FPI Overnight Brief: May 31, 2012

Middle East/North Africa

After an inconclusive round of talks this month between world powers and Iran about its nuclear program, Israeli leaders are expressing deep skepticism about the chances for a diplomatic breakthrough and urging tougher international demands. – Washington Post
Researchers at Kaspersky Lab, which first reported the virus Monday, believe Flame was written by a different group of programmers from those who had created other malware directed at computers in the Middle East, particularly those in Iran. But Flame appears to be part of the state-sponsored campaign that spied on and eventually set back Iran’s nuclear program in 2010, when a digital attack destroyed roughly a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. – New York Times
New satellite images of an Iranian military base indicate Iranian efforts to cover evidence of a nuclear weapons program, according to a Washington-based think tank. – CNN’s Security Clearance
Computer technicians battling to contain a complex virus last month resorted to the ultimate firewall measures — cutting off Internet links to Iran's Oil Ministry, rigs and the hub for nearly all the country’s crude exports. – Associated Press
Iran has cancelled a $2 billion contract for a Chinese firm to help build a hydroelectric dam, Chinese state media said on Thursday, a move that risks upsetting one of Tehran's most important economic and political allies. - Reuters
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday he did not expect talks next month with six world powers in Moscow on Iran's nuclear program to yield any major breakthroughs, but hoped to improve confidence between the two sides. - Reuters
The European Union criticized Iran on Wednesday for an "alarming" increase in the use of the death penalty this year, calling on Tehran to introduce a moratorium on executions. - Reuters
Blaise Misztal writes: Released on May 25, just days after U.S. and international negotiators completed a second round of talks in Baghdad with Iran over its nuclear program, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report shows that in every measure Iran has reached new highs. Indeed, our analysis indicates that, due to significant increases in the rate of production of both 3.5% and 20% enriched uranium, Iran is now producing almost two nuclear weapons worth of low-enriched uranium (LEU) annually. – Bipartisan Policy Center
Arguing that diplomatic efforts to end Syria's civil bloodshed have hit a wall, the U.S. hinted Wednesday that the most likely remaining scenario is a military conflict that would engulf the region and challenged Russia to help bring about peace. – Wall Street Journal
Analysts say the white shoes are one of several indicators that the slaughter of more than 100 people in this central Syrian cluster of villages was more than just another killing spree by the army of President Bashar al-Assad. – Washington Post
Syria's honorary consul general in California said Wednesday he has defected from the regime of President Bashar Assad in protest of the killings last week in the town of Houla. – LA Times’ World Now
The Treasury Department announced Wednesday that it would sanction a key Syrian bank, casting that action as the latest step in a broad international effort to isolate Bashar Assad’s regime. – The Hill’s On the Money
With the situation in Syria seemingly deteriorating by the day, the United States is doing what it can to pressure Bashar al-Assad to step aside, but that goal is nowhere in sight, a senior administration official said Wednesday. – CNN’s Security Clearance
The United States has been on the side of citizens fighting for their rights since the very beginning of the Arab Spring 18 months ago, Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough told a Middle Eastern audience Wednesday. – The Hill’s Global Affairs
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Wednesday that Syria would be better off with President Bashar al-Assad out of power after a weekend massacre left more than 100 dead and drew international scorn. – The Hill
The Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee on Wednesday warned against arming Syrian rebels and said the United States should make sure the country's chemical weapons do not fall into the wrong hands. - Reuters
Syrian rebels on Wednesday gave President Bashar al-Assad a 48-hour deadline to comply with an international peace plan otherwise they would renew their battle to overthrow him. - Reuters
Syria is heading for collapse and will become a "warehouse of weapons" for Islamist militants as it descends into chaos, a senior Israeli army commander said. - Reuters
[V]ideo footage and accounts of activists, survivors, rights groups and United Nations observers in Syria, provide a harrowing narrative of the violence in the Houla region, about 20 km (13 miles) northwest of the city of Homs. - Reuters
Analysis: With American troops only recently withdrawn from Iraq and still in Afghanistan, the president is loath to engage in new military actions, especially one with few advocates, even among human rights groups. And yet with each passing incident, the scale of the crisis grows. – New York Times
Lee Smith writes: Moscow is simply playing the spoiler and thereby enjoying the sort of international prestige that it has not been afforded since the end of the Cold War. The Russians are not going to engineer a coup against Assad, or in any way work to resolve the issue, because it is precisely the conflict that has given them influence in Syria—the conflict, that is, and Obama, who for no good reason has handed Moscow the reins. – The Weekly Standard Blog
David Pollock writes: To be sure, a revolution started by secularists could pave the way for Islamists to win elections, as has occurred in Egypt. But the Syrian opposition is solidly favorable to the U.S. and overwhelmingly negative toward both Hezbollah and Iran. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Donatella Rovera writes: The world must send a clear message to Syria that these atrocities can’t go on. A monitoring mandate for the U.N. observer mission is a crucial first step to holding accountable those responsible for crimes against humanity. – Washington Post
Andrew Tabler writes: As Syria's conflict tragically unfolds, Washington may need to carry out surgical airstrikes or similar measures to stop regime forces from attacking civilians. If those strikes are to succeed in toppling the regime, however, Washington and its allies will need to have cultivated an alternative leadership from the fragmented Syrian opposition. Conflict will be the constant in Syria for the foreseeable future. But conflict does not necessarily have to set off a generalized civil war -- the opposition on the ground has come together over one issue: Assad must go at all costs. The question is how to get there. – Foreign Policy
Prosecutors charged Gamal and Alaa Mubarak, the imprisoned sons of former President Hosni Mubarak, with insider stock trading on Wednesday, just two days before both men are expected to hear the verdict in a criminal trial charging them with corruption during their father’s three decades of rule. – New York Times
Armed Bedouin tribesmen have kidnapped two U.S. tourists in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula to demand the release of a tribesman arrested in a drugs case, Egyptian police said on Thursday. - Reuters
The success of two polarizing figures in Egypt's presidential election could make it harder to put in place an effective government that can tackle an economic crisis and secure vital foreign aid. - Reuters
Editorial: The transition to democracy after a half-century of military rule was always going to be messy. And for all of the turmoil the elections have revealed a diverse society that wants order, competence and "justice"—the most popular word among all candidates—more than it wants an Islamist rule of law. If the final vote is seen to be fair, at least whoever emerges will have some democratic legitimacy. That's more than Mr. Mubarak had. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Gulf States
The United Arab Emirates have intensified their effort to quell political dissent, with 15 men now being detained by the security forces, according to human rights groups and family members. – New York Times
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah said in 2009 his nation would move to produce nuclear weapons if Iran established an atomic arsenal, Haaretz on Wednesday quoted a former top Obama administration adviser on the Middle East as saying – Global Security Newswire
Jordanians seem to have a more focused approach toward surging prices of basic commodities, along with that of fuel and electricity. Labor unions are becoming an increasingly potent force, calling attention to bad work conditions and low income. – New York Times
Tunisia's economy has had a bumpy ride since last year's revolt. Amid the messy work of building a new democracy, the economy shrank 1.8 percent, with persistent strikes and protests paralyzing factories and hitting the economy just as young people stepped up their demands for better jobs and conditions. - Reuters
Yemen’s president is taking important steps to advance the country’s transition to democracy and security forces are having some success against al-Qaida — but the terrorist group remains intent on striking both Western and regional targets, the U.N. envoy to Yemen said Tuesday. – Associated Press
At least seven people were killed when fighters linked to al Qaeda attacked Yemeni troops guarding a town briefly seized by the militants earlier this year, officials said on Thursday. - Reuters
At least 20 militants and seven soldiers were killed in Yemen on Wednesday when government troops fought off an ambush by Islamist militants on the edge of a southern town controlled by an al Qaeda-linked group, an army official said. - Reuters
Nobel Peace Prize-winning Yemeni opposition activist Tawakul Karman said on Wednesday U.S. drone strikes were ineffective because they were hitting mainly civilians in south Yemen rather than their intended target, al Qaeda-linked militants. - Reuters
Plagued by sandstorms, drought, gun runners and drug smugglers, the 1,800-km (1,100-mile) strip of land along the Yemeni-Saudi border has long been a desolate, dangerous place. But crumbling government control and a surge of migrants, driven out of the Horn of Africa by drought, poverty and persecution, have turned it into a kind of hell where criminal gangs roam freely, trading migrants like commodities. - Reuters
The United Nations says Iraq still has serious problems in terms of human rights as the country continues its transition after years of dictatorship. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
At least nine people were killed and 27 more wounded on Thursday when a truck bomb exploded in a busy Baghdad market area, Iraqi police and hospital officials said. - Reuters
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday that Israel should consider imposing the borders of a future Palestinian state, becoming the most senior government official to suggest bypassing a stagnant peace process. – New York Times
Israel on Thursday transferred to Palestinian authorities the bodies of dozens of Palestinian militants whose attacks killed hundreds of Israelis, saying it hoped the move would help restart peace efforts. - Reuters


