FPI Overnight Brief: December 13, 2012

Middle East/North Africa

After successfully diluting the Iran sanctions provision that senators attached to the defense policy bill, the Obama administration is now seeking several additional, more modest changes to the language in the final bill, including an extension of the amount of time it has to implement the penalties. – Roll Call
The Senate passed a bill before adjourning Wednesday evening that would make it U.S. policy to counter Iran's “growing hostile presence in the Western Hemisphere.” – The Hill’s Floor Action Blog
Those looking for another avenue to watch Persian cat videos or cute antics by Iranian toddlers have been left disappointed after the launch of Iran's new and much-hyped video-sharing website went awry. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Inspectors from the U.N. nuclear watchdog arrived in Tehran on Thursday to hold talks over Iran's disputed nuclear program but there was no sign they would gain access to the Parchin military complex as requested. - Reuters
Iran is now capable of manufacturing its own copies of an advanced CIA spy drone captured last year, a senior Iranian lawmaker said Wednesday. – Associated Press
Scores of Syrian civilians belonging to President Bashar al-Assad’s minority Alawite sect were killed Tuesday in the first known Alawite massacre since the Syrian conflict began. But the killings, in the village of Aqrab, happened under circumstances that remain unclear. – New York Times
Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia’s top envoy for Syria, said on Thursday that President Bashar al-Assad’s government was losing control of the country to rebel forces. “Unfortunately, it is impossible to exclude a victory of the Syrian opposition,” he said — the clearest indication to date that Russia believe Mr. Assad, a longtime strategic ally, could be headed for defeat. – New York Times
Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have fired Scud missiles at rebel fighters in recent days, Obama administration officials said on Wednesday. – New York Times
U.S. officials confirmed on Tuesday that Syria’s regime has launched Scud missiles against internal rebel positions, provoking a stunned outrage from the White House over the “escalation” of the civil war, but leaving administration officials perplexed and cautious about President Bashir al-Assad’s moves. – The E-Ring
The political faction of Syria's rebel groups wasted no time in spending its new found political capitol by pressing Washington to take a known al Qaeda affiliate off the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. – DEFCON Hill
Syria's chemical weapons could be used at "a moment's notice" and the international community should not accept any assurances from Syrian officials that they will not be used, U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said on Wednesday. - Reuters
Syrian forces have dropped incendiary bombs on populated areas, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday, calling on the authorities to stop using a weapon that causes "especially cruel human suffering". - Reuters
Fighting has trapped tens of thousands of Syrians in the city of Deir al-Zor and there is urgent need for medical teams to be authorized to evacuate wounded people, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Wednesday. - Reuters
Josh Rogin reports: Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, said Wednesday that the al-Nusra Front that is rallying rebels in Syria is simply a rebranding of al Qaeda in Iraq and should be treated as such. – The Cable
Symposium: Danielle Pletka James Dobbins, and Bruce Riedel among others, discuss what the U.S. can do about Syria and chemical weapons – Washington Post’s Think Tanked
North Africa
Egypt’s main opposition coalition urged followers on Wednesday to vote against an Islamist-backed draft constitution in a divisive referendum scheduled for Saturday and vowed to fight the charter even if it is approved. – New York Times
A Cairo court sentenced an atheist from a Christian family on Wednesday to three years in prison for insulting religion, firing up fears about the future of freedom of expression here just as Egyptians prepare to vote on an Islamist-backed draft constitution denounced by secular groups as failing to protect such rights. – New York Times
Tunisia's largest union canceled on Wednesday a general strike set for the next day, a move which could calm Islamist-leftist tensions after violent clashes in the capital. - Reuters
Gulf States
For the past four decades, the Gulf Cooperation Council states have shown remarkable economic growth, yet they are still challenged by a volatility they need to eradicate if they are to diversify away from oil and become powerhouse emerging economies. – Financial Times
Editorial:  Order is unraveling across the Middle East, and a major reason is the growing belief that the U.S. is retreating from the region. Such are the fruits of leading from behind Qatar. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Israel’s blunt-talking foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, gave vent on Wednesday to the government’s anger over recent diplomatic gains by the Palestinians paired with international rebukes for Israel, comparing Israel’s situation to that of Czechoslovakia in 1938 before the Nazi invasion. – New York Times
Turkey plans to build four frigates with assistance from foreign shipyards and likely will fund an additional four for a total cost of about $7 billion, after the current production of eight corvettes is completed between 2015 and 2020, a senior procurement official said. – Defense News
With its caustic rhetoric on Israel and its gold-for-gas trade with Iran, Turkey is not the deferential U.S. ally it once was as it carves out a growing role in the fast-changing politics of the Middle East. - Reuters

