FPI Overnight Brief: April 19, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

Top Iranian officials are boasting that the nuclear deal enabled the country to make progress in developing advanced centrifuges, and broad production of some advanced models has already begun in the year since the deal was implemented, per Iranian media. – The Weekly Standard
President Trump might pull the United States out of Iran nuclear deal over the rogue regime's support for terrorism, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Congress – Washington Examiner
The Trump administration has notified Congress that Iran is complying with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by former President Barack Obama, and says the U.S. has extended the sanctions relief given to the Islamic republic in exchange for curbs on its atomic program. – Associated Press
Tzvi Kahn writes: The latest U.S. sanctions, which follow new ballistic missile and terrorism sanctions imposed on Iranian actors earlier this year, suggest that Washington will no longer turn a blind eye to the full range of misbehavior that flows from Tehran’s radical Islamist ideology. They are long overdue. – Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday that the U.S. is finding ways to communicate with Russia on air operations over Syria despite Moscow's suspension of the "deconfliction channel" in response to the April 6 cruise missile attack on a Syrian airfield. – Military.com
A U.S. airstrike in Syria last month hit a mosque and was “likely unlawful,” a leading human rights group said in a scathing report Tuesday. – The Hill
Air strikes, thought to be by planes from a U.S.-led military coalition, killed at least 30 people in the eastern Syrian province of Deir al-Zor on Monday, including women and children, residents and activists said. - Reuters
The last rebels in the town of Zabadani near Damascus have either departed for insurgent-held regions or accepted government rule, pro-government media reported on Wednesday, part of a reciprocal evacuation deal for besieged areas. - Reuters
John McLaughlin writes: The Syria problem can be solved, but we would have to really want it badly, because a lot of time has been lost, the problems have metastasized and the way forward is steeply uphill. - Ozy
Paul Miller writes: The Obama-Trump doctrine that the United States will enforce a global norm against the use of chemical weapons is strategically pointless and morally arbitrary. Strategically, it requires the United States to invest its time and resources policing a weapon this is not qualitatively different from conventional weapons. Morally, it amounts to a declaration that the United States cares more about the murder weapon than the murder victim. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room
U.S. military commanders are stepping up their fight against Islamist extremism as President Donald Trump’s administration urges them to make more battlefield decisions on their own. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
With the Islamic State’s strongholds in Mosul and Raqqa under siege, the U.S. and its allies soon will face a different problem: how to track and contain the thousands of foreign fighters who have flocked to the jihadi movement and threaten to scatter to the winds to create mayhem back home. – Washington Times
The internationally recognised head of Libya’s $67bn sovereign wealth fund is to appeal to the UN in an attempt to allow the fund to manage its frozen assets, despite the violent political rivalries plaguing state institutions. – Financial Times
Arabian Peninsula
A Saudi-led coalition force of 41 countries is now taking shape and has found a focus: protecting member nations against the threat from Islamic State as the militant group’s strongholds in Iraq and Syria disintegrate. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
As the United States considers increasing support for the Saudi Arabian-led coalition backing the Yemeni government in a brutal two-year civil war, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis insisted a political process was the only option to break the stalemate. – Stars and Stripes
A U.S. drone killed four suspected al Qaeda members in an overnight strike as they were traveling through the central desert province of Marib, local officials said on Wednesday. - Reuters
Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States Abdullah al-Saud writes: We value our alliance with the U.S., and we believe that American power—and the demonstrated willingness to use it judiciously—can change the dynamics in the Middle East for the better. In the end, it is American power, reinforcing and complementing the work of America’s allies in the region, that will bring stability and lasting peace. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Israeli authorities placed a jailed Palestinian political leader in solitary confinement on Tuesday after he organized a mass hunger strike to demand better prison conditions. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
A bipartisan group of nearly two dozen lawmakers is calling for the Trump administration to allow sales of armed unmanned systems to Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. – Defense News
Dozens of members of Turkey’s political opposition were arrested in dawn raids on Wednesday, as a crackdown began on those questioning the legitimacy of a referendum on Sunday to expand the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. – New York Times
The chairman of Turkey’s main opposition party said he had lost faith in the country’s justice system, as his party appealed to the central election authority on Tuesday to annul the government’s narrow win in last weekend’s constitutional referendum. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
President Trump's decision to congratulate Turkey's president for winning a constitutional referendum expanding his authority doesn't mean Trump believes the election was fair or had a positive result, according to a spokeswoman. – Washington Examiner
A top House Republican condemned the "creeping authoritarianism" plaguing a NATO ally, in a pointed break with President Trump's reaction to the results of an election that expands the power of Turkey's president – Washington Examiner
Editorial: In the near term, Western leaders cannot afford to break with Mr. Erdogan, but they must do their best to push him toward ending his domestic repression. The millions of Turks who still seek to preserve democracy and civil liberties will need allies, too. – Washington Post
Joshua Walker writes: The question for the “new” Turkey remains: What path will be taken? Focusing on predictability and stability in an age of populist nationalism does not bode well for a nation once heralded as a Muslim-majority capitalist democracy. – The National Interest
Asli Aydintasbas writes: During the election campaign, he described the “No” camp as an alliance with “terrorists.” Now that this so-called terrorist alliance has become so big and has physically surrounded him, maybe he should understand that it’s time to sign a peace deal with them. – Washington Post
Ahmet Yayla writes: It is crucial that NATO decision-makers recognize that Turkey has become a threat to the region’s and the world’s security with these new constitutional amendments. The West has long been hesitant to counter Erdogan with his ill-intended policies and intentions. However, even today might be too late to reverse the course and protect innocent lives both in Turkey and abroad. – National Review Online


