FPI Overnight Brief: December 6, 2012

Middle East/North Africa

Crippling sanctions targeting Iran's energy sector are a bonanza for Russia's oil and gas industries, a key lawmaker warned Wednesday. – The Hill’s Global Affairs
There are months to go before Iranians choose a new president, but the Islamic regime already appears to be preparing the ground for a preferred candidate. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Tehran’s residents may be embattled by rising inflation and threats of war, but one thing at least is lifting their spirits – the soaring columns of the city’s new traffic-busting Sadr highway. – Financial Times
A nuclear-armed Iran would cause a regional arms race and make Tehran more isolated and vulnerable, according to a former Iranian negotiator who argues that the Islamic state is not seeking to build nuclear bombs. - Reuters
French lawmakers invited the head of a previously shunned Iranian dissident group to parliament on Wednesday, aiming to help it gain credibility as a viable opposition to Tehran's government. - Reuters
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are telling the United States to “recount” the drones in its fleet as they insist that — despite U.S. denials — they captured a small U.S. unmanned spy plane over Gulf waters, Iranian media said Dec. 5. - AFP
Doctors in Iran are trying to fend off a creeping health care crisis caused by medicine shortages, due in part to Western economic sanctions but exacerbated by government mismanagement and abuse of the system. - Reuters
Eli Lake reports: The latest hack against the computer servers of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that culminated with the posting of a smattering of blueprints, charts, and other data online in late November could be a bunch of kids on the Internet having fun, as is often the case with many small-time hacks. But some early signs suggest it may be the latest assault from Iran’s shadowy cyber-army formed in early 2011 to respond to the nasty worms and trojans launched by Israel and the United States against the country’s nuclear centrifuges. – The Daily Beast
Editorial: So much, then, for the notion that the Bushehr reactor is "proliferation resistant," an idea that largely boils down to the fact that IAEA inspectors are routinely at the site. Yet legally the IAEA is only permitted to inspect Bushehr once every 90 days, and Iran has forbidden the agency from installing video cameras with near-real time surveillance capacity. That means Iran could contrive an excuse to move the fuel rods without the agency knowing about it in time. And while Western intelligence agencies do not believe Iran has a reprocessing capability, experts tell us that the rapid extraction of weapons-usable plutonium from spent fuel rods is a straightforward process that can be performed in a fairly small (and easily secreted) space. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The United States and like-minded governments are rushing to fund and legitimize a newly formed Syrian opposition group amid fear that plans for a political transition are being outpaced by rebel military gains, U.S. and European officials said. – Washington Post
Pressure is building on a new Syrian opposition coalition to choose leaders and transform itself into a political force that could earn formal recognition from the United States and other countries as a viable alternative to the Syrian government. – New York Times
A new round of diplomacy on the conflict in Syria will begin on Thursday afternoon when Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations special envoy, hosts an unusual three-way meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov. – New York Times
The Obama administration and its allies are intensifying efforts to weaken Syrian rebels they believe are linked to al Qaeda and other extremist groups, as the battle to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad seems to gain ground, said U.S. and European officials. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The Syrian military is prepared to use chemical weapons against its own people and is awaiting final orders from President Bashar Assad, U.S. officials told NBC News on Wednesday. – NBC News
A fight to the death might seem a more plausible outcome as the carnage of the Syrian civil war approaches its second year. But the idea of asylum in a third country is an option that is also emerging in questions over Assad's fate. – CNN’s Security Clearance
The U.S. State Department is planning to designate the al-Nusra Front, a radical Islamist group in Syria, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, according to two U.S. officials who spoke to CNN on background. – CNN’s Security Clearance
Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates cautioned Bashar Assad that President Obama would follow through on threats to punish the Syrian leader if he uses chemical weapons. – Hill Tube
