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FPI Overnight Brief

FPI Overnight Brief

December 22, 2009


Hundreds of thousands of Iranian mourners, including opposition leaders and influential senior clerics, attended the funeral of the country's top dissident cleric in the holy city of Qom on Monday, turning the event into one of the largest antiregime protests the city has seen in three decades. The funeral procession of Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, one of the regime's harshest critics, began peacefully. But opposition protesters used the charged event to chant against Iran's leaders, and security forces and riot police responded by attacking mourners with shoes, stones and tear gas, according to news reports and videos circulating on the Internet. – Wall Street Journal

Military force would have only limited effect in stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons but must remain an option, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Monday. Baghdad shows no signs of backing down in the standoff over what the United States and other countries say is its drive for a nuclear bomb, Adm. Mike Mullen, the top U.S. military officer, told his staff in an annual assessment of the nation's risks and priorities. "My belief remains that political means are the best tools to attain regional security and that military force will have limited results," Mullen wrote. "However, should the president call for military options, we must have them ready." – The AP

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Can a deceased ayatollah offer in death what no one alive seems to be able to provide: a single, unifying figure for Iran's opposition? That's the central question that emerges from the weekend death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a towering figure in the history of Iran's revolutionary government. At the time of his death, he was perhaps the most credible face of the country's persistent opposition movement. The role Ayatollah Montazeri will play in death will come into clearer focus during the next two weeks. His admirers began to vent their sorrow Monday in funeral processions, at the outset of a 10-day religious holiday that figures to produce more public shows of opposition. – Wall Street Journal


Stephen Schwartz writes: In the past year, exposure of significant jihadist recruitment inside the United States has left Americans worried that "homegrown terrorism" may become a serious threat. Eight years after the atrocities of September 11, 2001, media and government appear stunned by the upsurge of jihad incidents in the United States, including two lethal attacks. The Fort Hood massacre on November 5, for which an Army psychiatrist, Nidal Hasan, has been charged with 13 deaths, has been followed by two more cases. On December 9, five college-age Muslims from northern Virginia were arrested in Pakistan. They were allegedly headed for terror training camps… [T]hese episodes are just part of a daunting list over the past year. Of almost 30 Islamist terror schemes uncovered on U.S. soil since 9/11, 10 came in 2009. – Weekly Standard


Top envoys from Taiwan and China began talks Tuesday behind lines of barbed wire shielding them from protesters desperate to stop the island being sucked further into the mainland's orbit. Chen Yunlin, the head of a quasi-official Chinese agency in charge of Taiwan, kicked off the trade talks in the city of Taichung, in the centre of the island which Beijing claims as its own… The meeting is the fourth since Taiwan's China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou assumed power in May last year and embarked on a program of closer ties with the island's giant neighbor… "Taiwan has never been a part of China," said protester Tsai Ting-kui. "We want the global community to understand the Taiwan people don't support the course chosen by Ma Ying-jeou." – AFP


Public support for Japan's new government fell below 50% as budget constraints and internal tensions within the ruling coalition threaten Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's major policy pledges. In its latest retreat, the Hatoyama administration relented on a campaign pledge to drop surcharges on gasoline amid tight budget constraints, saying it would replace the tax with a new one. The pledge was part of an effort to end unpopular taxes and government fees, and to spur consumer spending… His government's approval rating fell to 48% over the weekend, from 62% a month ago and from 71% when he took office in September, according to the Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun. The newspaper surveyed 2,115 respondents, asking if they supported the Hatoyama cabinet. – Wall Street Journal


U.S. troops in Afghanistan are getting a new tool in their fight against terrorism in the form of a spy plane that will provide ground troops with still images, video and eavesdropping, Bloomberg reported. The first of the 24 new Hawker Beechcraft four-man twin-propeller plane is expected to arrive by Christmas -- one month ahead of schedule, Lt. General David Deptula said in an e-mail, Bloomberg reported. In April 2008, the planes were ordered by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to up the number of manned and unmanned aircraft collecting intelligence data, and will now be used to help support the 30,000 troops Obama ordered to Afghanistan. – Fox News

US Ambassador William Eacho hit back Monday at comments by Austria's defense minister that Washington had exerted "improper" pressure on Vienna to commit more troops to Afghanistan. "It is the duty of any ambassador to defend the interests and policies of his or her country... This is in no way 'improper'," Eacho said in a letter to the Austrian daily Der Standard, published in German… In an interview with Der Standard published on Friday, Austrian Defense Minister Norbert Darabos complained that Eacho had repeatedly and publicly urged Austria on to commit more troops to Afghanistan. "The pressure from the Americans is relatively strong. Sometimes it is a little improper. – AFP

Climate Regulation

Even though the final document in Copenhagen contained no legally binding commitments by anybody, US officials are claiming the right to unilaterally verify or review what India and other countries are doing. Forced to defend the deal, White House senior advisor David Axelrod told CNN that the Copenhagen Accord would allow US verification. "Now China and India have set goals. We are going to be able to review what they are doing. We are going to be able to challenge them if they do not meet those goals," Axelrod said. While this was probably intended to keep the enraged constituencies of US labor unions at bay, who had insisted that Barack Obama come back with a commitment from India and China for carbon cuts and their verification, these statements will only fuel a fire in countries like China and India. Besides, the government will be asked to come clean on whether the Copenhagen document was another nail in the Kyoto Protocol coffin. – Times of India

FPI's Overnight Brief will next be published on Monday, December 28.

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President Obama One Year On
New America Foundation
December 22
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

Power In East Asia: What Is It? Who Has It? How Is It Changing?
Foreign Policy Research Institute
January 25

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.


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