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North Korea
North Korea appears to have turned a corner in its goal of achieving mastery of ballistic missiles, U.S. officials and weapons experts said following its successful rocket launch early Wednesday, adding to pressure on the Obama administration to contain Pyongyang's arsenal. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The United States and its Asian allies began an effort on Wednesday to impose additional sanctions on North Korea after its largely successful rocket launching, but this time Washington added a warning to China: Failure to rein in Kim Jong-un, the North’s new leader, will result in an even greater American military presence in the Pacific. – New York Times
Analysts say the launching was sure to bolster Mr. Kim’s grip on power after months of political purges meant to tame the elite class and hints of dissatisfaction among his hungry people. It was also expected to serve as an antidote to a humiliating failure early in his rule: a rocket test in April that fizzled before an international audience. – New York Times
A 44-year-old American citizen has been held in North Korea for a month, a human rights activist in Seoul said on Thursday. The alleged detention comes at a particularly sensitive time for Washington, which is trying to rally support for a new round of penalties against Pyongyang over its launching of a rocket this week. – New York Times
The object that North Korea sent into space on Wednesday appears to be “tumbling out of control” as it orbits the earth, U.S. officials told NBC News. – NBC News
The North Korean rocket launch caught the United States by surprise as it occurred earlier than expected, defense and senior U.S. officials told CNN on Wednesday. – CNN’s Security Clearance
The United States is examining information from Wednesday's launch to gather clues about the capabilities of North Korea's rocket technology that can be converted for use in long-range missiles. Experts say the launch shows North Korea's rocket has the range to hit Hawaii and parts of the West Coast of the United States. – CNN’s Security Clearance
The United States will push for a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning North Korea for launching a rocket Wednesday, senior administration officials told CNN. – CNN’s Security Clearance
North Korea’s successful test firing of a long-range missile on Tuesday is a major step in Pyongyang’s ability to hit U.S. cities with nuclear-tipped missiles fired from hard-to-find mobile launchers, U.S. officials and private specialists said. - Washington Free Beacon

