Top of the Agenda: Despite Cease-Fire, Conditions Not Met by Assad
A fragile cease-fire seems to be holding in Syria, but in defiance of the UN-backed deal, President Bashar al-Assad has failed to pull back troops (Reuters) and heavy artillery from many towns. Opposition activists and Western powers remain highly skeptical of the regime's intentions. Kofi Annan, who helped broker the agreement, is scheduled to update the UN Security Council at 2 p.m. GMT. Western governments are trying to persuade Russia to drop its veto and allow the Council to ratchet up the diplomatic push for Assad's ouster. Annan has proposed a team of about 250 unarmed UN personnel to observe the cease-fire. A Norwegian general who has been in Damascus the past week negotiating plans for a UN peace-keeping mission said he was "cautiously optimistic" on the prospect.
"The regime of President Bashar al-Assad is still in power and seems fairly well entrenched in the sense that the military is willing to support it. As long as that's the case, it's hard to see things changing. The one thing that could make a real difference is if there were a more unified and concerted pressure from the international community, which would mean that Russia and China would have to stop protecting Assad," says Tamara Cofman Wittes, Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
On ForeignPolicy.com, Steven Walt discusses whether the West should arm the Syrian opposition, and the implications of a post-Assad Syria: "The composition of a post-Assad state in Syria is anyone's guess, but there are plenty of contenders for power who are wary of the West in general and the U.S. in particular. A post-Assad Syria would still be buffeted by its neighbors and other interested parties, especially if outsider powers are supporting different factions. And the greater the level of force needed to topple him, the harder it will be to put Syria back together afterward."
Philippines Pulls Warship From Standoff With China
The Philippines has withdrawn its largest warship from the scene of a naval standoff with China in the South China Sea (BBC). Both countries claim the shallow waters off of the Philippines' northwest coast. Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said diplomacy was being sought to resolve the issue.
Given the growing importance of the U.S.-China relationship and the Asia-Pacific region to the global economy, the United States has a major interest in preventing the disputes in the South China Sea from escalating militarily. This CFR Contingency Planning Memo examines the issue.
NORTH KOREA: The first day of the five-day window proceeded without a North Korean rocket launch (CNN), as the United States and its allies in region wait with anxiety. Pyongyang said it will launch its controversial rocket sometime between today and Monday, between 7 a.m. and noon.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Kashmir to Enter India-Pakistan Peace Talks
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said his country is willing to discuss the disputed region of Kashmir as part of peace talks with Pakistan. In turn, Mathai emphasized that Islamabad must take firm action against militants that target India.
AFGHANISTAN: President Hamid Karzai is considering whether to host the next presidential election (AP), currently scheduled for 2014, a year early to reduce the pressure on Afghanistan that may increase with the withdrawal of foreign combat troops around the same time.
To Evade Sanctions, Iran Sweetens Oil Deals
In an effort to skirt Western sanctions, Iran is offering advantageous credit terms to boost its oil sales (FT). The marketing ploy comes just days before negotiations are set to begin between Tehran and Western nations over Iran's nuclear program.
Upcoming negotiations are shadowed by Iran's increasing uranium enrichment capabilities. Four nonproliferation experts provide a path for resolving the intensifying nuclear dispute. All agree on the need to address immediate proliferation risks, including halting Iran's accumulation of 20 percent enriched uranium.
Interim President Takes Office in Mali
A new interim president, Dioncounda Traore, assumed office and returned Mali to civilian rule (AP) three weeks after a military junta overthrew the country's democratically elected ruler. Traore is scheduled to lead Mali for just forty days, but analysts say organizing new elections will take longer.
SUDAN: Sudanese aircraft bombed strategic targets in South Sudan (al-Jazeera), as violence between the two recently divided nations entered a third day. The strikes came after the South occupied the oil-rich border town of Heglig, which is internationally recognized as part of Sudan.
Greece to Hold National Elections May 6
Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos asked President Karolos Papoulias to dissolve the parliament and announce the national elections (FT), now set for May 6. Opinion polls indicate the former coalition partners in the center-right and center-left parties may have trouble winning voters angered with the prospect of multi-year austerity.
The eurozone, once seen as a crowning achievement in the decades-long path of European integration, is a buffeted by a sovereign debt crisis of nations whose membership in the currency union has been poorly policed.
ITALY: Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti is turning from the economy to a focus on corruption in the wake of a recent party-financing scandal (Bloomberg). Among other things, the anti-corruption package will aim to broaden the criminal definition of corruption to include the private sector, and tighten procedures regarding the statute of limitations.
Chavez Returns Home Following Cancer Treatment
President Hugo Chavez returned home to Venezuela (News24) following a third round of radiation treatment in Cuba. Two more are scheduled. The 57-year-old communist strongman vows to overcome his illness and win reelection in October.
MEXICO: Shares of Royal Dutch Shell fell upon news that it was investigating the origin of "a light sheen" of oil in the Gulf of Mexico (BusinessWeek). The firm said there was no indication the oil came from its well, but has deployed an oil-spill response ship and is monitoring the situation with aircraft.
In an effort to garner support for the "Buffett Rule," a proposed change in tax laws that would set a 30 percent minimum income tax for people earning more than $1 million annually, the Obama campaign website on Wednesday began offering a chance for voters to calculate and compare their tax rates to that of Mitt Romney.
Editor's Note: For more information on the presidential election and foreign policy check out CFR's campaign blog, The Candidates and the World.