FPI Overnight Brief: May 24, 2012

Middle East/North Africa

Iran appeared to balk Wednesday at a detailed proposal presented by six world powers to address urgent concerns about its nuclear program, including a freeze on its enrichment of uranium that could be converted to bomb-grade fuel, because of what the Iranian side suggested was an insufficient easing of sanctions in exchange. – New York Times
India plans to aggressively push wheat exports to Iran by offering lower prices than rival Pakistan and will hold talks with Tehran early next month to resolve objections over traces of a fungal disease found in grain exports. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Despite recent assurances by senior officials in Iran that the country will weather sanctions targeting the country's petroleum and financial sectors, the international effort is having a noticeable impact on the Iranian economy. – CNN’s Security Clearance
When North Korea tried unsuccessfully to launch a rocket last month supposedly to put a satellite in orbit, most of the international community condemned the attempt as a dangerous provocation. Iran recently announced its intention to make a similar attempt, but the chorus of opposition this time seems to be a great deal quieter. – CNN’s Security Clearance
Iran accused world powers on Thursday of creating "a difficult atmosphere" that hindered talks on its atomic energy programme, signaling a snag in diplomacy to defuse fears of a covert Iranian bid to develop nuclear bombs. - Reuters
Nick Robinson reports: Senior ministers are discussing how Britain would respond in the event of a military confrontation between Israel and Iran later this year. - BBC
Danielle Pletka, Fred Kagan, et al write: The United States and its allies and partners in the region and beyond must not only understand Iran’s regional strategy and influence but also develop a coherent strategy of their own with which to confront them. – American Enterprise Institute
Maseh Zarif writes: Any outcome that does not include the verifiable dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program and the removal of all nuclear material—at any level—will allow Iran to retain the ability to acquire nuclear weapons fuel in short order. – AEI’s Iran Tracker
Sanctions against Syria’s oil industry are taking a substantial toll, draining $4 billion from the country’s economy so far and causing widespread fuel shortages, a top official of the embattled government of President Bashar al-Assad said Wednesday. – New York Times
The main Syrian National Council opposition group said it had accepted the resignation of its president, setting the stage for a showdown between the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and its political rivals over who will be the new leader. - Reuters
In its annual report, Amnesty said the failure of world powers to take stronger action on Syria was evidence that a sclerotic security council was hamstrung by vested interests, and also warned of abuses arising from Europe's economic crisis. - Reuters
Fragile Lebanon's sectarian tensions, which festered for two decades since the end of its ruinous civil war, have been re-ignited by the turmoil in powerful neighbor Syria and threaten to plunge the country into a sustained period of unrest. - Reuters
North Africa
Egyptians went to the polls on for a second day on Thursday to choose their first freely elected president, hoping to recapture the promise of a popular uprising that defined the Arab Spring, end 15 chaotic months of military rule and perhaps shape the character of political Islam across the region. – New York Times
Millions of Egyptians voted Wednesday in a historic and apparently orderly presidential poll that is expected to usher in the country's first freely elected civilian leader after six decades of military-backed dictatorship. – Wall Street Journal
While results may remain days away, most observers expect [former Mubarak Prime Minister Ahmed] Shafiq to finish among the top tier of candidates, his popularity driven by weariness at unending protests, a faltering economy and sporadic violence, and by voters who want an alternative to the Islamists who already dominate parliament. – Washington Post
Interpol issued an international request to arrest Libya's ex-oil minister Shokri Ghanem in connection with an anti-corruption investigation in his home country, days before his body was found in the River Danube in Vienna, according to a document issued by Interpol. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Protesters threw stones and shoes at Egyptian presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq after he cast his ballot on Wednesday, taking aim at the former prime minister for serving under deposed leader Hosni Mubarak. - Reuters
A Tunisian military prosecutor demanded on Wednesday that the death penalty be imposed in absentia on ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali over his alleged role in the deaths of protesters in the towns where the Arab Spring began. - Reuters
Gulf States
State-owned Bahrain TV has launched an attack on the island’s only independent daily newspaper, according to its editor, raising fears of a return to the dark days last year when the government used its media to undermine an uprising against it. – Financial Times
Kuwait's finance minister braced for a likely vote of no confidence on Thursday, orchestrated by opposition lawmakers who will question him in parliament over alleged financial irregularities in departments he oversees. - Reuters
Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said rules his perch on one of the world's busiest shipping lanes as an absolute monarch, without checks from a parliament or judiciary. But at 71, he has not named a successor, and with much of the Arab world in turmoil, the lack of certainty surrounding the future leadership of the strategically placed country is becoming a cause for concern. - Reuters
According to a Gulf-brokered agreement, which Mr. Saleh signed on Nov. 23, he and his family must give up their powers in exchange for immunity and allow for a peaceful, democratic transition from his 33-year rule. The military, which was divided during the protests and brought the country to the brink of civil war last summer, must also be restructured and integrated. But this process has proven more challenging than expected and has led to great tensions in the capital. – New York Times
U.S. military aircraft hammered enemy targets, and small numbers of American troops provided training and operational advice to allied forces. That was Vietnam in the early 1960s, but it also describes Yemen today as the Obama administration steps up counter-terrorism efforts against al Qaeda's most lethal cell. - DOTMIL
Yemeni government troops battled Islamist militants in two southern cities on Wednesday as international donors met in Saudi Arabia to pledge $4 billion to help stabilize a state that has become a base for al Qaeda. - Reuters
Almost half of Yemen's population does not have enough food to eat and world powers are unwilling to help because of the unstable political situation, seven aid agencies said on Wednesday. - Reuters
Surging street violence against African migrants, including a rampage that an Israeli broadcaster dubbed a "pogrom", drew empathy for the rioters from the interior minister on Thursday. - Reuters
Israeli gunboats and an Egyptian clampdown on fuel smuggling into the Gaza Strip are strangling the Palestinian enclave's little fishing fleet, slowly turning a generation of fishermen into fishmongers. - Reuters
A prosecutor in Turkey has prepared indictments and recommended life sentences for four senior Israeli officers over the killing of nine activists aboard a Gaza-bound aid flotilla forcibly intercepted by Israeli commandos two years ago, Turkish news services reported Wednesday. – New York Times