The reluctance of the United States to discuss casualties and other damage from the 22,000-pound bomb concerns local officials in Nangarhar Province who supported the massive bomb after military officials said ground operations had failed to penetrate the Islamic State stronghold in the mountains of the Achin district. – New York Times
Roughly 300 Marines are en route to Afghanistan to help Afghan troops stop the Taliban from swallowing more of the hard-fought territory for which so many Marines have bled and died, Marine Corps Times has learned. – Military Times
Morgan Ortagus writes: Almost nowhere in the world does a woman face the insurmountable odds than those she faces in Afghanistan, but in Kabul I saw fire in the eyes of young women who will not go down without a fight, and hopefully will help shape the future of their nation.  They have my pledge to help carry the flame. – Fox News
South Asia
The U.S. national security adviser during his first visit to Pakistan urged Islamabad to fight all terrorist groups equally and stop using some of them as proxies in Afghanistan. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
A looming Supreme Court decision that could disqualify Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over corruption allegations had the country on edge Wednesday, as a drawn-out investigation related to the "Panama Papers" leaks neared a conclusion. - Reuters
A missing Chinese billionaire who did business with the highest echelons of the Communist Party has previously undisclosed ties to China’s military. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Chinese President Xi Jinping has announced a military restructure of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to transform it into a leaner fighting force with improved joint operations capability, state media said. - Reuters
A Chinese activist who had reportedly intended to seek asylum in Taiwan has flown back to China voluntarily, a Taiwan official said on Wednesday, averting a potential diplomatic confrontation. – Reuters
North Korea
When a North Korean missile test went awry on Sunday, blowing up seconds after liftoff, there were immediate suspicions that a United States program to sabotage the test flights had struck again. The odds seem highly likely: Eighty-eight percent of the launches of the North’s most threatening missiles have self-destructed since the covert American program was accelerated three years ago. But even inside the United States Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, where the operation is centered, it is nearly impossible to tell if any individual launch is the victim of a new, innovative approach to foil North Korean missiles with cyber and electronic strikes. – New York Times
North Korea’s nuclear arsenal has expanded to 30 warheads and will grow further as Pyongyang produces increased quantities of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium, according to estimates. – Washington Times
When China’s best-known historian of the Korean War, Shen Zhihua, recently laid out his views on North Korea, astonishment rippled through the audience. China, he said with a bluntness that is rare here, had fundamentally botched its policy on the divided Korean Peninsula. – New York Times
North Korea says it is prepared to conduct weekly missile tests despite U.S. warnings, upping its aggressive rhetoric amid international pressure. – The Hill
The U.S. military is reportedly considering shooting down future North Korean missile tests. – The Hill
Defense Secretary James Mattis said Tuesday that North Korea is hoping to "provoke" the global community with its recent ballistic missile tests. – The Hill
President Trump on Tuesday said “you always have to be concerned” about nuclear war when dealing with North Korea. – The Hill
Given the rise in military tensions with North Korea, including nuclear testing and rhetoric from the regime, there is fast-mounting concern about North Korean technological progress in the area of nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles and long-range delivery systems. – Scout Warrior
China defended its trade practices on Tuesday after Chinese-made vehicles were seen towing ballistic missiles during a North Korea military parade despite international sanctions against selling military hardware to Pyongyang. – Associated Press
U.S. experts who have been forecasting an imminent North Korean nuclear test said on Tuesday they were surprised when they viewed their latest satellite images of the country's nuclear test site and saw volleyball games under way. - Reuters
Joshua Stanton, Sung-Yoon Lee, and Bruce Klingner write: Washington must make clear to both Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping that it would prefer the regime’s chaotic collapse to a stable, nuclear-armed North Korea. The missing ingredient in U.S. diplomacy with Pyongyang has been not trust but leverage—and the willingness to use it. Washington must threaten the one thing that Pyongyang values more than its nuclear weapons: its survival. – Foreign Affairs
Fred Fleitz writes: I believe the Trump administration understands that the Kim regime’s missile and nuclear programs are becoming too dangerous to allow this pattern of appeasement to continue. Hopefully China also realizes this too, and will begin cooperating with the United States to implement more aggressive steps to pressure Pyongyang to halt these programs and work with Washington on the only real solution to the North Korean problem: regime change. – National Review Online
East Asia
It was supposed to be steaming towards North Korea more than a week ago, an “armada” signaling American resolve. Then it wasn’t. Now, it seems the USS Carl Vinson may finally be heading north. – Washington Post
Officials’ nebulous — if not seemingly misleading — statements about the whereabouts of the USS Carl Vinson come as the Trump administration attempts to deliver a dual message on one of its most thorny foreign problems: at once illustrating a willingness to employ force against a dangerous adversary while also steering clear of steps that could spiral out of control. – Washington Post
The United States wants “stronger and more balanced bilateral trade relationships” with countries including Japan and South Korea, Vice President Pence said Tuesday, raising the prospect of opening bilateral talks with Tokyo and reviewing a deal already struck with Seoul. – Washington Post
Vice President Pence addressed service members in Japan Tuesday, promising an "overwhelming" U.S. response to any attack as tensions with North Korea rise. – The Hill
Southeast Asia
Unofficial results from Wednesday’s election for governor of Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, suggested that the incumbent, Gov. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian, lost in a bitterly contested race widely seen as a test of religious and ethnic tolerance in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation. – New York Times
U.S. Marines deployed to Australia's northern city of Darwin reflect President Donald Trump's continued commitment to a security "pivot" to Asia at a time of heightened tensions, the Marines' commander said on Wednesday. - Reuters


