FPI Overnight Brief: July 18, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

The Trump administration certified to Congress late Monday that Iran has continued to meet the required conditions of its nuclear deal with the United States and other world powers. – Washington Post
An American scholar jailed in Iran for espionage is “linguistically gifted” and had “unbounded intellectual curiosity” in the pursuit of his doctorate at Princeton University, his adviser said Monday, adding to a still-emerging portrait of the graduate student whose 10-year sentence was announced by Iranian authorities the previous day. – Washington Post
The Trump administration called Iran “one of the most dangerous threats to United States’ interests” and a senior administration official said that that the United States. has “not seen any change to Iran’s malign behavior in the region” since the implementation of a multi-national agreement to stop the regime’s nuclear weapons ambitions. – The Weekly Standard
The Trump administration is expected to ratchet up pressure on Iran with a slew of new sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic's illicit ballistic missile program and regional support for terrorism as the landmark Iranian nuclear deal hits its two-year anniversary, according to senior U.S. officials who deemed Iran in violation of the agreement's "spirit." – Washington Free Beacon
A senior commander in Iran's Revolutionary Guards warned the United States on Monday that if it designated the group a terrorist organization and applied new sanctions its action could be perilous for U.S. forces in the region. - Reuters
Eli Lake reports: In meetings with his national security cabinet, the president has never been keen on Obama's nuclear deal. What's more, Iran's regional behavior has only been getting worse since his inauguration. So just as Tillerson was preparing to inform Congress on Monday that Iran remained in compliance with what is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Trump called it off, according to administration officials. – Bloomberg View
Editorial: Donald Trump was engaging in a bit of campaign hyperbole when he promised to make dismantling the Iran deal his first order of business as president. The longer he waits to formulate a comprehensive Iran policy, the more likely it is that Iran will become the top priority on its own. - The Weekly Standard

John Bolton writes: In the last six months, Iran has made six more months of progress toward posing a mortal threat to America and its allies, and now totals two years since the JCPOA was agreed. This U.S. approach is both dangerous and unnecessary. Care to bet how close Tehran — and North Korea — now are? Consider the costs of betting wrong. – The Hill
Three Iraqi generals were brought to the Pentagon last week to hail the victory over ISIS in Mosul, but their presence also underlined the fragility of Iraqi unity going forward and the growing influence of Iran. – Military.com
The U.N. envoy for Iraq warned Monday that the road ahead for the Mideast nation is "extremely challenging" following the liberation of Mosul, stressing that freeing other territory controlled by Islamic State extremists won't be easy. – Associated Press
The Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah and the Syrian government have enjoyed a close, fruitful relationship for nearly 40 years. But six years into the Syrian civil war, there are signs that battle fatigue and diverging strategic visions are fraying their alliance. – Washington Times
The Syrian army supported by Iranian backed militias seized new oil fields in the desert in the southwest of Raqqa province on Monday in new advances against retreating Islamic state militants. - Reuters
Desperate to help Syrians stuck on Jordan’s sealed border, U.N. agencies agreed late last year to an aid system that critics say handed much of the control over aid distribution to Jordan’s military and a Jordanian contractor, and also involved armed men on the Syrian side. Since then, the system has broken down repeatedly and only sporadic aid shipments have reached two remote desert camps on the border that house thousands of Syrians displaced by war. – Associated Press
Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) writes: The U.S. must resist the temptation of trying to defeat the Islamic State on the cheap by partnering with Russia in Syria – an adversary that works against our interests in the Middle East, and indeed worldwide. – Washington Examiner
Now an all-but-stateless Islamic State — largely driven from Mosul, and besieged in its self-declared capital, Raqqa — might seem poised for oblivion. But longtime observers warn that the group’s virulent ideology is still very much alive, along with its ability to threaten both the immediate region and the wider world. – Los Angeles Times
The Pentagon could not confirm on Monday new reports that the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is still alive, following reports of his death last week. – The Hill
The Pentagon Monday disputed both the methodology and conclusion of an independent review that said a dozen civilians a day were dying as a result of coalition airstrikes that were backing up Iraqi forces on the ground. – Washington Examiner
The United Nations called on Tuesday for the Libyan National Army (LNA) which controls the eastern part of the country to investigate summary executions of prisoners. - Reuters
Arabian Peninsula
The U.S. still has full use of al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar but has considered alternatives in case the diplomatic rift between the U.S. ally and four other Arab nations further escalates, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said. – Military Times
The UAE’s foreign minister has denied that the country orchestrated the hacking of Qatar’s official media, one of the triggers for the Gulf crisis that has pitted four Arab states against the gas-rich nation. – Financial Times
A suicide car bomber wounded five soldiers outside a government army compound in eastern Yemen on Monday, said a local security official who blamed the attack on militant group al Qaeda. - Reuters
A Jordanian soldier was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison on Monday for the deaths of three United States soldiers whom he shot at an air base in November. – New York Times
A bill slashing funds that benefit the Palestinian Authority will easily pass the Senate’s foreign relations panel, likely before August recess, the leaders of the committee told THE WEEKLY STANDARD. The measure conditions the flow of U.S. dollars on whether the PA has stopped monetarily rewarding imprisoned terrorists and their families. – The Weekly Standard
Muslim worshippers prayed outside al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on Monday in protest at additional security measures put in place around the city’s most sensitive holy site following the killing on Friday of two Israeli police officers. – Financial Times
Benjamin Weinthal and Toby Dershowitz write: Exactly five years after terrorists in Bulgaria detonated a bomb on a bus filled with Israeli tourists, Sofia’s special terrorism court is scheduled to begin much-delayed hearings Tuesday on whether to bring the perpetrators to justice. It’s also an opportunity for the European Union to finally recognize a terrorist organization for what it really is. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Colleagues of an American student from Princeton University who was jailed in Iran on spying charges expressed shock on Monday, calling him a gifted and innocent history scholar whose ordeal has traumatized his family and community. – Washington Post
As Turkey, a peninsula in a volatile region, has in recent years thrived to push up its regional political clout, the Ankara government has taken a position to commission a wide range of vessels from local shipyards. “That became the boost [for the local industry] which we aimed at,” said one senior procurement planner. – Defense News
The Pentagon’s top leader says Turkey’s plan to purchase Russian surface-to-air-missile systems raises questions about NATO compatibility and deployment. – Defense Tech


