FPI Overnight Brief: July 11, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

European diplomats say they are increasingly concerned the Trump administration will stretch out its review of the Iranian nuclear deal, undermining the agreement by curbing the economic benefits designed to ensure Iran’s compliance. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Representatives of Syria’s warring parties gathered in Geneva on Monday for the seventh round of peace talks, as a limited truce, negotiated by their big-power backers, appeared to be holding for a full day in southwest Syria, according to local residents and human rights monitors. – New York Times
The US military has received no guidance on how to enforce the ceasefire now in place in southwest Syria, even as the Trump administration hails it as a success, three Defense Department officials told BuzzFeed News on Monday. – Buzz Feed
In 2013, when the United States first considered intervening in the Syria war, teams of U.S. Air Force commandos scouted out, across the Middle East, no fewer than 300 potential sites for new bases to support a possible intervention force. Since then, the Pentagon has established or expanded scores of bases in Syria, Jordan, and Iraq, among many other countries. – The Daily Beast
U.S.-backed Syrian militias have captured a town south of the city of Raqqa where Islamic State ran a major military base and training camp, a spokesman for the militias said on Tuesday. - Reuters
Syrian Kurdish fighters clashed with Turkish forces shelling Kurdish-held towns in northwest Syria on Monday, Kurdish officials said. - Reuters
Frederic Hof writes: If Washington is willing to complicate and frustrate the regime’s ability to commit mass murder—and not just in southwestern Syria or with chemicals—it will have a powerful diplomatic card to play for the sake of a future Syria that is something other than a bleeding carcass on which the family, Iran, and the extremists they spawn will feed and threaten the West for decades to come. – Atlantic Council
Iraq’s U.S.-backed prime minister declared victory over Islamic State in Mosul on Monday, but Iran is shaping up to be one of the biggest winners in the struggle with Washington for influence in Baghdad and across the region. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
It is a moment for Iraqis to celebrate after nearly nine months of bloody warfare against the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State. But despite the flaring of hope for a new national unity, the government’s costly victory in Mosul and the questions hanging over its aftermath feel more like the next chapter in the long story of Iraq’s unraveling. – New York Times
Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s prime minister, on Monday declared “total victory” over Isis in Mosul. But in the fight against a militant organisation that has reincarnated itself before, the biggest challenge may not be defeating Isis, but preventing it from rising again. – Financial Times
Islamic State has captured most of a village south of Mosul despite losing control of its stronghold in the city, an Iraqi army officer and residents said, deploying guerrilla-style tactics as its self-proclaimed caliphate crumbles. - Reuters
Islamic State’s Turkish franchise has released a how-to e-book for terrorist amateurs that seeks to increase the frequency of attacks and the range of targets in the West. – Washington Times
As the battle for Mosul, Iraq, entered its final stage and the fight for Raqqa in Syria heated up, the number of weapons released by coalition aircraft against the Islamic State last month reached new records. – Military Times
Interview: In an interview with RFE/RL, Joshua Landis, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Oklahoma and author of the widely read blog Syria Comment, talks about how the loss of Raqqa and Mosul might transform IS. But Landis says it would be folly to assume this is the end of the militant group. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Elliott Abrams writes: The defeat of the Islamic State will not end our involvement in Middle East conflicts and may in fact lead it to increase. There will be no repeat of the Iraq wars, with vast American armies on the ground, but there will need to be a long continuation of the sort of commitment we see today: perhaps 5,000 troops in Iraq, 1,000 in Syria, 1,000 to 2,000 in Jordan, and many more in the 6th Fleet and in bases in the region from which we can exert power. – Foreign Policy
The European Union has poured tens of millions of dollars into supporting Libya’s coast guard in search-and-rescue operations off the coast. But the violent tactics of some units and allegations of human trafficking have raised questions about the alliance. – Washington Post
Clashes between rival Libyan factions east of Tripoli extended into a second day on Monday, keeping the coastal road shut and preventing residents from returning to their homes, a local town council spokesman said. - Reuters
Arabian Peninsula
