FPI Overnight Brief: December 2, 2011

Syria

The United Nations declared Thursday that Syria was in a state of civil war, as the death toll from nearly nine months of bloodshed rose to more than 4,000 people and more soldiers were reported to have defected from the army to join an armed uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. – New York Times

In a significant display of unity, Syrian military defectors fighting to unseat President Bashar Assad have agreed to scale back their campaign and coordinate with the main civilian opposition bloc, according to representatives of both groups. – Los Angeles Times

A Syrian government run by the country's main opposition group would cut Damascus's military relationship to Iran and end arms supplies to Middle East militant groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, the group's leader said, raising the prospect of a dramatic realignment of powers at region's core. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

The UN's human rights chief has called for the situation in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court over allegations that the Syrian regime's crackdown on opposition protesters has led to crimes against humanity. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called on Friday for the international community to take action to protect the civilian population in Syria from "ruthless repression" as the country slides into civil war. - Reuters

The United States, European Union and Arab League blacklisted Syrian VIPs and companies on Thursday to force an end to the military crackdown on protesters challenging the rule of President Bashar al-Assad. - Reuters

Russia has delivered supersonic cruise missiles to Syria despite the violence shaking the Arab country and Israel's furious condemnation of the deal, a news report said on Dec. 1. - AFP

Iran

Galvanized by the pillaging of Britain’s Embassy in Tehran, Western nations moved Thursday to significantly tighten sanctions against Iran over its suspect nuclear program, with the European Union expanding an Iranian blacklist and the United States Senate passing a measure that could severely disrupt Iran’s oil income. – New York Times

In a rare outpouring of bipartisan criticism, lawmakers Thursday charged that the White House is not moving aggressively enough to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon. – DEFCON Hill

U.S. and Israeli officials late Thursday sent a message to Iran, jointly calling it the “greatest challenge” in the volatile Middle East region. – DEFCON Hill

Royal Dutch Shell will “cease” its activities in Syria after the European Union blacklisted three state-owned oil companies in the country as Brussels seeks to raise the pressure on the regime of Bashar al-Assad. – Financial Times

Iranians who stormed the British embassy in Tehran this week left a trail of destruction that witnesses said looked to have been well organized and not the result of a spontaneous eruption of anger, as portrayed by state authorities. - Reuters

Josh Rogin reports: The Obama administration first urged Senate leaders to compromise on new legislation that would sanction the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) -- but then came out [yesterday] against that very compromise, angering and alienating a key Democratic Senate ally. – The Cable

Analysis: The storming of the British Embassy in Tehran has bared a rift in Iran's ruling elite with conservative hardliners pushing Iran towards global isolation as they maneuver for the upper hand over President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ahead of elections in 2012. - Reuters

Saba Farzan writes: The United Kingdom was right to withdraw its diplomatic corps from Tehran and to expel Iranian diplomats from Britain. The decisions of France and Germany to recall their ambassadors is another strong step. The message sent out through these joint measures cannot be overstated: Europe is done with the Iranian regime. A complete diplomatic boycott should follow. The EU ought to have pushed ahead with full diplomatic isolation many years ago. If not now, when? – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Iraq

With verses from the Koran and the words of President Harry S. Truman, Iraq’s top officials and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. paid tribute to each other’s soldiers, pledged friendship, and celebrated an orderly departure by the United States that many in both countries would not have predicted even a few years ago. – New York Times

Vice President Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, speaking at a joint ceremony outside Baghdad on Thursday to commemorate the imminent end of the Iraq war, urged Iran and other neighboring countries not to attempt to exploit the departure of U.S. troops to expand their own influence here. – Washington Post

A quarrel is brewing among Iraqi officials over who gets to decide what to do with the sprawling complex of grandiose former palaces of Saddam Hussein that has served for years as Camp Victory, the headquarters of the U.S. military in Iraq. – Wall Street Journal

The White House says U.S. troops will not be returning to Iraq after they leave later this month. “There is no discussion, no contemplation, no thought of returning U.S. troops to Iraq,” a senior administration official told reporters traveling with Vice President Biden in Baghdad on Wednesday, according to a transcript of the briefing. – Military Times

The issue of legal immunity for foreign troops in Iraq, which already torpedoed plans to keep a U.S. military presence in the country, has emerged as a key stumbling block in talks over the extension of a NATO training mission here. – Associated Press

