FPI Overnight Brief: October 22, 2013

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

Iran

The Iranian military has given the Russian army a copy of a downed U.S. drone that was captured and disassembled by Iranian authorities in 2012, Iran’s state-run media reported on Monday. – Washington Free Beacon

Iran’s cash-strapped government is looking to slash monthly handouts given to almost all Iranians in a move that could provoke popular anger as the country struggles with high inflation and unemployment. – Financial Times

A senior Iranian nuclear negotiator on Monday denied news reports that six governments unveiled a new proposal to address international fears over his nation's nuclear program, Iran's Fars News Agency reported. – Global Security Newswire

Iran believes it can wrap up negotiations with world powers over its disputed nuclear program in one year or less, Iranian media quoted its chief nuclear negotiator as saying. - Reuters

The head of Russia’s air force, Gen. Viktor Bondarev, met his Iranian counterparts in Tehran to discuss boosting military cooperation between the countries, local media reported Monday. - AFP

Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday will seek to dim the optimism after nuclear talks with Iran, cautioning that Tehran is strengthening its strategic regional position by calling the shots in Syria as President Bashar al-Assad’s puppet master. – Reuters

Editorial: We believe it is worth exploring a settlement that permits a token amount of enrichment while locking down the program to minimize the chance of an undetected breakout. Certainly this would be preferable to military action. But such a deal would require far greater concessions than the regime appears to be contemplating. As Russia’s deputy foreign minister put it in Geneva, the sides remain “kilometers apart.” And since Iran has yet to slow its enrichment, time is running out. – Washington Post

Uri Sadot writes: The stakes for Israel today are just as high as they were in 1981, and the worldview of its top policymakers remains largely the same as it was then. It is unlikely that the negotiations with Iran will stop Netanyahu from ordering a strike if he concludes diplomacy has failed in providing security. To the contrary, if there is one likely scenario that would push Israel to act, it would be the prospect of an imminent deal with Iran that would isolate Israel while not addressing the threat it sees emanating from Tehran. – Foreign Policy

Syria

Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief told European diplomats this weekend that he plans to scale back cooperating with the U.S. to arm and train Syrian rebels in protest of Washington's policy in the region, participants in the meeting said. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad threw cold water on hopes for meaningful peace talks next month by dismissing any possibility that he would step down early or decide not to run again next year—a key demand for most rebels and opposition groups who have been battling his regime for more than two years. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Even as planning intensifies for a Geneva peace conference on the war in Syria, the emergence of a group affiliated with Al Qaeda has undermined the chances of negotiating an end to the conflict, a senior State Department official said on Monday. – New York Times

European foreign ministers Monday issued their most forceful criticism yet of outside extremist groups flocking to Syria, a development that is increasingly complicating attempts to forge a political end to the country's civil war. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Norway is considering a request from the United Nations and some UN member states, including the U.S., to handle the destruction of some of Syria's chemical-weapons stockpile, a government official said Monday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

United Nations inspectors have taken the first steps to destroy Syria’s chemical stockpile. But while the Obama administration claims credit for pushing President Bashar al-Assad into giving up the arsenal, some experts say the real credit lies with the doctors who risked their lives — and confronted thorny questions of medical ethics — to bring to light the use of chemical weapons. – New York Times

The much-delayed peace talks over Syria’s civil war appeared further in doubt on Monday as Syrian President Bashar Assad cast new reservations about their usefulness. – The Hill’s Global Affairs

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said it was vital that all elements of Syria's opposition join peace talks tentatively scheduled for Geneva next month if there was to be an end to the 31-month-old conflict. - Reuters

Relative armed strength is hard to estimate and is only one factor that may decide a war that has divided Syria on sectarian lines and drawn in rival foreign powers. But Assad's use of such powerful weaponry while international attention is on his chemical disarmament underlines the difficulties facing the rebels - and their Western allies who want to force him out. - Reuters

The top UN official leading the mission to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons has arrived in Damascus, the world’s chemical watchdog said on Monday. - AFP

