FPI Overnight Brief: November 23, 2011


In his most blatant criticism yet of Syria’s political repression, the prime minister of Turkey said for the first time on Tuesday that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria should resign, raising the pressure on Mr. Assad from a country that Syria had once counted as its friendliest neighbor and economic partner. – New York Times

Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad killed 23 civilians and five army deserters on Tuesday in a crackdown on an eight-month uprising against Assad's rule, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. - Reuters

Turkish President Abdullah Gul accused Syria's government on Wednesday of using oppression and violence against its people, saying the situation there had reached a "point of no return." - Reuters

Colum Lynch reports: Fresh from defeat in the Arab League, where its membership was suspended, the Syrian government faced another bruising setback at the United Nations, where the General Assembly adopted a non-binding -- but politically potent -- resolution condemning Syria's action. – Turtle Bay


Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has traveled to Saudi Arabia to sign an agreement to transfer power to his vice president, kicking off a process that will elect a new president early next year and hand over significant new power to opposition parties, according to Yemen state television and opposition officials. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

North Africa

Tunisia's newly elected assembly held its inaugural meeting Tuesday, and begin the yearlong process of shaping the constitution and the democratic future of the country that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings. – Associated Press

Middle East

A committee investigating alleged human-rights abuses in Bahrain will release a report on Wednesday, including recommendations for the Gulf island's king, that some hope could ease the political stalemate between the government and the opposition. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group, has identified and captured several people it accuses of being informants and spies for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to a Lebanese security official and news agency reports quoting Hezbollah officials and current and former American officials. – New York Times


The Obama administration wants to bring an alleged militant being held in Iraq to the U.S. for likely trial by a military commission, but Baghdad is balking, according to U.S. officials. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


Hamas’s leader, Khalid Meshal, arrives at those talks with a sense of regional winds at his back. Dictators have fallen, replaced by protest movements and governments that include the Islamist movements those dictators suppressed. Hamas has lost no opportunity to highlight this development as it basks in the growing regional importance of its parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest and most powerful Islamist movement in the world. – New York Times


Libya's interim prime minister on Tuesday unveiled a new Cabinet apparently assembled with an eye to subduing regional factions, which have grown increasingly adversarial in the scramble for power since the overthrow of longtime strongman Moammar Kadafi. – Los Angeles Times

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Tuesday that the son of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the former Libyan leader, along with his co-defendant, Colonel Qaddafi’s onetime military intelligence chief, may be tried in Libya as long as the international court is involved. – New York Times

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was betrayed to his captors by a Libyan nomad who says he was hired to help Muammar Gaddafi's son escape to neighboring Niger on the promise that he would be paid one million euros. - Reuters

Some of Libya's clans said on Wednesday they would not recognize the government, after the unveiling of a new cabinet revived regional rivalries which threaten the country's stability. - Reuters


A day after the United States imposed fresh sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, President Obama’s national security adviser argued Tuesday that the administration’s pressure campaign had left Iran’s leaders economically strained, diplomatically isolated and rent by internal divisions. – New York Times 

Iran’s main government-run newspaper was published Tuesday without a front-page headline, replaced by photographs of its headquarters during an assault a day earlier by forces working for the judiciary who briefly arrested the newspaper’s top official — the media adviser to the president — and more than 30 others. – New York Times

The European Union agreed in principle on Tuesday to sanction some 200 Iranian people, companies and organizations, adding to measures imposed by the United States, Britain and Canada due to suspicions that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. - Reuters

Grudgingly admired in the past by the West for its negotiating skills and by the Iranian nation for its uncompromising stance, Iran's leadership may have misjudged recent confrontational tactics in its nuclear standoff with big powers, analysts say. - Reuters

Iran’s defiance remains one of the few patches of common ground in a nation with multiple divisions: Hard-liners against opposition groups, power struggles between the ruling clerics and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, infighting among various parliamentary factions. – Associated Press

Editorial: By now it should be obvious that only regime change will stop the Iranian nuclear program. That means, at a minimum, the departure of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has repeatedly blocked efforts by other Iranian leaders to talk to the West. Sanctions that stop Iran from exporting oil and importing gasoline could deal a decisive blow to his dictatorship, which already faced an Arab Spring-like popular revolt two years ago. By holding back on such measures, the Obama administration merely makes it more likely that drastic action, such as a military attack, eventually will be taken by Israel, or forced on the United States. – Washington Post