A British court ruled on Monday that Britain’s extensive sales of arms to Saudi Arabia are legal, rejecting claims by rights groups that the Saudis have violated international law by using those weapons to kill civilians in Yemen’s civil war. – New York Times
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Kuwait on Monday night to help defuse a feud between Qatar and other Arab nations that the United States worries is hampering the fight against the Islamic State and bolstering Iran’s standing. – Washington Post
Four Arab states sought on Monday to pile pressure on Qatar over charges it backs terrorism, saying the publication of a previously secret accord between Riyadh and Doha showed Qatar broke a promise not to meddle in the affairs of Gulf countries. - Reuters
A Bahrain court sentenced rights campaigner Nabeel Rajab to two years in jail on Monday, supporters said, for allegedly making “false or malicious” statements about Bahraini authorities. - Reuters
Avi Gabbay, a relative novice in Israeli politics, spent his early years in an asbestos hut in a transit camp, one of eight children of Moroccan immigrants, then became a millionaire. On Monday, he also became the chairman of the center-left Labor Party, beating Amir Peretz, a Moroccan-born party veteran, in a runoff. – New York Times
U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass criticized the American fight against terrorism during a July Fourth celebration hosted by the U.S. consulate in Istanbul, claiming that an "overly broad" definition of terrorism has hampered U.S. efforts to combat extremists and eroded international confidence in America. – Washington Free Beacon
Turkish authorities have ordered the arrest of 105 people working in information technology on suspicion of involvement in an attempted military coup a year ago, state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Tuesday. - Reuters
Editorial: Mr. Tillerson has said he hopes to “mend” U.S.-Turkish relations, which soured during the final months of the Obama administration. This is important — but it can and should be accomplished without betraying democratic ideals and the people who are fighting on their behalf. – Washington Post


South Asia
President Trump’s advisers recruited two businessmen who profited from military contracting to devise alternatives to the Pentagon’s plan to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, reflecting the Trump administration’s struggle to define its strategy for dealing with a war now 16 years old. – New York Times
Afghan police have arrested members of a human trafficking ring they say kidnapped 25 children and tried to smuggle them into Pakistan, where they were to be trained as suicide bombers for the Afghan Taliban. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Pakistan’s governing party has condemned a probe into the prime minister over alleged corruption as a “conspiracy” to remove him from office, as rumours swirled about the findings of a panel investigation into Nawaz Sharif that were filed to the Supreme Court on Monday. – Financial Times
It’s dusk. The shadows of three men brandishing assault rifles welcome the reader to the Facebook page of Lashkar-e-Islam, one of 65 organizations that are banned in Pakistan, either because of terrorist links or as purveyors of sectarian hate. Still more than 40 of these groups operate and flourish on social media sites, communicating on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Telegram, according to a senior official with Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency, or FIA, who is tasked with shutting down the sites. – Associated Press
Hua Haifeng started May by taking a job at a factory that made shoes for the Ivanka Trump brand. By the end of the month, Mr. Hua, an experienced labor activist, was stranded in a crowded police holding cell, kicked by a fellow inmate and facing long interrogations about a wristwatch with a concealed video camera. On Monday, in his first interviews since his release on bail, Mr. Hua described how he was barred from leaving mainland China, had been denied access to a lawyer. – New York Times
A Chinese official said on Monday that the United States had apologized for a White House statement that misidentified China’s leader, Xi Jinping, as president of the Republic of China — the formal name for Taiwan. – New York Times
China’s $800 billion sovereign wealth fund said on Tuesday that it wanted to make more big bets in America but that it faced an obstacle: The United States government was making direct investment too difficult. – New York Times
Tensions and uncertainty over the fate of Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace laureate imprisoned for subversion, escalated on Monday, when Chinese doctors warned that he was in critical condition from liver cancer, a day after two foreign doctors said he appeared strong enough to travel abroad. – New York Times
China must immediately free Liu Xiaobo, the country's most famous political prisoner and Nobel Laureate, or face global scorn for refusing the best treatment for a dying man in his last days, his attorney and activists warn. – Washington Free Beacon
