Top of the Agenda: Syrian President's Speech Stanches Hope for Resolution
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave his first public address (NYT) in six months, offering what he called a peace plan that included a new cabinet, a new constitution, and talks with officially tolerated opposition groups. The U.S. State Department condemned the speech (BBC), which ruled out any negotiations with the armed Syrian opposition, calling Assad's plan "detached from reality," while the EU reacted by calling again for his resignation. The Syrian opposition, including rebels on the ground, was quick to reject Assad's proposal, dismissing the address as "empty rhetoric" (al-Jazeera).
"This was typical Assad, who last braved a fleeting appearance in November, telling Russian television that he would 'live and die' in Syria. He is desperate to maintain some kind of respectable public face, genuinely believing that he can hold on to power amid overwhelming evidence that almost everybody wants him to go," writes Nabila Ramdani for al-Arabiya.
"The U.S., its European allies and Arab countries opposed to Mr. Assad are split on whether to move more aggressively to help rebels defeat his regime militarily or force both a scale-back in the fighting and then political negotiations, analysts and diplomats say. It is also likely to intensify talks between the U.S. and Russia, which acknowledged last week Mr. Assad was unlikely to willingly concede power, on how to navigate the crisis," writes Nour Malas for the Wall Street Journal.
"Even if Assad does seek to carry out his peace plan, it is hard to believe he is capable of success. He has consistently failed to follow through on his reform efforts, and at times has seemed beholden to the different interests in his government, from the security apparatus to family, who have lacked any enthusiasm for reform," writes Ned Parker for the Los Angeles Times.
China Paper Stages Rare Strike
The editorial staff at Southern Weekend, a liberal-leaning weekly, staged a rare strike (BBC) after government censors altered a New Year article that had called for reform into a piece that praised the Communist Party. In response, the newspaper's journalists called for the resignation of the Guangdong propaganda chief.
JAPAN: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will likely be unable to make a visit to the United States (JapanTimes) this month due to scheduling conflicts that will push the trip back to February or later.
CFR's Sheila Smith highlights Japan's new legislative balance in this expert brief.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
India's Gang Rape Suspects in Court
A judge ordered a closed hearing (TheHindu) after chaotic scenes in the preliminary open court hearing of five men accused of the abduction, gang rape, and murder of a twenty-three-year-old woman in Delhi. The judge also restrained the media from covering the controversial case that has shocked India.
AFGHANISTAN: Afghan President Hamid Karzai left Afghanistan on Monday for a three-day official visit to Washington (AFP), where a decision could be made on the U.S. troop presence after NATO troops withdraw in 2014.
A steep U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan will bring substantial risks, argues CFR's Max Boot in this op-ed.
Egypt Reshuffles Cabinet
Egypt's government swore in ten new ministers in a reshuffle of the cabinet aimed at reviving the country's struggling economy (al-Jazeera). The shake-up comes as International Monetary Fund officials arrive Monday to discuss a $4.8 billion loan and restructuring plans.
CFR's Meghan O'Sullivan argues that Egypt's constitution needs an expiration date in this article.
Central African Republic Rebels Could Advance on Capital, Spokesman Says
A spokesman for Central African Republic rebels said fighters could take the city of Damara (AP), forty-five miles from the capital of Bangui, but are holding fire out of concern for civilians. Delegations from both sides headed Monday to Gabon for peace talks.
GHANA: Ghana's main opposition party, the NPP, has boycotted (BBC) the swearing-in ceremony of President John Mahama following last month's disputed elections.
Silvio Berlusconi Signs Pact With Right-Wing League
Italy's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi announced an electoral pact with the right-wing Northern League, an alliance (FT) that could produce no outright winners from the country's parliamentary elections next month.
UNITED KINGDOM: UK Prime Minister David Cameron said he is "entitled" to block eurozone treaty changes (Guardian) toward a currency union unless EU partners agree to his own demands that would create a looser UK-EU relationship.
Venezuelans Face Uncertainty Over Chavez
Venezuelans are counting down to inauguration day this Thursday (VOA), still waiting to see if ailing President Hugo Chavez is well enough to take the oath of office for a new term or what the leadership consequences are if he doesn't.
President Obama is also expected to announce the nomination of Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense. Hagel is a former Republican senator from Nebraska and is considered by Obama to be a "trusted ally whose willingness to defy party loyalty and conventional wisdom won his admiration both in the Senate and on a 2008 tour of war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan," reports the New York Times.