National Security Brief: January 4, 2012

— The U.S. dismissed the latest blustering threat by Iran’s military leader that U.S. aircraft carriers must not pass the Strait of Hormuz. “[T]he deployment of U.S. military assets in the Persian Gulf region will continue as it has for decades,” said a U.S. Navy commander.

— The commander of the Free Syrian Army said the rebels may step up attacks on President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, saying the Arab League monitors are “still not serious.” “[W]e will take a decision which will surprise the regime and the whole world,” he said.

— State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday that “the Syrian regime has not lived up to the full spectrum of commitments that it made to the Arab League when it accepted its proposal some nine weeks ago.”

— The Arab League pledged to nearly double its mission of observers into Syria even as security forces there continued to crackdown on anti-government demonstrators with deadly force, killing two in the restive city of Hama, according to activists.

— The Washington Post reports that “the Taliban on Tuesday for the first time publicly expressed interest in negotiating with Washington, outlining a vision for talks with U.S. officials in Qatar that conspicuously excluded a role for the Afghan government. The announcement marked a major departure for a militant group that had long said it would not negotiate while foreign troops remained in Afghanistan.”

— With the final round of Egyptian voting complete and the Muslim Brotherhood looking likely to achieve an outright majority, U.S. posture toward the Islamist group is softening — a sign of both acceptance of election results and frustration with the country’s transitional military rulers.

— Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the National Transitional Council that led the Libyan rebellion, warned that recent fighting among various militas in Tripoli could lead to a “civil war” and lawlessness that could hamper the transition.

— A report from the Seoul-based Korea Economic Research Institute said that North Korea’s military strategy is superior to the defense posture of the South. “The depressing reality is it would not be entirely wrong to say North Korea’s military strength is stronger,” the institute said.