Afghanistan has grown more deadly this year for women, children and other residents of the capital, the United Nations mission in the country said on Monday, even as the violence is expected to intensify in the coming months with no hope of peace talks any time soon. – New York Times
More civilians were killed and wounded in Kabul during in the first six months of 2017 than in war-ravaged Helmand, according to a United Nations midyear report on civilian casualties that showed deaths and injuries in Afghanistan remained near record levels documented last year. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
During nearly two months of de facto exile in Turkey, Afghanistan’s embattled vice president, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, hastily formed a new coalition of the discontented. On Monday, he tried to return to Afghanistan, to add to the woes of his own struggling president. But as hundreds of supporters waited late into the night at an airport in the country’s north, the small private plane carrying Mr. Dostum, an ex-warlord accused of torturing and sexually assaulting a political rival, was denied permission to land on orders from the central government, according to several Afghan and Western officials. – New York Times
The U.S. air war in Afghanistan has returned to a level of intensity not seen since American forces were still fanned out across the country and fighting Taliban militants in daily skirmishes in 2012, according to recently released military data. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
A key district in Afghanistan's Helmand province that was taken by insurgents last year is now back under Afghan army control, U.S. Marines deployed to Helmand announced Monday. – Military.com
In a propaganda film posted to the Taliban's official website, a fighter can be seen carrying a FN SCAR 7.62mm rifle, a weapon commonly issued to U.S. special operators, such as Marine Raiders and Army Rangers. – Military Times
The U.S. has long refused to sell the most powerful U.S.-made drones to most countries, fearing they might fall into hostile hands, be used to suppress civil unrest or, in the Mideast, erode Israel’s military dominance...But China is filling the void. State companies are selling aircraft resembling General Atomics’s Predator and Reaper drones at a fraction of the cost to U.S. allies and partners, and to other buyers. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
China flexed its air power muscles last week near Japan and Taiwan in multiple exercises designed to hone its ability to operate over the sea, according to Reuters. – Defense News
Xi Jinping’s elevation of an ally to a key political position has further tightened the Chinese president’s grip on power and marginalised liberal factions ahead of a key Communist party conclave this autumn. – Financial Times
The new leader of the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing has demanded officials banish the "evil legacy" of its former party chief Bo Xilai, state media said on Tuesday, a man jailed for life in 2013 after a dramatic corruption scandal. - Reuters
Bret Stephens writes: No nation that defames and imprisons its best people is going to become great. No country that is afraid to let a man such as Liu speak freely can possibly be described as strong. Regimes that are fearsome are brittle, too. – New York Times
Max Boot writes: No one suggests that the U.S. or other Western states should stop dealing with China. By all means, engage, but don’t forget human rights. The model here can be U.S. relations with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, where Ronald Reagan’s championing of dissidents ultimately paid dividends after the USSR’s demise. Even if the Communist regime isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, we should never forget the plight of its victims. The people of China will thank us some day when the mainland is as free as Taiwan already is. - Commentary
Korean Peninsula
European Union foreign ministers swung largely behind Washington’s stance on North Korea on Monday, threatening further sanctions and pressing China to push Kim Jong Un’s regime to abandon its nuclear work. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
An American who helped arrange for 30 female peace activists to cross the heavily armed border between North and South Korea in 2015 has been denied entry to South Korea, officials confirmed on Monday. – New York Times
Daniel Blumenthal and Derek Scissors write: Is North Korea a “clear and present danger,” as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said? If so, all means short of war should be used to depose Mr. Kim. The tension with China needn’t be permanent: Sanctions would vanish if China helps remove the Kim regime and works toward a peaceful peninsula. The other option is to live with a nuclear-armed Kim Jong Un. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Southeast Asia
With Islamic militants holding a stubborn grip on the southern Philippine city of Marawi, President Rodrigo Duterte has asked Congress to extend martial law on the island of Mindanao through the end of the year to quell the rebellion, his government said on Tuesday. – New York Times
Mu Sochua once fought to have Gary Glitter deported from Cambodia. Now she’s battling to stop the opposition movement from being criminalised as Hun Sen, the prime minister of more than three decades, seeks to tighten his grip ahead of elections next year. – Financial Times
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi's security adviser told diplomats on Tuesday that a U.N. mission looking into allegations of rape, torture and killings of Rohingya Muslims would only "aggravate" troubles in the western state of Rakhine. - Reuters
As the trial of former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra over an extravagant rice subsidy program winds to a close, her rural supporters are resisting attempts by the ruling junta to silence her family's political machine. - Reuters
Thailand should ensure those involved in trafficking migrants are brought to justice, rights groups said on Tuesday, ahead of a verdict in a major trafficking trial involving 103 defendants that has been beset by allegations of intimidation. - Reuters
Sen. John McCain’s Senate Armed Services Committee did approve the Palau Compact language, as we predicted. The Trump Administration admonished the House in its Statement of Administration Policy on the 2018 NDAA: “Failure to approve the CRA could imperil ongoing national security initiatives with the Republic of Palau and destabilize United States access and influence in a region that is increasingly contested by China.” – Breaking Defense


