Top of the Agenda: Grim Chances for Syrian Cease-Fire
Violence continues in parts of Syria despite the passing of a UN-backed deadline for a total withdrawal of government troops and heavy weaponry. The development does not bode well for a full cease-fire set to come into force on Thursday. Opposition groups reported violence in Homs (BBC) and areas of the northern Aleppo province, as well as conflict in Damascus. Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said the Assad regime has tried to comply with the scheduled withdrawal, but blamed "armed gangs" for the ongoing hostilities. Muallem said a cease-fire could only occur when a team of international observers arrived. The UN estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed in the rebellion against the Assad's regime, which started more than a year ago.
"Assad has continued his pattern of empty promises with the latest effort by the United Nations to halt the killing. Though he has pledged to cooperate with Annan, he has defied his attempts to establish dialogue between the regime and the opposition. And unsurprisingly, as soon as Assad agreed last month to Annan's proposed April 10 deadline for the regime to impose a cease-fire and withdraw its troops from Syrian cities, he began paving the way for his continued defiance," writes Radwan Ziadeh in the New Republic.
"The United States must walk a fine line in Syria. On the one hand, should Assad and his regime fall, Washington and its allies would rejoice. Syria is Iran's oldest and closest Arab ally, has long opposed Israel, has backed Palestinian terrorist groups, and, at times, has aided anti-U.S. forces in Iraq. On the other hand, Washington knows that should the entire state collapse, it would usher in a horrific humanitarian crisis, and could bring along with it terrorism and even regional war," writes Daniel Byman in Foreign Affairs.
In Foreign Policy, Sophia Jones and Erin Banco write on the spillover of Syrian violence into Lebanon and Turkey, "With the end to the conflict nowhere in sight, Syria's refugees have found little comfort in escaping Assad's brutal crackdown. They left Syria in the hope of finding safety and peace, but violence still seems to follow them wherever they go."
China Returns to Trade Surplus
After a large deficit in February, China reported a surprising trade surplus (WSJ) for the month of March. Analysts say weak imports are largely responsible for the surplus--news that may cast doubt over the country's economic outlook.
The Chinese government has jailed land rights lawyer Ni Yulan (BBC) and her husband Dong Jiqin on several charges including "provoking trouble and willfully destroying private and public property." The couple is known for helping people whose homes have been taken by the government.
Egypt Court Opposes Makeup of Constitution Panel
An Egyptian court ruled against the composition of a panel tasked with drafting the country's new constitution (Bloomberg). Critics of the 100-member panel have said it was controlled by Islamists and excluded secularists.
Registration is now closed for Egypt's upcoming presidential election. CFR's Steven A. Cook discusses major contenders, including the Muslim Brotherhood's Khairat al-Shater and last-minute entrant Omar Suleiman, Hosni Mubarak's one-time spy chief.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Cameron to Make Landmark Visit to Myanmar
UK Prime Minister David Cameron will become the first major Western leader to visit Myanmar (FT) since the West placed sanctions on the military regime in the late 1990s. The visit will likely be part of Cameron's multi-country trip to Asia.
AFGHANISTAN: Local Afghan police reported that at least eighteen people were killed in two separate attacks: one in the western Herat province, and the second in the southern Helmand province. Several police officers died in both attacks. The Taliban (al-Jazeera) claimed responsibility.
This CFR timeline examines the events that precipitated the U.S. war in Afghanistan as well as the history of the war.
Market Bomb Kills Eleven in Somalia
An explosion killed at least eleven people and wounded many others in the strategic Somali town of Baidoa. The attack was the worst since al-Shabaab (AFP), an insurgent group allied with al-Qaeda, was forced from the town by Ethiopia-backed Somali troops.
NIGERIA: Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, one of three candidates competing to lead the World Bank (Bloomberg), interviewed with the organization's board of directors. Okonjo-Iweala said she would focus the Bank's efforts on creating jobs and increasing the response time to clients' requests.
CFR's Thomas J. Bollyky discusses U.S. President Obama's nomination of Jim Yong Kim to lead the World Bank in this op-ed for the New York Times.
European Court Backs Terrorist Extradition to U.S.
The European Court of Human Rights issued its support for the extradition of Abu Hamza and four other terror suspects (BBC) from the UK to the United States. The court ruled there would be no violation of human rights for the suspects who may face life and solitary confinement in a U.S. "supermax" prison.
NORWAY: Anders Behring Breivik, the confessed killer of seventy-seven people in a Norway rampage (AP), has been found to be not criminally insane, according to a psychiatric assessment. The ruling contradicts a previous assessment and could lead prosecutors to seek jail time for Breivik in his upcoming trial, instead of psychiatric care.
Brazil-U.S. Talks Turn to Currency
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff pushed U.S. President Barack Obama on the currency issue (WSJ), suggesting that an expansive U.S. monetary policy may be inundating Brazil and other developing countries with speculative dollars that overvalue local currencies and potentially harm growth.
VENEZUELA: A Costa Rican diplomat, Guillermo Cholele, was kidnapped in Venezuela (AP), and his captors are demanding a ransom. Cholele's abduction is the latest in a string of kidnappings in recent months that have included representatives from Mexico and Chile.
Poll Finds Romney and Obama Even on Economy
According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, 51 percent of voters said they would vote for President Obama in a general election, while 44 percent said they would vote for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The poll also found that Romney and President Obama are nearly even with voters polled on the issues of the economy and job creation, with Romney getting a four-point lead over the president on the jobs issue. The other issues where Romney showed a lead are on energy policy and the budget deficit.
Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum challenged President Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney on Israel policy in a New York Daily News op-ed.