Interview: This interview (conducted on August 15, 2013) is the second in a series of discussions with American and international policymakers who have been involved with efforts to advance freedom and democracy. We continue the series with a three-part conversation with Elliott Abrams. This second part of the interview covers the conflict in Syria and models for a democratic transition. – George W. Bush Institute’s Freedom Square

Matthew Shaer writes: [A]s the Syrian civil war approaches its third bloody year and the refugee count soars, Reyhanli has been transformed…[D]ue to its proximity to the border, Reyhanli has also become the de facto base of operations for hundreds of Syrian citizen journalists. – The New Republic

Amal Hanano writes: The Syrian revolution's heart -- not yet ravished by the regime or Islamist extremists -- beats on in the northern town of Kafranbel, where a group of dedicated activists has captured the world's attention through witty posters and banners that reflect the state of the revolt since spring 2011. And even as the Syrian narrative has increasingly focused on the extremists or an international plan to dismantle the Assad regime's chemical stockpiles, the artists of Kafranbel have been engaged in their own struggle -- to win back the support of residents of their own town. – Foreign Policy

North Africa

A shadowy jihadist group based in Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula claimed responsibility Monday for a weekend car bombing in a major Suez Canal city, underscoring the growing threat posed by Islamist extremists in Egypt nearly four months after a coup. – Washington Post

Coptic Christians, an ancient sect whose adherents have lived in Egypt for centuries, have borne the brunt of escalating violence in the wake of a tumultuous summer that saw Islamist President Mohamed Morsi deposed by the army and replaced by a military-backed interim government. – Los Angeles Times

Thousands of students from Egypt's al-Azhar University staged a third day of protests on Monday, in one of the boldest challenges to the army since it toppled Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July. - Reuters

NATO said Monday it is sending advisers to Libya to help Tripoli strengthen its security set-up amid chaos two years after the killing of Moammar Gadhafi. - AFP

Arabian Peninsula

Over the last two years, AQAP, as Western officials refer to the group, has extorted $20 million in ransom money, according to an estimate by Alistair Burt, who until this month was the top British diplomatic official for the Middle East...Kidnapping has become the group's single largest source of funds, U.S. and European officials say. – Los Angeles Times

Saudi Arabia has purchased two Lockheed Martin KC-130J tanker aircraft, a deal worth $180 million for the company. – Defense News

Bahrain is seeking large quantities of tear gas as it attempts to subdue daily confrontations between riot police and youths that have endangered stability since 2011. – Financial Times

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sought on Monday to calm rising tensions with Saudi Arabia, which has spurned a U.N. Security Council seat in fury at inaction over the crisis in Syria. - Reuters

Saudi Arabia's human rights record came under fire at the United Nations on Monday with critics accusing the kingdom of jailing activists without due process and abusing the basic rights of Saudi women and foreign workers. - Reuters

Ahmad K. Majiydar writes: [T]he spillover effects of the Syrian civil war—a sectarian conflict between the Shi’ite Iran-Hezbollah-Assad axis and the opposition groups backed by regional Sunni governments—are threatening Sunni-Shi’ite stability in the UAE, Qatar, and to a lesser degree, Oman. The United States should help maintain harmony in these states by reaching out to independent Shi’ite business communities and by working with regional leaders to ensure equal citizenship, political rights, and religious freedom among minority populations. – American Enterprise Institute

Iraq

Bret Stephens writes: Iraq has been asking the U.S. for help with counterterrorism, including the use of U.S. drones to help secure its porous border with Syria. An administration more mindful of U.S. security interests than of its campaign slogans should help the Iraqis out. Americans may think they've changed the channel on Iraq, but the grisly show goes on. Pay attention before it gets worse. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Marc Lynch writes: Washington needs to do more on this visit than mouth pleasantries about security, pluralism, responsibility, and enduring partnership. It needs to persuade Iraq's leaders to finally play the role in mediating the region's brutal political divides -- a role only Baghdad can play. – Foreign Policy

Israel

Mr. Barkat, a high-tech multimillionaire who is favored in Tuesday’s municipal elections here, did not, however, highlight these accomplishments in the actual Arab neighborhoods they benefit — because he, like his challenger, did not campaign at all in those places. – New York Times