The U.S. military returned its biggest base in Iraq to the government on Friday, a huge compound near Baghdad airport that housed the American war operations centre and hosted a captive Saddam Hussein before his execution. - Reuters

Egypt

The Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm on Thursday distanced itself from a more conservative Islamist party as early vote tallies indicated that the two factions would claim the two largest roles in the first Parliament elected since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. – New York Times

Egypt will hear the results of elections which Islamist parties expect to win on Friday, and protesters gathered at a rally to remember 42 people killed in clashes with police last month. - Reuters

Egypt's foreign reserves will plunge by a third to $15 billion by the end of January and the budget deficit will grow, possibly leading to a review of sensitive subsidies, an army official said on Thursday. - Reuters

Middle East

Bahrain plans to hire a former police chief in Florida to help with reforms of its law enforcement procedures after an independent inquiry found evidence of systematic rights abuses during a crackdown on pro-democracy protests this year. - Reuters

Yemeni government forces killed three people in the protest hotbed city of Taiz on Friday, activists and medical workers said, and the man heading a new government meant to prevent civil war in Yemen said it could unravel if the killing went on. - Reuters

Lee Smith writes: Yesterday Ghannouchi was reluctant to speak about Israel and the Palestinians. His focus he says is on Tunisia. That’s also where Ghannouchi most credibly establishes his credentials as a moderate Islamist. In this context, he is an admirable advocate of women’s rights, human rights, and freedom of speech. Perhaps the Tunisians are fortunate in their newly elected government, and if not maybe they’ll take their destiny in their hands once again. It’s all the rest of us who have to worry about a hate-filled eliminationist who heads the party that has now come to power in North Africa. – The Weekly Standard Blog

Israel

Mohamed Abumuailek, a disillusioned Gaza militant, was jailed by Hamas security forces in April 2009 on spy charges after going on camera to denounce rocket fire on Israeli cities and talking about an online friend from Tel Aviv. After a two-year trial, more than a dozen appearances in a Hamas military court and an international campaign on his behalf, Mr. Abumuailek was brought before a judge in early October for a verdict—and walked free. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Israel does not want to take military action against Iran over its nuclear program, but at some point may have no other option, Israel’s defense minister said Thursday. – Associated Press

Libya

The remains of 13 American sailors buried in the Libyan capital of Tripoli for more than 200 years may be there a bit longer. – Washington Post

Turkey

Turkey's foreign minister has conveyed Ankara's concerns about an Iranian commander's recent remarks that Tehran will hit NATO's missile shield in Turkey if threatened, a ministry official said Dec. 1. - AFP

Sudan

The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor has requested an arrest warrant for Sudan's defense minister Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur from August 2003 to March 2004. - Reuters

Pakistan

The Supreme Court in Pakistan barred Husain Haqqani, the former ambassador to the United States, on Thursday from leaving the country as the court initiated an investigation into a controversial memo that led to the envoy’s resignation and has caused a political storm in the country. – New York Times

Pakistan and the United States have been here before: a crisis followed by saber rattling, recriminations — and moves behind the scenes to patch things up. This time feels different. – Los Angeles Times

Pakistani officials at a border coordination center gave the go-ahead to American airstrikes that inadvertently killed 24 Pakistan troops, unaware that their own forces were in the area, according to U.S. officials briefed on the preliminary investigation. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Jane Harman and Robert Hathaway write: If we are mad at Pakistani failures in the security realm, we should not take our frustrations out on the Pakistani people, who are the primary beneficiaries of KLB and who have absolutely no control over the army. – Washington Post

Paul Miller writes: In any case, the military pretty much runs the government in all but name anyway, so a military coup would only pull back the curtain without changing who is actually in charge. There is little evidence that the fiction of civilian authority in Pakistan has restrained the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment from pursuing its own foreign policy. U.S.-Pakistan relations are so bad that it's not like we have anything to lose. – Shadow Government

Afghanistan

[W]hen the announcement [that she had been pardoned] also made it clear that there was an expectation that the woman, Gulnaz, would agree to marry the man who raped her, the moment instead revealed the ways in which even efforts guided by the best intentions to redress violence against women here run up against the limits of change in a society where cultural practices are so powerful that few can resist them, not even the president. – New York Times

Foreign troops began the second stage of a security handover that aims to put Afghans in charge of the whole country by the end of 2014 with a ceremony on Thursday in a small town on the plains north of Kabul. - Reuters

