FPI Overnight Brief: July 6, 2017

The Must-Reads

  • David Kramer: Why talking to Putin won’t work
  • Trump aides want Kremlin critic in Putin meeting
  • Trump warns of “severe” consequences for North Korea
  • Rogin: US hostages could be key to talks with North Korea
  • Tillerson: US prepared to hold joint operations w/Russia in Syria
  • Maseh Zarif: How to beat ISIS
  • Ships exporting Iran oil go dark, raising sanctions red flags
  • Ray Takeyh: It’s time to prepare for Iran’s political collapse
  • Husain Haqqani: Get tough on Pakistan to win in Afghanistan
  • Zimmerman: AQAP after the Arab Spring and ISIS

Middle East/North Africa

Ships chartered by two oil traders responsible for a significant share of Iran’s fuel exports last year failed to transmit their location and the origin of their cargo—red flags for governments seeking evidence of evasion of sanctions on Tehran. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
A U.S. permanent resident imprisoned in Iran on espionage charges is in extremely poor health after beginning an open-ended hunger strike to protest his detainment, his American lawyer said Wednesday. – Washington Free Beacon
Ray Takeyh writes: The task of a judicious U.S. government today is to plan for the probable outbreak of another protest movement or the sudden passing of Khamenei that could destabilize the system to the point of collapse. How can we further sow discord in Iran’s vicious factional politics? How can the United States weaken the regime’s already unsteady security services? This will require not just draining the Islamic republic’s coffers but also finding ways to empower its domestic critics. – Washington Post
The Trump administration is prepared to consider joint stability operations with Russia in Syria, including no-fly zones, cease-fire observers and coordinated deliveries of humanitarian aid, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said late Wednesday. – Washington Post
The Kremlin is bringing a new weapon to the fight against the Islamic State militant group in Syria, using market-based incentives tied to oil and mining rights to reward private security contractors who secure territory from the extremists, Russian news outlets have reported. – New York Times
U.S. forces have been instructed to take all measures needed to protect American interests in Syria, including military measures, as part of an effort that comes after top officials in the Trump administration assessed that Iran is deliberately probing American weaknesses and reactions on the Syrian battlefield, according to senior Trump administration officials who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon. – Washington Free Beacon
The head of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia said on Wednesday that Turkish military deployments near Kurdish-held areas of northwestern Syria amounted to a "declaration of war" which could trigger clashes within days. - Reuters
Russia, Turkey and Iran failed in talks on Wednesday to finalize an agreement on creating four de-escalation zones in Syria after Ankara raised objections, diplomats said. - Reuters
Russian strategic bombers on Wednesday struck the Islamic State group in Syria with cruise missiles, the military said. – Associated Press
Maseh Zarif writes: American policy in Syria cannot afford to remain on autopilot while our vital interests are under siege. The president and his national security team must dispense with the policy construct they inherited and pursue actions which advance America’s objectives. President Trump has indicated he intends to roll back the Iranian regime’s project in the broader Middle East—not further appease the Iranians, as his predecessor did. The recent statements from the Pentagon contradict that goal and ought to set off alarm bells in the White House. – The Weekly Standard
