the release of 13 Lebanese Shi'ite pilgrims abducted near the north Syrian city of Aleppo. - Reuters
Syrian rebels said police had opened fire and killed two people on Tuesday when a crowd turned out to greet a team of U.N. ceasefire monitors in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor. - Reuters
North Africa
Tunisia will extradite former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's prime minister to Libya and the handover could take place in "days or weeks", Justice Minister Noureddine Bouheiri said on Tuesday. - Reuters
Libya's electoral commission said on Tuesday 4,000 candidates had registered for upcoming national assembly elections, but the commission head said he could not confirm the vote would be held on June 19 as set by the ruling National Transitional Council. - Reuters
Italy’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Giulio Terzi, writes: A Libya closer to the Euro-Atlantic family will eventually be a country more secure for its own people and a better partner for both the region and the international community. This is not the time for the international community to turn away and simply wish for the best. – Foreign Policy
Anne Applebaum writes: After the voting ends, watch what happens to the talk-show hosts, the refugee advocates and the environmental activists on the one hand, and the militias and the regulators on the other — and you’ll have a good idea which way Libya is heading. – Washington Post
Saudi Arabia, concerned that chaos in Yemen is creating an al Qaeda base on its doorstep, pledged $3.25 billion in aid to its neighbor at a donor group meeting two days after more than 90 Yemeni soldiers were killed in a suicide attack. - Reuters
It has been nearly two decades since the language was taught in Gaza’s schools, and last month, after much debate, Hamas officials chose to add it to the optional curriculum rather than Turkish or German. – New York Times
Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff, began a weeklong working visit to China on May 21 as a guest of his People’s Liberation Army (PLA) counterpart, Gen. Chen Bingde. – Defense News
Israel expressed deep suspicion on Tuesday about an expected deal between the U.N. nuclear agency and Iran, suggesting Tehran's aim was to wriggle out of sanctions rather than make real concessions ahead of wider atomic talks with world powers. - Reuters
The Obama administration is trying to convince the U.S. Congress to approve the sale of spy drones to Turkey for its campaign against Kurdish rebels, the Turkish president was quoted as saying May 22. - AFP


Afghan president Hamid Karzai and Pakistani prime minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani will hash out a number of issues, from reopening U.S. supply lines to terrorist safe havens in Pakistan, during talks scheduled for next week. – DEFCON Hill
Afghan president Hamid Karzai will likely flee Afghanistan after American troops withdraw from the country in 2014, leaving the country's fledgling central government to fend for itself against the Taliban, according to one GOP lawmaker. – DEFCON Hill
Army forces in Afghanistan must obtain “warrants” to enter local homes before setting out on combat missions, causing concern among soldiers and Afghan forces over potential leaks that could imperil missions. – Military Times
The carefully orchestrated exit strategy could come unhinged if the resilient Taliban stage a major comeback or Afghanistan’s neighbors interfere with the process to bolster their position in a weak country soon to be without thousands of international combat troops. In short, the Taliban, Pakistan and Iran still get a vote. – Associated Press
People in Afghanistan were surprisingly optimistic on Tuesday about NATO's plan to pull combat troops out of their war-ravaged nation by the end of 2014, but warned Western leaders to stick to aid and security promises. - Reuters
Paul Miller writes: Obama himself said in his speech in Kabul that stability in Afghanistan is a prerequisite to denying safe haven to al Qaeda. "Otherwise, our gains could be lost and al Qaeda could establish itself once more," he said. That's true: So why has he refused to take the steps necessary to ensure lasting stability in Afghanistan? His failure to do so is his legacy. – Shadow Government
Kenneth Roth writes: It would have been nice if the NATO governments' high-sounding rhetoric at the summit about their vision for Afghanistan were matched by some tough, no-nonsense pressure to realize it. – Foreign Policy
As U.S. frustration with Pakistan's six-month blockade of Afghanistan-bound supplies became painfully apparent Monday at the NATO summit in Chicago, Pakistanis are growing worried that their government's negotiating strategy could cost their country millions of dollars in American aid and jeopardize its prospects for a voice in Afghanistan's postwar future. – Los Angeles Times
Countries involved in a U.S.-backed trans-Afghanistan pipeline will sign a commercial agreement Wednesday that is aimed at keeping the much-delayed $7.6 billion project alive. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Pakistan is roughly 50 percent finished in building a fourth nuclear reactor site at a facility that generates plutonium for nuclear bombs, the Institute for Science and International Security said in a Monday analysis – Global Security Newswire
Josh Rogin reports: The United States should not pay upwards of $5,000 for each truck Pakistan lets through to Afghanistan to aid the war effort, both leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee told The Cable – The Cable
East Asia
North Korea warned on Tuesday that it would have to take “countermeasures” if the United States insisted on sanctions, while the latest satellite imagery of the country’s nuclear test site suggested heightened preparations for a possible underground nuclear test. – New York Times
Chinese fishermen released by North Korea this week after nearly two weeks of captivity alleged that they were beaten, robbed and stripped and given starvation rations in a case that has opened up a rare public rift between the Communist allies. – LA Times’ World Now
A $2.1 billion South Korean initiative to procure 500-600 ballistic and cruise missiles over a half-decade would seek to bolster the nation's capability to disable North Korea's atomic armaments and other threats in a potential crisis, the Chosun Ilbo reported on Tuesday – Global Security Newswire
North Korea intensified its war of words against the United States on Tuesday, vowing to strengthen its nuclear deterrent after Washington warned Pyongyang of further sanctions if it did not abandon its atomic program. - Reuters
Unchecked abuses in cities by shadowy para-police units derided by many Chinese as "arbitrary and thuggish" are intensifying social strains and undermining stability, international advocacy group Human Rights Watch said in a report on Wednesday. - Reuters
South Asia
India's government needs to make tough decisions on spending and tax generation to boost foreign and local investment, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Tuesday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Nepali politicians on Tuesday proposed to ignore a Supreme Court deadline giving them until Sunday to draw up a new constitution for the Himalayan republic, saying they needed more time to agree on the boundaries and names of new states. - Reuters
Southeast Asia
The Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges relating to his involvement in a protest last month that drew thousands of demonstrators into the streets calling for free and fair elections. – New York Times
At times weeping on the stand, the chief justice of the Philippines, Renato C. Corona, testified on Tuesday for the first time in his impeachment trial in the Philippine Senate. He denied the corruption charges against him, challenged his accusers to disclose their own finances and then tried to walk out of the proceedings. – New York Times
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will begin a weeklong visit to the Asia-Pacific next week, his first visit to the region since the Pentagon announced an increased focus on that area earlier this year. – Defense News
As tensions remain high between the Philippines and China over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea, some nationalists in the Southeast Asian nation are looking for ways to take matters into their own hands. – WSJ’s China Real Time Report
He was pardoned by the president and released from jail, but Sri Lankan former army chief Sarath Fonseka had nothing but scorn for the government on his first day of freedom and vowed to fight for its downfall. - Reuters