Afghan officials say more than 120 schoolgirls and three teachers have been poisoned at a school in the northern Takhar Province. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The man in charge of the war in Afghanistan said Wednesday that about a quarter of the American troops there will begin coming home "very shortly." – CNN’s Security Clearance
The United States will require "significant firepower" in Afghanistan in 2013-14, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces there said, but decisions about further U.S. troop reductions will only be made after this fall at the earliest. - Reuters
With most foreign combat troops set to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014, Iran is using the media in the war-ravaged nation to gain influence, a worrying issue for Washington. - Reuters
Gunmen in Afghanistan are demanding money for the release of five aid workers, including two Western women doctors, held in remote mountains and authorities have opened negotiations in the hope of freeing them, an investigator said on Thursday. - Reuters
A Pakistani doctor who helped the Central Intelligence Agency track down Osama bin Laden was sentenced to 33 years in prison, officials said, a decision that will further strain relations with the U.S. – Wall Street Journal
An American drone struck militant hide-outs in northwestern Pakistan for the second consecutive day on Thursday, despite public calls by the Pakistani government halt the controversial covert C.I.A. campaign. – New York Times
American drones launched an airstrike against a suspected terror targets along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border Wednesday, further inflaming tensions between Washington and Islamabad over the controversial counterterrorism tactic. – DEFCON Hill
Pakistan has acknowledged the existence of a sea-based nuclear deterrent with the recent inauguration of the Headquarters of the Naval Strategic Force Command (NSFC) by the head of the Navy, Adm. Asif Sandhila. – Defense News
The United States should respect a Pakistan court's decision to imprison a doctor accused of helping the CIA find Osama bin Laden, the Pakistan foreign ministry spokesman said on Thursday. - Reuters
The United States hopes Pakistan will soon agree to re-open supply routes to NATO troops in Afghanistan, a U.S. official said on Wednesday, after a Senate panel threatened to cut aid to Islamabad over the standoff. - Reuters
Reza Jan writes: Both the U.S. and Pakistan have demonstrated the capacity and willingness to endure some of the consequences of holding maximalist negotiating positions. What is clear is that both sides stand to suffer if a deal is not concluded sooner rather than later, though both continue to disagree on who is likely to suffer more. There, for the moment, lies the impasse – AEI’s Critical Threats Project
A brother of blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng, whose decision to seek refuge in the American Embassy after evading house arrest prompted a diplomatic crisis between China and the United States, has himself slipped through the security cordon around his village and made his way to the capital, according to a lawyer who met him on Thursday. – New York Times
The plight of 28 Chinese fishermen who were kidnapped, robbed, stripped and held for 13 days by North Koreans has inflamed Chinese public opinion, with many Internet users taking to microblogging sites to question the Beijing government’s close relationship with its reclusive ally in Pyongyang. – Washington Post
These days, the unmistakable marimba jingle of iPhones and the melodic bleep of Skype can be heard in lamaseries across this remote expanse of snowy peaks and high-altitude grasslands in northwestern China. Even Tibetan nomads living off the grid use satellite dishes to watch Chinese television — and broadcasts from Radio Free Asia and the Voice of America. – New York Times
Hong Kong's next leader, Leung Chun-ying, said Thursday he wants to diversify the city's economy to underpin faster growth and better compete with regional rivals like Singapore at a time when China's demand for financial services is rising. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng is worried his nephew will be subjected to a revenge show trial by Chinese officials and will work to publicize his plight from New York, a supporter said on Wednesday after meeting Chen. - Reuters
Recent spats between the United States and China are focused on one particular venue: U.S. diplomatic compounds across China, a testimony to the fact that America’s soft power is becoming increasingly more menacing to the autocratic communist regime. – Washington Times’ Inside China
East Asia
Gaunt, barefoot and dressed in hospital-issue white pajamas, Nambaryn Enkhbayar bore little resemblance to the populist leader who dominated Mongolian politics until he was defeated in 2009 by Tsakhia Elbegdorj, who now runs the country. But even in his apparently frail state, Mr. Enkhbayar angrily dismissed the charges against him and criticized the timing of the trial as a ploy to remove him from the political arena just weeks before parliamentary elections. – New York Times
North Korea is "technically ready" to carry out a third underground nuclear detonation, an unidentified high-ranking South Korean government official told the Yonhap News Agency on Wednesday – Global Security Newswire
Struggling with a sinking rupee and rising fiscal deficit, India announced a roughly 10 percent hike — the country’s steepest ever — in the price of gasoline Wednesday, prompting anger across the political spectrum. – Washington Post
India’s main communist party reacted with derision Wednesday to allegations by West Bengal’s chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, that it is involved in a vast domestic and foreign conspiracy to assassinate her. – Washington Post
Southeast Asia
The Philippines accused China of further ratcheting up tensions in a disputed portion of the South China Sea after it said dozens of Chinese vessels had been deployed there in recent days, despite a fishing moratorium. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
In a ceremony of maritime pomp, the 45-year-old decommissioned Coast Guard cutter Dallas was transferred to the Philippine Navy on Tuesday. – Associated Press
Myanmar police broke up a protest against power cuts by several hundred people in the town of Pyi on Thursday and briefly held five people for questioning, including a member of Aung San Suu Kyi's party, party officials said. - Reuters
Nobel laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will travel outside Myanmar for the first time in 24 years next week to deliver a speech at an international forum in Thailand, her party said on Thursday. - Reuters


