Top of the Agenda: North Korea's Nuke Test Threat Draws Concern
North Korea warned Thursday that it will conduct its third nuclear test in defiance of the UN Security Council's expanded sanctions, making clear that its long-range rockets carry warheads aimed at striking the United States (Reuters). The threat came after a special U.S. envoy, after talks with a South Korean counterpart in Seoul on Thursday, warned Pyongyang (Yonhap) against conducting nuclear tests. Meanwhile, China called on all relevant parties to "refrain from action" that might escalate the situation. Beijing backed Tuesday's Security Council resolution--a move that analysts saidangered its northern neighbor.
"[There] are few options for responding to this latest development. So far, it seems, sanctions haven't worked as a deterrent. And even pressure from Pyongyang's main backer, China, seems to have carried little weight over the past few months," writes Lucy Williamson for the BBC.
"If the missile were to launch and show a U.S. based path, the Navy has 16 Aegis equipped ships in the Pacific theater with perhaps 20 SM-3 anti-ballistic interceptors each to bring the North Korean missile down. The Aegis system has been successful in taking down missiles for more than 10 years and the most recent configuration SM-3 is very accurate, and reliable," writes Robert Johnson for Business Insider.
"North Korea obviously didn't appreciate this move, so the threatening statement is being read as a visceral response. However, that does not mean that North Korea will actually follow through with nuclear tests and further alienate themselves from the rest of the world. They've made empty threats in the past," writes Adam Clark Estes for the Atlantic.
Taiwan Boat Duels With Japan
A boat with Taiwanese activists headed for the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands turned back Thursday after coast guard vessels from both countries exchanged water cannon fire (JapanToday). The incident comes amid growing regional concern over the intensifying dispute.
CFR's Sheila Smith discusses the mounting tensions in the East China Sea territorial disputes in this article.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
United States, Pakistan Out of 'Tense' Phase
The deputy commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan said on Wednesday that the United States and Pakistan are moving away from the "tense phase" (Dawn) that marred relations last year. He added that the United States would focus on providing "right resources" to Afghans after the 2014 pullout.
INDIA: Five men accused of the rape and murder of a Delhi student are appearing Thursday in a fast-track court (VOA) for crimes against women.
Jordan Closes Polls
Jordan saw a 56 percent voter turnout for its first parliamentary election since the Arab Spring after polls closed Wednesday evening (al-Arabiya). Despite protests against King Abdullah, analysts say tribal leaders, other pro-regime figures, and independent businessmen will sweep the vote.
IRAQ: At least forty-two people were killed in a suicide bomb attack (TheNews) at a funeral in a mosque in northern Iraq, the latest in a spate of violence amid the country's mounting political crisis.
CFR's Megan O'Sullivan says Iraq faces internal strife and difficult times ahead in this interview.
Mali Army Accused of Revenge Killings
Mali's army sealed off the central town of Sevare amid allegations that some of its soldiers had summarily executed (al-Jazeera) dozens of people thought to be connected to rebel fighters. An international human rights league said at least eleven people were executed in a military camp.
NIGERIA: Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan called for international efforts (ThisDay) to curb the threat of Islamic terror group Boko Haram.
CFR's John Campbell speculates as to whether the upsurge in violence in Nigeria is connected to the Mali crisis in this blog post.
Russia Tightens Electoral Laws
Russia's parliament gave preliminary backing to a bill that would cancel regional popular elections in favor of a system that would let President Vladimir Putin choose candidates instead (Reuters). Backers say the bill is meant to curb unrest in the Muslim provinces of the insurgency-plagued North Caucasus.
UNITED KINGDOM: Business leaders are divided over UK Prime Minister David Cameron's speech on the EU, with some warning that his referendum proposal will hurt investment and others backing him through an open letter (BBC).
French Woman Released From Mexico
Mexico's Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the release of Florence Cassez, a French woman serving a sixty-year sentence for her involvement with a Mexican kidnapping ring (LAT), closing a case that has strained Franco-Mexican relations for years.
VENEZUELA: Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro warned the opposition that the government was prepared to thwart an assassination plot (MiamiHerald) against him and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.