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) writes: Bonn is our opportunity to make clear that the United States’ role is changing, not evaporating. A responsible drawdown and transition is both in the region’s interests and ours to avoid another war there or closer to home. The stakes are enormous: done right, our military drawdown will motivate Afghans and their neighbors to negotiate seriously with each other about their future; done wrong, it could precipitate another war. – New York Times

Massouda Jalal writes: within Afghanistan, fears abound that our country will soon be thrust back into chaos and fear. Nowhere is this dread more palpable than among women, who suffered so grievously under the Taliban and whose situation in society has improved substantially since 2001. If the ministers at Bonn were to listen to the people of Afghanistan, and particularly our women, they would perhaps think twice about stitching up a deal with the Taliban for the sake of political expediency. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Dov Zakheim and Paul Sanders write: Instead of relying heavily on Pakistan as a supply corridor, the United States should expand its cooperation with Russia, which has been playing an increasingly important role in military transit to and from Afghanistan. This would serve as both a hedge and a warning to the generals who control Pakistan. – New York Times

Burma

The heroine of Myanmar’s democratic opposition, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, endorsed the new American engagement with the country’s autocratic government on Friday and called on other countries, including China, to support its nascent efforts to build a freer, more open society and economy. – New York Times

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Dec. 1 called on Myanmar to cut "illicit ties" with North Korea and said the regime had given assurances that it was not cooperating with Pyongyang. - AFP

Khin Ohmar writes: This suffering and subjugation of the ethnic minorities continues today. Burma will never be able to achieve genuine peace and national reconciliation by continuing to ignore the rights of the ethnic nationalities. At this potential turning point in Burma's political history, the world must push the Burman-majority government to honor the equality of all the people of Burma. – Wall Street Journal Asia (subscription required)

Korean Peninsula

The United States needs more time to decide on possible aid for North Korea because it is not sure humanitarian assistance would reach the people in need, the top American aid official said on Thursday. – New York Times

South Korean policy makers might have to stick to neutral gear for now despite slowing growth momentum, as Thursday's data showing relatively resilient export growth and stubborn inflation cloud the macroeconomic picture for Asia's fourth-largest economy. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

South Korea's defense chief said Dec. 1 that North Korea may use provocations next year to deal with economic woes and political instability stemming from a second dynastic succession. - AFP

India

Indians’ distrust of the Chinese and the Chinese dislike of the Indians appear to be growing as the Asian nations emerge and compete as global powers, experts say. – Washington Post

India's Dec. 1 test of its Agni-I ballistic missile was routine, according to an official with the Strategic Forces Command, which is in charge of maintaining India's nuclear-capable arsenal. - AFP

China

Editorial: There is no easy way to avoid the bust that is coming. The silver lining is that China's increasingly state-led growth model will be discredited, and a debate will begin on restarting the reforms that stalled in the mid-2000s. A financial sector that allocates credit based on politics rather than price signals led China into this mess. Popular pressure to dismantle crony capitalism is building, and the Communist Party would be wise to get in front of it while it can. – Wall Street Journal Asia (subscription required)

Japan

For a time, he was the world's angriest mayor, an Internet sensation who publicly lashed out at Japan's government for abandoning his town as the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant spewed radiation just a few miles away. Months later, as people come to grips with the hard work of getting on with their lives, there is still plenty of anger and frustration in Minamisoma. But now, much of it is directed at Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai. – Los Angeles Times

Kyrgyzstan

Outgoing Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbaeva has publicly apologized for her failure to prevent deadly ethnic clashes in the country last year, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Defense

The Senate passed a $662 billion Defense spending bill Thursday evening after a long fight over how the U.S. military detains terror suspects. – DEFCON Hill

The Pentagon is looking to Congress to take action against automatic budget cuts and views the alternative as quite painful for the industrial base, U.S. Defense Department industrial base policy chief Brett Lambert told investors Dec. 1. – Defense News

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) urged President Obama on Thursday to intercede in the growing congressional effort to change the automatic spending cuts to military and domestic programs triggered by the supercommittee’s failure to strike a deal. – The Hill

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is talking to Democrats and Republicans about replacing automatic spending cuts triggered by the supercommittee’s failure with cuts to mandatory spending. – The Hill’s On The Money blog

While the Pentagon faces up to $600 billion in automatic cuts after the supercommittee failed, those cuts won’t be reflected in the 2013 budget that’s currently being prepared, a Pentagon official said Wednesday. – DEFCON Hill

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Nov. 30 continued to warn about the negative effect $1 trillion in defense spending cuts over the next decade would have on the military should Congress not find alternate ways to reduce the national debt. – Defense News

