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FPI Overnight Brief

FPI Overnight Brief

December 17, 2009

President Obama will have to argue his own case to House Democrats as he seeks support for a planned surge of 30,000 troops into Afghanistan, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday, adding that she is finished asking her colleagues to back wars that they do not support. "The president's going to have to make his case," Pelosi told reporters at a year-end briefing on the legislative session. While the next round of war-funding legislation is not likely to be considered until spring, Pelosi said there will be a test vote in January on support for the troop buildup. Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) has said he will offer a privileged resolution next month calling for an immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. The vote is likely to fail because of broad Republican support for the war, but it could reveal the depth of the schism between Obama and his fellow Democrats on the new troop plan. – Washington Post

Pakistan's Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down an amnesty that had shielded President Asif Ali Zardari from graft charges, a decision that could imperil the political future of a leader regarded by the U.S. as a key ally in the war on terrorism. Though not unexpected, the ruling deals Pakistan's 54-year-old president a serious blow at a time when his popularity with Pakistanis continues to sink and calls for his resignation mount. The decision also is likely to draw concern in Washington, where Zardari is seen as a reliable partner in the fight against Islamic extremists. – Los Angeles Times

The U.S. military is adding more drones and expanding its video surveillance in the skies over Afghanistan to meet the needs of American forces as 30,000 more troops head into the war zone, a top Air Force general said Wednesday. The bolstered eyes in the sky will come from a mix of manned and unmanned aircraft and added technology that allows each MQ-9 Reaper drone to collect 10 video transmissions and beam them back to 10 different users on the ground, Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, told reporters. – The AP

Parts of the Pakistani military and intelligence services are mounting what American officials here describe as a campaign to harass American diplomats, fraying relations at a critical moment when the Obama administration is demanding more help to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The campaign includes the refusal to extend or approve visas for more than 100 American officials and the frequent searches of American diplomatic vehicles in major cities, said an American official briefed on the cases. The problems affected military attachés, C.I.A. officers, development experts, junior level diplomats and others, a senior American diplomat said. As a result, some American aid programs to Pakistan, which President Obama has called a critical ally, are “grinding to a halt,” the diplomat said. – New York Times

Pakistan's military said Wednesday it had killed 49 insurgents in the northwest, widening the net in the lawless tribal belt as the top US military officer visits for talks on battling extremism. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, met top government and military figures to discuss the new US Afghan war strategy, which Washington says hinges on Pakistan's own battle against Islamist extremists. – AFP

A growing number of refugees are fleeing escalating violence and lawlessness in Afghanistan for safety in Tajikistan, the most visible sign yet that the fallout from the Taliban insurgency is threatening to undermine Central Asia's security, too. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says that more than 3,600 Afghans have fled to Tajikistan since January 2008. – Washington Post


China has told participants at U.N. climate change negotiations it sees no possibility of achieving an operational accord to tackle global warming this week, an official involved in the talks said on Thursday. Dozens of heads of state are descending on the Danish capital to address the conference, hoping to sign a new pact to curb greenhouse gas emissions on Friday. The official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters the Chinese had instead suggested issuing "a short political declaration of some sort," but it was not clear what that declaration would say. – Reuters

A group of American rightwingers led by the former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is to fire a shot across President Obama's bows with a full-page advert in a Danish newspaper warning him not to make carbon commitments he cannot live up to at the Copenhagen summit… Mr Gingrich's American Solutions group has booked space in the English-language Copenhagen Post tomorrow and on Friday to insist that the President would need the approval of Senate to raitify any agreement despite the recent decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that CO2 and other greenhouse gases represented a health risk. The advert has a large headline down one side declaring: "Message from America to American delegates in Copenhagen — and the Rest of the World." "In America, We Have a Constitution," it says. "It begins: 'We the people.' "Our President Does Not Have Support in our Senate for Binding Carbon Emissions Limits." – Times of London

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez painted capitalism as the enemy of the earth — not to mention the cause of AIDS, poverty and war — in a speech to the UN Summit on Climate Change that invoked Mohammed, Jesus Christ and Simon Bolivar. "The cause of all this disastrous situation is the destructive capitalist system," the Venezuelan socialist leader told delegates Wednesday. "Capitalism is the road to hell." – Toronto Star


Franklin Miller and Andrew Shearer write: Talk of nuclear disarmament is making a serious comeback. Just in the past week, President Obama received a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the issue, and now yet another blue-ribbon commission—this one co-chaired by former foreign ministers of Japan and Australia—has issued a high-profile report calling for disarmament. The goal, of course, is superficially appealing and may even be achievable some day. But the United States, Australia, Japan and America's other Asian allies would be well advised to think twice before embracing the report… Capping U.S. and Russian arsenals at 500 warheads is unrealistic given today's world. An unequivocal "no first use" declaration would weaken American deterrence. And the recommendation that the Proliferation Security Initiative, currently a coalition of the willing to interdict nuclear shipments, be folded into the United Nations is a surefire way to neuter a successfu l tool. – Wall Street Journal Asia


