FPI Overnight Brief: April 18, 2017

The Must-Reads

  • Trump mulls squeezing Iran with tougher sanctions
  • US turns up heat on North Korea
  • Rogin: S. Korean turmoil could spoil Trump’s N. Korea plan
  • WaPo: Can Trump get China to pressure North Korea?
  • US to renegotiate South Korea trade pact
  • May calls for early UK election, seeking stronger Brexit mandate
  • Trump’s Syria plan starts coming into view
  • Chemical weapons increasingly becoming part of ISIS’ arsenal
  • Erdogan defends victory in referendum granting new powers

Middle East/North Africa

The Trump White House is poised to ratchet up existing sanctions against Iran and is weighing a much stricter interpretation of the nuclear agreement between Tehran and major world powers. – Foreign Policy
When the Syrian government dropped what the U.S. says were chemical munitions this month in the northwestern province of Idlib, it was targeting a rebel bastion that it helped create. – Los Angeles Times
As the U.S. government backed by the international community continues to draw a red line around the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons in its long-running war against Islamic State and other rebels, there is growing evidence that deadly chemical agents are also becoming part of the jihadist group’s arsenal. – Los Angeles Times
Government forces and their allies advanced Monday in the central province of Hama under the cover of intense airstrikes, approaching the outskirts of a rebel-held town a day after capturing a strategic town from opposition fighters and militants, Syria's state media and opposition activists said. – Stars and Stripes
A former Obama administration National Security Council staffer slammed the former president's policies toward Syria and praised President Donald Trump's recent missile strikes on a Syrian government airfield. – Washington Free Beacon
President Donald Trump's national security adviser is expressing doubt the U.S. will send more ground troops to Syria. His comments come as rebel forces appear close to launching an assault to capture the Islamic State group's de facto capital of Raqqa. – Associated Press
Analysis: Though still evolving, President Donald Trump's plans for Syria have come into clearer view since he ordered cruise missiles fired on a Syrian air base to punish Assad for a chemical weapons attack. The strategy breaks down into three basic phases: defeating the Islamic State group, restoring stability in Syria region-by-region and securing a political transition in which Assad ultimately steps down. – Associated Press
Emanuele Ottolenghi writes: Washington should consider designating the Abadan Refining Company for selling jet fuel to the aircraft involved in the airlifts and its parent company, the National Iran Oil Refining and Distribution Company. Additional targets should include the aircraft’s primary insurers, and the financial institutions involved in facilitating the transactions. Sanctions against Iran proved effective once already. It is high time the president aims them at Tehran again. – The Hill
Islamic State is talking to al Qaeda about a possible alliance as Iraqi troops close in on IS fighters in Mosul, Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi said in an interview on Monday. - Reuters
The United Nations says nearly half a million civilians have fled Mosul since U.S.-backed Iraqi forces launched a wide-scale military operation last October to retake the city from Islamic State militants. – Associated Press
Arabian Peninsula
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is looking to the Middle East and North Africa for broader contributions and new ideas to fight Islamic extremism as the Trump administration fleshes out its counterterrorism strategy. – Associated Press
The ceremony shines a light on Iran's widening influence over an armed fringe of the opposition in Bahrain, a country with a strategic value that belies its small size. It hosts a U.S. naval base and is a close ally of Saudi Arabia, Iran's main regional rival. A quickening tempo of mostly crude bombing and shooting attacks has accompanied a government crackdown, which culminated last year in the dissolution of the main opposition bloc. - Reuters
Two years of war may deprive a generation of Yemeni children of an education, the U.N. warned this month, putting them at greater risk of being married off or recruited as child soldiers for a conflict which has killed at least 10,000 people. - Reuters
More than 1,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons joined in a hunger strike on Monday, demanding better conditions in an unusually large protest led by Marwan Barghouti, the most prominent prisoner and a figure often seen as a future Palestinian leader. – New York Times
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday vigorously defended his narrow victory in a referendum granting him greater authority, dismissing criticism of the result by Turkish opposition parties, European election observers and protesters while making clear his government was moving on. – Washington Post
Turkey’s main opposition party is demanding a recount after voting irregularities were reported in Sunday’s referendum, which Mr. Erdogan won by 51.3 percent to 48.7. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, known by its Turkish acronym H.D.P., said that as many as three million votes, far more than the margin of victory, had lacked an official stamp and should be invalidated. – New York Times
President Trump called to congratulate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday after a referendum greatly expanding his powers, according to Turkish officials, despite a more circumspect State Department response to Sunday’s vote, which international election observers declared unfair. – Washington Post
The result of Turkey’s referendum on Sunday could snuff what was left of that European Union-Turkey courtship, several analysts said on Monday. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed a victory that strengthens his already extraordinary, near-authoritarian powers. – New York Times
The referendum, which passed with more than 51 percent of the national vote, will create a powerful presidential office for Erdogan, according to industry and procurement officials. The news powers will allow Erdogan to get more involved with weapons programs. – Defense News
Up to 2.5 million votes could have been manipulated in Sunday's Turkish referendum which ended in a tight 'Yes' vote for greater presidential powers, Alev Korun, an Austrian member of the Council of Europe observer mission, told ORF radio on Tuesday. - Reuters
Editorial: The U.S. will have to work with its NATO ally. But without more evidence the U.S. should resist demands to extradite Fethullah Gülen, the Pennsylvania-based imam Mr. Erdogan accuses of masterminding the summer putsch. Mr. Erdogan has staged his own internal coup by abusing the levers of democracy to create an Islamist authoritarian state. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Amanda Sloat writes: The Trump administration appeared deferential to Turkish political sensitivities before the referendum, but the Pentagon appears anxious to move and seems unlikely to find alternative troop arrangements sufficient. If the administration proceeds with plans to support a YPG-led assault on Raqqa, it will hope Erdogan’s referendum win softens his undoubtedly negative reaction. – Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government



