Top of the Agenda: Iran's Ayatollah Rejects Nuclear Talks
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, rejected on Thursday an offer of direct talks (Reuters) made by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden this week, saying they would not resolve issues between the two countries. Biden, speaking at a security conference in Munich, said the United States was prepared to meet bilaterally with the Iranian leadership. Khamenei's statement could also affect the negotiations in Kazakhstan (AP) later this month between Iran and a six-nation group composed of the permanent UN Security Council members, plus Germany.
"President Obama needs to realign U.S. relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran as thoroughly as President Nixon realigned relations with the People's Republic of China in the early 1970s. Simply 'talking' to Iran will not accomplish this," write Flynt and Hillary Leverett for Reuters.
"The Iranian leadership's real worry is not American planes but Iranian protesters. Their deepest anxieties revolve around a Persian version of Tahrir Square, a replay of the 2009 Green uprising that wasn't ended by the regime's violent repression. Strange as it may sound, the Islamic Republic is a lot more frightened of the imprisoned Iranian human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh than it is of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu," writes Alireza Nader for the New York Times.
"[America's] economic and military realities argue intensely against attacking the Islamic republic and for muddling through by, perhaps, further tightening sanctions that have cut deeply into Tehran's economy," writes Steven Hurst for the Associated Press.
Russian Jets Breach Japanese Airspace
Two Russian fighter jets flew into Japanese airspace (KyodoNews) off Hokkaido on Thursday, prompting the government to lodge a protest against Russia over the incident. The incident comes just after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made conciliatory remarks (AFP) about signing a peace treaty with Moscow.
CHINA: Chinese authorities detained seventy people in a crackdown (Reuters) on self-immolations in ethnic Tibetan regions, the largest single reported sweep of suspects to date.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
India's GDP to Grow At 5 Percent
India's economic growth will slow sharply to 5 percent in 2012 to 2013, the lowest (TimesofIndia) in a decade due to poor performance in the manufacturing, agriculture, and services sectors. The estimate by the Central Statistical Organization is drastically lower than what the government projected.
PAKISTAN: Pakistani opposition figure Tahirul Qadri submitted on Thursday a petition to the supreme court seeking reconstitution of the Election Commission (Dawn).
United States Imposes More Sanctions on Iran
The United States further tightened sanctions (al-Jazeera) on Iran in an attempt to apply increased pressure on its nuclear program. Under the terms, Tehran can only use oil revenue to buy goods from its oil customers, preventing the money from being repatriated.
Ennahda, Tunisia's ruling party, reportedly rejected moves to form a coalition cabinet (BBC) of technocrats after the assassination of opposition leader Chokri Belaid, whose murder sparked violent protests. Ennahda denied claims that it was behind the killing.
NIGERIA: Nigeria's four main opposition parties announced a merger (Vanguard), forming a coalition thatcould pose the biggest threat to President Goodluck Jonathan's ruling party since the end of military rule in 1999.
EU Talks Hinge on Accounting
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy will unveil a compromise proposal (FT) for the EU's long-term budget as leaders meet in Brussels today for their second attempt to nail down an agreement. Van Rompuy's proposal is expected to be roughly 960 billion euros.
CFR's Robert Kahn discusses Europe's amble toward a fiscal union in this interview.
TURKEY: As Europe grapples with austerity and budget concerns, Turkey is among a handful of nations ramping up aid programs (Guardian) for poor nations.
Mercosur and Canada to Work on Free Trade Agreement
Uruguay, chair of Mercosur, announced that it will work for a free trade agreement (MercoPress) between the Latin American trade bloc and Canada during the first half of the year. The bloc includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Venezuela.
HAITI: Former Haitian president Jean-Claude Duvalier is seeking to delay his appearance in an appeals hearing on whether he should face trial on allegations of embezzlement and human rights abuses(MiamiHerald).