Defense and foreign aid spending will take center stage Thursday, when members of the Senate Armed Services and Appropriations committees mark up the fiscal 2013 spending bills for both the Pentagon and State Department. Defense lawmakers have spent most of the week behind closed doors, putting the final touches on their version of the DOD budget bill. – DEFCON Hill
In sharp contrast to Republican lawmakers’ strident calls to protect U.S. defense spending and even raise weapon budgets, a Washington think tank closely tied to the Obama administration is calling for significant reductions in many Pentagon programs, including the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), the littoral combat ship and the Ground Combat Vehicle. – Defense News
The Defense Department is still pushing for two more rounds of base realignments and closures despite opposition from Congress, according to a senior Pentagon official. – Federal Times
The military Reserves and National Guard have spent a decade operating with unprecedented intensity alongside the regular active-duty force in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, as budget cuts loom, their leaders are fighting hard to keep the funding needed to keep their edge in both training and equipment. – AOL Defense
The House next week is expected to work on legislation that would reauthorize U.S. intelligence agencies for 2013, and also authorize a newly created spy operation within the Department of Defense (DOD). – The Hill’s Floor Action Blog
AEI, FPI, and Heritage Foundation write: The stakes couldn’t be higher for the Defense Department—and America’s long-term national security.  As illustrated by the recent quotations below, civilian and military leaders continue to voice grave concerns about the dangers of deep defense cuts and underscore the urgency of taking immediate action to reverse sequestration. – Defending Defense
Foreign Aid
Kori Schake writes: The Senate version of the foreign assistance bill is taking shape, and it is commendable for being both sound and a broadly bipartisan approach, even though it signals the death knell of the Obama administration's commitment to "smart power." – Shadow Government
Law of the Sea Treaty
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has told senators that by not ratifying the Law of the Sea Convention, the United States puts itself at greater risk of entering into conflict. – Defense News
Senate Republicans reacted with outrage Wednesday at news that Democrats will wait until after the presidential election to bring the controversial Law of the Sea Treaty to a vote. – The Hill’s Global Affairs
State Department cyber experts recently hacked into Web sites being used by al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen and substituted the group’s anti-American rhetoric with information about civilians killed in terrorist strikes, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday. – Washington Post
An al Qaeda video calling for "electronic jihad" illustrates the urgent need for cybersecurity standards for the most critical networks in the United States, a group of senators said. - CNN
The U.S. intelligence community is turning to America's institutions of higher education to help build a new generation of spies for the cyber world. – DEFCON Hill
Missile Defense
Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) is not backing down from his allegations that President Obama has a “secret deal” with Russia on missile defense. – DEFCON Hill