[A]t a time when more and more official announcements here center on Americans’ handing command over to Afghans, the operational details at the Parwan facility point out a gap between nominal Afghan control and the reality of lasting American authority. – New York Times
The Pentagon should freeze any additional troops withdrawals from Afghanistan after the initial tranche of American troops come home this summer, a top U.S. commander suggested Wednesday. – DEFCON Hill
An Afghanistan government assessment of its own police force raises concern that unresolved issues are undermining the ability to take over security in the country, according to a report obtained by Security Clearance. – CNN’s Security Clearance
At best, the effort to open opportunities through education has failed to meet expectations; at worst, the system has essentially become a breeding ground for extremists. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Tribal court documents show that the Pakistani doctor who was sentenced to 33 years in prison after helping the Central Intelligence Agency track down Osama bin Laden had not been charged with treason, as some Pakistani officials had initially reported. – New York Times
The United States has sent a handful of military trainers back into Pakistan in a sign the two nations may be able to achieve some low-level cooperation against militants despite a string of confrontations that have left Washington's relations with Islamabad in crisis. - Reuters
Pakistani truck drivers who deliver supplies to Western forces in Afghanistan seethe whenever they recall a cross-border NATO air attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last year. Despite their anger, financial survival outweighs nationalist sentiment and the shame of helping what many see as the enemy. - Reuters
Sadanand Dhume writes: Pakistan is playing a game of chicken without fully grasping the consequences of losing. The shrewd and practical Jinnah would have recognized the folly of this course. His successors have already betrayed his message of religious tolerance at home, and now they're on track to subvert his legacy abroad. – Wall Street Journal Asia (subscription required)
Spooked by a sharply slowing economy, China’s leaders have begun opening the financial spigots to build still more roads and airports and subsidize consumer purchases, reprising measures that enabled the nation to sail mostly unscathed through the last great global recession. – New York Times
The U.S. Commerce Department slapped tariffs on Chinese wind-turbine towers, the latest chapter in a clean-energy trade battle between Washington and Beijing. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Hundreds of Tibetans in Lhasa have been detained by Chinese security officers after two self-immolation protests against Chinese rule over Tibet, a U.S.-broadcaster said, stoking concerns of spreading unrest among Tibetans in China. - Reuters
Editorial: China needs to accept slower, as well as better, growth. That, in turn, means altering the implicit compact of the Communist Party with the population, which for a generation has accepted continued one-party dictatorship in exchange for rapid development. As the party leadership changes hands, both sides of that equation are under strain. The new leaders will need a strategy for political as well as economic change. – Washington Post
South Asia
Nepal announced the formation of a caretaker government Tuesday and settled into a tense calm after a weekend constitutional crisis led the prime minister to call elections, some four years and several shaky governments after the country set out to write its crucial, if elusive, national blueprint. – Los Angeles Times
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta plans to give two major policy speeches in Asia in the coming days that will address a greater Pentagon emphasis on the Pacific and the broadening of a partnership with India, according to senior defense officials. – Defense News
Michael Green writes: After stopping in Hawaii at the Pacific Command, he travels on to Singapore for the annual Shangri-La dialogue among defense ministers, then to Hanoi for follow-up meetings with his counterparts on last year's defense cooperation memorandum, and finally India. The secretary's commitment to continue showing the flag at the Shangri-La dialogue is a good thing, but he had better be ready for three tough questions when he gets to the region. – Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government
North Korea
North Korea's system of prison camps has turned more brutal in recent years but also more difficult to hide, according to new research based on defector testimonies and satellite imagery. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


