Top of the Agenda: U.S. Imposes New Sanctions on Iran
U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order (NYT) implementing new economic sanctions against Iran that will freeze all property of the Iranian Central Bank, the Iranian government, and the country's financial institutions in the United States. The new rules could also penalize financial institutions in other countries that conduct business with the Iranian Central Bank. The move is meant to limit the central bank's ability to sell oil on the international market by blocking its payments.
The sanctions are part of a broader U.S. and European effort to penalize Iran over its nuclear program, which the West contends is for the manufacturing of nuclear weapons. The EU recently passed an embargo on Iranian oil that will come into effect in July.
"Toughening sanctions may placate Israel for a time and allow President Obama to demonstrate concrete action to pressure Iran as distinct from the campaign-trail saber-rattling of his Republican challengers. But the prospects are, at best, uncertain that tougher sanctions combined with the threat of military action will force Iran to back down," writes TIME's Tony Karon.
"The single biggest danger in the Middle East today is not the risk of a six-day Israeli war against Iran. It is the risk that Western wishful nonthinking allows the mullahs of Tehran to get their hands on nuclear weapons. Because I am in no doubt that they would take full advantage of such a lethal lever. We would have acquiesced in the creation of an empire of extortion," writes Niall Ferguson in Newsweek.
"Unending military threats unite Iranians and fire up their resistance. Economic sanctions weaken and divide them--and often produce constituencies for compromise. Give sanctions time to play out," writes CFR's Leslie H. Gelb at TheDailyBeast.com.
U.S. Eases Myanmar Sanctions
The United States partially waived sanctions against Myanmar's military-backed government, paving the way for the country to receive technical assistance from international financial institutions (BBC). The move came as opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi began campaigning for a parliamentary by-election.
JAPAN: Japanese trade officials will meet their U.S. counterparts in Washington today to discuss Japan's entry into a group of nine nations negotiating a regional free-trade agreement in the Pacific, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (WSJ). Japan faces domestic opposition over the move, as well as skepticism by U.S. labor unions.
Trade accounts for an increasing portion of the U.S. economy, and the Obama administration has embraced a ramped up export strategy. But debate persists over the merits of a vigorous free trade agenda, explains this CFR Backgrounder.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Maldives President Resigns
Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed resigned his post today after weeks of anti-government protests (al-Jazeera) that culminated in the police siding with demonstrators during clashes with the army in the capital of Male. Vice President Mohammed Waheed Hassan was sworn in as the country's interim leader.
PAKISTAN: U.S. General James N. Mattis, the head of Central Command, is set to travel to Pakistan this month to meet with General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief of staff, to discuss a NATO cross-border raid (NYT) that killed twenty-four Pakistani soldiers in November, significantly damaging strategic relations between the two countries.
Amid increasing fears of a civil war in Syria following the failure of the UN Security Council resolution, analysts remain divided over the question of intervention and how best to address the crisis, explains this CFR Analysis Brief.
MALI: More than 1,500 Malian refugees have fled to neighboring Burkina Faso (AFP) since the Tuareg Azawad National Liberation Movement launched an offensive in northern Mali last month. Thousands of Malians have also escaped to Niger and Mauritania, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.
Greek Workers Strike as Budget Talks Resume
Greek civil servants and private sector workers launched a nationwide strike today to protest fresh austerity measures (WSJ), while Prime Minister Lucas Papademos sought to rally support for those pending budget cuts in order to secure a crucial $170 billion EU-IMF bailout loan.
FRANCE: German Chancellor Angela Merkel campaigned for French President Nicolas Sarkozy's April reelection bid (Reuters). Merkel said that she and Sarkozy--center-right politicians who have jointly led the effort to battle an ongoing eurozone sovereign debt crisis--belong to "two friendly political parties."
The eurozone, once seen as a crowning achievement in the decades-long path of European integration, is buffeted by a sovereign debt crisis of nations whose membership in the currency union has been poorly policed, explains this CFR Backgrounder.
BRAZIL: Soldiers clashed with the supporters of police (AP) who have been occupying the state legislature building in Salvador, Bahia, on Monday. A third of Bahia's police force launched a strike against low pay and poor benefits last week.
Gingrich Criticizes Trials of Americans in Egypt
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said that he would take a tough stance against Egypt (LATimes) for its plan to criminally prosecute nineteen Americans working for pro-democracy groups. Gingrich said he would take steps that include, but are not limited to, stripping Egypt of the $1.3 billion in military aid.
A new Gallup poll shows economic confidence dropped in all states in 2011, an issue that is expected to play a major role in the 2012 presidential election.
Editor's Note: Click here for more CFR 2012 campaign resources, which examine the foreign policy and national security dimensions of the presidential race.