The Pentagon may miss out on $33.6 billion in savings by not adopting recommendations made by its own watchdog, according to a new report. – The Hill
The US Army has blown billions on weapons that never got built, so Congress is understandably wary of funding Army modernization. A senior Hill aide told us today that if the service wants money to modernize, it must convince Congress that its requests are in response to a specific threat the legislators care about, namely Russia. – Breaking Defense
Following a study which found numerous problems with Army contracting practices, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill wants to know what service officials are going to do to fix them. – Military Times
Jim Talent writes: Here’s the right standard for determining the size of America’s defense budget: We should spend what we need to defend the homeland and sovereign national interests of the United States at an acceptable level of risk. The Russians and Chinese are defending their interests, as they define them; the longer we fail to do the same, the greater the risk that somewhere the balloon will go up and we won’t be prepared. – National Review Online
Strategic Issues
Saying “we cannot afford to stand aside” while Russia ignores the 30-year-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, an outspoken member of the Senate Armed Services Committee said one way to bring the Kremlin into compliance was for Washington to withdraw from two pacts Moscow views as crucial to its security. – USNI News
The Pentagon’s next intercept test will incorporate new missile defense technology engineered to improve the likelihood that a Ground-Base Interceptor can succeed in destroying an approaching ICBM nuclear weapons attack. – Scout Warrior
The War
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration said on Monday it was lifting a ban on passengers on Saudi Arabian Airlines carrying large electronics like laptops onboard U.S.-bound flights, the last carrier under the restrictions. - Reuters
Friday’s big news on the Hill was House passage of Congress’s major annual defense policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act, which was chock full of tech and cyber provisions. – Next Gov
U.S. authorities are charging two Iranian nationals in an alleged scheme to steal and resell software to Iran, including a program used to design weapons. – The Hill
The State Department’s top cyber official will leave his position at the end of this month. – The Hill


Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's team issued a pointed reminder that Russia bears responsibility for the deaths of 298 civilians killed when an airliner was downed over Ukraine in 2014. – Washington Examiner
Alexander Motyl writes: The lessons for Ukrainians are obvious. Continue changing. Pursue democracy, rule of law, and the market. Become prosperous and strong. And pretend to listen to Westerners bearing advice and gifts. – Atlantic Council
Senior U.S. and Russian diplomats met Monday at the State Department to discuss “irritants” between the two countries, as the Kremlin stepped up its demand that the White House return two diplomatic compounds seized last year as punishment for Moscow's interference in the 2016 election. – Washington Post
A senior Russian diplomat has suggested that Moscow and Washington are close to an agreement that would restore Russian access to two diplomatic compounds that were seized in December by then-President Barack Obama’s administration. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
A recent international cyber attack that began in Ukraine involved sophisticated malware called "NotPetya" and was likely carried out by the Russian government or hackers associated with Moscow, according to U.S. officials and private security researchers. – Washington Free Beacon
Human Rights Watch says Russia has introduced significant restrictions to online speech and invasive surveillance of online activity, and prosecutes critics under the guise of fighting extremism. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Russian Internet personalities have rallied to the defense of a blogger, who was convicted of hate speech for a video in which he played Pokemon Go in a church, shortly after he was placed on an official government list of designated terrorists and extremists. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Leon Aron writes: Putin does not want to resort to electoral fraud and thus risk protests all over Russia. No, he needs, and without doubt wants, fireworks, thrills, the outpouring of popular gratitude and adulation. He needs a national-patriotic military triumph, humiliating the enemy (NATO, the U.S.) and adding to the glory of the lost empire. – US News and World Report
The U.K. and the European Union began Brexit talks in earnest Monday, with a four-day negotiating session on a set of thorny issues the EU wants largely resolved before discussions turn to a future trade deal. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Surrounded by security guards and amid opposition deputies' shouts of "shame" and "disgrace", Poland's parliament debated a bill on Tuesday that critics say would erode the independence of the judiciary. - Reuters
John Vinocur writes: American presidents don’t traditionally require a fixer or chaperone when they travel to Europe. But Emmanual Macron, gauging most of the allies’ perception of Donald Trump as an unwise and untruthful president, concluded he could use a hand. Hence, Mr. Macron’s leap into calling Mr. Trump a friend. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


