Top of the Agenda: North Korea Threatens U.S. With Preemptive Nuclear Strike
North Korea threatened the United States on Thursday with a preemptive nuclear strike (Reuters) in an acute escalation of rhetoric as the UN Security Council considers new sanctions against the country for its third nuclear test in February. The Security Council is preparing to add three North Korean weapons dealers and two entities to the sanctions(Yonhap), and is set to vote on the draft on Thursday in New York. After weeks of bilateral talks, the United States and China agreed this week to draft a resolution (BBC), which also calls for mandatory inspections of North Korean ships and planes suspected of carrying banned items, including luxury goods.
"North Korea's development of nuclear weapons is, in part, based on the illusion that it can achieve an equal negotiating position with the U.S., and thereby force Washington to compromise. But it is entirely possible that a nuclear-armed North Korea could try to twist China's arm if Beijing were to fail to meet its demands or if the U.S. were to signal goodwill towards it," writes Deng Yuwen for the Financial Times.
"It's too soon to tell whether China's support of the sanctions resolution means that it has made strategic decision to radically change its policy toward North Korea. Some influential figures in the Chinese elite have soured on the D.P.R.K. and are speaking out publicly to urge a tougher approach or even abandoning China's troublesome ally," writes Susan Shirk for ChinaFile.
"Due to the North's development of nuclear power and stagnant talks, the window for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is closing. The room for future discussion has shrunk. In the short term, small conflicts could break out between the North and South. However, a large-scale conflict is less likely, unless Pyongyang makes a serious misjudgment," writes Chen Qin for Caixin.
Malaysia Rejects Cease-Fire Offer
Malaysian security forces killed thirty-one Filipino rebels in Borneo on Thursday, the highest casualty count in a day since nearly 200 members of a Philippine Muslim clan tried to stake a claim to the state of Sabah last month (AP). Malaysia's prime minister rejected a cease-fire call by the clan.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Pakistan Launches Naval Drills With U.S., China
Pakistan began naval drills (AFP) with the United States and China in the Arabian Sea on Thursday. The five-day exercise involves ships from thirteen countries and comes two weeks after China took control of Gwadar, a strategic Pakistani Arabian Sea port, from Singapore.
BANGLADESH: Members of Bangladesh's main opposition party and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami clashed with police during a demonstration (al-Jazeera) over the sentencing of a top leader in the capital of Dhaka.
Fighters Capture UN Peacekeepers in Golan Heights
Armed fighters detained approximately twenty UN peacekeepers, reportedly from the Philippines, in the Golan Heights (al-Arabiya) between Syria and Israel. The Golan zone has had peacekeepers since 1974 after a truce accord between the two countries.
EGYPT: Egyptian judges postponed the controversial parliamentary elections (Guardian) scheduled for April after ruling that the electoral law needed to be reviewed by the Supreme Constitutional Court.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian made a surprise visit Thursday to northern Mali, where French troops have been tracking Islamist fighters thought to be holding foreign hostages (France24). Four French soldiers have died since Paris launched its Mali operations in January.
KENYA: Kenya's electoral board is holding a closed-door meeting with various high commissioners after the running mate of Prime Minister Raila Odinga said the ballot count for the presidential elections was rigged (BBC).
Italy's ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi was sentenced to one year in prison (GazettaDelSud) on Thursday for involvement in the publication of an illegally obtained wiretap leak in his brother's newspaper.
RUSSIA: Russia said on Wednesday it was ready to discuss a UN peacekeeping force for Mali (Reuters), where French-led forces are fighting Islamist rebels from the north.
U.S. May Retaliate for Expulsion of Air Attaché From Venezuela
The United States is not ruling out the possibility of retaliating against Venezuela's expulsion of an air attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas (LAHT), a U.S. official said Wednesday. The Venezuelan government expelled the officer for allegedly trying to recruit Venezuelan troops for "destabilizing projects."
The death of Hugo Chávez leaves much uncertainty in Venezuela, but CFR's Shannon O'Neil says in this article that stronger ties with the United States may be on the horizon.
BRAZIL: A Brazilian newspaper recently published uncovered government documents revealing Brazilian financial support for former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet during the 1970s (MercoPress).