With a swipe of a pen Tuesday, President Donald Trump issued a new executive order directing the federal government to reemphasize “Buy American” laws – a move which analysts say could impact the existing supply chain for the U.S. defense industry. – Defense News
Like a surgeon planning to separate Siamese twins, Pentagon officials worry how complex the congressional mandated breakup of the acquisition bureaucracy could become. – Breaking Defense
An autonomous helicopter designed to boost intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities for ship crews at sea has completed a successful first flight from the deck of a littoral combat ship underway. – DOD Buzz
Mackenzie Eaglen writes: What should the Army spend new money on? It’s been a while since that question’s been asked in the open and taken seriously. While the amount is debatable, defense budgets are set to rise under President Donald Trump. It is therefore worth thinking strategically about how best to balance the exigent needs of the ground forces today with those needs that will suddenly become exigent in 2020 or 2025 – Army Magazine
Nuclear Weapons
The U.S. Air Force’s nuclear programs, including those for its new bomber and next-generation intercontinental ballistic missiles, would take a massive hit if Congress doesn’t pass a budget this year, a top service official said Monday – Defense News
A projected trillion-dollar price tag to upgrade, support and maintain the U.S.’s three-legged nuclear arsenal over the next 30 years is likely to be confirmed in a new assessment now under way by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. - Bloomberg



