Top of the Agenda: Syrian Army Takes Strategic Town
The Syrian army has taken full control of the strategic town of Qusayr (BBC), near the Lebanese border, with the help of fighters from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. The military leader of the Free Syrian Army said earlier that rebels were prepared to take the conflict inside Lebanon in pursuit of Hezbollah. Meanwhile, France and the UK (Guardian) confirmed that medical samples smuggled out of Syria tested positive for the nerve agent sarin, and have submitted the evidence to a UN investigation. The claims come just after a new report from a UN commission of inquiry on human rights abuses also cited evidence of chemical weapons use. U.S. President Barack Obama has warned Syria that use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line."
"British intervention in Afghanistan was aided not only by a far higher degree of domestic financial and political support than can be garnered for Syria, but was driven by the political will and economic clout of the United States, the world's unchallenged superpower at that time. In spite of that commitment, we have remained in Afghanistan for over a decade with a dubious record of success. What hope for a Syrian intervention – whether military or humanitarian?" writes Mark Field for the Telegraph.
"[Political support] could not alone have saved Assad had he not been able to count on perhaps the most vital if often overlooked source of power at his disposal--the unexpected cohesion of Syria's military, especially its army. Despite a large number of defections, the Syrian military remains one of the largest and best trained forces in the Arab world, at around 290,000 strong," writes Brian Stewart for CBC.
"Opening a discussion on [Assad's] departure will be unrealistic because this is simply something he will not want to discuss. It's also something the Russians will not want to discuss, and given the opposition's lack of unity, and given the fuzziness of the Obama administration--its priority is not to get caught up in the Syrian situation--the advantage will ultimately turn to those who have clear ideas: the Russians, Iranians, and Syrian [loyalists]," says Michael Young in this CFR interview.
Malaysia Calls for South China Sea Development
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called for territorial claimants in the South China Sea to jointly develop resources to avoid conflict (Bloomberg), siding with China's push for joint development of the waters. Vietnam and the Philippines reject such an effort.
This CFR Backgrounder outlines the escalating territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
MALAYSIA: Violent clashes between Muslims and Buddhists in Myanmar have spread to Malaysia (MalaysianInsider), killing four Myanmar nationals and injuring another eight.
CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick discusses Myanmar's alarming civil unrest in this Expert Brief.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Nawaz Sharif Calls For End of Drones
Pakistan's newly elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for an end to drone strikes (TNI) after his official election on Wednesday. Sharif is the first prime minister in Pakistan's history to be elected three times.
AFGHANISTAN: Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, an American soldier accused of killing sixteen Afghan civilians during raids on two villages last year, will plead guilty (AP) to avoid the death penalty.
Turkey Deputy PM Apologizes for Crackdown
Turkey's deputy prime minister apologized Tuesday (LAT) for the police crackdown on anti-government demonstrators as authorities eased their earlier use of tear gas and water cannons against protestors in Istanbul's Taksim Square.
Mali Fights Tuareg Rebels
The Malian army said it seized the village of Anefis after battling Tuareg separatists, marking the first fighting (Reuters) since a French-led military offensive launched in January ended the rebels' ten-month domination of Mali's desert north. Mali's army is heading towards the rebels' last stronghold of Kidal.
ETHIOPIA: Ethiopia downplayed suggestions by Egyptian politicians that Cairo, which depends on the Nile, should sabotage Ethiopia's new Nile River dam (AP).
IMF Urges France to Reform
The International Monetary Fund called on France to lower its labor costs (BBC) and halt tax hikes to boost both growth and competitiveness, saying the gap between Paris and its European neighbors will widen unless the country introduces fresh reforms.
LATVIA: Latvia received official endorsement (NYT) for membership in the euro currency on Wednesday, a move that would make it the eighteenth EU country to adopt the euro.
U.S. National Security Adviser Resigns
Tom Donilon is resigning as U.S. President Barack Obama's national security adviser (AP) and will be replaced by Susan Rice, currently the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, according to an AP report. The move would mark a significant shakeup for Obama's national security team.
MEXICO: China signed a series of trade accords (WSJ) with Mexico during Chinese President Xi Jinping's trip through Latin America. Xi meets with U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday and Saturday.