Thousands of Iraqi civilians have emerged thirsty and starving from Mosul’s Old City in recent days, many after hiding out in basements, as the eight-month battle to remove Islamic State from Iraq’s second-largest city nears its end. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
In the coming days, Iraqi counterterrorism forces are expected to assault the remaining ISIS stronghold in Tal Afar—roughly 40 miles west of Mosul—according to the commander of Iraq's Joint Military Operations, Lieutenant General Abdel Amir Rashid Yarallah, who spoke to Iraqi media July 4. – Washington Free Beacon
Some 300 Islamic State fighters remain in the small patch of territory still controlled by the group in Mosul's Old City, a senior Iraqi commander said Wednesday. – Associated Press
The jihadists of the Islamic State are finally being driven out of their two main bastions: The northern Iraqi city of Mosul and the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa. For some three years, their ability to control these two urban centers, particularly Mosul, served as warped validation of their ambitions to build a modern-day caliphate. Now, after months of airstrikes and a prolonged U.S.-backed offensive, the jihadists are in retreat. – Washington Post
Libya's eastern commander Khalifa Haftar said on Wednesday his forces had taken full control of Libya's second city Benghazi from rival armed groups after a three-year campaign. - Reuters
Arabian Peninsula
A four-member Arab bloc said Wednesday it will press ahead with efforts to isolate Qatar after the nation delivered a “negative” response to a list of demands that included cutting ties to Islamist groups and closing the Al Jazeera network. – Washington Post
Katherine Zimmerman writes: AQAP is not a terrorist organization. It is an insurgency, and part of a global insurgency. Insurgencies gain strength and succeed by harnessing the support of populations alienated from their governments. AQAP has learned from previous mistakes exactly how to do that. The nature of and focus on the Yemeni civil war create nearly limitless opportunities to apply those lessons. The West must stop deluding itself about this threat. AQAP will never stop seeking to attack and destroy the West. Neither has it been lying low.  It has, rather, been working to build depth, strength, and resilience so that it will present a much greater challenge to its enemies when—not if—it chooses to begin attacking them again – Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Israel’s state prosecutor’s office in Jerusalem has filed a precedent-setting lawsuit against the estate of a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem seven months after the man carried out a car-ramming attack that left four Israelis dead. – Washington Post
The Israeli government says places like Wadi Na’am are illegal squats on state land, and demolitions are frequent. Israel wants to relocate residents to purpose-built Bedouin towns nearby. The Negev Bedouin, who are Muslim Arabs and hold Israeli citizenship, insist that they have customary rights to their ancestral grounds. Family leaders say they would rather remain in their huts than move to the overcrowded townships. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
A second senior official with Amnesty International, the leading human rights watchdog, has been detained in Turkey in the space of a month. – New York Times
The European Parliament on Thursday asked for Turkey's European Union accession talks to be suspended if Ankara implements a constitutional overhaul, backed by a referendum in April, which expands the powers of President Tayyip Erdogan. - Reuters


