FPI Overnight Brief: May 25, 2012

Middle East/North Africa


A faltering diplomatic effort to persuade Iran to curtail its nuclear program was salvaged Thursday by an agreement to hold further talks next month in Moscow, concluding two days of negotiations that exposed the difficulty of bridging the chasm between Tehran’s ambitions and the West’s demands. – Washington Post

As the two sides retreat to neutral corners, national security experts say President Barack Obama has several options—but none of them very good. - DOTMIL

The United States will not ease sanctions on Iran before a third round of talks between major powers and Iranian officials about Tehran's nuclear program, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Thursday. - Reuters

Michael Adler writes: Iran does not yet have the same mastery of producing plutonium as it does of manufacturing enriched uranium. Arak coming online could change this, however. The zone of immunity is thus built around two types of fissile material, not just uranium alone. – AOL Defense


The Syrian Foreign Ministry on Thursday indirectly denied persistent rumors that President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law, a member of the secretive inner circle governing the country, was fatally poisoned by the opposition. – New York Times

Iran’s eagerness to shower money on Lebanon when its own finances are being squeezed by sanctions is the latest indication of just how worried Tehran is at the prospect that Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, could fall. Iran relies on Syria as its bridge to the Arab world, and as a crucial strategic partner in confronting Israel. But the Arab revolts have shaken Tehran’s calculations, with Mr. Assad unable to vanquish an uprising that is in its 15th month. – New York Times

Syrian government forces continue to kill protesters and civilians caught in the crossfire, committing “gross violations” as the bloodied country grows increasingly militarized, pitting soldiers and security officers loyal to President Bashar Assad  against armed rebels, according to a new report from a United Nations investigative commission. – LA Times’ World Now

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chastised the Syrian government Thursday in remarks coinciding with the release of the U.S. State Department's annual human-rights report. – The Hill

With the carnage in Syria that has left thousands dead now entering its fifteenth month, the United Nations Secretary General says there is no clear path beyond the current mission being led by Kofi Annan. – CNN’s Security Clearance

As one diplomatic effort after another fails to end more than a year of brutal violence in Syria, the Obama administration is preparing a plan that would essentially give U.S. nods of approval to arms transfers from Arab nations to some Syrian opposition fighters. – Associated Press

Syria would need $11.5 billion in reconstruction funds in the first six months after the collapse of President Bashar al-Assad's rule, mainly to support its currency and pay public sector wages, the main Syrian opposition said on Thursday. - Reuters

U.N.-Arab League mediator Kofi Annan may travel to Syria soon, possibly before the end of the month, to meet with Syrian officials about a peace plan that neither the government nor the opposition is adhering to, U.N. envoys said on Thursday. - Reuters

A Venezuelan oil tanker is returning to Venezuela from Syria with a cargo of naphtha, shipping records showed on Thursday, after delivering badly needed diesel early this week as Western sanctions, causing severe shortages, hurt Syria's economy. - Reuters

Syria's U.N. ambassador complained on Thursday that his mission is unable to open a U.S. bank account due to sanctions imposed on his country because of its 14-month assault on an opposition determined to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. - Reuters

A Syrian Islamist cleric said on Thursday that he was mediating the release of Lebanese Shi'ite men whose kidnapping in Syria triggered protests in Shi'ite areas of Beirut and raised fears it could ignite sectarian conflict in Lebanon. - Reuters


The Islamist candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood will face former President Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister in a runoff to become Egypt’s first freely elected president, several independent vote counts concluded Friday morning. – New York Times

Morsi is very much a product of the Brotherhood, having risen through its ranks over the past two decades. The group faced criticism this spring when it reneged on a promise to stay out of the presidential race. But by Thursday night, Morsi’s apparent success in advancing to a runoff appeared to confirm the Brotherhood’s enduring reach and efficiency, unrivaled in Egypt even under Hosni Mubarak, when the group was nominally outlawed. – Washington Post

In media coverage, on the Web and in tea houses and coffee shops across the Middle East, Egypt's historic presidential elections were greeted with high hopes as well as apprehension. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

The sole U.S. lawmaker monitoring the presidential elections in Egypt said the first two days of voting “have gone well” as millions of citizens cast their ballots in the first competitive election in the nation's history. – The Hill’s Global Affairs

The United States pledged on Thursday to "stand with the Egyptian people" and said it looked forward to working with their democratically elected government. - Reuters

North Africa

Prime Minister David Cameron said on Thursday that he had won the agreement of Libya’s visiting government leader for a Scotland Yard team to conduct an investigation in Libya into the killing by Libyan diplomats of a London police officer in 1984. – New York Times

The lawyer of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali denied on Thursday that the deposed Tunisian leader had given orders to fire on protesters during last year's revolution and condemned a Tunisian prosecutor's calls for the death penalty. - Reuters


