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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
June 27, 2014

Top of the Agenda

Spurred by Iraq, U.S. to Boost Support for Syrian Rebels

The United States moved toward a joint Iraq-Syria policy, recognizing the two conflicts are intertwined, as U.S. secretary of state John Kerry arrived in Jeddah on Friday to consult with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, the Syrian opposition's most prominent backer, and Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Jarba (Daily Star). His visit comes a day after U.S. president Barack Obama requested that Congress appropriate $500 million to train and arm "appropriately vetted" members of the Syrian opposition forces (NYT), which would mark a significant elevation of U.S. involvement in Syria's civil war. However, military and State Department officials said specific plans had not yet been drawn up. The proposal, which has been awaited since Obama's West Point commencement address in late May, was accompanied by an additional $1 billion to help stabilize Syria's neighbors (AP).

Analysis

"ISIS has a bad track record at institutionalizing local alliances, but the possibility still exists because the Maliki government's unwillingness to broaden the space for Sunni political participation makes ISIS' job far easier. Even Sunnis who are skeptical of the radical Islamists or believe they can use and then dispense with them may end up caught between an uncompromising regime and a formidable ISIS. If ISIS has learned from its bloody past, it will avoid picking unnecessary fights with these Sunni factions and instead try to slowly integrate them into its own structures. For American and Iraqi policymakers, time is of the essence: the longer ISIS can take advantage of this lack of other Sunni options, the more likely it is to transform into a resilient armed presence," writes Paul Staniland for Political Violence at a Glance.

"Syrian rebels opposed to ISIS have pointed in the past to the apparent hesitation of Mr Assad's forces to attack ISIS as proof of its tacit co-operation with the regime to weaken other rebel groups. But the radical jihadists' gains in Iraq, including its capture of arms and cash, are now tilting some Syrian rebel groups back towards wanting to ally with ISIS. Some local rebel militias in eastern Syria are now said to be declaring their allegiance to it. In any case, the collapse of Mr Maliki's forces in northern and western Iraq appears to have persuaded the Syrian government, perhaps with urgings from its close ally, Iran, to take the threat of ISIS more seriously," writes the Economist.

"Sealing off Syria's external borders -- and its internal one with the Kurdish region -- would help contain jihadist groups and interdict ISIS suicide operators coming to Iraq while the United States works with the Iraqi government to win over moderate Sunnis and, possibly, launches drone strikes against ISIS positions. This could be bolstered through the creation of a U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force to coordinate cross-border operations. Meanwhile, allying with the Arab tribes on both sides of the border will undermine ISIS support in its key Sunni Arab demographic. This could result in a foreign policy twofer, helping address both the current situation in Iraq and Syria and the broader jihadist threat over the long term," writes Andrew Tabler in Foreign Affairs.

 

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PACIFIC RIM

Uighur Scholar to Fight Chinese Separatism Charges

Detained Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, a critic of China's policies in western province of Xinjiang, will fight charges of inciting separatism (NYT), his lawyer said. He also said Tohti had been denied food by authorities (SCMP).

PHILIPPINES: The U.S. Navy and Philippine forces began combat drills on Thursday as commanders played down links to a maritime dispute with China (WSJ).

Jennifer Lind critiques the United States' pivot strategy in Foreign Affairs.

 

SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA

Thousands March in Kabul to Protest Electoral Fraud

Thousands of protestors joined presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah in a march on the president's palace on Friday to protest alleged systematic fraud in the runoff election (TOLO). Abdullah's campaign released additional audio and video purporting to back these claims on Thursday. The electoral commission is expected to release preliminary results next Wednesday.

PAKISTAN: Pakistan and Afghanistan on Thursday agreed to establish a joint working group to coordinate counterterrorism efforts (Dawn). Pakistan's North Waziristan campaign has been stymied by militants crossing the porous border, which some Pakistani commanders accuse Afghanistan of tolerating (WaPo).

CFR's Janine Davidson corrects common misconceptions about armed drones.

 

MIDDLE EAST

Israel Identified Kidnapping Suspects

Israel named two Hamas militants as prime suspects in the kidnapping of three teenagers in the West Bank (Haaretz). Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated calls for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to break his recent reconciliation pact with Hamas, which has been further strained by the financial burden of paying two sets of salaries (NYT).

LIBYA: Mourners across Libya held vigils to commemorate Salwa Bugaighis, a leading human rights activist who was killed by gunmen in Benghazi on Wednesday (Al Jazeera).

 

AFRICA

U.S. Boosts CAR Aid as Violence Flares

Nearly seventy people in the Central African Republic have been killed in four days, a peacekeeping officer said (AFP). The surge in sectarian massacres comes as the United States is boosting its aid to CAR and neighboring countries where refugees have fled by $51 million (Guardian).

SUDAN: Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese Christian woman who was rearrested Tuesday after her release from death row, where she had been sentenced on apostasy charges, has taken refuge in the U.S. embassy in Khartoum (Guardian).

 

EUROPE

Three Former Soviet States Sign EU Pacts

Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova signed association agreements at the EU's Brussels summit to boost economic and political ties with the European Union. Russia warned of "grave consequences" (Reuters).

This CFR Backgrounder explains the Eastern Partnership, the EU's leading policy initiative to forge closer ties with its eastern European neighbors.

UKRAINE: A cease-fire will end Friday evening if talks between government forces and rebels fail to yield an agreement, Kiev said. Meanwhile, clashes continued in the country's east, and separatists released four military observers from the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe after more than a month of captivity (WSJ). Some 110,000 Ukrainians have fled for Russia this year, and another 54,000 are internally displaced, the UN refugee agency said Friday (AP).

 

AMERICAS

U.S. Lawmakers Cite Dim Prospects for Immigration Deal

Leading lawmakers said Congress is unlikely to reach a compromise on comprehensive immigration reform until after President Obama leaves office, despite the passage of a Senate bill with bipartisan support (WaPo) a year ago.

CFR's interactive timeline explores U.S. immigration policy from the post-World War II period to the present.

ARGENTINA: Argentina deposited $832 million in New York to meet interest payments on restructured debt by a Monday deadline (FT), a move that put it at odds with a U.S. federal court, which ruled Thursday that the country cannot repay its main bondholders without also paying hedge funds that held out against the restructuring (NYT).

In Foreign Affairs, Felix Salmon examines Argentina's loss before the U.S. Supreme Court.

 

 

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