The Pentagon’s No. 2 official said Wednesday that automatic spending cuts set to being in January would create “absurdities” and devastate the defense industries that support the troops. – Washington Times
The White House on Thursday threatened to veto a military spending bill that is slated to come to the House floor this week. – The Hill’s On the Money
When Congress adds money for things the U.S. Defense Department says it doesn’t need, it forces the Pentagon to make difficult choices elsewhere in the budget, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Wednesday. – Defense News
Election-year politics and a looming lame-duck showdown over taxes and spending threaten a long-standing tradition: For the past 50 years, Congress has passed an annual defense authorization bill, setting parameters and priorities for Pentagon spending. This year’s bill may prove to be one of the most daunting. - Politico
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday that coming automatic budget cuts known as the "sequester" would hollow out the military and particularly hurt South Carolina because it would likely target the F-35 fighter planes based in his state. – The Hill’s Floor Action Blog
Some design problems persist, some fixes remain to be made, but overall, the littoral combat ship (LCS) Freedom is moving ahead to meet its deployment schedule for next spring, the commander of the U.S. Navy’s surface forces proclaimed. – Defense News
The F-22 will fly in operations if it's needed while the Air Force keeps a close eye on the oxygen problem, Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter said [yesterday] – AOL Defense
The Pentagon is turning to the private sector, universities and even computer game companies as part of an ambitious effort to develop technologies to improve its cyberwarfare capabilities, launch effective attacks and withstand the likely retaliation. – Washington Post
Despite recent successful attacks against Iran's nuclear research infrastructure using malicious software and computer viruses, some experts say the threat of a crippling cyber ambush against U.S. defense systems is overblown. - DOTMIL
Nuclear Weapons/Missile Defense
Washington will not significantly shrink its nuclear weapons arsenal as long as Moscow and Beijing possess their own atomic arms that could target the United States, says the general who oversees America's nuclear fleet. - DOTMIL
A top U.S. general on Wednesday sought to sooth Russia's concerns over the U.S. nuclear stockpile and a new American missile shield being set up in Eastern Europe. – DEFCON Hill
Pentagon leaders are looking at options to bolster missile defense capabilities in the continental United States, including the establishment of a missile shield on the East Coast, a top military commander said on Wednesday. – DEFCON Hill
Law of the Sea Treaty
Former Secretaries of State Kissinger, Schultz, Baker, Powell, and Rice write: The Convention of the Law of the Sea is again under consideration by the U.S. Senate. If the U.S. finally becomes party to this treaty, it will be a boon for our national security and economic interests. U.S. accession will codify our maritime rights and give us new tools to advance national interests. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The War
John Yoo writes: [T]he most disturbing aspect of the latest NYT insider’s account of the war on terrorism, no doubt timed to shore up Candidate Obama’s national-security credentials for his re-election campaign, is the selection process for drone targets. Apparently President Obama personally selects the targets and approves each operation. This is both an incredible misuse of presidential time and a serious distortion of proper war management. – The Corner
The Obama administration’s statement of administration policy for the intelligence authorization bill, which says the White House does not oppose the overall legislation, expresses the fact that the administration has problems with the bill. But it's tough to figure out what the problems are, because they are classified. – DEFCON Hill