The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is due to issue a ruling on Kyiv’s bid to block what it says is Russia's monetary and military support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Taras Kuzio writes: These underlying elements of Russian nationalism and national identity have shaped Putin’s thinking regarding Ukraine, and yet have been largely ignored by Western experts and policymakers. But without grasping the fundamentals of how Putin and his subordinates view neighboring countries like Ukraine, the international foreign policy community will never fully understand the war Russia has been waging in Ukraine since 2014, and why it will be with us for the foreseeable future. – Atlantic Council
Trump’s interest in achieving warm relations with Moscow has been a consistent theme since the earliest days of his campaign, and it stands now as one of the few major foreign policy positions that he has not discarded or revised since taking office. But in his devotion to this outcome, Trump appears increasingly isolated within his own administration. – Washington Post
Two Russian long-range bombers flew about 100 miles off the Alaskan coast on Monday night, the first time since President Trump took office that Moscow has sent warplanes so close to the United States, the military said Tuesday. – New York Times
A former adviser to President Obama predicts that nation-states and others will try to use cyber intrusions to disrupt future election processes and “weaponize” data as Russia did during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. – The Hill
Western Europe
Two men were arrested in southern France on Tuesday on suspicion of preparing an attack to disrupt campaigning before the first round of the country’s presidential elections on Sunday, the authorities said. – New York Times
In a country that remains under an official “state of emergency” following an unprecedented spate of terrorist violence in the past two years, the election also has become a referendum on Muslims and their place in what is probably Europe’s most anxious multicultural society. – Washington Post
Interview: “The Russian regime has made a very concerted effort at cultivating the global political right.” This is one of the signs that undergird the thesis of James Kirchick’s new book, “The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age.” And in the latest episode of “Cape Up,” the veteran foreign policy reporter argues that the rise of that global right (hello, Brexit? The French elections?) can be laid at Russia’s doorstep. – Washington Post
United Kingdom

The British Parliament on Wednesday took up Prime Minister Theresa May’s call for an early general election that could greatly strengthen her hand in shaping Britain’s departure from the European Union. – New York Times
British Prime Minister Theresa May could win a landslide majority of 114 seats in a June 8 election, The Times newspaper reported, citing YouGov polling data. - Reuters

Editorial: The economic and political challenges of Brexit are so formidable that Mrs. May will need to challenge the public to take risks to meet the competitive moment. Britain can’t succeed as a solo version of the EU welfare state. It can only prosper post-Brexit if it becomes a mecca for investment and human capital. Mrs. May wants a mandate to negotiate, but she’ll be in a stronger position if she also has a mandate for pro-growth reform. She should ask for it. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Eastern Europe
Serbia is seeking a Russian air defense system in addition to fighter jets and battle tanks, Serbian officials have said, in what could fuel tensions in the Balkans. – Associated Press
European Council President Donald Tusk said on Wednesday he was under no doubt that Poland's right-wing government was trying to discredit him wit a smear campaign. - Reuters
Zselyke Csaky writes: After demolishing formal institutional checks and demonizing foreigners, Orbán is now antagonizing ordinary Hungarians who still believe in genuine democracy for their country. If he succeeds in silencing them and remains in the EU, it will prove that he was right—that it is possible to build an “illiberal democracy” inside the union. – Freedom House’s Freedom at Issue