Fatigue testing and analysis are turning up so many potential cracks and "hot spots" in the Joint Strike Fighter's airframe that the production rate of the F-35 should be slowed further over the next few years, the program's head declared in an interview. – AOL Defense

The Navy is hoping to shift 10-15% of its sole-source work into a competitive environment in the coming years as part of a push to more smartly buy and manage weapon system development and production in a tightly constrained budget environment. – Aviation Week

A guided missile prototype funded and developed by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) successfully hit two high-speed boats during recent testing in Point Mugu, Calif. – Aviation Week

U.S. weapons makers told investors this week they are doing all they can to prepare for leaner and more uncertain U.S. defense budgets, including redoubling their efforts to cut costs, drum up export sales and sell more goods to commercial clients. - Reuters

Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) writes: While the Pentagon is being forced to make tough decisions about how to align itself for the future, our national security policy demands that we remain forward deployed and forward engaged. – The Diplomat

The world’s space-faring nations must forge a cooperative strategy for the costly and technically challenging elimination of orbital debris that poses a growing threat to strategically important robotic as well as manned spacecraft, according to Nicholas L. Johnson, NASA’s chief scientist for orbital debris and the top U.S. representative to the United Nation on the issue. – Aviation Week

The War

The Senate on Thursday decided to leave unanswered a momentous question about constitutional rights in the war against Al Qaeda: whether government officials have the power to arrest people inside the United States and hold them in military custody indefinitely and without a trial. – New York Times

Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri claimed in a new recorded message released Thursday that the terrorist group is holding an American aid worker hostage in Pakistan, an assertion that U.S. intelligence officials said was credible. – Washington Post

U.S. citizens are legitimate military targets when they take up arms with al-Qaida, top national security lawyers in the Obama administration said Thursday. – Associated Press

Russia

Popular support for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his ruling party is falling as voters prepare for Sunday’s parliamentary elections. – Washington Times

The Kremlin got an unexpected gift Thursday when Transparency International, a non-governmental anti-corruption organization, said perception of Russia’s corruption has improved, albeit marginally, over the past year. – WSJ’s Emerging Europe Real Time

U.S. Congressional sources tell RFE/RL that approval of President Barack Obama's nominee for ambassador to Russia is being blocked by a senator from the opposition Republican Party. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

More than 1,500 activists from several opposition parties united to rally in the central Russian city of Izhevsk ahead of parliamentary elections on December 4, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

"Khodorkovsky," a documentary about the jailed former Russian oil tycoon, has had its New York premiere before a sold-out audience. Whether audiences in Russia will be able to see it remains in question, however. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Editorial: Mr. Putin's United Russia party dominates the media and will keep a majority in the Duma in this weekend's parliamentary elections, and Mr. Putin will stroll back into the presidency in the spring. But the lesson for the U.S. concerns the limits of friendship with an authoritarian government that has no interest in being a strategic partner with the West. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Georgia

The head of South Ossetia's state security service, the KGB, has warned that the situation in South Ossetia could get out of control. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Alla Dzhioyeva, the disqualified South Ossetian presidential candidate, says she does not see any reason to hold talks with a Kremlin representative who arrived in the breakaway Georgian province on December 2. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

United States of America

Josh Rogin reports: Obama confidant Mark Lippert has been nominated to become the Pentagon's top Asia official, but before he can be confirmed, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) wants answers on Lippert's internal feud with Gen. Jim Jones when they both worked at the National Security Council (NSC). – The Cable

Argentina

After winning re-election by a landslide, Argentina's President Cristina Kirchner wants to tame the powerful unions that have been key supporters of her leftist political movement to keep inflation from eroding the gains made by a booming economy. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Venezuela

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez will host the inaugural summit on Friday of a new regional bloc that excludes the U.S. and Canada, in a gauge of the leftist leader's international aspirations. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

The Venezuelan government plans to pay $600 million to Cemex SAB for assets that it seized from the Mexican cement giant in 2008, ending years of disputes between the two parties and improving Cemex's cash position as the company attempts to chip away at its hefty debt amid tepid global economic growth. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Southern Africa

President Jacob Zuma — at odds with the judiciary and critics who accuse him of improperly appointing loyalists to public posts — suffered a blow on Thursday when an appeals court ruled that he had violated the Constitution two years ago with his highly contentious pick for the country’s top prosecutor – New York Times

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