South Asia
An American soldier was killed and two others were wounded in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, the United States military said in a statement on Wednesday. – New York Times
The military will no longer announce the deaths of US troops in Afghanistan until days after they’ve occurred, a major change in policy nearly 16 years into a war whose end is not in sight. – Buzz Feed
Harsh Pant writes: Washington must respond to the rapidly changing power dynamic in the Asia-Pacific. By signaling that it is ready for a transactional relationship with Beijing in its initial months, the Trump administration may have inadvertently given China a green light to bully its neighbors. As Washington reviews its stance on China, it needs to be aware that Asia is being shaped by China’s rise much faster than many anticipated even a few years back. A tense standoff between India and China could soon become the new normal if present trends continue. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Pakistan’s finance minister is at loggerheads with the country’s central bank after an unexpected drop in its currency triggered a furious response from the government. – Financial Times
Pakistan says it has successfully tested a short-range surface-to-surface ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads. – Associated Press
Husain Haqqani writes: President Trump’s review of American policy in Afghanistan should involve adopting a tougher approach to Pakistan. Although the Taliban are said to control or contest 40 percent of Afghanistan’s territory, Taliban leaders operate from the safety of Pakistan. United States incentives since the Sept. 11 attacks have failed to dissuade Pakistan from supporting the Taliban, and Mr. Trump must now consider alternatives. – New York Times
Korean Peninsula
President Trump warned Thursday that North Korea could face “some pretty severe” consequences after its defiant test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, but Washington also confronted firm opposition from Russia and China over any possible response. – Washington Post
The top U.S. diplomat at the United Nations blasted Russia and China on Wednesday for “holding the hand” of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as the Trump administration struggled to respond to Pyongyang’s latest ballistic missile test. – Washington Post
Trade with North Korea might become more perilous as the Trump administration looks to expand sanctions to companies and countries it says are enabling Kim Jong Un’s continued defiance of the international nonproliferation norms. – Los Angeles Times
North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has led to increased sanctions and isolation. But these factors haven’t stopped the country from starting significant infrastructure projects in the last five years. – New York Times
North Korea’s first-ever launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile poses a new threat to the United States, just as one of the Pentagon’s main weapons designed to defeat ICBMs gets back on track after a recent history of failures. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
North Korea revealed a new mobile intercontinental ballistic missile during the dramatic July 4 flight test into the Sea of Japan as the Trump administration on Wednesday said it is ready to use force to counter the growing nuclear missile threat to the United States. – Washington Free Beacon
Republican and Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday called on President Donald Trump to increase pressure on North Korea and China, after Pyongyang announced its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the United States. - Politico
Josh Rogin reports: Behind the scenes, officials have been cautiously discussing the conditions under which the United States could reengage in direct dialogue with North Korea. One idea, which South Korean President Moon Jae-in suggested before the North’s latest missile launch, is that a deal could be struck to return the three Americans imprisoned there in exchange for a resumption of talks. – Washington Post
Bill Gertz reports: Photographic analysis of North Korea’s new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) reveals the nose cone of the nuclear-capable rocket appears similar to a suspected Chinese-supplied warhead for a Pakistani nuclear-capable missile. – Washington Times
Analysis: Xi Jinping, China’s leader, is known as the Chairman of Everything. He makes decisions daily on the economy, the military, foreign policy, human rights and more. Yet on North Korea he is stuck. A strongman who usually acts with precision and boldness, Mr. Xi has been reluctant to take on the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, ostensibly a Chinese ally, whom he privately disparages to Western leaders as young and reckless. – New York Times
Editorial: Mr. Trump is an unlikely orchestrator of a multilateral approach, given both his erratic conduct and his off-putting rhetoric about “America first.” Still, other countries might yet be induced to follow his lead if he can convince them both that he has a credible plan and that the alternative might be far worse — war in Northeast Asia. The third way between more fruitless talks and a catastrophically risky preemptive war would be to impose on the North, for the first time, truly stringent economic sanctions, comparable to the ones that brought Iran to the nuclear bargaining table. – Washington Post
Jake Sullivan and Victor Cha writes: It’s not enough to ask China to pressure Pyongyang to set up a U.S.-North Korea negotiation. China has to be a central part of the negotiation, too. China, rather than the United States, should be paying for North Korea to halt and roll back its nuclear and missile programs. Here’s the logic. – Washington Post
Eli Lake writes: Keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of this regime is an admirable goal; a government is hardly a model of restraint if its prisons are so vast they can be seen from space. And a few years ago, it might have even been an achievable goal. But in 2017, it is at best quaint and at worst delusional. – Bloomberg View
East Asia
The liver function of China's Nobel Peace Prize winning dissident Liu Xiaobo has worsened, the hospital treating him said on Thursday, while one source close to his family said doctors had halted medication. - Reuters
Joseph Bosco writes: Trump, by virtue of his own demonstrated instincts and predilections and the changed political situation on Taiwan, and reinforced by Beijing’s unilateral shredding of the Hong Kong treaty, is on solid ground to revisit the Shanghai Communique. He can start by removing the ambiguity and declaring forthrightly that the United States will defend Taiwan as surely it would have when the mutual defense treaty was in effect. – The Diplomat
Southeast Asia
The brother and sister of Singapore’s prime minister have accepted an offer behind closed doors to settle a bitter family feud over their father’s legacy. – Financial Times
Myanmar is considering amendments to a law that human rights monitors say violates free speech and has been used to jail journalists and activists, leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Thursday. - Reuters
Philippine security forces arrested on Wednesday the main financier and logistics supporter of the pro-Islamic State militants who have for weeks been battling government troops for control of a southern town, the army said. - Reuters
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Thursday he did not initiate dialogue with Islamist militants occupying a southern town because he would never talk to criminals and terrorists. - Reuters