Syria’s currency has come under intense pressure in recent weeks as rebels have taken their battle closer to the centre of the capital and international powers have begun talking about military intervention in the country’s escalating civil war. – Financial Times
Germany's cabinet agreed on Thursday to send Patriot missiles and up to 400 soldiers to Turkey to act as a deterrent against any spread of the conflict in Syria across the border, Berlin's foreign and defense ministries said. - Reuters
Washington fears a "desperate" Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could use chemical weapons as rebels bear down on Damascus, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday, repeating a vow to take swift action if he does. - Reuters
Gunmen loyal to opposite sides in neighboring Syria’s civil war battled on Wednesday in the streets of a northern Lebanese city where two days of clashes have killed at least six people and wounded more than 50, officials said. – Associated Press
Tens of thousands of supporters and opponents of Egypt's president clashed Wednesday, hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails and brawling in Cairo's streets, in the largest violent battle between Islamists and their foes since the country's revolution early last year. – Wall Street Journal
An elite Egyptian unit deployed tanks outside the presidential palace on Thursday after a night of battles between Islamists and secular protesters that left five people dead and 450 wounded, spreading chaos in one of Cairo’s wealthiest suburbs and leaving streets littered with debris and burned-out cars. – New York Times
Three members of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi's advisory team said on Wednesday they had resigned over the crisis ignited by a decree that expanded his powers. - Reuters
Josh Rogin reports:  The Middle East peace process has new hope due to Egypt's role as the new "honest broker" between the Israelis and the Palestinians, according to two top foreign-policy aides to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy. – The Cable
FPI Senior Policy Analysts Patrick Christy and Evan Moore write: As protestors once again swarm the streets of Tahrir Square, it is imperative that the United States do more to encourage the Morsi government to reverse its power play and respect the will of the Egyptian people…To accomplish this, the Obama administration should clearly denounce the Morsi government's power-grab, criticize the rushed draft constitution as a step backward for democracy and human rights in Egypt, and  vocally support the people and groups in the country that share truly democratic values. – US News and World Report’s World Report
North Africa
The Obama administration secretly gave its blessing to arms shipments to Libyan rebels from Qatar last year, but American officials later grew alarmed as evidence grew that Qatar was turning some of the weapons over to Islamic militants, according to United States officials and foreign diplomats. – New York Times
The CIA removed references to al Qaeda in the talking points it drafted for United States Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice in what critics say is part of a broad pattern of politicization of intelligence under the Obama administration. – Washington Free Beacon
Nearly 200 prisoners have escaped from a jail in the southern Libyan town of Sabha, an official said on Wednesday, but the circumstances were unclear. - Reuters
Tunisia's largest union called on Wednesday for a general protest strike next week against the Islamist-led government in an escalation of protests that resulted in violent clashes in the capital this week. - Reuters
The emir of Kuwait reappointed the country’s prime minister on Wednesday despite opposition calls for political reform. – Financial Times
Hundreds of young Kuwaitis chanting protest slogans gathered at a roundabout outside the Gulf Arab state's capital on Wednesday in the latest snap demonstration since a parliamentary election on Saturday. - Reuters
Defying mounting international protests, Israel moved ahead Wednesday with plans for a West Bank settlement project near Jerusalem that has been widely condemned as diminishing prospects for a territorially-viable Palestinian state. – Washington Post
An Israeli-Palestinian showdown over plans for new Jewish settlements around Jerusalem escalated on Wednesday. Israel pushed the most contentious of the projects further along in the planning pipeline, and the Palestinian president said he would seek U.N. Security Council help to block the construction. – Associated Press
The Palestinians demanded urgent action by the U.N. Security Council and the international community on Wednesday to halt Israel’s “illegal settlement campaign.” – Associated Press

