Fifty-seven representatives of the so-called Friends of Syria--countries that have imposed sanctions on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad--met in Paris yesterday to discuss ways to maintain financial pressure on the embattled Syrian regime (NYT). The conference comes amid a fragile UN-Arab League-engineered cease-fire between the Syrian military and opposition forces, which both sides claim has been undermined by the other. At the same time, a small team of UN observers is in Syria "setting up operating headquarters" before a total of 250 peacekeepers are deployed to monitor the cease-fire.
"And while Syrian troops did stop shooting, they did not pull heavy armor out of cities, as the Annan plan demands. But some whisper that the point of the plan is simply to make it more difficult, once it inevitably fails, for Mr Assad's friends to protect him," notes the Economist.
"What's often lost in the account of crisis given by po-faced humanitarians, with their pictures of dead bodies and tales of indecipherable evil, is how inspiring the revolt originally was for many ordinary Syrians. Virtually all the people I know in Syria have changed their opinions radically in the last year, and their demands have grown bolder and more ambitious," writes James Harkin for ForeignPolicy.com.
"As the violence endures, more men are heading back to Syria to smuggle in medicine and arms, and join the Free Syrian Army. This push to join the rebel cause has created an almost frantic need to get married and bear children among young men who fear they may die in combat," write Sophia Jones and Erin Banco for the Daily Beast.
NORTH KOREA: The Foreign Ministry yesterday rejected a recent agreement with the United States (NYT) to suspend its nuclear weapons program in exchange for food aid. The United States had already suspended the aid following a failed North Korean rocket launch last week, which was condemned by the international community.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
NATO Ministers Meet over Afghan Funding
The foreign and defense ministers of NATO member states are meeting in Brussels today to discuss a strategy for funding Afghan security forces after NATO troops fully withdraw (BBC) from Afghanistan at the end of 2014. Washington is expected to provide around $3 billion per year, while calling on other countries to contribute up to $1 billion.
This CFR Timeline examines the events that precipitated the U.S. war in Afghanistan as well as the history of the war.
MALDIVES: Former president Mohamed Nasheed, who was ousted by police and military officers in February, called on the international community to support early elections (Guardian), during a visit to Delhi. Both the United States and India have recognized the new administration of Nasheed's successor, President Mohammed Waheed Hassan, while calling for a government of national unity.
Egypt Panel Upholds Ban on Three Candidates
Egypt's presidential election commission upheld the disqualification of ten presidential candidates (LAT) yesterday, including Omar Suleiman, the spy chief under former president Hosni Mubarak; Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, an ultraconservative Islamist; and Khairat al-Shater of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The European economy could suffer an extended downturn if leaders fail to take stronger action to combat the eurozone debt crisis and facilitate growth (WSJ), the International Monetary Fund said yesterday. The world's finance ministers and central bankers are set to convene in Washington this week for semi-annual meetings of the IMF and the World Bank.
SPAIN: The Spanish government and those of other eurozone states are calling for the temporary European Financial Stability Facility to be amended so it can provide direct loans to ailing financial institutions (DerSpiegel), rather than just to governments. Germany has opposed such a move.
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.
Secret Service Prostitution Scandal Widens
U.S. investigators indicated that up to twenty-one alleged prostitutes (WaPo) may have been brought by U.S. Secret Service and military personnel back to a hotel in Cartagena, Colombia, ahead of President Barack Obama's visit for an economic summit last week. Eleven Secret Service agents and ten military officers are suspected of misconduct.
ARGENTINA: The Spanish government threatened retaliation (BBC) against Argentina after President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner moved to nationalize Argentina's largest oil firm, YPF, which is majority-owned by a Spanish company. At the same time, credit rating agency Moody's downgraded YPF's debt.
Obama Takes On Oil Speculators
President Barack Obama proposed new measures Tuesday to reduce oil market manipulation, with hopes that stiffer penalties will stave off false price fluctuations. The New York Times notes that the "nationwide average for gas prices is hovering near $4 per gallon--not far from the $5 per gallon that Mr. Obama's political advisers believe could cripple his re-election chances."
GOP front-runner Mitt Romney defended speculators (CNBC), and blamed the Obama administration for cutting back on licenses for drilling for oil on federal lands, offshore drilling, and fracking, as factors in driving up prices.
Economic confidence inched back up last week, according to Gallup, just two points below its four-year high three weeks ago. But confidence is heavily split along party lines, with 63 percent of Democrats saying the economy is getting better, compared with 24 percent of Republicans and 38 percent of independents saying the same thing.
Editor's Note: For more information on the presidential election and foreign policy check out CFR's campaign blog, The Candidates and the World.