A technical report published by the Rand Corporation in September concludes that the threat posed by North Korea’s missile program is not as significant as widely portrayed – WSJ’s Korea Real Time
The leaders of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee (HASC) have very different takes in the wake of a North Korean long-range missile launch. – Defense News
The Obama administration is drawing no “red line” for North Korea after a successful long-range rocket test, trying to temper the public condemnation for fear it could raise tensions and possibly reward the reclusive communist nation too much time in the global spotlight. – Associated Press
North Korea's next step after rattling the world by putting a satellite into orbit for the first time will likely be a nuclear test, the third conducted by the reclusive and unpredictable state. - Reuters
Editorial: The administration should continue to fund further development of the rudimentary missile defenses developed by the Clinton and Bush administrations in anticipation of the North Korean threat. A missile that can place a satellite in orbit could, with further development, someday be equipped with a nuclear payload capable of reaching the United States. – Washington Post
Editorial: The North Korean nuclear threat to U.S. security is no longer theoretical, even if it will still take time for Pyongyang to build a warhead small enough to fit on its new missile. The only way to prevent a Korean nuclear threat to American territory is by working toward regime change, not another short-lived deal with the North. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Michael Green writes: The administration's response should not be based on interpreting the North Korean Unha missile launch as anything other than what it was -- a deliberate weapons development program aimed at forcing concessions on the United States and our allies through coercion. That threat requires significant countermeasures both within the UN Security Council and among US allies. – Shadow Government
Jay Lefkowitz writes: A coherent and viable North Korea strategy would incorporate human rights as a means to an end—as part of a comprehensive U.S. policy to bring greater freedom to the North Korean people and greater stability to East Asia and perhaps the world. – Commentary Magazine
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met with American commanders in Afghanistan on Wednesday to finish work on options that will be presented to President Barack Obama for keeping a limited American troop presence in the country after 2014. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
With Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta in Kabul to take stock as the Obama administration weighs how quickly to draw down troops over the next two years, a senior U.S. military commander on Wednesday hailed the progress Afghan security forces have made. – Washington Post
Military officials are cautiously optimistic about a recent lull in insider attacks against U.S. troops in Afghanistan. November marked the first month in 2012 when no American service members were killed by Afghan security forces, and no attacks have been reported so far in December. – Military Times
President Obama will decide shortly how many U.S. troops he wants to keep in Afghanistan after the U.S.-led coalition military mission ends in December 2014, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday as he opened two days of consultations with top U.S. commanders and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. – Associated Press
Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed on Wednesday to jointly investigate an assassination attempt last week on Afghanistan's spy chief that has heightened tension between the countries after Kabul said the raid was planned in Pakistan. - Reuters
Kori Schake writes: Why would President Obama repeat the mistakes of Iraq in Afghanistan? The saddest and likely truest answer is that he doesn't consider them mistakes. Small wonder parties to the conflict have been positioning themselves against U.S. abandonment of our allies and our objectives in Afghanistan. – Shadow Government
South Asia
Fewer than a third of Parliament members in Pakistan file annual tax returns, according to a report published on Wednesday, lending new focus to longstanding complaints from foreign donors and ordinary Pakistanis about tax evasion at the highest levels of society. – New York Times
Pakistan is taking steps to try to limit terrorist safe havens inside the lawless western part of that country where various insurgent groups operating in Afghanistan find sanctuary, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. – CNN’s Security Clearance
India and Israel are discussing broader cooperation in joint weapon development, with India also seeking to purchase and produce the Iron Dome short-range surface-to-air missile defense system. – Defense News
India's Gujarat state will hold a potentially game-changing vote on Thursday that could help decide whether Chief Minister Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, becomes India's next prime minister. - Reuters
East Asia
North Korea's successful rocket launch over Japanese territory highlights the growing security risks facing America's biggest Asian ally, and comes as the long-pacifist nation is retooling its military to face new regional threats—from Pyongyang as well as from Beijing. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Japan scrambled fighter jets on Thursday after a Chinese surveillance plane entered what Japan considers its airspace above disputed islands that have become a source of heightened tension between the Asian powers. – New York Times
As the latest island spat with China enters its fourth month, [Japan’s Coast Guard has] a relatively modest staff and budget is growing fatigued, raising concerns about the sustainability of the current arrangement. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
When Japan’s Democratic Party promised to halt construction of Yamba Dam in its 2009 election manifesto, the pledge was intended to demonstrate how the party would transform Japanese politics…But three years after the DPJ ousted the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the dam, northwest of Tokyo, has become a symbol of the less positive features of Japanese politics: indecision and paralysis. – Financial Times
Joseph Sternberg writes: [South] Korea has been on its current development path for nearly 50 years. Koreans should be relieved they're finally hitting a point where their economy has grown too big and too complex for any president of either party to have a huge impact. There's a certain joy to elections about nothing. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
A Chinese court in the northwest region of Xinjiang has sentenced to death three men who were convicted of trying to blow up a commercial airliner in June in what the state media described as an act of religious-inspired extremism. – New York Times
For millions of Chinese, the difference between a life of struggle and one of opportunity comes down to a little red booklet known as the hukou…Today, the hukou, inspired by family registers from centuries ago, has created a modern economic chasm between city dwellers and peasants that threatens China's economic future as a powerhouse world economy. – Los Angeles Times
Jackie Chan may be best known for his action-packed films and famed ability to mix martial arts and comedy. But many in his hometown and elsewhere are less than amused by the actor’s latest effort: an interview in which he said Hong Kong should have more restrictions on its lively protest scene. – WSJ’s China Real Time Report
Hong Kong's new leader Leung Chun-ying narrowly survived a motion of no-confidence on Wednesday over unauthorized building works in his home that have undermined his integrity and triggered calls for his resignation. - Reuters
China has dismissed a top official in the southwestern province of Sichuan after putting him under investigation for "serious disciplinary violations", the official Xinhua news agency reported on Thursday. - Reuters
Southeast Asia
Singapore's parliamentary speaker quit his post Wednesday after admitting he had an extramarital affair, the latest in a series of sex scandals involving the city-state's public officials this year. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