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The Obama administration has ordered significant cutbacks in initial plans for a robust U.S. civilian presence in Afghanistan after U.S. combat troops withdraw two years from now, according to U.S. officials. – Washington Post
Afghanistan is planning major tax breaks and incentives to lure investors ahead of U.S.-led forces' withdrawal at the end of 2014, part of an effort to stem accelerating capital flight, the country's finance minister said. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Dunford, much like his confirmation, has made a career of flying under the radar, but he will be front and center as the commander of the International Security Assistance Force, replacing Gen. John Allen. He is well-known in the tight-knit Marine Corps community as a thoughtful and calm leader and has 22 months of commanding in Iraq. - CNN's Security Clearance

Although the Taliban has a history of opposing vaccination programs, which it sees as a Western plot, no group has yet claimed responsibility for Hanisa's death, and it is unclear what motivated her attackers. – Los Angeles Times
The assault on Ismail, which occurred on November 21 in Kabul's Wazir Akbar Khan district, has caused an uproar against Qadir and triggered a backlash against the presence of former militia leaders who are now in government. Anger spread after pictures of the assault went viral on social-media sites. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The Obama administration pressed its European allies on Wednesday to follow through on their pledges to support Afghanistan’s security after most international troops withdraw in 2014, fearful of being left with the check in an era of austerity budgets and defense cutbacks. – Associated Press
Capt. Lawrence, 29, of Nashville, Tenn., and Capt. Russell, 25, of Scotts, Mich., were killed in what U.S. investigators later called a “calculated and coordinated” attack by Afghan soldiers entrusted to work alongside their U.S. partners. This is the first published account of the attack and is based on internal Army records and interviews in the U.S. and Afghanistan. – Associated Press
South Asia
India's government Wednesday won a vote in the lower house of parliament in favor of its decision to allow foreign supermarkets set up shop in the country, giving a major boost to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's pro-business reforms. – Wall Street Journal
Suicide bombers in an explosives-laden car struck a Pakistani military base in the volatile South Waziristan tribal region on Wednesday, killing three soldiers, according to a senior security official in Peshawar. – New York Times
Pakistan's Taliban, one of the world's most feared militant groups, are preparing for a leadership change that could mean less violence against the state but more attacks against U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, Pakistani military sources said. - Reuters
The new Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, met Wednesday with officers of the military unit that oversees the land-based ballistic and cruise missiles of China’s nuclear force, the state-run news agency Xinhua said, in the latest indication that Mr. Xi is moving quickly to solidify his control of the armed forces. – New York Times
The Chinese government is moving ahead with legislation to combat land seizures from the nation's 650 million farmers, a move that could ease a major source of social unrest and also help to rebalance the country's lopsided economic growth. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Seeking to address a local backlash against mainland Chinese control, the chief executive of Hong Kong called on Thursday for closer relations with the mainland but also emphasized his willingness to impose limits on mainland visitors and investors. – New York Times
East Asia
There are few direct mentions of China in the foreign policy platforms of the three main parties contesting Japan’s general election – but plenty of signs of worry about Asia’s fastest rising power between their carefully written lines. – Financial Times
North Korea has finished placing all three stages of a long-range space rocket on the launch platform at its Dongchang-ri missile complex, the Yonhap News Agency reported on Wednesday. – Global Security Newswire
NATO on Wednesday called on North Korea to cancel plans for its second rocket launch of 2012, saying it would violate U.N. resolutions and could further destabilize the Korean peninsula. - Reuters
Bill Gertz reports: Assistant Secretary of State Kurt M. Campbell on Tuesday defended the Obama administration’s new policy called the “pivot” to Asia from critics who say the shift is largely rhetorical and lacks a substantial program to build U.S. military power in the region. – Washington Times’ Inside the Ring
Miles Yu reports: The Senate last week unanimously passed an amendment to the 2013 Defense Authorization Bill that commits the United States to defend Japan should the Senkaku Islands come under attack by a third country – a reference to China. – Washington Times’ Inside China
Southeast Asia
Semiconductor manufacturer Intel Corp. has set up a distribution channel in Myanmar, the latest in a series of large U.S. corporations to enter the long-isolated country as it opens its borders to foreign investment and new goods. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
China told Vietnam on Thursday to stop unilateral oil exploration in disputed areas of the South China Sea and not harass Chinese fishing boats, again raising tensions in a protracted maritime territorial dispute with its neighbor. - Reuters

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With deep military spending cuts weeks from taking effect, House Speaker John Boehner on Dec. 5 urged President Barack Obama to send a plan to Congress that can pass both chambers. – Defense News
The Pentagon has officially begun planning for how it would carry out the first $50 billion across-the-board spending cut as part of the 10-year, $500 billion sequestration cuts set to take effect Jan. 2. – Defense News
Flanked by AIA's now-iconic clock counting down 27 days before the sequester destroys "two million jobs" (a disputed figure), President Marion Blakey declared: "I'm an optimist and we have to prevail." But with automatic budget cuts slated to take effect Jan. 2, unless Congress and the White House reach an increasingly unlikely deal, just how forestalling the sequester isn't entirely clear. – AOL Defense
The Senate defeated an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would have halted an effort to cut the department’s civilian and contractor workforces by an estimated 5 percent through fiscal 2017. – National Journal
Pentagon officials on Tuesday said that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta never abandoned a plan to cut the ranks of flag and general officers, rejecting a recent allegation by one budget watchdog. – The E-Ring
House Republicans’ “fiscal cliff” counteroffer to President Obama hints at billions of dollars in military cuts on top of the nearly $500 billion that the White House and Congress backed last year, and even the fiercest defense hawks acknowledge that the Pentagon faces another financial hit. – Associated Press
Max Boot writes: Simply adding to the existing intelligence bureaucracy is not the answer; there are more than enough individuals already on the payroll. The problem is we have too few of the right people. – Los Angeles Times
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is pursuing foreign hackers who targeted the computers of retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in the latest example of what current and former officials call a pattern of attacks on computers of former high-ranking U.S. officials. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

