The Soufan Group Morning Brief



President Donald Trump is set to outline a tougher U.S. strategy for countering Iran today that will seek to strengthen the enforcement of what he considers a flawed nuclear deal and deny funding to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. “It is time for the entire world to join us in demanding that Iran's government end its pursuit of death and destruction,” Trump said in a White House statement that laid out key elements of the strategy. Trump is expected to announce that he will not certify Iran's compliance with the 2015 nuclear accord, which will give Congress 60 days to determine a path forward on the deal.

The President’s announcement is expected to stake out a middle ground that  allows the President to proclaim to supporters that he has rejected the deal while still remaining a party to it. He will call on Congress to adopt new requirements on Iran in order to “fix” the agreement, including spelling out the parameters by which the U.S. would impose new sanctions should Iran violate the agreement. Overall, the  administration's new strategy for Iran includes three key goals: fixing the nuclear deal to make it harder for Iran to develop a weapon; addressing Iran’s ballistic missile program; and countering Iranian activities that Washington says contribute to instability in the Middle East. CNN, Reuters, USAToday
CNN: What Trump's Move on Iran Means for the U.S. and the World
The Atlantic: What Happens If Trump Doesn't Certify the Iran Deal?
Financial Times: Europe Battles to Save commercial Ties with Iran
Washington Post: Israeli Defense Experts Warn Against Dropping Iran Nuclear Deal
NBC News: CIA Director Pompeo Lashes Out at Iran, Compares it to ISIS

Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg will not say whether her company has identified similarities in how Russian agents and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign used the social media platform ahead of the 2016 election. In an interview with Axios on Thursday, Sandberg repeatedly refused to discuss whether Facebook had seen an overlap in how Russians and the Trump campaign targeted their ads toward users. The question of overlap is of potential significance for Special Counsel Robert Mueller and congressional investigators as they look for evidence of collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign.

Facebook and Congress are set to release data on the Russian ad targeting next month. “We know we have a responsibility to prevent everything we can from this happening on our platforms,” Sandberg said, “and so we told Congress and the intelligence committees that when they are ready to release the ads, we are ready to help them.” Sandberg's interview came a day after she held closed-door meetings with members of the House intelligence committee. CNN, Axios
ABC News: A Closer Look at the Meetings with Russians the Trump Team Failed to Disclose

The United States will withdraw from UNESCO at the end of next year, the State Department said Thursday, to stop accumulating unpaid dues and make a stand on what it called anti-Israel bias at the UN agency responsible for coordinating international cooperation in education, science, culture, and communication. In notifying UNESCO of the decision, the State Department said it would like to remain involved as a nonmember observer state. That will allow the U.S. to engage in debates and activities, however it will lose its right to vote on issues. Washington Post, New York Times

Following the move by the U.S., Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country also plans to pull out of the agency. Netanyahu said Thursday that UNESCO has become a “theater of the absurd because instead of preserving history, it distorts it.” He says he has ordered Israeli diplomats to prepare Israel's withdrawal from the organization in concert with the U.S. Associated Press

Guantanamo hunger striker accuses US officials of letting him ‘waste away:’ A detainee on hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay has accused officials of a sudden change in practice that could result in him starving to death. Khalid Qasim, a Yemeni who has been held at the prison for 15 years without charge or trial, told his lawyer that doctors stopped force-feeding him and another inmate, Ahmed Rabbani, three weeks ago and are no longer monitoring their medical conditions.  “They have decided to leave us to waste away and die instead,” Qasim told his lawyer by phone for an article published by the Guardian.

The Pentagon insists that an 11-year-old military policy allowing the involuntary feeding of detainees remains in place, although a spokesman did confirm a shift in approach indicating a change in the medical conditions that require force-feeding. In an op-ed in Newsweek, Rabbani accused the Trump administration of changing the policy. “They apparently don’t mind if people die because of the injustice here, because they figure nobody cares about Guantanamo anymore, and nobody will notice,” he wrote. The Guardian

U.S. to demolish isolation cell block at Guantanamo: The U.S. military plans to demolish a now-empty "disciplinary" cell block at Guantanamo Bay that was once used to keep prisoners in solitary confinement for long stretches of time. Human rights groups and detainees’ lawyers had harshly criticized the conditions in the 24-cell building known as Camp Five Echo, the existence of which was kept secret for several years after it was built in 2007. Rear Admiral Edward Cashman, who took over as commander of the prison in April, said in a court filing that he plans to knock down the former cell block and build a new structure to allow detainees to meet privately with their lawyers. Cashman said that current arrangements require detainees to be transported by van to meetings, a process that requires significant numbers of guards and diverts them from other duties. Politico, Miami Herald

Virginia man indicted for threats against CIA: A federal grand jury has indicted a northern Virginia man who allegedly posted threats against the CIA and the State Department on social media. Thirty-six-year-old William L. Weaver II is being charged in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria with two counts of threatening to assault and murder federal officials. According to an FBI affidavit, Weaver posted multiple threats on Twitter in August and September. One post mentioned shooting CIA employees as traffic backed up outside the agency's main gate in the morning. Numerous other threats were also posted. Associated Press

Man charged in East Chicago post office pipe bomb explosion: Police have made an arrest in the FBI’s investigation into a pipe bomb explosion at an East Chicago post office last month, officials announced Thursday. Eric Krieg, 45, of Munster, was arrested, officials said at a press conference. The FBI has been investigating since a pipe bomb detonated on September 6 at the post office and caused minor injuries to one employee. Chicago Tribune, WGNTV