United States of America
Congressional critics of the Department of Homeland Security should “shut up’’ and assume the agency is acting appropriately and following the law, the agency’s chief said in a combative public speech Tuesday. – Washington Post
Smuggling cartels are now a major threat to the fabric of American society, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly declared Tuesday, saying the international crime syndicates have shown an incredible ability to sneak drugs and people — and potentially terrorists and dirty bombs — into the U.S. – Washington Times
In the very public, post-election parade of dignitaries, confidantes and job-seekers filing in and out of Donald Trump’s marquee Manhattan tower, Blackwater founder Erik Prince was largely out of sight. And yet Prince was very much a presence, providing advice to Trump’s inner circle, including his top national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, according to people familiar with his activities. – Bloomberg View
Douglas Irwin writes: Trump’s pronouncements on trade are not just economically problematic; they also raise troubling questions about the United States’ place in the world. A turn inward would mean abandoning global leadership, threatening the country’s economic and political interests. – Foreign Affairs
United Nations
In a bid to show that the Trump administration cares about human rights around the world, its envoy to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, on Tuesday presided over what the administration called the first “thematic debate” on human rights in the Security Council. – New York Times
Like the opposition, many of Venezuela’s neighbors are asking the government to set a date for elections, which the government is postponing — while it keeps opposition leading figure Leopoldo Lopez in jail and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles banned from holding office. This was apparently too much for Maduro, who is calling on his supporters to hold their own counter protest. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
The socialist leader of Venezuela announced in a speech to regime loyalists his plan to arm hundreds of thousands of supporters after a years-long campaign to confiscate civilian-owned guns. – Washington Free Beacon
Venezuela's opposition says it will stage the "mother of all marches" on Wednesday, accusing President Nicolas Maduro of resorting to dictatorial measures to quash popular outrage over a deepening economic crisis. - Reuters
A Venezuelan court has ordered the continued detention of two young opposition activists who say they were tortured until they incriminated opposition leaders in a plot to destabilize the government of President Nicolas Maduro. - Reuters


Over the past few years, conflicts in Syria, South Sudan, and Afghanistan have created the largest international refugee crisis since World War II. Now, according to a top government official, another massive migrant crisis is looming in a far more populous country: Nigeria. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
A Colombian nun who was kidnapped more than two months ago in Mali is being held by the Macina Liberation Front Islamist militant group, Colombian national police said on Tuesday, citing intelligence reports. - Reuters
Zambia opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, arrested last week on suspicion of treason, was charged in a magistrate's court on Tuesday with trying to overthrow the government. - Reuters

Trump Administration

National security issues have multiplied for President Trump in recent weeks, with complex conflicts and problems abroad competing for his attention. – The Hill
Daniel Twining writes: The world looks different from the Oval Office, and governance imposes compelling imperatives on the commander-in-chief of a superpower. Early tests on China, North Korea, Russia, and Syria suggest that a president who relishes unpredictability may yet revert to some traditional tenets of American foreign policy and regain strategic initiative — after years in which his predecessor relinquished it to others. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room
Matthew Kroenig writes: On almost every front, Trump has begun to correct the failures of the past eight years and position the United States well for the challenges to come. With the current team and policies in place, and with greater adherence to a core strategy going forward, Trump may well, as Kissinger predicted was possible, go “down in history as a very considerable president.” – Foreign Affairs
Philip Gordon writes: ust a few months into the Trump administration, it still isn’t clear what course the president’s foreign policy will ultimately take. What is clear, however, is that the impulsiveness, combativeness, and recklessness that characterized Donald Trump’s election campaign have survived the transition into the presidency. – Foreign Affairs


John Ikenberry writes: Today, the defenders of the order will need to recapture its essence as a security community, a grouping of countries bound together by common values, shared interests, and mutual vulnerabilities. Trump will do a lot of damage to this order, but the decisions of others—in the United States and abroad—will determine whether it is ultimately destroyed. “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity,” William Butler Yeats wrote in the aftermath of World War I. If the liberal democratic world is to survive, its champions will have to find their voice and act with more conviction. – Foreign Affairs

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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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