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FPI Overnight Brief

FPI Overnight Brief

Foreign Policy Initiative

December 14, 2009

Oslo

FPI Director Robert Kagan writes: With his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Barack Obama signaled that the world had better get ready for a tougher, less forgiving, more quintessentially American approach from a man who certainly gave the soft touch a try… The Oslo speech was important not just because it broke rhetorical ground. Obama was following in a great tradition of hawkish Democrats fighting wars both hot and cold: Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John Kennedy, as well as that one-time Democrat, Ronald Reagan. More important, though, the speech heralded a course adjustment, a different approach by the Obama administration to the problems that have bedeviled it this year. – Washington Post

Joshua Kurlantzick writes: The irony of Obama's Nobel Prize is not that he accepted it while waging two wars. After all, as Obama said in Oslo: "One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek." The stranger thing is that, from China to Sudan, from Burma to Iran, a president lauded for his commitment to peace has dialed down a U.S. commitment to human rights, one that persisted through both Republican and Democratic administrations dating back at least to Jimmy Carter. And so far, he has little to show for it. – Washington Post

Italy

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy is recovering in hospital after an assault left his face covered in blood following a rally in Milan. He suffered two broken teeth, a minor nose fracture and cuts to his lip after being struck by a man wielding a souvenir model of the city's cathedral. Mr Berlusconi, 73, tried to assure supporters afterwards he was OK. The alleged attacker, who has a history of mental illness, has been charged with throwing the souvenir. -- BBC

Iran

Confidential intelligence documents obtained by The Times show that Iran is working on testing a key final component of a nuclear bomb. The notes, from Iran’s most sensitive military nuclear project, describe a four-year plan to test a neutron initiator, the component of a nuclear bomb that triggers an explosion. Foreign intelligence agencies date them to early 2007, four years after Iran was thought to have suspended its weapons program. An Asian intelligence source last week confirmed to The Times that his country also believed that weapons work was being carried out as recently as 2007 — specifically, work on a neutron initiator. – Times of London

[T]he president has concluded that his offer of an "outstretched hand" to Iran will not, on its own, produce the results he needs. Even as he received the Nobel Peace Prize last week, Obama was fast approaching his informal year-end deadline for seeing "progress" in talks to shut down Iran's nuclear program. Tehran has by all accounts refused to cooperate. After a moment of promise in early October, when Iran pledged to ship much of its uranium abroad, Tehran has reneged on almost every tentative deal. Worse, since Iran admitted to building a secret uranium-enrichment facility near the religious city of Qum, it has brazenly pledged to build 10 more. "There is nothing happening," says one senior European diplomat who would not discuss the talks on the record. "Zero. Zero. Zero. As a result, barring a last-minute concession by Iran, the president is now firmly committed to imposing tougher sanctions, says a senior administration official&helli p;" – Newsweek

A new anti-government movement has sprung up among protesters in Iran -- and now among their supporters in other countries -- with men posting pictures of themselves on the Internet wearing women's head scarves as a political statement. The movement began in recent days as an online backlash after the arrest of one anti-government protester, Majid Tavakoli. The day after his arrest, an Iranian news agency published a picture of Tavakoli dressed in a chador, a black head-to-toe garment worn by Iranian women. – CNN

The moment is fast approaching when Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, may have to make the most difficult decision of his career — whether to launch a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities and risk triggering a conflagration that could spread across the Middle East. Israeli experts believe the point of no return may be only six months away when Iran’s nuclear programme will have — if it has not already — metastasised into a multitude of smaller, difficult-to-trace facilities in deserts and mountains, while its main reactor at Bushehr will have come online and bombing it would send a radioactive cloud over the Gulf nations. – Times of London

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, stepped up the pressure on reformist leaders on Sunday, accusing them of challenging the foundations of the Islamic regime amid warnings by the opposition that a new round of suppression could be under way. In a meeting with the clergy, the ayatollah said the anti-government leaders, whom he described as “former brothers”, had turned a dispute over the June 12 election into “a fight against the system”. Borrowing from the Koran, Ayatollah Khamenei said the regime would remain “stable…and you’ll see these opponents...will be destroyed before your eyes”. It was not clear if the speech, described by state television as “very significant”, was an ultimatum to an opposition that has shifted its focus from criticising Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the fundamentalist president, to attacking the supreme leader. – Financial Times

Poland

The US and Poland have reached an agreement to station an American antimissile defense system on Polish soil two months after plans to install a more robust missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic were scrapped in the face of intense Russian opposition. But the close military cooperation between the US and Poland, including US troops in the country, means the deal is likely to remain a major concern for Russia. The deployment, under a new Status of Forces Agreement reached between Poland and the US, calls for US troops to install and operate a mobile, land-based set of short- and medium-range missiles to defend against incoming attacks. The equipment includes SM-3 IA missiles and a MIM-104 Patriot mobile missile battery. Both types of missile are designed to shoot down short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. The missiles could arrive in Poland as soon as the first quarter of 2010. – Christian Science Monitor

Copenhagen

The political script for a big climate-change conference in this Danish city has U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders flying in later this week to christen a new era of global environmental cooperation. In reality, the summit is shaping up as a pivotal economic showdown between the U.S. and China. The International Energy Agency projects that nearly all the growth in global greenhouse-gas emissions over the next two decades will come from developing countries -- and that fully half of that total will come from China alone. A central point of contention here is whether China, amid all its newfound economic might, still deserves billions of dollars in annual aid from the U.S. and Europe to help it shift to a cleaner pattern of growth. – Wall Street Journal