Kuwait's finance minister resigned on Thursday after opposition lawmakers accused him in parliament of failing to deal with alleged financial irregularities in his departments. - Reuters

Arab Spring

Nathan Pippenger writes: At a time of maximal instability, the State Department can’t pretend to know how events in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, and Syria will develop.  If the government is to act quickly and flexibly—you know, like everyone always says they want it to do—then we need to give it the authority and funding to do so. All this haggling over price tags and details is dispiriting in two ways: First, it suggests that Rep. Granger and the Committee don’t grasp the fund’s point. But second, and more troublingly, it suggests that they don’t grasp its importance. – The New Republic


Yemen’s military launched an attack Thursday on an al-Qaida hideout in the country’s south as part of a wider offensive, killing 35 militants, the Defense Ministry said. – Associated Press


A high drama unfolding recently in the jacaranda-draped hills of [Jenin] features some of its most prominent characters: a crime-fighting governor who perished as he hunted his attackers and a famed ex-militant swept up in an ensuing crackdown. But uncomfortably for Palestinian officials, the cast also appears to include senior members of the elite Palestinian security forces, who are now suspected of acting on the wrong side of the law. – Washington Post

Israel has watched its cold peace with Egypt turn frigid since the downfall of President Hosni Mubarak, but as Egyptians voted for a new leader this week, some Israeli officials said they believe the peace treaty between them is likely to endure no matter who wins. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

A senior State Department official will travel to Tel Aviv on Friday to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to Israel's security following just-concluded talks between world powers and Iran over its nuclear program. - Reuters

A Turkish lawyer said on Thursday that Israel had offered to pay $6 million to victims of Israel's storming of a Gaza-bound Turkish aid flotilla to settle lawsuits against the Israeli military. - Reuters


Interview: Turkish President Abdullah Gul came to California this week after addressing the NATO summit in Chicago. He spoke with Tribune Media's Global Viewpoint Network Editor Nathan Gardels in San Francisco. – LA Times’ World Now

A suspected suicide bomber detonated explosives inside a car outside a police station in the central Turkish province of Kayseri on Friday, killing himself and a police officer and wounding some 20 others, Turkish media reported. - Reuters



The U.S. military is on a path toward significantly fewer battlefield deaths in Afghanistan this year because it has become better at detecting the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops: the improvised explosive device (IED). – Washington Times

Congressional investigators have given the Defense Logistics Agency and the contractor that provides virtually all food supplies to U.S. troops in Afghanistan 10 days to explain why the military paid more than $750 million in what it now alleges were double-billed and excessive charges. – Washington Post

A $275 million fleet of Afghan air force transport planes provided by the U.S. over the past three years has been grounded for months because of lack of adequate maintenance and potential safety problems, American military officials said. – Wall Street Journal

French President Francois Hollande made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan on Friday to visit some of the French troops he wants to pull out later this year and meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whom he saw briefly last week in Chicago. - Reuters

Jonathan Hillman and Courtney Lobel writes: Corruption continues to cripple the Karzai-led government, and Taliban forces have been more resilient than expected. But the international community could pay dearly down the road if U.S. officials can't convince more nations to invest in Afghanistan's future today. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


The chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, called on the United States Thursday to apologize for an accidental military drone strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November. – The Hill

Pakistan is unlikely to re-open supply routes to NATO troops in Afghanistan unless the United States offers a politically acceptable formula in talks on ending a six-month standoff on the issue, a Pakistani official said on Thursday. - Reuters

A Senate panel expressed its outrage Thursday over Pakistan’s conviction of a doctor who helped the United States track down Osama bin Laden, voting to cut aid to Islamabad by $33 million — $1 million for every year of the physician’s 33-year sentence for high treason. – Associated Press

Osama bin Laden's three wives were fiercely loyal to him and gave little away when they were interrogated after the al Qaeda chief was killed in a U.S. raid over a year ago, a Pakistani intelligence agent who questioned them said. - Reuters

Editorial: America's larger strategic goals in South Asia have justified engagement with a difficult partner in Islamabad, but Pakistan would be foolish to take America's support and patience for granted. The U.S. has other options in the region. With very few friends, Pakistan does not. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


Faced with political turmoil at the top, a slowing economy, and a young and wired population restless for change, China’s Communist rulers appear to have dusted off a time-tested tactic: blaming foreigners for the country’s problems. This time, however, the technique does not seem to be working as well as it used to. Judging from a torrent of online criticism, it may even have backfired. – Washington Post

The Communist Party branch in Chongqing, the teeming western municipality once governed by the deposed politician Bo Xilai, has named candidates for its delegation to a critical party conference in the fall at which China’s next leadership lineup is expected to be announced. The list of 50 candidates includes some officials considered allies of Mr. Bo, but excludes Mr. Bo himself. – New York Times