As a new Amphibious Transport Dock completes Builders Trials and moves closer to operational service in 2018, the Navy and Marine Corps continue to adapt planning, technological focus and concepts of operation for amphibious combat and Amphibious Ready Groups in the future. – Scout Warrior
Missile Defense
Kim Jong Un’s test of an ICBM capable of striking the U.S. mainland is putting renewed pressure on a U.S. missile defense system racing to keep up with North Korea’s quickly evolving military threat. - Bloomberg
Calls for a more significant U.S. investment in missile defense are escalating after North Korea carried out its first successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile this week, potentially putting Alaska in the nation’s range for the first time. – The Hill
Senators have moved to bar the Pentagon from using software produced by a Russian-origin cybersecurity firm, underscoring suspicions of its ties to the Russian government. – The Hill
The Air Force was recently the punching bag for harsh jabs made by the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Out of the 127 Air Force cyber officers, that completed their first tour on the cyber mission force, none went back to a cyber-related job,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said during a May hearing. – Defense News


An international team of prosecutors investigating the downing of a civilian airliner over Ukraine three years ago has decided to try the suspects in a Dutch court, the Dutch Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday. – New York Times
The Trump administration is not ruling out providing Ukraine with defensive weapons in its fight against Russian-backed separatists, a State Department official told THE WEEKLY STANDARD, though the administration is focused on a diplomatic solution to the conflict. – The Weekly Standard
The U.S. Army and its NATO allies are working hard to upgrade one of the Ukrainian army’s aging training bases to give its troops a more realistic sense of a modern battlefield. – Stars and Stripes
Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych announced that he will not participate in a high treason trial against him that is scheduled to resume in Kyiv on July 6. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Washington is considering heeding calls on all sides to appoint an envoy to the Minsk peace negotiations between Russia, Ukraine, and separatists in the east, a senior U.S. State Department official said on July 5. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
While the military aspects of the conflict have dominated the headlines, the real battle for Ukraine’s future has always been elsewhere. It rests on the ability of the country to restore stability and prosperity even as its territorial integrity is being brutally compromised. On this measure, Ukraine is beginning to make real progress. – Financial Times
Josh Cohen writes: Given how critical judicial reform is to Ukraine's future, it’s time for senior officials from the United States, the EU, and the IMF to make clear to Kyiv that no further financial aid will be disbursed until Ukraine creates a Supreme Court with honest judges that pass PIC's ethical reviews. Now is not the time for the IMF to go wobbly. The Ukrainian government wants another tranche this fall, and this is an opportunity to show Kyiv that the international community means business. Ukraine's brave reformers—and its forty-five million citizens—deserve nothing less. – Atlantic Council
Even his top aides do not know precisely what Mr. Trump will decide to say or do when he and Mr. Putin meet face to face on Friday on the sidelines of the Group of 20 economic summit gathering in Hamburg, Germany. And that is what most worries those advisers as well as officials across his administration as Mr. Trump begins his second foreign trip as president, stopping first in Warsaw to give an address on Thursday and then heading to Hamburg. – New York Times
As President Trump prepares for his first face-to-face meeting this week with Putin, in Hamburg, those who have negotiated with the Russian leader caution that Trump must be ready for a shrewd, well-prepared and implacable adversary. – Washington Post
According to two White House aides, senior Trump administration officials have pressed for Hill—the National Security Council’s senior director for Europe and Russia and the author of critical psychological biography of Putin—to be in the room during the president’s highly anticipated meeting with Putin. – The Daily Beast
A top Russian diplomat wants the impending meeting between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin to provide a "turnaround" from U.S. efforts to impose economic sanctions on the Russians. – Washington Examiner
The top military officer of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) said Monday the alliance was working on multiple fronts to thwart Russian efforts to elevate its military power. – The Hill
Editorial: Mr. Trump says he wants good relations with Russia, but the question as always in foreign affairs is on what terms? Mr. Putin wants to push the U.S. out of Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and he will be looking to exploit any presidential weakness toward that goal. No single meeting will determine the Trump-Putin relationship over four years, but first impressions matter. Mr. Trump will have a better chance at a better relationship if he shows Mr. Putin that the price of improved ties is better Russian behavior. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
David Kramer writes: The next time President Trump asks, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we and Russia got along?” answer with the following: How many more Russian liberal activists need to be killed or poisoned? How many more countries does Putin need to invade? How many more Ukrainians need to die? How many more civilians need to be killed in Syria? And how many more elections does he need to interfere in—before we understand the existential threat the Putin regime represents? – The American Interest