The Defense Department on Tuesday said it would strengthen efforts to prevent Chinese counterfeit parts from ending up in the U.S. military’s supply chain. – Washington Times
The F-35B conducted its first flight out of Eglin AFB, Fla., May 22, marking one of several steps needed to officially stand up pilot training for the Lockheed Martin stealthy jet there. – Aviation Week
The V-22 is finally proving the value of marrying the vertical lift of a helicopter with the speed of a fixed-wing aircraft after a tumultuous and prolonged development phase. But the question now is whether this success is coming at a time when the Bell-Boeing team is powerless to turn its inherent operational utility into substantially more sales. – Aviation Week
[B]lending people, vehicles, manned planes and robots on the tightly packed 4.5 acres of a carrier deck requires new techniques, technologies and new ways of thinking. Men and machines will need to know when to work together, when to ask each other for help and when to just give each other some space. – AOL Defense
In sharp contrast to the peak years of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Army last year took in no recruits with misconduct convictions or drug or alcohol issues, according to internal documents obtained by The Associated Press. And soldiers already serving on active duty now must meet tougher standards to stay on for further tours in uniform. – Associated Press
International Affairs
In a fresh warning to Pakistan, a Senate panel on Tuesday approved a foreign aid budget for next year that slashes U.S. assistance to Islamabad by more than half and threatens further reductions if it fails to open supply routes to NATO forces in Afghanistan. – Associated Press
The War
A key Senate panel voted Tuesday to extend a contested 2008 provision of foreign intelligence surveillance law that is set to expire at year’s end. – Washington Post
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said he does not plan to make any changes to the detainee language in the Senate's defense authorization bill, which was recently struck down by a U.S. District Court in New York. – DEFCON Hill
This past Monday, 15 names were added to what's known by insiders as the "Book of Honor." When a name is inscribed in the book, it allows family and friends of the fallen to publicly acknowledge in general terms, how their loved ones spent their lives, and how they died. – CNN’s Security Clearance
White House counterterror chief John Brennan has seized the lead in guiding the debate on which terror leaders will be targeted for drone attacks or raids, establishing a new procedure to vet both military and CIA targets. – Associated Press
Law of the Sea Treaty
Josh Rogin reports: On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee kicks off a major new effort to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty, and interested senators are already preparing behind the scenes for a protracted battle over the issue. – The Cable
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) writes in favor of LOST, while Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) write in opposition for Politico.
Arms Control
Nuclear disarmament advocates on Monday voiced frustration with what they saw as a missed opportunity for NATO to use its summit here to declare it would reduce the role that nuclear weapons play in the defense of the military bloc’s membership – Global Security Newswire
The chances for bipartisan agreement on sweeping cybersecurity legislation appeared slim on Tuesday, as top Republicans in the Senate said that fundamental differences remain. – National Journal
The American military is intrigued by the offensive uses for cyber-warfare, but it is struggling to figure out how to do it. What impact can cyber weapons have on the battlefield? What organizations should take the lead? And who makes the decision to pull the trigger? – AOL Defense