Beijing's spy networks in the United States include up to 25,000 Chinese intelligence officers and more than 15,000 recruited agents who have stepped up offensive spying activities since 2012, according to a Chinese dissident with close ties to Beijing's military and intelligence establishment. – Washington Free Beacon
A Chinese city has successfully trialled an “unhackable” communications network, raising hope of a rollout of the world’s first widescale commercial application of quantum communications. – Financial Times
China's Nobel Peace Prize winning dissident Liu Xiaobo is receiving emergency treatment for a second day on Tuesday, the hospital treating him said, as questions remain about whether he is well enough to travel abroad. - Reuters
Korean Peninsula
The Trump administration is moving toward unilaterally tightening sanctions on North Korea, targeting Chinese companies and banks the U.S. says are funneling cash into Pyongyang’s weapons program. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
North Korea’s recent long-range missile test didn’t show Pyongyang is able to arm the device with a warhead that can survive the intense heat and vibration of re-entering the atmosphere, South Korea’s intelligence agency said. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Unlike migrant workers in much of the West, destitute decorators from North Korea are so welcome that they have helped make Russia at least the equal of China — Pyongyang’s main backer — as the world’s biggest user of labor from the impoverished yet nuclear-armed country. Human rights groups say this state-controlled traffic amounts to a slave trade, but so desperate are conditions in North Korea that laborers often pay bribes to get sent to Russia, where construction companies and Russians who need work on their homes are delighted to have them. – New York Times
For years, North Korea has used African nations like this one as financial lifelines, building infrastructure and selling weapons and other military equipment as sanctions mounted against its authoritarian regime. Although China is by far North Korea’s largest trading partner, the smaller African revenue streams have helped support the impoverished Hermit Kingdom, even as its leaders develop an ambitious nuclear weapons program in defiance of the international community. – Washington Post
The United States is moving too slowly in response to North Korea’s rapidly improving missile development program, the general in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal said. – Stars and Stripes
The outgoing 2nd Infantry Division commander defended the use of rotational forces as the best way to maintain readiness against an increasingly threatening North Korea despite a recent report concluding that forward-based units would be more efficient. – Stars and Stripes
United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley aims to put to a vote within weeks a U.N. Security Council resolution to impose stronger sanctions on North Korea over its long-range ballistic missile test, said several senior U.N. diplomats. - Reuters
China hit back on Tuesday in unusually strong terms at repeated calls from the United States to put more pressure on North Korea, urging a halt to what it called the "China responsibility theory", and saying all parties needed to pull their weight. - Reuters
Interview: Among all the imperfect options for dealing with North Korea, what strategy holds the best hope? Few are more qualified to offer an answer than Robert Gates, the most seasoned senior U.S. national-security official of the last half-century…As it happens, Mr. Gates has a plan, which he explained in an interview. It’s worth listening to at a time when tensions are rising rapidly. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
William McGurn writes: Revoking visas for Chinese students, of course, would not alone resolve the North Korea problem even if it did force Beijing to act. But Beijing could make life for North Korea difficult if it chose to. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Joseph Micallef writes: Not only is the countenance of North Korea's labor exports a tacit acceptance of the continuation of slavery in the 21st century, but it directly leads to a major source of global nuclear proliferation and regional instability. It's time to put a stop to Pyongyang's brutal exploitation of its citizens. – Military.com
East Asia
The navies of India, Japan and the United States began a set of war games on Monday with a particular target: submarines capable of sliding unannounced into the deep waters of the Indian Ocean, silently taking positions near the Indian coastline. – New York Times
Southeast Asia
The United States on Monday called on Myanmar to allow a United Nations fact-finding mission to investigate widespread allegations of killings, rape and torture by security forces against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar's Rakhine state. - Reuters
Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s prime minister, has moved to sideline rightwing critics within his government, declaring that the Liberal party he leads is not a conservative party and he will govern from the centre. – Financial Times


The White House budget office has directed all federal departments and agencies to submit 2019 budgets no more than five percent above their 2018 budget requests. – Defense News
The U.S. Navy is looking for inputs from industry on a new multimission guided-missile frigate adapted from existing ship designs, a major departure from its modular littoral combat ship, according to a request for information released Monday. – Defense News
At 1:10 pm today, the Navy issued its official wishlist for its future frigate and set a 45-day deadline for shipbuilders to respond. As acting Navy Secretary Sean Stackley had promised, today’s Request For Information (RFI) opens the door wide to both US and foreign designs. It doesn’t lock the Navy into buying an upgraded variant of the current Littoral Combat Ships, but it doesn’t rule that out, either. – Breaking Defense
The cost of the F-35 jet program, already the most expensive U.S. weapons program ever, is estimated to climb further as the plane’s production period gets extended, according to figures submitted to Congress on Monday. - Bloomberg
At a time when much of the talk about the F-35 program has centered on trimming its overall numbers of 2,443, we learned today that the Marines plan to increase how many of the hovering B models they buy. – Breaking Defense
House Armed Services ranking Democrat Adam Smith (Wash.) is forcing a conversation on closing and consolidating military bases after the full committee last month voted on an annual defense policy bill that prohibits such a move. – The Hill
Several amendments to the House’s annual defense policy bill aim to curb President Trump and his family members from potentially using their new political clout for business profits. – The Hill
The War
Jihadist ideology can be defeated through improved education, according to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, but it might require an assist from rural America. – Washington Examiner
Spies and intelligence professionals are searching for the perfect formula for getting a notoriously impatient and skeptical audience of one to listen to and evaluate information about some of the most complex threats the world has faced in a long time. – Foreign Policy
Strategic Issues
The U.N. global nuclear watchdog is about to open a uranium bank in the Central Asian state of Kazakhstan, but it may never have any customers. - Reuters
Interview: The Cipher Brief spoke to retired Admiral Jonathan Greenert, former chief of naval operations, about why the Navy’s ballistic missile submarines remain crucial to U.S. national security and what makes the Columbia Class the quietest and most versatile submarine in the world. – The Cipher Brief
Interview: The Air Force’s Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program will replace these missiles and modernize their facilities to modernize the U.S. ICBM nuclear deterrent. The Cipher Brief spoke to former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James to learn more about why this new program is necessary to U.S. national security and how the current fiscal environment could affect this and other Air Force programs. – The Cipher Brief



The Russian military has denied that a Russian man who was detained by government forces in eastern Ukraine in June is an active-duty serviceman. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Ukraine will begin discussions with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on an action plan to get it into the U.S.-led alliance, its leader said on Monday, while the country would work on reforms to meet membership standards by 2020. - Reuters
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg pledged support for Ukraine during a visit to Kiev on Monday, as the ex-Soviet republic battles a bloody insurgency by pro-Russian separatists in the east. - AFP
Interview: Two bills that would remove Ukraine’s controversial disclosure requirements for nongovernment organizations and replace them with more extensive reporting requirements were introduced in parliament on July 10. In an interview, Dmytro Shymkiv said bill 6674 and 6675 would make the public aware of how tax-exempt money is being spent “as it is done everywhere else in the world” and bring Ukraine up to international standards. – Atlantic Council
Diane Francis writes: Diplomats may frame their task as ending a conflict, but the reality is that this is about getting Russia to withdraw from Ukraine, pay reparations, and make Ukraine a NATO member so this doesn’t happen again. – Atlantic Council
William Taylor writes: This vote on health care reform is a test of both the government and its willingness to deliver on the promises of Euromaidan, as well as on the opposition to demonstrate political maturity and responsibility…Thus, I call on the members of these and all parties in the Rada to put aside partisan differences for the good of the Ukrainian people and to support health care reform. – Atlantic Council