According to Kurdish media, Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region has sent 6,000 reinforcements to the disputed, oil-rich city of Kirkuk. The reinforcements were sent to Kirkuk late Thursday in response to what the Kurds says are threats from Baghdad to attack the city, which is controlled by Kurdish forces but outside the autonomous Kurdish region. “Thousands of heavily armed Peshmerga units are now completely in their positions around Kirkuk,” a top aide to Kurdish President Masoud Barzani said on social media on Friday. Associated Press, Al Jazeera

Meanwhile, on Thursday the Iraqi government said it would not hold talks with the Kurdish autonomous region on reopening its airports and providing dollars for its banks, unless the Kurds commit to “Iraq’s unity.” Iraq’s central government imposed a ban on direct international flights to the autonomous Kurdish region after the Kurds held a referendum on independence last month, which Baghdad says was illegal. The Kurds have repeatedly called for negotiations following the referendum in which an overwhelming majority voted for independence. Reuters

At least 95 percent of the territory in Iraq that was previously controlled by ISIS forces has been cleared as U.S.-led coalition forces move closer to the complete liberation of the country. Speaking from Baghdad on Thursday, Lt. Gen. Robert White, a commanding general in Iraq for the operation to fight ISIS, said the terrorist group's forces are losing ground and even asking for surrender, which is “something you would not have seen a year ago.” A number of remaining ISIS forces have been driven to the Euphrates River Valley in northern Iraq. When questioned about ISIS members crossing the border into Syria, White said that the Iraqi government has no intention of driving ISIS members out of Iraq and into Syria. U.S. News

The rescue of an American woman, her Canadian husband and their three children who were held by the Haqqani network, a faction of of the Taliban, for more than five years has raised hopes of a possible warming in the long fraught relationship between the United States and Pakistan. Caitlan Coleman and her husband Joshua Boyle were kidnapped in 2012 while they were traveling as tourists in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani military said that the couple and their ­children were found “through an ­intelligence-based operation” on Wednesday in coordination with U.S. agencies tracking the hostages along the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. In a statement, President Donald Trump praised the operation as a sign that Pakistan “is honoring America’s wishes for it to do more to provide security in the region.”
New York Times, Washington Post, NPR

However, the family reportedly refused to board a U.S. transport plane out of Pakistan. A U.S. official said Boyle was concerned that he might face scrutiny by the U.S. over his links to Omar Khadr, the Canadian held for 10 years at Guantanamo Bay. Boyle was briefly married to Zaynab Khadr, Omar’s sister. The family left for the U.K. on Friday but their final destination was not immediately clear, according to a senior Pakistani military official. NBC News, The Guardian

ISIS attacks kill at least 50 in east Syria: ISIS suicide attackers killed at least 50 people in a triple car bomb attack on Thursday among a group of refugees in northeast Syria, a medical source in the Kurdish Red Crescent said. The attack took place at Abu Fas, near the border of Deir Ezzor and Hasaka provinces, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The dead included refugees fleeing the fighting in Deir Ezzor as well as Kurdish forces, the Observatory reported. Aid agencies have warned that the fighting in eastern Syria is the worst in the country this year and that air strikes have caused hundreds of civilian casualties. Reuters

Germany extends border controls, citing terrorism and migration: Germany extended temporary passport controls on its border with Austria and for flights departing from Greece for an additional six months due to the prospect of irregular migration and terrorism, the Interior Ministry said Thursday. “There continue to be shortcomings in the protection of the EU's external borders, as well as a significant amount of illegal migration within the Schengen zone,” Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said. He also said one of the main reasons for extending the border controls is the threat of a terror attack. Deutsche Welle
America will always lose Russia’s tit-for-tat spy games: “Indeed, the history of tit-for-tat spy expulsions has taught the Russians how to ruthlessly manipulate squabbles within the U.S. bureaucracy,” John Sipher writes in Foreign Policy. “Perhaps more fundamentally, Russia wins when we aim small. The focus on expulsions plays into its doctrine of conflict. The Russians are playing a bigger game and are willing to take losses if they can achieve their goal of getting the United States to play by their rules.”

Mr. Trump, I Live in South Korea, and You’re Scaring Me: “The national mood in South Korea has turned darker. Survival kits were marketed as appropriate gifts for the mid-autumn festival last week, a major holiday. There’s been an uptick in sales of gas masks, canned food and portable radios,” Se-Woong Koo writes in the New York Times. “Domestic support for acquiring nuclear weapons here in South Korea, to counter the North’s growing arsenal, appears to be at 60 percent, rising from about 49 percent in 2014.”

What overturning the ban on female drivers means for Saudi Arabia and the world: “It seems fairly safe to conclude that, with his driving decree, King Salman was not announcing any newfound ideological commitment to human rights or gender equality,” Katherine Zoepf writes in the New Yorker. “The Saudi government has many issues that it needs to discuss with the world, but women’s-rights issues were derailing those conversations. Giving women the right to drive was a relatively painless concession for the king to make. Some Saudis warn that the decision to end the driving ban may turn out to be mostly symbolic.”

‘A truly Gordian knot’ awaits Trump: “The end of the Islamic state puts the United States in an uncomfortable geopolitical situation,” Fabrice Balanche writes in the Cipher Brief. “When it comes, the United States will enter a new phase of the conflict. The Syrian regime is back in full force in the east of the country, and the Iranian corridor from Iran and Iraq to Lebanon through Syria is now becoming a reality. The United States therefore faces a cruel dilemma and has the obligation to urgently define a post-IS strategy.”

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.

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