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The Senate on Wednesday agreed to re-pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in order to dodge a technical hurdle that was preventing the House and Senate from meeting to agree on a final version of the bill. – The Hill’s Floor Action Blog
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reiterated the White House’s veto threat of the defense authorization bill to lawmakers as they hash out the final version of the bill in conference committee. – DEFCON Hill
U.S. defense officials are still holding out hope that they might be given some flexibility on how to tailor spending reductions, particularly in weapon buying accounts, should sequestration go into effect next month, according to a senior defense official. – Defense News
The defense industry’s loud campaign against sequestration has led many observers to believe those companies would be safe if steep cuts to the military budget under sequestration are avoided. That’s a misperception. The defense industrial base is also concerned about possible cuts to the nondefense budget if the $109 billion in automatic cuts takes effect next year – National Journal
Michele Flournoy, oft rumored as the next Secretary of Defense, called the military's elaborate planning process "stale," its training too risk-averse, and its corporate culture in danger of a new "Vietnam syndrome" where it willfully forgets the lessons of the last decade of guerrilla war. – AOL Defense
The Pentagon has notified Congress of its intent to sign a multibillion-dollar deal with Lockheed Martin for 32 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, according to a senior defense official. The actual inking of the contract is expected on Dec. 14. – Defense News
The War
Top U.S. intelligence officials gathered in the White House Situation Room in March to debate a controversial proposal. Counterterrorism officials wanted to create a government dragnet, sweeping up millions of records about U.S. citizens—even people suspected of no crime. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Even before its official release, “Zero Dark Thirty,” the new movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, has become a national Rorschach test on the divisive subject of torture. – New York Times
A military judge has ruled that any testimony about the CIA’s treatment of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other men accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks will remain secret during their death penalty trial at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. – Washington Post
Missile Defense
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is planning another major flight trial involving multiple targets and multiple interceptors to increasingly challenge its young missile defense shield’s ability to handle “raids,” or multiple threats launched simultaneously. – Aviation Week
Nuclear Weapons
Dozens of Democratic lawmakers have revived a call for $100 billion in U.S. nuclear weapons spending reductions over 10 years as Congress pushes to enact $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions by the beginning of January. – Global Security Newswire
Some of the nation's biggest banks are at risk of a massive cyber attack next year that could potentially siphon funds from unsuspecting customers, according to a leading digital security firm. – CNN’s Security Clearance

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In his first major speech since returning to the presidency, Vladimir V. Putin on Wednesday called on Russians “not to lose ourselves as a nation,” urging them to look for guidance in Russia’s historic and traditional values — and not in Western political models — as it charts its post-Soviet development. – New York Times
Russian President Vladimir Putin stunned high-level officials Wednesday by proposing restrictions on their ability to possess Western bank accounts and own real estate abroad. – Los Angeles Times
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday criticized U.S. legislation designed to punish Russian violators of human rights, calling it a "purely political, unfriendly act." - Reuters
Josh Rogin reports: A pro-democracy group funded by U.S. taxpayers, the International Republican Institute (IRI), has decided to pull its staff out of Russia due to the harsh conditions created by Russia's new laws restricting the operations of NGOs, The Cable has learned. – The Cable
In a report commissioned by the government of Ukraine, a team of American lawyers has concluded that important legal rights of the jailed former prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, were violated during her trial last year on charges of abusing her official power, and that she was wrongly imprisoned even before her conviction and sentencing. – New York Times
Over the past few years, the tiny Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia have made promoting reform across most of the former Soviet regions their main foreign-policy focus. – Christian Science Monitor
A session of Ukraine's new parliament collapsed amid chaos on Thursday when brawls erupted among opposition deputies and those of the ruling party over the election of parliamentary officials. - Reuters

