Top of the Agenda: Bilateral Relations Chill as Russia Expels USAID
The Russian government accused the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) of meddling in the country's political process and has ordered it to close its doors after two decades of service (BBC). Analysts say the decision will put pressure on bilateral relations, as President Obama seeks to "reset" ties between the two permanent members of the UN Security Council. Moscow has grown increasingly wary of non-governmental organizations, which it says have provoked civil unrest--including protests surrounding the reelection of President Vladimir Putin (NYT) earlier this year. USAID launched operations in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union, focusing nearly $3 billion on a range of development issues including human rights, civil society, health, and the environment.
"A clear condemnation of Putin's actions is necessary out of principle and to show support to those brave Russians who are fed up with authorities' rampant corruption, abuses and heavy-handed tactics. Tens of thousands of Russians turned out at anti-Putin demonstrations last December, this spring and again on Saturday, despite the threat of arrest and beatings. Western governments should show unwavering solidarity with them," writes Freedom House's David J. Kramer in the Washington Post.
"With their roving camps, human chains, and white ribbons, the antigovernment protesters who have filled Moscow's streets since Russia's disputed legislative elections last December have shaken the old certainties about politics in the Putin era. More than any other event since President Vladimir Putin's rise to power 12 years ago, the protests have put the Kremlin on the defensive," write Mikhail Dmitriev and Daniel Treisman in Foreign Affairs.
The decision to scale back joint operations between NATO and Afghan forces may lessen opportunities for Western troops to be gunned down by "insider attacks," but it raises troubling new questions about President Barack Obama's strategy to stabilize Afghanistan, writes Reuters' Phil Stewart.
PAKISTAN: In the continuing fallout over an anti-Islam film, several hundred lawyers in Islamabad on Wednesday forced their way into the diplomatic enclave that houses the U.S. embassy, shouted anti-U.S. slogans (AP), burned an American flag, and called for the U.S. ambassador to be expelled from the country before peacefully dispersing.
Jalili Says Latest Nuclear Talks Fruitful
Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, reported progress (AP) in talks in Istanbul to restart negotiations over Tehran's nuclear program, saying that he and European foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton a day earlier had assessed some "common points" reached by technical teams and discussed "what can be done for a new cooperation."
SYRIA: Rebels attempted to seize control of a border crossing on the Turkish frontier (Reuters) and were seen removing the Syrian flag on Wednesday after fighting that caused school closures on the Turkish side.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir are scheduled to hold a summit in Ethiopia next week to wrap up negotiations over a border security deal (Al Jazeera) that would allow for the resumption of oil exports needed by both countries. Border disputes led both countries to the brink of war in April.
A manhunt near the Mexico-U.S. border is under way for more than 130 inmates who escaped (AP) from a northern Mexican prison earlier this week. Mexican authorities said they suspected the involvement of the Zetas drug cartel, locked in a brutal turf war with rival gangs.
UNITED STATES: Striking teachers in Chicago, the third-largest U.S. school system, are going back to the classroom today. The deal raises teacher pay but also institutes for the first time a teacher evaluation system (ChicagoTribune) that measures student performance.
The inadequate performance of U.S. K-12 students raises national security concerns, says a CFR Independent Task Force on Education that calls for greater accountability by schools on student performance.
Speaking yesterday in Virginia--a state with a large military population where President Obama has been leading recently--Paul Ryan criticized Obama ove looming defense budget cuts (WashPost) that will occur next year unless Congress reaches a deal to reduce the national debt.