Bo Guagua, the Chinese "princeling" son of a deposed Communist leader, flashed a big smile and was cheered by classmates as he accepted his diploma during a commencement ceremony at Harvard University on Thursday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Five days after his arrival in New York, the dissident lawyer Chen Guangcheng expressed concern over what he called intensifying retribution against his family back in China, especially a nephew who has been jailed and apparently faces charges of attempted murder. – New York Times

As blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng settles into life as a student in New York following a daring escape from home confinement and a six-day stay in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, a highly scrutinized legal battle over the fate of his nephew is heating up. – WSJ’s China Real Time Report

Chinese President Hu Jintao has demanded senior Communist Party officials stifle tensions over the ousting of ambitious politician Bo Xilai and show unity as they prepare for a change of leadership, sources briefed on recent meetings said. - Reuters

China hit back on Friday at the U.S. State Department's annual survey of human rights, saying that only the Chinese people could pass judgment on what the Foreign Ministry said were the country's obvious achievements in the area. - Reuters

Josh Rogin reports: China's record on human rights deteriorated as the Chinese government engaged in widespread and expanding severe repression of its own people and ethnic minorities in 2011, the State Department said in a new report released today. – The Cable

Rogin also reports: House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) participated in a candlelight vigil outside the Chinese Embassy in Seoul Thursday and chastised the Chinese government for forcibly repatriating North Korean refugees who flee to China. – The Cable


North Korea's increasingly inflammatory criticism against South Korea is a sign of instability in its authoritarian regime and doesn't appear likely to end soon, the South's top official in charge of dealing with the North said. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Journalists who encounter South Korea’s left-wing politicians, the ones who can’t bring themselves to say a critical word about North Korea, have grown accustomed to the way they duck and weave around questions about the North’s dictatorship and human rights abuses – things these politicians did criticize about South Korea in the past. But it’s rare to see the artful dodge on national TV. – WSJ’s Korea Real Time

North Korea appears to have placed an atomic device inside the new tunnel excavated at the country's nuclear test site, which means a detonation could be imminent, the South Korean Defense Ministry said on Thursday – Global Security Newswire

Two senior U.S. officials made a secret visit to North Korea in an apparent attempt to persuade it to cancel last month’s long-range rocket launch, a South Korean report said May 24. - AFP

East Asia

The U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS) recently issued its annual report on U.S. security assistance to Taiwan, including policy issues for the U.S. Congress. – Defense News

Michael Auslin writes: Europe once ruled large parts of Asia, but has been absent from many of the most important events in the region for decades. If Asia is indeed the future dynamo of global growth, as well as a region of increasing security competition, then Mr. Cameron's visit is an appropriate new policy to make globalization more than a mere catchword. – Wall Street Journal Asia (subscription required)

Southeast Asia

Rallies protesting shortages of electricity in Myanmar continued to spread Thursday, with police arresting several people north of the commercial capital of Yangon. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Five days of street protests over chronic power shortages present Myanmar's reformist government with a headache and an opportunity. - Reuters

Analysis: While this propaganda broadside makes it clear Beijing will take a tough line with Manila as a standoff over Scarborough Shoal continues into a seventh week, the exact legal justification for China's claim and the full extent of the territory affected remain uncertain, according to experts in maritime law. - Reuters

Editorial: A more straightforward way to convince the [Malaysian] public that the Peaceful Assembly Act is an unjust law would be to plead guilty and pay the fine ahead of the election. Both sides have to learn to put their faith in the electorate rather than the courts. – Wall Street Journal Asia (subscription required)



The 2013 National Defense Authorization Act took another step forward Thursday as the Senate Armed Services Committee unanimously passed the bill out of committee. The next step for the Pentagon policy bill is the Senate floor, although it’s unclear still when that will occur. – DEFCON Hill

The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee has rejected the Air Force’s proposed cuts to the Air National Guard, and instead recommends fully funding the Guard’s equipment and personnel needs in 2013. – Defense News

A Pentagon plan endorsed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to raise Tricare health care fees as a way to dramatically reduce personnel costs appears dead after the Senate Armed Services Committee refused to back the proposal. – Military Times

Sen. Harry Reid’s refusal to “back off” looming cuts to the Pentagon won’t just harm the nation’s security, Republicans say. It could plunge the fragile U.S. economy back into a recession next year. - Politico

The apparent greater focus on shipbuilding accounts — compared to aviation spending — during discussions on where to find cuts in overall U.S. Navy spending makes sense, defense analysts say, even though the service has historically spent roughly equal amounts on both, according to an Aviation Week Intelligence Network (AWIN) analysis. – Aviation Week

Lockheed Martin remains mum about whether an oxygen system flaw on its F-22 fighter might also plague its sibling, the F-35, but defense analysts say there are reasons to worry. - DOTMIL