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Hold the Botox! The latest rumors swirling around the Kremlin suggest Vladimir Putin needs a makeover, dropping his macho, macho man refrain in favor of some crinkly-eyed gravitas. – Washington Post
The Senate moved toward a measure to boost American trade with Russia, even as the European Union's top trade official warned that the bloc could bring complaints against Moscow at the World Trade Organization if the country doesn't end protectionist policies. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
He’s been portrayed as a super-hero in a comic book, but now Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov is swooping in to save the day in real life for one of Moscow’s oldest human rights groups. – WSJ’s Emerging Europe
A bill granting normal trade relations to Russia is likely headed to President Obama's desk for his signature after key objections have been dropped in the Senate. – The Hill’s On the Money
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) called on the Senate Wednesday to take up its version of the Russia trade bill rather than the House version. – The Hill’s Floor Action Blog
Russia said on Wednesday respect for human rights was declining in the European Union, as part of a campaign to turn the tables on the West's criticism of Moscow's rights record. - Reuters
British defense spending is to be cut again over the next two years as part of additional austerity measures announced Dec 5 by the chancellor in Parliament. To offset the impact of the cuts, the Treasury is to allow the Ministry of Defence to roll over unspent funds from this year to 2013. – Defense News
Residents of a village in northeastern Belarus have complained they have had their homes bulldozed and burned to the ground without proper warning or adequate compensation from the authorities. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Georgia must respect the law in its arrests of former state officials in order to avoid any hint it is conducting a political witch hunt, NATO's top official said on Wednesday. - Reuters
Ukraine’s former president and Orange Revolution leader Viktor Yushchenko has urged the European Union to reopen dialogue with the country or risk seeing it become a “second Belarus”, cut off from the west. – Financial Times

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United States of America
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) formally got the top Democratic spot on the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, replacing defeated Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.). – The Hill’s Global Affairs
Reuel Marc Gerecht writes: The convulsive issues in the region—nuclear weapons for Khameneh’i, the Taliban wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Sunni rebellion in Syria, democratization in Egypt, and the lethal Islamic militancy that reared its head in Benghazi—will certainly prove no more amenable to American ministrations in the second term. – The Caravan
Latin America
Peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, resumed in Havana on Wednesday in hopes of ending the 50-year-old bloody conflict even as fighting and bickering continued. - Reuters
Cuba reacted angrily on Wednesday to a U.N. ruling that its imprisonment of American contractor Alan Gross was arbitrary and accused the United States of lying about his health. - Reuters
Editorial: Better relations between Cuba and the United States must be conditioned on real steps toward democratization by Havana. But until Mr. Gross is released, they ought to get worse. – Washington Post
James Glassman writes: It is past time for responsible nations to ratchet up the pressure. Raising the future of Argentina’s membership in the G-20 would help, as would clear declarations, especially from European nations, that they will no longer devote their taxpayers’ money to further loans until Argentina settles its debt, stops fudging its statistics, and ends the seizure of property owned by others. – Financial Times

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U.S. military planners have begun to help organize a multinational proxy force to intervene next year in Mali, the famine-stricken, coup-wracked African country that has become a magnet for Islamist extremists, U.S. officials said Wednesday. – Washington Post
Plans for an international military intervention in the West African nation of Mali, where Islamists loyal to Al Qaeda are among militants who have seized the northern half of the country, are running into major obstacles even as U.S. officials warn that the terrorist threat there is growing. – Los Angeles Times
Senators grilled the Obama administration on Wednesday over its plans to restore order in the terrorist haven of northern Mali as the United Nations met to discuss an African-led intervention. – The Hill’s Global Affairs
The African Union appealed on Wednesday for U.N. funding for a military operation to combat Islamist extremists in northern Mali after U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon cautiously recommended the Security Council approve the force without U.N. financing. - Reuters
East Africa
More than a year of relative peace in Mogadishu has led to a property boom, but one that comes at a bitter price for the poor and those who were victimized by two decades of war and anarchy in this Horn of Africa nation. – Associated Press
Sudan will not allow South Sudan's oil exports to flow through its territory until Juba cuts ties with anti-Khartoum rebels and expels their leaders, a Sudanese vice president said on Wednesday, dampening hopes that bilateral tensions were over. - Reuters

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Obama Administration

The SecDef sweepstakes are heating up and the latest word from administration officials -- none of whom speak on record of course -- is that President Obama is close to making his choice to succeed Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. On the “short-list” for real now is Chuck Hagel, the former Republican senator from Nebraska, Vietnam veteran and military advocate, and head of the Atlantic Council, a NATO-focused think tank. – The E-Ring
Democrats and Republicans are expressing opposition to President Barack Obama’s possible selection of former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R., Nebr.) as the next secretary of defense. – Washington Free Beacon

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Democracy and Human Rights

Natan Sharansky writes: For the Free World, the quarter-century since 1987 has seen little resolution to the debate over how to deal with dictators who trample on the rights of their people. But that era showed that an America stubbornly true to its principles makes for a world more secure, more free and more friendly to America itself. This is another lesson of enduring significance. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Gal Beckerman writes: The march, and the movement that it culminated, should be an example that the small interests of these groups can be elevated when they voice their concerns in an American tongue, using the language of self-evident freedoms that resonates with all of us. This will often mean negotiating this tension between parochial values and common ones, and finding the overlap. It’s not easy or obvious, but that’s where the power exists to move public opinion, to move governments, and — as it did 25 years ago — to offer freedom to a persecuted people. – Washington Post

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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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