Top of the Agenda: Syrian Diplomacy Moves to Moscow
Moscow will host UN special envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi this week in the latest diplomatic push to bring an end to Syria's twenty-one-month old conflict. The high-level visit follows Russian negotiations (Reuters) with Syrian officials on Thursday. Brahimi, who has disclosed little of his impending trip, met with embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday and plans to hold meetings with other Syrian officials and dissidents this week.
Brahimi and Moscow have both indicated their desire to revive a stalled peace initiative that would have a transitional government run Syria until elections can be held. However, Russia has repeatedly said it will not endorse a plan that calls for Assad's removal (AP), and it is unclear whether Brahimi will push to ban members of the regime from participating in any provisional government.
"The international community, and its envoy, should declare their failure [in Syria] and pull out of the effort, unless there is a stunning secret piece of information that remains hidden from the public. For now, all of the options appear to involve Assad's remaining in power, in some shape or form, and everyone knows that the Syrian people will not accept this," write the editors of Lebanon's Daily Star.
"Although the fighting [in Syria] to date has more than demonstrated the lethality of conventional weapons, the use of chemical agents would represent a significant escalation of the violence with potentially mass casualty consequences. It would also breach an international norm against the use of chemical weapons that is important to maintain," writes CFR's Paul Stares.
A spokesperson for the Pakistani Taliban (Reuters) sketched out details for a potential cease-fire with Islamabad, including the adoption of sharia law and a severing of relations with the United States. A Pakistani official characterized the offer as "preposterous."
AFGHANISTAN: An insurgent attack on a police post in southern Afghanistan (LAT) killed four officers and wounded two others, authorities report. Officials suspect a member of the Afghan National Police of aiding the attacker, who remains at large.
Sunnis Escalate Protests Against Maliki
Tens of thousands of Sunnis continued to protest the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (Reuters), blocking Iraq's primary trade route to Syria and Jordan in Anbar Province on Wednesday.
Rebel Forces Advance on Bangui
Rebel fighters are advancing on Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (NYT), prompting the UN to evacuate its staff and the United States to advise its citizens to leave. Rebels say the central government has not honored peace accords signed between 2007 and 2011.
SOUTH AFRICA: South African leader Nelson Mandela (CBS) was released from a Johannesburg hospital on Wednesday night, but the ninety-four-year old will likely remain in the vicinity for continuing medical treatment, officials say.
Putin Will Sign Law Banning U.S. Adoptions
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that he will sign a controversial bill (AP) banning Americans from adopting Russian children. On Wednesday, the upper house of Russia's parliament unanimously approved the measure (Voice of Russia). The proposed legislation would sever bilateral adoption agreements between the two countries and bar U.S. adoption agencies from working in Russia. This move is widely seen as retaliation for the recently adopted U.S. Magnitsky Act, which imposes a visa ban and financial sanctions on Russian officials accused of violating human rights.
CFR's Stephen Sestanovich discusses the fallout from the Magnitsky Act in this interview.
UK: Euroscepticism is on the rise (Guardian), according to an exclusive Guardian/ICM poll that found 51 percent of respondents saying they would vote to take Britain out of the EU if a referendum were held tomorrow. This news comes as Prime Minister David Cameron prepares to give a widely anticipated speech on Britain's relationship with the EU in the new year.
China Lands Major Power Deal in Brazil
China's State Grid Corp. says it has been selected by the Brazilian government to build a $438 million power transmission project (WSJ), continuing Beijing's push to invest in South America and elsewhere abroad.
NICARAGUA: Government officials have ordered the evacuation of some 300 families near San Cristobal, one of seven of Nicaragua's active volcanoes (al-Jazeera). Authorities note that while the mountain regularly has small emissions, large eruptions are unpredictable.