The UAE and the United States were scheduled to make their nuclear co-operation agreement official today in a ceremony seen as an important step in the nation’s bid to become the first Arab country to harness atomic energy. Yousef al Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to the US and Ellen Tauscher, the under secretary of state for arms control and international security, were set to formally exchange diplomatic notes, according to the US State Department. – The National


Claudia Rosett writes: If you listen to U.S. officialdom, Iran is a pariah, cast out by the world community for its sanctions-violating, nuclear-wannabe ways… But is Iran really isolated? Fresh from a meeting in Tehran with the head of the terrorist group Hamas, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is free to rub shoulders at the United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen with a UN summit lineup that for the second time in four months includes President Barack Obama. To list just a few highlights of Ahmadinejad's other interactions in recent times: Since Iran's June election, angrily and repeatedly protested by huge numbers of Iranians, Ahmadinejad has posed alongside Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at a regional security summit in the Urals, met with the president of Turkey, hosted the Emir of Qatar, dropped in on The Gambia and made plans to visit Turkmenistan. Last month he made the latest in a series of swings over the past five years through Latin America. – Forbes

Iran announced Wednesday that it had test-fired an improved version of its most advanced missile, one capable of reaching Israel and parts of Europe, a move that appeared aimed at discouraging a military attack on its nuclear sites and to defy Western pressure over its nuclear program. But the Pentagon said the test, on Tuesday, did not reveal anything “particularly different” about Iran’s abilities. – New York Times


Iraq is to relaunch its air force which was decimated in the 1991 Gulf War and to train pilots for a squadron of 18-24 fighter planes, Defence Minister Abdel Qadr Obeidi announced on Wednesday. Obeidi said at the reopening of the air force academy in Tikrit, in northern Iraq, that the facility would produce a new generation of pilots, navigators and ground crew. "We are turning a new page in the history of the Iraqi air force," the minister said as he attended the arrival of four US-built T-6A trainer aircraft piloted by Iraqi instructors. – AFP


The Honduran de facto government announced on Wednesday its withdrawal from the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA). De facto Minister of the Presidency Rafael Pineda Ponce said that the decision was made at a meeting of the ministers' board, and will be presented to the National Congress for final approval… According to Ponce, the decision was taken because Honduras has been mistreated by other countries in the ALBA. – Xinhua


Attorney General Eric Holder said on Wednesday the U.S. government's purchase of a prison in Illinois to hold some Guantanamo Bay detainees will help close the facility in Cuba, perhaps by summer. He told a news conference at the Justice Department that the acquisition of the Thomson Correctional Center in northwestern Illinois "goes a long way" toward shutting down the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Holder initially said he hoped the prison would be closed over the next several months, but later told Reuters in a brief interview that it could be the summer or perhaps even the early fall of next year. – Reuters


Twenty years ago today, a revolt began in the western Romanian city of Timisoara that would culminate in the toppling of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's regime and his execution several days later. Michael Meyer, who was "Newsweek's" bureau chief for Germany, Eastern Europe, and the Balkans at the time, was the last American journalist to travel to Romania and interview Ceausescu before his fall, and one of the first to arrive in Bucharest after Ceausescu's demise. Meyer, who is the author of a recent book about the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, "The Year That Changed The World," spoke with RFE/RL correspondent Eugen Tomiuc about life in Romania before and after Ceausescu's fall and vividly recalled his hours-long meeting with the all-powerful dictator. – Radio Free Europe


Ronald Reagan biographer Craig Shirley, out with his latest page turner, Rendezvous With Destiny, chronicling the Gipper's winning 1980 campaign, reminds us just how much the cold warrior hated communism. "After Reagan was re-elected in 1984," Shirley writes, "the diplomatic tags on the cars used by the Soviet Embassy in Washington were changed to begin with the initials 'FC.' Nobody needed to guess what it stood for." Hint: "F" is an expletive, and "C" stands for commies. -- US News

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U.S. Diplomacy in the Age of Facebook and Twitter: An Address on 21st Century Statecraft
Brookings Institution
December 17

More Effective Protection for Internally Displaced Persons in Southern Afghanistan
Brookings Institution
December 17

Can Iran’s Bomb be Stopped?

Center for Strategic and International Studies
December 18

Iran's Nuclear Ambitions in Context
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
January 8

18 Months and Beyond: Implications of U.S. Policy in Afghanistan
Middle East Policy Council
January 7

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