Popular support for Vladimir Putin's government continues to erode and Russia could see a full-blown political crisis before he finishes his six-year presidential term, according to a new report from an influential Moscow think tank. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Russia’s military reported a successful test on Wednesday of a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile that generals said was designed to overpower the American missile defense system. – New York Times
The Kremlin's human rights adviser said on Wednesday he will urge Russian President Vladimir Putin to veto a bill to increase fines for protesters deemed to have broken the law, unless it is rewritten. - Reuters
A Western envoy said on Wednesday he would suspend his authority over a disputed Bosnian district sandwiched between two feuding regions, in the latest attempt to slowly scale down international involvement in the strife-torn country. - Reuters
Democracy advocates and U.S. lawmakers are pressuring the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) to cancel a championship event hosted by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, a dictator who oppresses his citizens in the nation that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has described as “the last true remaining dictatorship in the heart of Europe.” – Washington Free Beacon


United States of America
Mitt Romney has muted his attacks on President Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan despite several recent milestones regarding the future of the conflict. – DEFCON Hill
Eli Lake reports: The two people who appear to have gotten the best access last year to this often-classified side of government were Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, the Oscar-winning pair who wrote and directed The Hurt Locker, for their forthcoming film about the SEAL Team Six raid that killed Osama bin Laden. At the time of those meetings, the film about what many consider Barack Obama’s finest moment was scheduled for release just a month before the election—potentially providing a huge, free-media coup for the president. – The Daily Beast
Josh Rogin reports: The congressional drive to update a 1948 law on how the U.S. government manages its public diplomacy has kicked off a heated debate over whether Congress is about to allow the State Department to propagandize Americans. But the actual impact of the change is less sinister than it might seem. – The Cable
Latin America
The two most important criminal organizations in Mexico are engaged in all-out war, and the most spectacular battles are being fought for the cameras as the combatants pursue a strategy of intimidation and propaganda by dumping ever greater numbers of headless bodies in public view — the victims most likely innocents – Washington Post
Thousands of students are joining a growing street-demonstration movement to protest Mexico's top two television networks, which they accuse of colluding to secure the leading presidential candidate's election this summer. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Honduras has received an enormous influx of American military and antidrug support over the past few years, reflecting cocaine traffickers’ shift toward Central America. But with all that muscle, people here in Ahuas and in other towns nearby now say they feel threatened from outside and from within. – New York Times
Notwithstanding a border attack this week by leftist rebels hiding in Venezuela that left 12 Colombian soldiers dead, relations between the neighboring nations have improved steadily in recent months, as evidenced by energy deals including a proposed $8-billion pipeline as well as a crackdown on gasoline smuggling. – LA Times’ World Now
Mexico's main opposition faction hopes to secure support for energy, fiscal and labor market reforms by December if its candidate who is well ahead in the polls wins the presidency, a senior official in the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) said on Wednesday. - Reuters


West Africa
A Congress push to designate Nigerian militant group Boko Haram a "foreign terrorist organization" would not help efforts to start dialogue and does not have Nigeria's backing, its defense minister said on Wednesday. - Reuters
Mali's interim leader Dioncounda Traore was flown to France on Wednesday for medical checks after he was attacked by protesters this week, Mali's government spokesman said. - Reuters
Morgan Huston writes: Kabila and the national army have far more demerits on their human rights record than can be erased by any single arrest, and sending Ntaganda to The Hague is not a silver bullet for peace. Yet it might just herald a newfound commitment to making decisions that could bring about a respite from decades of war and create a foundation for government accountability to the Congolese people. – Freedom House’s Freedom at Issue
South Africa
Analysis: Concerns are growing in South Africa that new laws on intelligence, security and graft-busting may end up protecting the political elite more than the nation. - Reuters

Obama Administration

President Obama offered a robust defense of his foreign policy on Wednesday, using an address to the graduating class of the U.S. Air Force Academy to tout the accomplishments of his first term and to pledge to use a second to build “another great American century.” – National Journal

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