Top of the Agenda: U.S., Allies to Aid Syrian Rebels
The United States joined dozens of other countries at the Friends of Syria conference in Istanbul yesterday in agreeing to send communications equipment to Syria's opposition groups (NYT). Arab countries pledged $100 million to opposition fighters, who remain under continued assault by Syrian government forces. The decision to aid the Syrian army defectors, known as the Free Syrian Army, brought the international Friends of Syria coalition closer to military intervention in Syria. The move came as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad apparently failed to implement a peace plan developed by Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria.
"Saudi Arabia is emerging as the opposition's treasury and arsenal--raising the prospect of the Syrian civil war turning into a proxy Sunni-Shia conflict between Sunni Saudi Arabia and its arch-enemy, Shia Iran, a long-time backer of the Assads. That's a nightmare scenario which U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been working hard to avert," writes Newsweek's Owen Matthews.
"But Syrian security forces have continued firing on civilians in direct contradiction of the Annan plan's terms; it's clear by now that Assad will leave office only if he feels sure that the alternative is a bullet in his head. The real danger is that he will comply with the peace plan just enough to further divide the international community," writes James Traub for ForeignPolicy.com.
"In Syria, there are more numerous and amorphous opposition groups in play. These groups are populated with elements from Hamas, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda. This leads to monumental challenges when trying to decide who to support and whether to provide arms," writes CFR Mlitary Fellow Col. Chad Manske for GlobalPost.
Suu Kyi Claims Victory in Myanmar Poll
Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi claimed victory in Myanmar's parliamentary by-elections (WSJ) on Sunday. The National League for Democracy apparently won at least forty-three out of forty-four of the seats it contested, including Suu Kyi's in a constituency south of Rangoon.
A Pakistani court sentenced former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's three widows and two of his daughters to forty-five days in jail and a fine of $114 each for illegal residency. The women, whose sentence began with their arrest on March 3, are expected to be deported in two weeks (BBC).
Pakistan has emerged as a terrorist sanctuary for some of the world's most violent groups, including al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and homegrown militants, that threaten the stability of Pakistan as well as the region, explains this CFR Backgrounder.
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Names Presidential Candidate
In a significant reversal, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood put forward a candidate to stand in Egypt's presidential election in May, the first to be held since longtime leader Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year. The candidate, Khairat al-Shater, is a wealthy businessman and a longtime financial backer (CNN) of the Brotherhood.
Tuareg rebels, or the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, captured Timbuktu in northern Mali, and called for negotiations with the government (al-Jazeera). Meanwhile, Amadou Sanogo, who ousted Mali's president in a coup over a week ago, agreed to reinstate the constitution and hold elections.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych may allow imprisoned former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko to receive urgent medical treatment in Berlin (DerSpiegel). Tymoshenko was sentenced last October to seven years in prison for allegedly abusing her position as prime minister, in a trial criticized by the international community.
Vladimir Putin's reelection as president raises concerns over domestic reforms and relations with Washington. Russia's future will be determined by Putin's handling of opponents and whether opposition forces can build a viable political force, says CFR's Stephen Sestanovich in this CFR Interview.
Argentina, Britain Mark Falklands Anniversary
Argentina and the United Kingdom marked thirty years since Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, prompting a seventy-four-day military conflict (Telegraph) between the two countries that left 255 British and 649 Argentine troops dead. The anniversary came amid heightened Argentinean-British tensions over the sovereignty of the islands, a British overseas territory.
Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich (CBS) said that the Obama administration's energy policies are keeping oil prices from dropping in the same way natural gas prices have gone down as U.S. production has risen, discounting the suggestion that turmoil in the Middle East and increased demand from China also factor into pricing.
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