Hamas leaders confessed on Monday that they had been planning to kidnap Israelis using a recently discovered tunnel system burrowed deep beneath the Israeli-Gaza border, according to reports. – Washington Free Beacon

Turkey

Turkey’s procurement authorities will reissue an order for the first two F-35 joint strike fighters the country intended to buy but suspended at the beginning of this year. – Defense News

Turkey’s Islamic-rooted government will reduce compulsory military service to 12 months next year, the deputy prime minister said Monday. - AFP

Kurdish rebels are ready to re-enter Turkey from northern Iraq, the head of the group's political wing said at his mountain hideout, threatening to rekindle an insurgency unless Ankara resuscitates their peace process soon. - Reuters

Asia

Afghanistan

NATO intends to refine its ambitious plan to train a fully functional Afghan air force and focus only on the most critical military capabilities after the combat mission ends by December 2014, according to the head of the Afghan air training command for the Western alliance. – Washington Times

Afghanistan and the United States have not yet agreed on several issues in a bilateral security pact, a senior Afghan spokesman said, raising the prospect that Washington could pull out all its troops from the war-ravaged nation next year if the differences could not be ironed out. - Reuters

Michele Flournoy writes: The fact is that Afghanistan has a solid chance of becoming significantly more stable, productive, and self-sustaining. This outcome, however, depends upon the will of the United States, its partners, and the leaders Afghans choose in next April's presidential elections. – Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel

South Asia

Sri Lanka’s government Monday raised defense spending to a record 253 billion rupees ($1.95 billion), despite international pressure to scale down the military after ending a decades-long separatist war. - AFP

Interview: Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington, has documented that legacy of mistrust in a new book, “Magnificent Delusions.” Mr. Haqqani, a former adviser to Mr. Sharif who now teaches at Boston University, was a victim of those toxic ties, forced out in 2011 amid allegations, which he denies, that he sought American help to rein in the Pakistani military. We caught up with him here recently, and what follows is an edited transcript of the conversation. – New York Times

Editorial: Like much of the civilian political elite, Mr. Sharif would like to see the United States demonstrate that it wishes to have a partnership with Pakistan that extends beyond counterterrorism and Afghanistan to trade, economic development and broader security issues. The Obama administration is right to take steps in that direction. But in the end Mr. Sharif must be judged on whether he is willing to decisively side against Islamist extremism. – Washington Post

Fred Starr writes: Strong U.S. support for TAPI is essential. President Obama's meeting this week with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is a good place to begin. Other opportunities must be seized or created to move TAPI swiftly forward. Only in this way will peace and prosperity come to a region too long embroiled in conflict. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

China

Senior Defense Department officials have been accelerating a dialogue with China, carried out through personal visits with Chinese counterparts to establish and strengthen military-to-military relationships. – NYT’s At War

China’s military is using covert political warfare operations to influence U.S. policies and opinions toward Beijing while working to defeat perceived enemies like the United States and Taiwan, according to a report on the sub-rosa activities. – Washington Free Beacon

China's human rights record under President Xi Jinping will come under formal international scrutiny on Tuesday for the first time since he took power, with the main U.N. rights forum set to hear accusations that the government is expanding a crackdown on dissent. - Reuters

China has no intention of altering its "correct" policies in the restive region of Tibet as they have brought unprecedented achievements, a government white paper said on Tuesday, slamming the romanticized notion Tibet was once an idyllic fairyland. – Reuters

China has arrested five people on charges of blackmail and spreading false information online, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday, as the government intensifies a campaign to banish rumors. - Reuters

China's state broadcaster CCTV News said on Tuesday one of its Twitter accounts had been hacked, and deleted a tweet claiming the country's president had set up a special unit to probe corruption accusations against a former domestic security chief. - Reuters

East Asia

The reactivation of an old plutonium-production reactor could boost North Korea's bargaining position if six-party aid-for-denuclearization negotiations ever resume, a U.S. expert wrote Thursday in a column for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. – Global Security Newswire

North Korea on Monday warned of “merciless firing” against the South if it goes ahead with a reported plan to develop shells to carry anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border. - AFP

Japan plans to review its self-imposed ban on weapons exports as it seeks to play a more active role in maintaining global peace, according to a draft of the country's new security strategy, a proposal that could unnerve China and South Korea. - Reuters