A key House chairman, frustrated that a Senate-passed Russia sanctions bill has stalled in his chamber, is considering crafting his own plan to punish Moscow — even as White House officials lobby to defang the legislation. - Politico
The White House on Monday said President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed sanctions related to Russia’s election interference during their meeting last week, contradicting an earlier claim made by the president. – The Hill
Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton issued a stern warning to the president Monday about negotiating with Russian president Vladimir Putin, after Putin and Trump held their first official in-person meeting Friday. Bolton, who was under consideration to be Trump’s secretary of state, also criticized the administration's handling of sensitive policy matters – The Weekly Standard
Three Democratic lawmakers in the House have introduced amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act hammering President Trump's posture toward Russia. – The Hill
Police in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk on July 11 detained a local coordinator of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's presidential election campaign and confiscated campaign materials. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Editorial: Mr. Trump wants to unleash U.S. oil and gas production, which properly deployed can undercut Vladimir Putin’s petro-dollar revenue at home and his political leverage over European energy markets. It makes no sense to kneecap U.S. energy production in the rest of the world in a bill aimed at sanctioning Russia. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Michael McFaul writes: Trump and Putin can work to develop a common agenda based on mutual interests regarding other economic and security issues. But we can do so without wiping the past slate clean and without pretending to forget who caused these previous contentious issues in the first place. – Washington Post
Michael Carpenter writes: In sum, it does not appear that Trump got any concrete results out of his meeting with Putin, aside from the agreement on a ceasefire in southwestern Syria — but gave Putin everything he could have wished for by agreeing to move on from Russia’s interference in the 2016 election without further consequences. Thus undeterred, why would the Kremlin stop now? – Foreign Policy's Shadow Government
Leon Aron writes: Last Friday was Trump’s chance to lance the Russian boil. Instead, he and Tillerson dispensed anodynes, palliatives and outright placebos. We won’t have to wait long for the boil to grow larger and darker. - Politico
One of Germany’s biggest companies said Monday that it had become an unwitting pawn in a scheme to evade sanctions against Russia and break a de facto blockade of electricity to the annexed territory Crimea. – New York Times
Since NATO’s declaration last summer deeming cyber a domain of warfare, the alliance has looked at several ways to bolster its cyber defenses. – Defense News
In the Baltics, pro-Moscow organizers and media of any kind, even the innocent, are under constant suspicion. But that doesn’t prevent many from operating in plain sight, eager to deliver their pro-Kremlin message to whoever listens. – The Daily Beast
An anti-migrant billboard campaign by the Hungarian government that uses the image of U.S. financier George Soros is "reminiscent of Europe's darkest hours", Soros' spokesman said on Tuesday. - Reuters


United States of America
On June 11, alt-right blogger Mike Cernovich published an article attacking an assistant to National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, claiming the previously low-profile civil servant wanted to “sabotage” President Donald Trump. – Foreign Policy
Russian Election Interference
Before arranging a meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer he believed would offer him compromising information about Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy, according to three people with knowledge of the email. – New York Times
A meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer was set up at the request of Emin Agalarov, a Russian pop star whose Kremlin-connected family has done business with President Trump in the past, according to the person who arranged the meeting. – Washington Post
The Russian lawyer who met with President Trump’s eldest son during the presidential campaign last year has drawn the attention of U.S. investigators before — after she lobbied against a U.S. law despised by Vladimir Putin and made a questionable reimbursement request to federal prosecutors. – Washington Times
The White House on Monday was forced to shift from denying contact between the Trump campaign and Russia to defending a meeting that President Trump’s eldest son had in the midst of the presidential race with a Russian lawyer purportedly offering damaging information about Hillary Clinton. – Washington Post