John McLaughlin writes: So this meeting will pose the ultimate test for Trump’s views on the Russia issue. If he comes away still expressing doubts or ambiguity about Russia’s role in our election, Putin — an old KGB officer — will have had his way. If on the other hand, Trump finds a way to acknowledge Russia’s role, he will begin to thin the mysterious cloud that still hangs over his presidency. - Ozy
Michael Morell and Samantha Vinograd write: Mr. President, when you meet with President Trump at the Group of 20 meeting this week in Hamburg, you will do so at a historic time. Russia is in its strongest position since the end of the Cold War; the United States, our great adversary, is the weakest it has been. We are on the road to achieving our fundamental national security objectives — for Russia to retake its place as a great power and to have a sphere of influence in the countries on our periphery. – Washington Post
Julie Smith writes: Trump needs to come to this meeting prepared, well-informed, and armed with ideas and countermeasures. If he ignores the advice of his very capable Russia hands and decides instead to rely on his “good brain,” the results could be disastrous. Putin brings decades of experience to this meeting and is coming to the table with a plan. We need one too. – Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government
Christian Caryl writes: Russia doesn’t want us to be its friend; it wants us to be its enabler. Trump may be incapable of understanding this (and if he is, the result could be a disaster). But the rest of us should never forget it. – Washington Post
Much of the world’s attention at the Group of 20 economic summit on Friday and Saturday will be on President Trump’s first meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir V. Putin, with strenuous efforts to decipher the nature of the long-distance bromance between them. But the leader of the world’s other superpower, Xi Jinping of China, will also be in Hamburg, Germany, ready to slip quietly into the widening gap between Mr. Trump and longtime European allies and to position Beijing as the globe’s newest, biggest defender of a multilateral, rules-based system. – New York Times
The leaders of Japan and the European Union said Thursday they had struck a broad, new trade deal, an agreement that comes on the eve of a Group of 20 leaders meeting where U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to clash with his counterparts on trade. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
A review recently commissioned by the German Parliament has determined that the country could legally finance the British or French nuclear weapons programs in exchange for their protection. The European Union could do the same if it changed its budgeting rules, the study found. – New York Times
In a throwback to the Cold War, the U.S. government-run news channel Current Time recently began broadcasting into Russia and Eastern European counties to counteract the Kremlin’s unofficial propaganda arms RT and Sputnik. – Washington Times
China and Russia planned exercise in the Baltic Sea is raising eyebrows in northern Europe, NATO headquarters and Washington. – USNI News
Belgian police are searching for more members of an Islamist militant cell unearthed earlier this week in possession of assault rifles and police uniform disguises ready for an attack, prosecutors said on Thursday. - Reuters
U.S. President Donald Trump said in Warsaw on July 6 that the United States is "committed to maintaining peace and security in Central Europe" and is "working with Poland in response to Russia's actions and destabilizing behavior." – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The Polish government is planning to bus lawmakers from its conservative ruling party and pro-government activists to Warsaw for President Trump’s speech to the Polish people, according to The Associated Press, which cites Polish media reports. – The Hill
Poland has agreed to buy Patriot missile defence systems from the US, hours before Donald Trump gives what has been billed as a major speech on transatlantic relations in Warsaw. – Financial Times
Poland’s Ambassador to the United States Piotr Wilczek writes: America’s commitment to liberty and democracy has captivated the Polish people for generations. Even more than four decades of forced Communist rule could not shake our appreciation of American values. We will see that appreciation manifested as the American president is welcomed in Warsaw. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Jacqueline Ramos writes: Trump would be wise to recognize that Poland is a young democracy with a lengthy history of political and social upheaval. While the country has left the days of the Cold War far behind, Poles are still uncertain how exactly they fit into modern day Europe, as the government’s recent European Union skepticism indicates. But Poland also remains supremely distrustful of Russia and is highly reliant on NATO for it’s security — especially the United States. Poland is very aware of its security vulnerabilities and fortunately is making strides to mitigate them, as illustrated in its recently published Polish Defense Concept paper. – Defense One
United Kingdom
The sharp slide in the British pound’s value against the dollar since the U.K. voted to leave the European Union could pose difficulties for Britain’s defense budget, British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
As Saudi Arabia accuses Qatar, a Persian Gulf neighbor, of spreading Islamist extremism, British politicians are debating whether the Saudis themselves may deserve more of the blame. – New York Times
Britain has yet to “face the facts” on the negative consequences of Brexit, the EU’s chief negotiator has said, as he warned London that trade talks will not start until it is willing to make concessions on a financial settlement. – Financial Times