South Asia
Near the blast site of the “Mother of All Bombs,” U.S. and Afghan forces are trying to dislodge Islamic State from a mountain stronghold where the militant group recently established a new front. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The Pakistani military said Monday that a high-profile militant leader had surrendered, calling it a significant victory in efforts against the remnants of the Pakistani Taliban. – New York Times
Is India playing the two countries — both of which wail about U.S.-Russia relations being at an all-time low — off one another? Not exactly. But it is a residual effect of Soviet days, and a reminder that, for all of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s apparent move toward the United States and its allies, India values above all freedom of action in its foreign policy. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
Pakistani police opened a hate speech investigation involving two Muslim clerics on Sunday after the killing of a university student over allegations he committed blasphemy. - Reuters
Sadanand Dhume writes: In a larger sense, however, an India that constricts rather than expands the choices its citizens can make is going backward. In most of the democratic world, dealing with diversity involves accommodating an expanding range of dietary preferences: think of halal meat shops in London or vegetarian Indian restaurants in suburban Virginia. It’s too bad that India appears to be traveling in the opposite direction. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
China’s persisting restrictions on foreign investment while its companies freely do business abroad are fueling further frustration among U.S. firms, according to a report by an American business group. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Mark Kennedy writes: When Trump goes to China, he could surprisingly catalyze a re-embrace of America’s free enterprise heritage. This will only happen if American businesses step up to both more aggressively make the case for markets and to make markets work for all Americans. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room
North Korea
The Trump administration is attempting a balancing act in its confrontation with North Korea, using bellicose rhetoric and promises of military help to America’s allies to defend against Pyongyang while trying to coax China to apply economic and political pressure on its traditional ally. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Vice President Mike Pence issued a fresh warning to North Korea on Monday not to test America’s resolve. But behind the threatening talk, the White House is taking a more calculated approach, giving the Chinese government time to show whether it is ready to use its influence to curb its erratic, nuclear-armed neighbor. – New York Times
China is not alone in struggling to construct a successful policy toward North Korea, as the United States can attest. But the failure of its approach has seldom been more starkly outlined, as Pyongyang presses ahead with its nuclear program, the United States sends an aircraft-carrier strike group to the region and fears of military conflict mount, analysts say. – Washington Post
North Korea’s military parade on Saturday, more than rallying its citizens, appeared intended to send a message to the rest of us: The country is seeking a program sophisticated enough to fire a guaranteed nuclear retaliation in any war, including one day against the United States. – New York Times
Rep. Adam Kinzinger on Monday said a pre-emptive strike on North Korea is a ‘next-to-worse case’ scenario, with the country’s developing the ability to strike a U.S. ally with a nuclear weapon the worst-case scenario. – Washington Times
North Korea's test of a nuclear warhead did not take place last weekend amid mounting diplomatic and military pressure from the United States and possibly China. The stepped-up pressure is part of a policy recently adopted by the White House that seeks ways to force North Korea into giving up its nuclear program and long-range missiles without triggering another Korean war. – Washington Free Beacon
Heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula underscore the need for an increased military presence there and worldwide, according to the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. – Defense News
North Korea's persistent violations of missile test bans mean there is not "much enthusiasm" for international talks to avoid a clash over their nuclear weapons program, according to the State Department. – Washington Examiner