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United States of America
Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) introduced a 923-page bill to overhaul foreign aid on Wednesday as more and more Americans are balking at giving money to countries in the Middle East and elsewhere. – The Hill’s Global Affairs
Rep. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and former Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia will join the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced Wednesday. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), meanwhile, will be leaving the committee. – The Hill’s Global Affairs
Three freshman were added to the Democratic roster of Senate Armed Services Committee members: Sen.-elects Angus King (I-Maine), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.). – DEFCON Hill
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) is coming back to the House Armed Services Committee, where he could be in line to take over the panel’s largest subcommittee. – DEFCON Hill
Growing demand in huge emerging economies like China and India will drive up world oil prices no matter what the US does, so it's crucial for the US to develop energy alternatives that will keep it from being hurt by those nations' successes, says Adm. (Ret.) Dennis Blair, former director of national intelligence. – AOL Defense
Read or watch Sen. Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT)’s farewell speech on the Senate floor
The search for Canada's newest fighter jet is now under way, according to the country's defense leaders, yet another indication the longtime U.S. ally is planning to walk away from the Pentagon's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. – DEFCON Hill
Concerns about President Hugo Chávez's health deepened Wednesday after his government told Venezuelans to prepare for "difficult" days ahead and the possibility that he doesn't return from his cancer treatment in Cuba before his inauguration for a new term next month. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Hugo Chávez has managed to stay in office for nearly 14 years, winning over a significant majority of the public with his outsize personality, his free-spending of state resources and his ability to convince Venezuelans that the Socialist revolution he envisions will make their lives better. Now that revolution is threatened by Mr. Chávez’s fight with cancer. – New York Times
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is in stable but delicate condition after his latest cancer surgery, the government said on Wednesday in a somber assessment that could indicate an end to his 14-year rule. - Reuters

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West Africa
Kidnapping is such a lucrative industry for extremists in western Africa, netting them tens of millions of dollars in recent years, that it has reinforced their control over northern Mali and greatly complicated plans for an African-led military campaign to take back Islamist-held territory. – New York Times
A former al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group based in West Africa has become the latest member on the State Department's rapidly growing list of officially recognized terror organizations, according to recently released department documents. – DEFCON Hill
Sudan has warned a new conflict could break out in Abyei, a contested area between Sudan and South Sudan prized for its fertile grazing land, if a regional body refers the dispute to the U.N. Security Council. - Reuters
A peace deal for Sudan's Darfur region has been hindered by a lack of funding, the failure to disarm militias, attacks on peacekeepers and other problems nearly a year and a half after it was signed, a U.S. official said on Wednesday. - Reuters
South Africa
Kgalema Motlanthe, South Africa’s deputy president, will challenge President Jacob Zuma for the African National Congress’s top job when the governing party holds a crucial conference, setting the scene for a battle over who will run Africa’s largest economy. – Financial Times

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Obama Administration

Potential secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel has expressed support for massive budget cuts that could cripple the Pentagon’s ability to ensure America’s national security, sparking concern among proponents of a robust national defense. – Washington Free Beacon
Republican Chuck Hagel, a former Nebraska senator, is supposedly on the short list to succeed Secretary Leon Panetta at the Department of Defense, and he is reportedly being vetted by the Obama administration. This should be no surprise: Hagel has been putting himself in position for a top cabinet post and has warmed noticeably to the Democratic party over the past four years. – National Review Online
Josh Rogin reports: State Department Counselor Harold Koh will leave government and return to teaching at Yale law school, after four years in a key role in setting the Obama administration's legal policies dealing with international terrorism, the State Department has confirmed. – The Cable

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Democracy and Human Rights

Gigi Alford writes: As the world’s governments wrap up discussions in Dubai this week on regulating the global internet, they should keep in mind the dozens of individuals who languish in prison because their rulers will not tolerate an open internet within their borders. – Freedom House’s Freedom at Issue

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