Russian opposition activist and blogger Alexei Navalny revealed a list of some of the contributors to his Anti-Corruption fund Wednesday, urging others to support his effort. – WSJ’s Emerging Europe
Unable to persuade a judge that he sneezed–and did not spit–on a portrait of President Vladimir Putin, an anti-Kremlin activist was sentenced to 15 days in jail Wednesday. – WSJ’s Emerging Europe
Polish politicians reacted with outrage Wednesday to President Barack Obama's apparently inadvertent reference to a "Polish death camp" when he awarded a U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom to a now-dead Polish World War II resistance fighter Tuesday. – Wall Street Journal
Matthew Kaminsky writes: Sometimes the best-intentioned gesture can backfire on the unwitting politician. This is the story of President Obama and the Poles. – Wall Street Journal


United States of America
As Republican leaders fell in behind Mr. Romney this spring, many members of the party’s foreign policy establishment have been more muted. Reluctance by this group to come forward for Mr. Romney more quickly reflects an unease over some of his positions, including his hard line on Russia and opposition to a new missile treaty – New York Times
Latin America
Trade between China and Peru, a key U.S. ally in the regional drug war, is at a new high. Now the Chinese defense industry is getting in on the action. – Washington Times
A prominent Bolivian opposition politician has taken refuge in the Brazilian Embassy in La Paz, claiming that he is being persecuted by the administration of President Evo Morales for accusing government officials of human rights abuses, drug trafficking and corruption. – New York Times
Colombia's largest leftist rebel group on Wednesday released French journalist Romeo Langlois, whom the rebels captured a month ago during combat with army troops. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Brazil’s political establishment is being shaken by a claim that Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the country’s most influential contemporary political leader, put pressure on a high court judge to delay a trial over a vote-buying scandal involving high-ranking members of the governing Workers Party. – New York Times
Spanish oil firm Repsol's likely decision to leave Cuba after its 12-year-long quest for offshore oil produced just two dry holes is a devastating and perhaps irrecoverable blow to the communist island's oil hopes, experts said on Wednesday. - Reuters


West Africa
The African Union plans to refer the situation in Mali to the United Nations Security Council so that it can create a framework for tackling the worsening crisis there, a diplomatic source close to the AU president said on Wednesday. - Reuters
East Africa
Kenya's military said it captured the Somali rebel redoubt of Afmadow on Wednesday, but the al Shabaab militant group said it had repulsed a Kenyan attack and still controlled the strategic town in southern Somalia. - Reuters
Sudan's army has withdrawn from the disputed region of Abyei bordering South Sudan, the United Nations confirmed on Wednesday, removing an obstacle to talks between the neighbors to end hostilities. - Reuters
Southern Africa
In exchange for the A.N.C.’s agreeing to drop a lawsuit, the gallery agreed to remove the work, which had already been vandalized, from the exhibition. – New York Times
The United Nations has “hit a new low” with its decision to honor Zimbabwe strongman Robert Mugabe as an international tourism leader, House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said Tuesday. – The Hill’s Global Affairs

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