For more than a week, media reports in the U.S. and around Asia routinely have mentioned the approach of the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group, seemingly implying an attack on North Korea could be imminent. But a week after the U.S. announced the carrier and its escorts would leave Singapore, forego port calls in Australia and instead return to Korean waters, the carrier and its group had yet to head north. – Defense News
North Korea’s deputy U.N. ambassador accused the United States on Monday of turning the Korean Peninsula into “the world’s biggest hotspot” and creating “a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment.” – Associated Press
Josh Rogin reports: The Trump administration is planning to drastically ramp up pressure on North Korea, and it needs cooperation from America’s partners in the region for the strategy to work. But deep uncertainty about the future of South Korea’s government could undermine Donald Trump’s plan to tighten the noose around the Kim Jong Un regime. – Washington Post
Editorial: The Trump administration is right both to declare a limit to Western patience and to look for a non-military solution. But the horror of Mr. Kim’s rule also cannot be overstated, from the reported assassination of his own half brother in Malaysia to systematic and grave human rights violations. As long as North Korea remains a giant prison camp, the long-term problem will not have been solved. – Washington Post
South Korea
For decades, South Koreans have lived in a technical state of war with a hostile brother country that considers them traitors and imperialist lackeys. Throughout verbal attacks and periodic military ones, this nation of 50 million people has brushed off tensions, much as one might ignore a combative uncle at Thanksgiving…But now, there is one new wild card that South Koreans haven’t had to factor in before: President Trump. – Washington Post
South Korea pushed Monday for “swift” action to activate the U.S. Army‘s THAAD anti-missile system against the North Korean threat a day after a White House official said it could take months. – Defense Tech
The Trump administration is to review and reform the US trade deal with South Korea, Mike Pence said on Tuesday, citing a widening bilateral trade deficit and obstacles for American businesses in the east Asian nation. – Financial Times
Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday mixed tough words on North Korea with a gentle touch on trade, refraining from pressing Japan for economic concessions at a time of regional tension. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Supporters of monetary stimulus will dominate the Bank of Japan after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe nominated two new members to replace the last hawks on its policy board. – Financial Times
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday that Japan's government is drawing up contingency plans in case a crisis on the Korean Peninsula sends an influx of refugees to Japan. – Associated Press
Southeast Asia
The banner hanging at the entrance of a conservative mosque in eastern Jakarta carried a curt message: It is forbidden in Islam to vote for a non-Muslim as a leader — in this case of the capital of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation. – New York Times
Despite international allegations of mass extrajudicial executions and an outcry against the recent imprisonment of a political rival, polls indicate Duterte still has the majority of the country behind him. That support can often be found in unexpected places, from the well-heeled elite circles the unapologetically populist president attacks so aggressively to poor neighborhoods experiencing violence firsthand. – Washington Post
Villagers in a Hanoi suburb are holding twelve police officers and more than a dozen others hostage amid a land dispute. The standoff is rare in Communist Vietnam, where land seizures are common but protesters have few rights. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
The U.S. military will begin annual military drills with Philippine forces next month, despite tense relations with President Rodrigo Duterte, AFP reports. – Military Times
A bitterly fought election to govern Indonesia's capital that has fanned religious tensions has also thrown a spotlight on anti-foreign sentiment, as conspiracy theories swirl about an influx of illegal Chinese workers spurring vigilantism. - Reuters