Jamsheed Choksy writes: Regime change remains the best option for defusing the ayatollahs' nuclear threat, and it can best be achieved by the Iranian people themselves. Disabling the theocracy's machinery of repression would leave it vulnerable to popular revolt. Through such decisive actions, the U.S. and its allies could help Iranians bring the populist uprising of 2009 to a fitting culmination. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


Thirteen people went on trial Tuesday accused of involvement in a plan to topple Turkey’s AK-Party government, including two investigative journalists whose arrest and near-nine month detention has become a rallying point for critics of the government’s record on media freedom. – WSJ’s Emerging Europe

Korean Peninsula

Members of President Lee Myung-bak’s governing party, coughing from tear gas sprayed by an opposition legislator, rammed a free-trade agreement between South Korea and the United States through Parliament on Tuesday, ratifying a deal that has sharpened a political divide between the government and the opposition and between big business and voters unhappy with deepening economic inequality. – New York Times


The new session of India's Parliament began on a stormy note Tuesday as opposition parties slammed the federal government over corruption scandals and rising prices, forcing an abrupt closure of business for the day. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


Defence Minister Stephen Smith on Nov. 22 said Canberra would seriously consider trilateral military training with the United States and China following the announcement of a US troop buildup in Darwin. - AFP

Southeast Asia

The highest-ranking surviving Khmer Rouge leader, accused in the deaths of 1.7 million people, defended himself on Tuesday by casting his actions as part of a patriotic struggle to keep Vietnam from annexing Cambodia and exterminating ethnic Cambodians. – New York Times

Thailand's leaders aren't giving up on finding a way to bring back fugitive former leader Thaksin Shinawatra as a free man. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


The World Bank warned Tuesday that any abrupt cut in foreign aid to Afghanistan over the next several years could destabilize the country and prevent the government from providing basic services and paying for its soldiers and police. – Washington Post 

Afghanistan will suffer a recession in 2014 and beyond after foreign troops leave and aid dwindles, and if the security situation gets worse, the country could face complete economic collapse, according to an ominous report released in Kabul on Tuesday by the World Bank. – New York Times

As U.S. soldiers begin to leave this year, the focus will shift from combat to training Afghan soldiers and police. And the ability of these forces to master the logistics of supplying and sustaining themselves — to keep, for example, the water buffalos flowing — is perhaps their biggest obstacle to self-sufficiency. – Washington Post

Afghan authorities are failing to enforce the law to protect women from murder, beating, rape and other violence and being sold into marriage and prostitution, the United Nations said on Wednesday. - Reuters

Sara Chayes writes: The talks the U.S. government should be facilitating are between two sovereign nations, Afghanistan and Pakistan. If the government of Pakistan has concerns or aspirations regarding its neighbor, it should address them directly, through facilitated negotiations. It should spell out its concerns through this process, and the U.S. should help guarantee that the legitimate ones are properly addressed in a binding treaty. But turning your neighbor into a client state is not a legitimate aspiration and should not be facilitated. – Los Angeles Times


Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States resigned Tuesday over a scandal that has exposed the ongoing power struggle between the civilian government and a military that directs from the shadows — one that threatened to further destabilize President Asif Ali Zardari’s shaky administration. – Washington Post

Sherry Rehman, a former journalist and cabinet minister in President Asif Ali Zardari's government, was appointed Wednesday as Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S., a crucial role at a time of crisis in relations between the countries. – Wall Street Journal

The Pakistani Taliban have declared a cease-fire to encourage nascent peace talks with the government, a senior commander said, a move that appears to show the deadly group's willingness to strike a deal. – Associated Press


Qiao Mu writes: As a professor of political communication, I often talk to my students about political participation, democracy and elections. But in China, these things exist only on a theoretical plane, since elections for local representative bodies are dominated by candidates put forward by the Communist Party. I wanted to change that, so I decided to run as an independent candidate in the district elections in Beijing that were held earlier this month….My social media writing was shut down, but I refuse to be shut down. My activism and my writing will continue using other avenues. I will keep fighting for democracy for the university, for my community and for China. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