White House officials will have a new way to travel when the V-22 Osprey officially becomes part of the presidential helicopter fleet in 2013. – DEFCON Hill

The War

U.S. efforts to counter al Qaeda recruiting online are bearing fruit, and the terrorist group is urging its members not to believe what they read on the Web, according to the State Department. – Washington Times

Robin Simcox writes: Killing senior Al Qaeda leaders doesn't just remove enemies from the battlefield; it also erases institutional knowledge and experience. Some followers may consider the targeted leaders to be martyrs. But that doesn't change the fact that their deaths are bad for Al Qaeda. By killing the group's elite leaders, the U.S. is not contributing to Al Qaeda's mythology but destroying it. – Los Angeles Times

Nuclear Weapons

The U.S. Air Force is moving ahead with plans to modernize its inventory of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, a top service general said. – Defense News



The economy in Russia is now as likely to sink into recession as it is to continue to grow, a prominent former finance minister said on Thursday. – New York Times

Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the government Thursday to draw up plans to sell stakes in oil and gas giants OAO Rosneft and OAO Gazprom in 2013-2015, but also authorized another state company to buy shares in energy companies previously earmarked for sale to private buyers. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

In the six months since antigovernment protests began in this city, the blogger and opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has exuded loose-limbed cheerfulness, as if trying to topple the Russian government was really not such a big deal. It was the same on Thursday, when Mr. Navalny was released after serving yet another 15-day sentence for resisting the police…This time, Mr. Navalny, 35, could also face criminal charges. – New York Times

Aleksei Navalny, a prominent leader of Russia's opposition movement against President Vladimir Putin's rule, has called for a nationwide protest in early September. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

In speech after speech this month, Russian officials have tried to out-Dr Strangelove each other in warning of a potential nuclear conflagration. The rhetoric, which US analysts tend to dismiss as harmless, coincided with the test launch on Wednesday of a new generation of strategic missiles. – Financial Times


The European Parliament has called on the Ukrainian authorities to establish an independent panel to investigate alleged rights abuses against jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

More than 1,000 activists of nationalist and opposition groups picketed the Ukrainian parliament building on May 24 to protest the ruling Regions Party's proposed draft law on languages. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty


U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents deported a former Bosnian-Serb police commander wanted in his native country for genocide and atrocities against thousands of Bosnian Muslims, capping what ICE officials called a successful effort to investigate the case and remove him from the United States. – Washington Times

The genocide trial of Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic is set to resume at the Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal on June 25 four weeks later than initially planned, The Hague-based court said on Thursday. - Reuters


United States of America

Col. Tom Manion (USMC, Ret.) writes: If the rest of the nation joins us to renew the spirit of patriotism, service and sacrifice, perhaps America can reunite, on this day of reverence, around the men and women who risk their lives to defend it. – Wall Street Journal

South America

Ties between Bogota and Caracas are fraying again after 12 Colombian soldiers were killed near the Venezuela border, allegedly by Colombian rebels who are said to be using the neighboring country as a comfortable refuge. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Mystery, rumor and conspiracy theories surround Hugo Chavez's health almost a year after his cancer diagnosis, with many Venezuelans contemplating a future without their larger-than-life president. - Reuters


West Africa

An Al Qaeda affiliate urged fighters in northern Mali to use their “historic opportunity” to make the would-be state of Azawad an Islamic nation, in another sign of how Islamists have tried to capitalize on tumult in the West African nation. – LA Times’ World Now

East Africa

Sudan and South Sudan will resume talks May 29 as they seek to end a bitter spat over the position of their poorly marked, oil-rich border, the scene of deadly clashes in recent weeks. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

At least five people were killed when a shell hit the minibus they were using to flee fighting in a town north west of the capital, as African Union and government soldiers intensify their fight against al Shabaab militants. - Reuters

Southern Africa

Voters in the highland African kingdom of Lesotho go to the polls on Saturday in a wide-open election that analysts say could end up without a clear result, as happened in 1998 when South Africa had to send in troops to quell major civil unrest. - Reuters

Democracy and Human Rights

After an “especially tumultuous and momentous year” for human rights, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Thursday, the challenge in many Arab countries has shifted from breaking the back of entrenched dictatorships to protecting new freedom during the often chaotic and sometimes violent transitions that follow. – New York Times

Human rights conditions remain dismal in North Korea and Iran and got worse in China, where “efforts to silence political activists and public-interest lawyers were stepped up” last year, according the State Department’s annual reports on human rights released Thursday. – Washington Times

The U.N. General Assembly on Thursday renewed the mandate of the world body's human rights chief Navi Pillay, but she was given an abbreviated term as part of a compromise deal with the United States, which dislikes her criticism of Israel, envoys said. - Reuters

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.
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