Bipartisan members of the Senate’s lead probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election are clamoring for the testimony of President Donald Trump’s eldest son into new revelations that he meet last year with a Kremlin-linked lawyer — a meeting he has denounced as a “big yawn.” – Washington Times
Robert Mueller’s far-reaching Russia investigation is expected to delve into one of the biggest political phenomena of the Donald Trump era — fake news. - Politico
Editorial: Mr. Wray must commit to the independence of the FBI by detailing any conversations he had with Mr. Trump, and in particular whether the president asked him for his loyalty. He must be able to say that he made no such commitment. And he must promise that he will do everything to cooperate with, and nothing to impede, the special counsel’s Russia investigation. – Washington Post
Five years ago, when Hugo Chávez was president and Venezuela was a much different place, Ana Margarita Rangel could still afford to go to the movies and the beach, or to buy the ingredients she needed to bake cakes…Now she spends everything she earns to fend off hunger. Her shoes are tattered and torn, but she cannot afford new ones. A tube of toothpaste costs half a week’s wages. – Washington Post
From blocking off the office heliport to plotting protests, workers at the prosecutor's office in Venezuela are making plans to fight her expected removal by allies of President Nicolas Maduro, according to three sources. - Reuters
Editorial: Venezuelans will have to liberate themselves, but international attention on Mr. López may have played a role in his release. The Obama Administration did nothing to highlight Venezuela’s slide to authoritarian chaos, and the U.S. and Latin American countries can do more to call out Mr. Maduro’s constitution gambit. Meanwhile, even under house arrest the courageous Mr. López remains a symbol of Venezuelan hope. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Francisco Toro writes: The likely alternatives to this compromise path are clear: either an open-ended Cuban-style dictatorship or all-out civil conflict, with the military eventually stepping in to referee a political solution. So we had better hope that Rodríguez Zapatero has what it takes. – Washington Post
Vanessa Neumann writes: This is not a coup d’état; it is instead a transition back to democratic order under the constitution the Chavistas themselves drafted. The release of Mr. López, while intended to prolong the life of the regime, will likely accelerate the ouster of Mr. Maduro and his cohorts who have ruled by decree. Only then can Venezuela begin the process of reconciliation and development. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Michel Temer, Brazil’s president, is facing the biggest test of his political career this week with the beginning of a historic debate in congress on whether he should be tried for corruption. – Financial Times


About 10 Malian soldiers were missing following an ambush by suspected Islamist militants in the West African nation's desert north, the army said on Monday. - Reuters
Kenya's military said on Monday it had launched air strikes on the forest hideout of Somali Islamists blamed for deadly attacks on civilians and security personnel. - Reuters
Tom Catena writes: I know this is a complicated set of issues for U.S. policymakers to weigh, but I’d make this plea on behalf of the men, women and children I treat every day: Please extend the sanctions to hold Khartoum accountable. Let’s not let Sudan’s government off the hook. We need a real effort to allow humanitarian aid and genuine progress in resolving the internal problems that have kept Sudan in civil war for decades. – Washington Post


Paul Miller writes: The “West” is practically an invention of universalist dreamers who put together a civilization on foundations borrowed from Jews and Greeks, Romans and Frenchmen — whatever and whomever they could get their hands on. There is no shared ethnicity or language or even religion among Westerners for nationalists to celebrate; only a shared project of plundering the best of humanity in pursuit of social and economic and political flourishing. To celebrate the freedom to do that is the definition of classical liberalism. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room

Ellen Riina writes: Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” solution to the problem of disinformation. The Western understanding of free speech makes any fines, bans, or limitations on foreign state-sponsored media’s broadcasting rights extremely unpalatable, if not impossible. Indeed, disinformation thrives because it appropriates Western values to undermine them. In the United States, where free speech is highly protected, requiring transparency and supporting independent journalists and news organizations to refute false news will be more successful than attempting to regulate organizations’ speech. – Atlantic Council

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