Stiff new penalties aimed at opposition protesters were given preliminary approval Tuesday by Russian lawmakers loyal to President Vladimir Putin, the target of mass rallies and demonstrations before his March election victory. – Los Angeles Times
Russians strongly support specific characteristics of democracy, such as fair courts, a free press and honest elections — but don’t mention the word “democracy,” or support drops way off. – Washington Post
A powerful ally of President Vladimir Putin was named chief executive of Russia's state oil company on Tuesday, completing a realignment of senior positions in Mr. Putin's new administration and cementing his control of economic and security policy. – Wall Street Journal
Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov has restructured the government hierarchy, naming an obscure deputy prime minister as premier and elevating the head of the joint administration of the republic head and the government to be the second-most powerful figure within the leadership, responsible for overseeing the work of the government and answerable directly to Kadyrov himself. – RFE/RL’s Caucasus Report
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government is on a week-long charm offensive to the United States to reassure the federal government and the business community of Hungary's democratic credentials. – The Hill’s Global Affairs
With the conclusion of its carefully orchestrated summit in Chicago, NATO declared success in areas where it had planned to announce progress and dialed back the media’s expectations where it may have fallen short. – Defense News
Analysis: NATO put on a brave face at its Chicago summit but the reality is that the alliance has been weakened by the euro zone crisis and faces an identity crisis about what its role will be once it ends its intervention in Afghanistan in 2014. - Reuters


Latin America
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez reappeared on Tuesday in a live television broadcast, the first time he has been seen in public view since returning from cancer treatment in Cuba almost two weeks ago. - Reuters
The leading opposition candidate in the Dominican Republic's presidential election conceded defeat on Tuesday but defiantly stood by his claim that the country's vote was plagued by irregularities. - Reuters
Argentine police on Tuesday defused an explosive device hidden in a theater where former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe was scheduled to speak, raising suspicions that left-wing Colombian rebels may have been involved. - Reuters
Jose Cardenas writes: The principled decision would have been to deny all the visas in solidarity with the thousands of Cubans who cannot speak their minds in Cuba or travel freely or had to flee Cuba to enjoy those rights; moreover, to reaffirm that there will not be business-as-usual as long as Alan Gross remains unjustly imprisoned. But all this has been muddled by half-measures: Deny some, allow others. It may be that the administration doesn't mind drawing both the ire of the right and the left, but political expedience is never a good choice over principle. – Shadow Government


West Africa
In an interview in Abuja, Mr Salkida said that Mr Yusuf, [Boko Harram’s] founder, has based his teachings on the works of Ibn Taymiyya, after whom he named his mosque in Maiduguri, and who has influenced other modern radical Islamist movements. – Financial Times
The leader of Mali's March 22 coup condemned the beating of the interim president by demonstrators and called on Tuesday for a peaceful transition of power in the West African country. - Reuters
Six weeks after it toppled the government and derailed elections, Guinea-Bissau's military junta said on Tuesday it was handing power back to the West African state's civilian leaders. - Reuters
East Africa
African Union and Somali government troops stepped up their assault on al Shabaab militants in the capital's northern outskirts on Wednesday, forcing hundreds of families to flee their makeshift homes and head for the city centre. - Reuters
South Sudan said Sudan attacked it with aerial bombing raids and ground artillery on Monday and Tuesday, accusing Khartoum of trying to sabotage international efforts for peace talks which the African Union hopes to restart next week. - Reuters
Southern Africa
South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress, went to court on Tuesday to try to force an art gallery in Johannesburg to remove a [controversial] painting [of South African President] Jacob Zuma. – New York Times
A 29-year-old farm worker was convicted Tuesday in the 2010 killing of South African white supremacist Eugene TerreBlanche, but his teenage companion was acquitted in the murder that sparked fears of racial violence. – LA Times’ World Now
Eli Lake reports: Most of the world regards the 88-year-old president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, as a doddering sadist, the man who once had a servant literally wash his feet in front of foreign dignitaries…But in an exclusive interview, one of Zimbabwe’s most renowned human-rights lawyers, a longtime foe of Mugabe, said the dictator has his charms. – The Daily Beast

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