United States of America
The Trump administration released its road map for remaking the North American Free Trade Agreement that aims to preserve “Buy America” provisions and reduce the U.S. trade deficit, but steps back from some of President Donald Trump’s most fiery campaign rhetoric on trade with Mexico and Canada. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The House is pushing a bill that would slash World Bank funding by almost half — a far deeper cut to the international finance organization than even President Donald Trump’s budget proposed. – Foreign Policy
Sixteen years on, Congress seems to be getting genuinely close to forcing itself into a fresh debate on how to prescribe the use of military force against terrorism. – Roll Call
A whistleblower who uncovered life-threatening fuel risks to Navy pilots and others was raising new safety complaints before managers fired him in early June. – Washington Free Beacon
Tyler Stapelton writes: The June arrest of Hezbollah operatives in New York and Michigan underscores the need for continued vigilance here in the United States and for increasing efforts to restrict their networks of illicit finance throughout the Western Hemisphere. – Foundation for Defense of Democracies
State Department/Foreign Aid
Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson is moving ahead with plans to restructure his department, and has hired two consulting groups to assist with the process, according to a cable sent to embassies around the world. – New York Times
A group of prominent foreign policy experts on Monday called on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to keep the office responsible for managing refugee inflows a part of the State Department instead of moving it to the Department of Homeland Security. – Washington Post
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is downgrading the U.S. campaign against mass atrocities, shuttering the Foggy Bottom office that worked for two decades to hold war criminals accountable, according to several former U.S. officials. – Foreign Policy
The State Department’s second in command, John Sullivan, sought Monday to allay fears that a plan to reorganize the agency will lead to an upheaval of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that major decisions, such as transferring key operations to the Department of Homeland Security, have not been made. – Associated Press
Richard Fontaine writes: Instead of looking to trim our aid and development programs, we should look to new Marshall Plans, aimed at eradicating deadly diseases, or reducing malnutrition, or improving democracy and governance. Such a plan might actually bring together Republicans and Democrats in Congress and do good by serving the long-term interests of the American people. That approach – so different from what prevails in Washington today – might be well remembered 70 years from now. – Independent Journal Review
Russian Election Interference
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is likely to be interested in Jared Kushner’s evolving disclosure of foreign contacts during the security clearance process, legal analysts said, and it is possible that the president’s son-in-law could be in legal jeopardy for not fully detailing the interactions from the start. – Washington Post
Mr. Chaika is also the man who is widely considered to have been the source of the incriminating information on Hillary Clinton that Donald Trump Jr. was promised at a meeting last June in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer and a Russian-American lobbyist. And yet, oddly, the accusations brought to New York fell flat, by the accounts of those present, despite their having originated from such a seasoned master of kompromat. – New York Times
The former managers of Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns are leading a new initiative called “Defending Digital Democracy” in the hopes of preventing a repeat of Russia’s 2016 election interference. – Washington Post
The steady drip of Russia-related controversies surrounding the Trump administration are becoming a “nuisance” and “distraction,” a Republican on the House Intelligence Committee said Monday. – The Weekly Standard
The number of people thought to be involved in the alleged “unmasking” of American citizens under the Obama administration could be expanding, according to a source close to the House Intelligence Committee’s review. – Fox News
The House intelligence committee has delayed classified testimony expected this week from former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice as the panel is now working to bring forward another former Obama official as soon as this month: Samantha Power. - CNN
Rinat Akhmetshin, the Russian-American lobbyist at the center of the controversy surrounding Donald Trump Jr., has made a career out of being a conduit in Washington for clients from Russian and other neighboring countries. – The Hill
Latin America
Peace means that soldiers no longer have to shoot their way into rebel-held territory to pull up coca plants or dismantle drug labs. Now the FARC, which formally disarmed last month, is joining forces with the government to wean farmers off coca — one of the first collaborations ever between the old enemies. – New York Times
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro came under growing pressure Monday as the opposition announced plans for a parallel government and U.S. President Donald Trump warned of sanctions if his government moves ahead with plans to rewrite the constitution. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Venezuelan security forces last week arrived at an apartment complex in a town outside Caracas following an opposition demonstration, shouting accusations that weapons were being stored inside, according to witnesses. - Reuters
Francisco Toro writes: The bottom line is that the government isn’t strong enough to impose outright dictatorship on the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans, who vehemently oppose that plan. Close off access to “official” ballots and they’ll vote on their own nonetheless. We’re stubborn people, and we’re not going down without a fight. – Washington Post


Eight of the world’s biggest aid groups are joining together in a new campaign to get more attention in the U.S. for what the United Nations calls the world’s largest humanitarian crisis in more than 70 years. – Associated Press
The bodies of eight Malian soldiers killed in an ambush by suspected Islamist fighters last week have been discovered in the West African nation's desert north, a local lawmaker and army officer said on Monday. - Reuters
Nigeria should focus on improving its education system, Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai said on Monday during a visit to the West African country where nearly half of primary-aged children are not enrolled in school. - Reuters
Kenya will use "deadly force" against suspected Islamist militants, President Uhuru Kenyatta said on Monday as he campaigned for re-election in Lamu, one of the regions that has borne the brunt of militant violence. - Reuters
Four South Sudanese news websites and blogs have been partially blocked, internet users and a broadcaster said on Monday, blaming it on a government crackdown on independent media. - Reuters
Gunmen in restive eastern Democratic Republic of Congo kidnapped two Catholic priests in an area at the center of over two years of massacres by unknown assailants, the country's conference of bishops said on Monday. - Reuters

Trump Administration

Congressional proceedings for Pentagon nominees this week will proceed as planned, despite the absence of Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain for medical reasons. – Defense News
The former Pentagon official who was widely expected to become Defense secretary had Hillary Clinton won the election said Monday she turned down an offer to work in the Trump administration because she didn’t think her positions aligned. – The Hill

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