Southeast Asia

Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi urged Europe and the United States on Monday to press Myanmar to reform what she said was an undemocratic constitution, partly because it effectively bars women from running for president. - Reuters

Security

Defense

A visibly frustrated chief of staff and secretary of the US Army today warned that many key programs will have to be canceled, curtailed or delayed in upcoming years due to budget uncertainty, and units will be unready to perform operations. – Defense News

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said his greatest fear is to receive an order to deploy thousands of troops. And with good reason. The Army has only two combat-ready brigades right now, he said. Even the ones headed to Afghanistan are qualified for the trainer and adviser mission, not combat. – Defense News

Army Secretary John McHugh did not paint a rosy picture as he described the way ahead. “I wish I could promise that better days lie ahead,” he said. “Sadly, I just can’t.” – Defense News

The U.S. Army due to budget cuts is considering scaling back, delaying or even canceling major modernization programs, from the Ground Combat Vehicle to the Armed Aerial Scout helicopter to the battlefield communications network, officials said. – DOD Buzz

In the face of tightening budgets and uncertainty, the Army is committed to making sure deploying soldiers are properly trained and equipped, senior leaders said Monday. – Defense News

The new commander of the U.S. Army Pacific said the service will continue conducting Army-Navy maritime training exercises in the Pacific theater with Navy ships and U.S. Army aviation assets. – DOD Buzz

The US Army is keeping about 3,000 of the 9,000 Navistar-made MaxxPro MRAPs it purchased between 2007 and 2011 while it divests thousands more MRAPs for which it no longer has a need. – Defense News

Over the next 18 months, the US Army, DARPA and Alcoa Defense are getting together to work on producing single-piece aluminum hulls for ground combat vehicles which, the thinking goes, would improve crew protection against buried roadside bombs. – Defense News

The Navy's newest warships are hard to detect on radar, heavily armed with super-accurate guns and missiles ... and gigantic. Six hundred feet long and displacing 15,000 tons of water, the DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class ships are designated as destroyers but are actually as big as some World War I battleships. – Foreign Policy’s Killer Apps

The littoral combat ship (LCS) Freedom suffered minor flooding Oct. 20 when about three feet of water was discovered in the bilge, the lowest part of the ship. – Defense News

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, USN writes: Unmatched capability in the undersea domain is among our most important military advantages. However, what was once an open territory is becoming the domain of choice for industry, academia and potential adversaries. To retain and exploit our superiority we must sustain our investments in emerging technology and the training that keeps our Sailors proficient. This will remain a priority of our Navy as we address our budget challenges so we can assure access and maintain freedom of the seas. – Defense One

Mackenzie Eaglen writes: As Congress steps back from the brink yet again and prepares to enter the next round of budget talks, policymakers should be clear-eyed that sequestration is no victory for budget hawks. Indeed, the sequester fails to address the true driver of the national debt while needlessly sacrificing America's national security. Sequestration is bad for the economy, for the men and women of our military, and for the nation's long-term fiscal health. – US News and World Report’s World Report

The War

Two influential human rights groups say they have freshly documented dozens of civilian deaths in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, contradicting assertions by the Obama administration that such casualties are rare. – Washington Post

Tom Rogan writes: The memory of 9/11 has receded from our minds. A dangerous false moralism has risen in its place. We obsess about the NSA, but we ignore the threat of international terrorism, especially Salafi jihadism, at our peril. This is not hyperbole — just consider what happened this weekend at a café in Iraq and at a wedding in Egypt and on a road in Nigeria. If we care about protecting innocent lives, the U.S. drone program must continue. – National Review Online

Russia/Europe

Russia

A suicide bomber attacked a bus in Volgograd, Russia, on Monday, killing at least 5 people and wounding more than 25, officials said, a case in which the violence of the turbulent North Caucasus apparently spilled into the Russian heartland. – New York Times

In the long-simmering and emotional debate over a notorious mass killing during World War II, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Monday that Russia had failed to comply with its obligations to adequately investigate the massacre of more than 20,000 Polish prisoners of war by the Soviet secret police in 1940. – New York Times

Dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko, who made his name on stage at Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre, goes on trial on Tuesday for an acid attack that nearly blinded the ballet's artistic director. - Reuters

Analysis: These two developments at either end of an energy network that has been firmly anchored by Moscow for decades are sure signs of a shifting global energy environment that threatens the core of Russia's economic and geopolitical might. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Europe

A report Monday that the National Security Agency vacuumed up more than 70 million French phone records in one month left the Obama administration scrambling once again to explain spy practices that have angered allies and dented the United States’ reputation overseas. – Washington Post

A panel of European Union lawmakers on Monday night backed a measure that could require American companies like Google and Yahoo to seek clearance from European officials before complying with United States warrants seeking private data. – New York Times

The party of Ukraine's jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko on Monday rejected President Viktor Yanukovich's terms for her release and European envoys said time was running out to solve a row threatening agreements with the European Union. - Reuters

Adm. James Stavridis, USN (Ret.) writes: Nearly 100 years ago, American Rear Admiral and Medal of Honor recipient Richard E. Byrd said of the opposite pole that he was hopeful that "Antarctica, in its symbolic robe of white, will shine forth as a continent of peace." If we are to create a similar zone of peace in the High North, we have some work to do. – Foreign Policy

NATO

NATO’s mandate of a new standard of identification friend-or-foe (IFF) system has required alliance members to replace or update the old Mode 4 capability. As a result, Britain’s Mode 5 competition, initally a victim of austerity measures, is finally starting to address a critical capability area for the alliance. – Defense News

Jorge Benitez writes: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is on his way to Brussels to have a difficult conversation with his fellow defense ministers in NATO. The point of contention is the continued reduction of the military capabilities of our allies and their growing dependence on U.S. support. – Defense One

Americas

United States of America

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) is in line to become the next House Appropriations Defense panel chairman now that Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) has died, according to defense and congressional sources. – DEFCON Hill

Panama

The authorities in Panama said Monday that they would release 33 of the 35 North Korean crew members of a rusting freighter impounded more than three months ago for carrying a secret stash of Soviet-era Cuban military gear hidden under bags of brown sugar. – New York Times

Africa

West Africa

Gunmen suspected to be from the Boko Haram Islamist sect stormed two villages in northeast Nigeria, killing 10 people, after a botched attempt by local vigilantes to arrest some of the militants. - Reuters

Mali's president asked a national congress on Monday to draw up plans for increased regional autonomy, a year after northern separatists and their Islamist allies seized two-thirds of the country, prompting France to send in troops. - Reuters

East Africa

Madagascar is set to hold elections Friday, trying to shrug off the effects of a 2009 coup that plunged millions of people into poverty and hunger due to subsequent African and Western sanctions and withdrawal of budget aid. – LA Times’ World Now

Mourners from various races and religions — Christians, Muslims and Hindus among them — grabbed handfuls of dirt and planted saplings at a memorial ceremony Monday for the nearly 70 people killed at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall exactly one month ago. – Associated Press

Mozambique's Renamo opposition movement said on Monday it was abandoning its 1992 peace accord with the ruling Frelimo party that ended the country's civil war, raising fears of a renewal of conflict in the budding African energy producer. - Reuters

Central Africa

Regional leaders on Monday authorized African troops deployed to Central African Republic to use force if necessary to drive foreign fighters out of the country, which has been plagued by violence. - Reuters

Talks to end a two-year insurgency in eastern Congo stalled on Monday after the government rejected a call for amnesty for M23 rebel leaders as the United Nations expressed concern at a military buildup by the group around the provincial capital Goma. - Reuters

Obama Administration

Josh Rogin reports: Former Washington Post writer Laura Blumenfeld on Monday became the latest in a long list of journalists who have joined the Obama administration when she took up an appointment in the State Department’s Middle East office. – The Daily Beast

Democracy and Human Rights

Josh Rogin reports: Starting Monday, Google users in places like Iran, Syria, China, and Russia will be able to mask their online identity with the help of a friend in a censor-free country. Human-rights groups will have a new tool to stop their governments from shutting down their websites. And the world will have a new way to watch where the most cyber attacks are coming from. – The Daily Beast

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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