Gulf

Dubai's government has said it has received $10bn from Abu Dhabi to help it repay an Islamic bond and fund the troubled property developer Dubai World. The announcement on Monday came on the same day Nakheel, the property development unit of Dubai World, was due to settle the $4.1bn bond. The move by Abu Dhabi follows weeks of uncertainty in Gulf stock markets after Dubai World said on November 25 that it needed more time to pay $26bn in debt. – Al Jazeera

Russia

Russia has suspended gas exports to Armenia as well as at least two of its Caucasus mountain regions for fear of a terrorist attack, the Interfax news agency reported early Monday quoting officials. Natural gas flow to Armenia through Russia's Caucasian republics of North Ossetia and Ingushetia was interrupted late Sunday as 'an explosive device was found on the pipeline,' a FSB security service local spokesman was quoted as saying by Interfax. The device and several trap mines nearby would be defused at first light, the spokesman added. – AFP

China

China has revoked permission for cable operators to distribute commercial network Sun TV due to its outspoken talk shows, sources said on Monday, as part of a government crackdown on content deemed sensitive and too bold. The country's censors have become increasingly intolerant of content that pushes the envelope on politically incorrect or sensitive topics. Police have detained about 3,500 people in a crackdown on online pornography so far this year and closed thousands of websites. "From Dec 5, audiences in mainland China cannot receive our signals, but the programing is still broadcast in Hong Kong and overseas," said an employee at Sun TV's parent company in Hong Kong. He declined to give his name or title for fear of political repercussions. – Washington Post

Pentagon/CIA

Global warming is now officially considered a threat to U.S. national security. For the first time, Pentagon planners in 2010 will include climate change among the security threats identified in the Quadrennial Defense Review, the Congress-mandated report that updates Pentagon priorities every four years. The reference to climate change follows the establishment in October of a new Center for the Study of Climate Change at the Central Intelligence Agency. – NPR

Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president, says President Barack Obama is “slandering” the CIA in speeches on foreign soil. Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Cheney gave a qualified endorsement of Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize speech, but she said there were segments with which she staunchly disagreed. “As we see this president repeatedly go onto foreign soil and accuse America of having tortured people [and] talk about Guantanamo Bay as an abandonment of our ideals, that part of the speech, to me, is really — is nothing short of shameful,” said Cheney, whose father, Vice President Dick Cheney, was the Bush administration official most closely associated with such tough U.S. tactics. “And it’s not just an attack on political opponents, it really is casting apersions and, I would say, slandering the men and women in the CIA who carried out key programs that kept us safe,” Cheney asserted. – ; Politico

Foreign Assistance

As the Obama administration slowly unveils its global AIDS plan, the drive to put more people on drugs is being scaled back as emphasis is shifted to prevention and to diseases that cost less to fight, including pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria and fatal birth complications. AIDS advocates complained bitterly that they had been betrayed and that the Bush administration’s best legacy was being gutted — and they blame a doctor and budget adviser who is also the brother of the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. “I’m holding my nose as I say this, but I miss George W. Bush,” said Gregg Gonsalves a long-time AIDS campaigner. “On AIDS, he really stepped up. He did a tremendous thing. Now, to have this happen under Obama is really depressing.” – New York Times

Obama Administration

U.S. President Barack Obama said on December 13 his decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan was the toughest of his presidency and said it would be clear within a year whether the strategy was working. Obama, in an interview with the CBS program "60 Minutes," disagreed with some analysts who found his tone professorial and lacking emotion in the speech outlining the troop rise. "That was actually probably the most emotional speech that I've made, in terms of how I felt about it," Obama said of the December 1 speech at the West Point military academy. – Reuters

Con Coughlin writes: Britain is the only European country President Barack Obama can really count on to respond positively to his plea for NATO to provide extra forces for Afghanistan. So why is it, then, that the Obama administration can barely conceal its disdain for a nation that, by its deeds, time and again proves itself to be America's staunchest and most reliable ally? Shortly before Mr. Obama's Afghan policy speech at West Point earlier this month, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced Britain was sending another 500 troops to that beleaguered country, bringing the total number of British troops to around 10,000. Yet the president never mentioned Britain's support—even though, unlike most other European countries, British soldiers are prepared to undertake combat operations, and have incurred significant casualties in so doing. – Wall Street Journal

Yemen

At least 35 people were killed by airstrikes early Sunday morning in northwestern Yemen, where rebels have been fighting a guerrilla war against Yemeni and Saudi forces, witnesses said. The airstrikes, in the remote town of Razah not far from the Saudi border, appeared to be the deadliest attack in months in the intermittent war in Saada Province. One witness said the bombs had struck a market, killing at least 35 people who appeared to be civilians. – New York Times

Iraq

Iraq's oil capacity could reach 12 million barrels per day (bpd) in six years, the country's oil minister says. Hussein al-Shahristani told reporters in Baghdad that oil producers would not necessarily operate at full capacity, but would take into account demand. Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, has a capacity of 12.5m bpd. – BBC
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Events

Democratization as a Source of Tension between the United States and Egypt
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
December 14

Russia on the Pacific: The Rising Role of the Russian Far East Among Pacific Rim Nations
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
December 14

"Dr. Strangelove" Speaks to Today's Strategists: A Book Discussion of The Essential Herman Kahn
Hudson Institute
December 14

Starting with START: A New Era in Arms Control or the Beginning of Unilateral Disarmament?
American Enterprise Institute
[Postponed]

What is at Stake for the U.S. in Afghanistan?
The Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at SAIS, Johns Hopkins University
December 15

Implementing the Lisbon Treaty: An Update on Europe's Transformation
Heinrich Böll Foundation North America
December 16
18 Months and Beyond: Implications of U.S. Policy in Afghanistan
Middle East Policy Council
January 7

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Overnight Brief is a daily product of the Foreign Policy Initiative, which 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. To submit comments or suggestions, email overnight@foreignpolicyi.org.

ENDS

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