United States of America
It is perhaps the key piece of forensic evidence in Russia’s suspected efforts to sway the November presidential election, but federal investigators have yet to get their hands on the hacked computer server that handled email from the Democratic National Committee. – Washington Times
The New York Times and Associated Press posted corrections last week walking back the widely reported claim that all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies agreed that the Russians interfered in the 2016 election with the goal of helping Donald Trump. – Washington Free Beacon
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing for President Trump's pick to lead the FBI next week. – The Hill
Authorities said at least 26 people were killed Wednesday in northern Mexico during a predawn gun battle between warring crime gangs, part of an escalation of deadly violence across the country. – Los Angeles Times
Ms. Breach was one of 11,155 people murdered in Mexico in the first five months of 2017, according to government statistics. The pace of murders—about one every 20 minutes—represents a 31% jump from a year earlier, and, by year-end, could rival 2011’s 27,213 homicides for the worst body count in Mexico’s peacetime history. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
A group of Mexican journalists traveled to Washington to discuss conditions in one of the hemisphere’s most dangerous places to report the news. The watchdog group Article 19 says harassment and dangerous incidents targeting journalists in Mexico rose more than 250 percent from 2011 to 2016, and 26 journalists have been killed in the past 18 months alone. – Washington Times
A mob stormed Venezuela’s opposition-dominated National Assembly on Wednesday with the apparent acquiescence of government troops and carried out a startling attack on lawmakers and journalists. – New York Times
At least 123 members of Venezuela's armed forces have been detained since anti-government unrest began in April on charges ranging from treason and rebellion to theft and desertion, according to military documents seen by Reuters. - Reuters


Zambian President Edgar Lungu said on Wednesday he would seek parliament's approval to impose a state of emergency after fire gutted the country's biggest market in what he said was politically motivated arson. - Reuters
Judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) will rule on Thursday on whether South Africa violated ICC rules by failing to arrest Sudan's president during a 2015 visit to Johannesburg, in a case that will test international support for the court. - Reuters

Trump Administration

New figures from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service point to a marked slowdown in the pace of nominating and confirming personnel compared to prior administrations. Trump had submitted 242 civilian nominations to the Senate as of June 30, fewer than any of his four immediate predecessors. At the same time, only 50 have been confirmed, a smaller proportion than under previous administrations. – Washington Post
John Sullivan, the new deputy secretary of state, is quickly winning over State Department employees by taking otherwise ordinary steps in what seem like extraordinary times. - Politico

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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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