Top of the Agenda: North Korea Announces Plans to Restart Reactor
North Korea announced Tuesday it was restarting its main Yongbyon nuclear reactor (Yonhap) that had been closed since 2007 as part of international nuclear disarmament talks, which have since stalled. UN chief Ban Ki-moon called for urgent talks with the North, saying the "crisis has gone too far." The announcement comes amid soaring tensions on the Korean Peninsula as the United States bolstered its forces in the region after a series of threats (Reuters) by Pyongyang to attack U.S. bases in the Pacific and to invade South Korea.
"Where we've seen provocations, they've been guerrilla-style provocations, not something signaled in advance. North Koreans usually want the element of surprise. They have an interest in provocation where prospects of escalation are limited, and they benefit from ambiguity of attribution. I worry more about North Korea when they are not rattling the sabre," says CFR's Scott Snyder.
"Washington is not acting entirely on behalf of Seoul when it comes to the North Korean threat: Pyongyang's nuclear and long-range missile programs are targeted at the American public. And the Kim regime appears to think that if it can demonstrate the capability to hit the West Coast of the United States with a nuclear warhead, Washington may have second thoughts on its treaty commitments to the defense of South Korea," writes Sung-Yoon Lee for Foreign Policy.
"Tokyo, Seoul, and Washington have been on alert amid Pyongyang's repeated threats. But they believe North Korea's words are aimed at winning concessions from the United States, not taking action that could prompt a devastating retaliation from the U.S. military," writes Asahi Shimbun.
China, Japan Show Thawing Relations
China and Japan have resumed cultural exchanges with a planned visit by a Japanese envoy to Beijing (SCMP) later this month to meet with Chinese education and culture ministers. The move comes after a long, heated row over the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands in the East China Sea.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Thirteen Children Die in Myanmar School Blaze
A fire at a mosque housing Muslim schoolchildren in Yangon killed at least thirteen children (AP). Police blamed an electrical problem, but many Muslims expressed suspicion that the fire had been set intentionally amid the country's sectarian unrest.
CFR's Josh Kurlantzick takes a look at Myanmar's escalating ethnic violence in this blog post.
INDIA: India's Supreme Court lifted a travel ban (WSJ) on the Italian ambassador to New Delhi after a diplomatic row over the alleged killing of two Indian fishermen by Italian marines.
UN Planning For Post-Assad Government
The UN is now considering all options including a peacekeeping force (al-Jazeera) as part of its plan if the government of Syria's Bashar al-Assad falls. While the international body has always anticipated a humanitarian role in the conflict, it now concedes it may have to go beyond that.
This CFR Expert Brief discusses the potentially inconclusive probe for chemical weapons in Syria.
TURKEY: Kurdish rebels in Turkey are demanding legal protection (Reuters) to prevent attacks during their planned withdrawal after an announced cease-fire that ended decades of fighting.
EU Begins Training Mission in Mali
The EU is launching a mission to train Malian soldiers (BBC) as part of its efforts to bolster a French-led intervention countering an Islamist insurgency. France is the biggest contributor to the 550-strong force, followed by Germany, Spain, and Britain.
KENYA: A Kenyan official said that the militant Al-Shabaab (AllAfrica) group may be training a local secessionist organization, the Mombasa Republican Council.
Eurozone Unemployment Hits 12 Percent High
Unemployment in the eurozone stayed at a record high (FT) of 12 percent in February, rising significantly from year-ago figures of 10.9 percent. The jobless rate highlights the cost of austerity measures and puts pressure on the European Central Bank to cut interest rates to stimulate growth.
Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico plan to sign an accord that rids tariffs (MercoPress) on 90 percent of products traded among the group at the Pacific Alliance summit in May in Colombia. The four countries total 35 percent of Latin America's total GDP.
VENEZUELA: Venezuela's interim president Nicolas Maduro promised to tackle escalating crime (LAT) as the presidential race begins. Maduro is heavily favored to beat Henrique Capriles in the April election.