The first Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter squadron to deploy overseas is continuing the type’s expeditionary workup, conducting training exercises to operate the aircraft in real-world scenarios while operating from austere locations. – Defense News
The Air Force is in the early phases of designing new sensors for its stealthy 5th-generation F-22 Raptor as it proceeds with software upgrades, hardware adjustments, new antennas and data link improvements designed to better enable to connect the F-22 and F-35 sensor packages to one another, industry officials explained. – Scout Warrior
The Air Force is nearing a decision on whether to ease weight restrictions on the F-35A caused by issues with its pilot escape system, but if the aircraft’s Martin-Baker ejection seat meets requirements, the service will likely abandon plans to qualify a second seat, the Air Force’s top uniformed acquisition official told Defense News in an exclusive interview. – Defense News
Nuclear Weapons
The Pentagon has officially started a review of the U.S. nuclear posture, it announced Monday. – The Hill
Anxiety over nuclear weapons is rising as President Trump deals with growing volatility on the Korean peninsula. – The Hill
Last week’s dump of National Security Agency malware sparked brief hysteria until Microsoft reassured customers that most of the Windows exploits had already been patched, but several former intelligence officials say the leak points to a larger erosion of espionage capabilities. – Foreign Policy


Katie LaRoque and Oksana Bedratenko write: Reforms take time, but there are encouraging signs across Ukraine. Moreover, the improvements in public opinion—or growing disapproval, as the case of Lviv illustrates—underscore the fact that Ukrainians are eager to see progress at the local level, and recognize improvement when they see it. The challenge will be realizing such reforms in Kyiv. – Atlantic Council
Daniel Bilak writes: Ukraine has a remarkable story to tell, but it needs more investment now. Experts have urged Ukraine’s international partners—the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank group, OPIC, and the European Investment Bank—to pledge $25 billion for a five-year infrastructure fund to spur investment in the public and private sectors. If these were buttressed by export credits from bilateral export credit and insurance agencies, such as the US Export-Import Bank and Hermes from Germany, the Ukrainian government could offer its citizens a brighter future faster. – Atlantic Council
Diane Francis writes: Dr. Suprun, an Ukrainian-American radiologist, is a fierce reformer whose appointment in July as Acting Minister has led to legislative proposals that will provide decent, affordable medical care for the first time in Ukraine’s history. – Atlantic Council
The United States has voiced concern over the reported persecution of gay men in Chechnya and urged officials in the Russian region to investigate, while a senior lawmaker called on President Vladimir Putin to make clear that violence based on sexual orientation is unacceptable. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
[C]hanges to Russia’s export market does not mean Moscow is slowing down its own military modernization efforts. In fact, the domestic demand for new and better equipment is straining its supply capacity, which is also affecting foreign sales, an expert on Kremlin defense industry said Monday. – USNI News
Prime Minister Theresa May stunned Britain on Tuesday by announcing that she would call an early election, placing a bet that voters would give her Conservative Party a strong mandate as her government negotiates the country’s withdrawal from the European Union. – New York Times
A plan to shut down 15 military sites is under review by U.S. European Command, which is taking a second look at a Pentagon cost-saving initiative to consolidate installations in Britain and Germany. – Stars and Stripes
Georgia is sharply criticizing Moscow over a planned visit to the breakaway Abkhazia region by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Britain is heading for a general election on June 8, after Theresa May called a snap vote in order to give her a direct mandate to take the UK through the Brexit divorce with the EU. – Financial Times
For weeks, Sputnik and a second Russian outfit, the new French-language arm of RT, a Kremlin-funded television station, have published reports that critics characterized as “Telling the Untrue” but that fans welcomed as a breath of contrarian fresh air. The broader question as France charges toward the first round of the presidential election on Sunday, however, is what exactly lies behind what looks to many, particularly supporters of the liberal front-runner, Emmanuel Macron, like a replay of Russia’s interference in the presidential election in the United States last year. – New York Times
Marine Le Pen pledged to suspend all immigration and shield voters from “savage globalisation” as she delivered some of the strongest rhetoric of her campaign on French identity less than a week before the first round of voting in the country’s presidential election. – Financial Times
John Vinocur writes: A head-to-head Mélenchon-Le Pen presidential clash is now plausible. It means a presidential victory by a French extremist, left or right. Virtually in common, even though they detest one another, each has devastating plans for the West: spending the groggy French economy into a deeper coma, partnership with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and exits from NATO, the European Union and the euro. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Jeremy Black writes: A defeat for Ms. Le Pen appears likely. That would be welcome, but it should not detract from the broader failures of a corporatist social-welfare model that has already done great harm to France and the EU. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


United States of America
In an interview with the Financial Times ahead of this week’s spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, the former Goldman Sachs banker sought to assuage fears that US President Donald Trump was about to rip up the global economic order or launch a new round of currency and trade wars. – Financial Times
United Nations
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley was determined to hold a Security Council meeting on the importance of human rights to international peace and security and it will happen on Tuesday — but only after the U.S. addressed objections from Russia, China and other council members. – Associated Press
Latin America
President Trump’s tougher talk and blunt diplomacy is having a positive effect in at least one country, according to the man who stands at the epicenter of the political and economic earthquake rocking Venezuela. – Washington Times


A doctors' strike in Cameroon left patients without critical care in the capital Yaoude on Monday, the latest in a string of union actions that have crippled a country in the midst of political crisis. - Reuters
Opposition leaders in Democratic Republic of Congo called on national authorities on Monday to investigate a report by Reuters last week that most of the money paid by Congolese citizens for new passports goes overseas. - Reuters

Trump Administration

President Donald Trump has yet to nominate the State Department official who oversees diplomatic security abroad — despite having made the 2012 Benghazi attacks a centerpiece of his campaign against Hillary Clinton. - Politico

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