The War

The leadership ranks of the main al-Qaeda terrorist network, once expansive enough to supervise the plot for Sept. 11, 2001, have been reduced to just two figures whose demise would mean the group’s defeat, U.S. counterterrorism and intelligence officials said. – Washington Post

The U.S. State Department on Tuesday designated a Saudi national linked to a Lebanese militant group as a terrorist, a move that blocks his assets within U.S. reach. - Reuters

Western Europe

NATO is wasting no time in taking the painful lessons learned from its peacekeeping mission in Libya and folding them into a new strategy for future operations, the NATO general overseeing that effort said [yesterday]. – AOL Defense

NATO countries are taking tentative steps to pool military resources in the face of shrinking defense budgets and to fill gaps exposed by the recent Libya campaign, a French general said Nov. 22. - AFP

Central America

El Salvador on Tuesday appointed a military man to run the Ministry of Security for the first time since the end of a bloody 1980-1992 civil war which deeply polarized the Central American nation. - Reuters

Southern Africa

Brushing aside protests by press-freedom advocates and heroes of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle, Parliament overwhelmingly passed a contentious bill on Tuesday that will severely restrict the ability of journalists to report any information deemed to be a government secret. – New York Times

Sub-Saharan Africa

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh is poised to win a fourth term in elections this week in the West African country, popular with tourists for its tropical beaches but notorious for its human rights abuses and muzzled press. - Reuters


U.S. strategic nuclear forces are old, in dire need of modernization and face “draconian” cuts because of the federal budget crisis, the commander of U.S. nuclear forces said Tuesday. – Washington Times

For months, the Pentagon’s top brass has toiled away on a secret strategy document that was supposed to serve as a guide to how best to cut $450 billion from the defense budget over the next decade without endangering national security…But the failure of the supercommittee to reach an agreement could trigger cuts that would make any strategy irrelevant and would turn the Pentagon’s meticulously crafted budget process upside down by slashing an additional $600 billion – Checkpoint Washington

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon took his drive to avoid deep Pentagon budget shrinkage to the nation Tuesday, telling CNN that $600 billion in new cuts would be “very, very serious.” – Defcon Hill

Lockheed Martin has won a U.S. Air Force contract potentially worth $7.4 billion for upgrades to its problem-plagued F-22 Raptor fighter jet, designed to be the premier U.S. combat plane. – Aviation Week

The embattled tri-service, international F-35 fighter program keeps quietly achieving key milestones. The latest example came Sunday evening, when the United Kingdom’s first short-takeoff-and-landing (STOVL) variant rolled out of a Lockheed Martin facility in Fort Worth, Texas. – Defcon Hill

Dov Zakheim writes: Congress should emulate its predecessors in the 1990s and pass legislation that exempts Defense from the sequester. If the president wishes to veto that legislation, then he will have to answer for the consequences to our national security that his secretary of defense laid out so clearly. Unless, of course, Congress were override the veto, which it most certainly should. – Foreign Policy


The seventh anniversary of Ukraine's Orange Revolution has highlighted  politically charged perspectives on that country's protest-fueled showdown in 2004 that pitted pro-democracy activists alleging electoral fraud against the forces behind current President Viktor Yanukovych, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Jailed Ukrainian ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was taken to hospital on Wednesday for a medical check-up and then returned to jail after doctors found she had no life-threatening ailment, the prison service said. - Reuters

United States of America

The Republican presidential candidates clashed repeatedly over foreign policy and national security issues Tuesday night, revealing clear differences on the pace of withdrawal from Afghanistan, aid to Pakistan, the Iranian threat, immigration, and the balance between protecting the homeland and preserving civil liberties. – Washington Post

George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush are bound for Africa next month to highlight female cancers and diseases such as malaria in developing countries, advancing their plan to focus on global health in the post-presidency years. – Washington Times

Mitt Romney on Monday night suggested there are 15 names on his list of possible vice presidential candidates, including New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte. – Defcon Hill

GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich said he would “wage real cyber warfare” to bring about a regime change in Iran, and would be “prepared to use military force” to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. – Defcon Hill

Helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky is planning to lay off 3 percent of its workforce, in part because of “expected U.S. Department of Defense budget reductions.” – Defcon Hill

Josh Rogin reports: In advance of [last night]'s GOP foreign policy debate, the Obama campaign has put out a memo identifying all the ways the presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has "flip-flopped" on the major foreign policy issues of the day. – The Cable


As Russia gets ready for another round of elections whose outcomes are in little doubt, Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s final leader, condemned on Tuesday what he called “imitation” democratic institutions in his country and he said that Russia’s current leaders should not expect to maintain support forever. – Washington Post 

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev says Russia's parliamentary elections scheduled for December won't be fair, and he blasted "authoritarian" rule in Russia in a Wall Street Journal interview. – Wall Street Journal (ubscription required)

Over the last 18 months, President Dmitry Medvedev has signed two laws meant to rein in Russia’s notorious pretrial detention system, an institution often used to extract bribes and enforce widespread corruption. He is trying to make the country more governable and conducive to business…But the system quickly proved itself more powerful than the president. The laws were ignored. – Washington Post

Usually the Russian authorities are slow to respond to complaints of human rights abuses. But Senior Lieutenant Aleksei Kozlov, an officer at Moscow's notorious Butyrka remand prison, is learning that sometimes the response comes quickly. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

An opposition activist has been sentenced in Moscow to seven days in jail for refusing to follow police instructions, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Josh Rogin reports: The State Department announced today that it would stop fulfilling its obligations under the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty with respect to Russia, in retaliation for Russia's 2007 decision to stop honoring that treaty altogether. – The Cable

Brian Whitmore reports: In a rare instance of truth telling, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev appeared to reveal on Monday the real reason Moscow went to war with Georgia in August 2008. Speaking to officers of the Southern Military District in Vladikavkaz, Medvedev seemed to suggest that the goal was preventing Georgia from joining NATO – RFE/RL’s The Power Vertical

Interview: Here are excerpts from an interview with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Berlin on Tuesday. – Washington Post


The economy grew 1.34% during the third quarter, an annual pace of 5.5% growth, according to data released by the national statistics institute on Tuesday. The figure, fueled by domestic demand and a jump in agricultural production, beat expectations and suggests Mexico's economy will grow roughly 4% for the year as a whole. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

The office of Mexico's attorney general said on Tuesday it would investigate reports that drug gangs had sought to influence voters in a state election won by the main opposition party earlier this month. - Reuters


Egypt's military leadership was on a collision course with newly energized protesters Tuesday, as its promise to hand over power to an elected president earlier than expected and other concessions fell flat with a growing crowd of demonstrators who have renewed their hold over the capital's Tahrir Square. – Wall Street Journal 

The vestiges of Mr. Mubarak’s order — the military, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, or fragmented liberals and leftists — seem ill prepared to navigate the transition from his rule. It is an altogether more difficult reckoning that has echoed in the Arab revolts in Syria, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain. – New York Times

Few lives in Egypt have been upended as dramatically as those of police officers who tumbled from the street-level symbol of a cruel power to confused and bitter men. – Los Angeles Times

Young Egyptians at the leading edge of the January revolution watched for 10 months as grey-haired politicians and generals wrangled fruitlessly over the country’s future. Now they have returned to Cairo’s Tahrir Square in full force against both the armed forces that have stifled change and the political elite – including opposition parties – that appeared all too willing to collaborate with them. – Financial Times

Egypt's highest Islamic legal official denied on Tuesday that minority Christians faced sectarian discrimination and said Islamists would win no more than 20 percent of votes in next week's election. - Reuters

Street clashes rumbled on in Cairo on Wednesday as protesters derided a deal struck between Egypt's ruling generals and mostly Islamist parties for a faster transfer to civilian rule. - Reuters

Editorial: The Obama Administration initially called on both sides to show "restraint," infuriating unarmed protesters. In a welcome if slightly belated shift, the White House sharpened its tone yesterday, condemning the military authorities for the violence and urging the generals to give up power next year, respect freedoms of speech and assembly, and serve under legitimate civilian leaders. This is what the second round of the Egyptian revolution is about. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

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