Top of the Agenda: Dim Hopes for Diplomacy as Syria Unravels
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested that there was only a"slim chance" of finding a solution (Reuters) to the crisis in Syria during his talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in Dublin on Thursday. While the officials agreed to hold a follow-up meeting in the coming days, fighting raged in Damascus suburbs and rebels declared on Friday that the capital's main airport (NYT) was a "fair target," warning travelers to use it at their own risk. NATO decided this week (AFP) to send U.S., German and Dutch Patriot missiles to the Turkish border, committing hundreds of U.S. and European troops to Syria's frontier for the first time since the war began.
"It is not just the Russians who dislike Turkey's Syrian policy. Even Mr Erdogan's pious base is airing doubts. In Ceylanpinar, Ismail Arslan, the mayor, complains that clashes between the rebels and Mr Assad's soldiers have turned his town 'into a hell.' Like many he believes that had Turkey not sided with the rebels, the war would have been kept away," writes the Economist.
"Putin has stuck with Assad for almost two years, allying with China to block action against his regime at the United Nations. And in response to American battle fatigue, Obama kept his head under the blankets, doling out just the minimum in 'non-lethal' aid to the rebels in Syria. Now there are signs that both the American and Russian leaders may be shifting towards common ground – Obama seemingly to embrace the rebels; Putin seemingly to loosen his embrace of Assad," writes Paul McGeough for The Sydney Morning Herald.
"The challenges here are not just for the US. Russia, which has stood firmly by Mr Assad, also has a responsibility to ensure the regime does not use WMD. The Soviet Union supplied Syria with much of its stocks. Moscow today has good knowledge of their location. Russia has a duty to help prevent the use of these weapons – a duty that trumps any residual loyalty the Kremlin may have to Syria's murderous regime," writes a Financial Times editorial.
Magnitude 7.3 Quake Hits Japan
A powerful earthquake hit northeastern Japan on Friday, triggering a one-meter-high tsunami that reached Ishinomaki (JapanTimes), although no injuries were reported. Japan had seen another massive earthquake and tsunami in early 2011 that killed more than 15,000 people and set off a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
NORTH KOREA: The United States is moving navy ships into position to monitor a North Korean rocket due to launch later this month (Bloomberg). Japan authorized its military to shoot down any part of the rocket that threatened the country.
CFR's Scott Snyder discusses the challenges a North Korean satellite launch poses for the region in this blog post.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Afghan Intelligence Chief Wounded
The head of Afghanistan's intelligence agency was wounded Thursday in a bombing attack in the capital. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the incident (WashPost), which marks the first to injure a senior government official since September 2011, when a Taliban suicide bomber killed former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani and four other government members.
INDIA: India's government won a second parliament vote on Friday allowing foreign supermarkets into the country, affording Prime Minister Manmohan Singh some runway to further economic reforms (Reuters).
Hamas Chief Goes to Gaza
Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas, arrived in the Gaza Strip on Friday to attend a mass rally, ending forty-five years of exile from the Palestinian territories in a visit that demonstrates fresh confidence (Al Jazeera) after the eight-day conflict with Israel. The rally commemorates the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of Hamas.
CFR's Robert Danin talks about Palestine's muddled statehood strategy in this blog post.
Ghana Votes in Heated Election
Ghana voted in a tight presidential election on Friday, drawing long lines at the ballots as President John Dramani Mahama vies for a first term (AFP) against main opposition candidate Nana Akufo-Addo. Ghana has had five elections since military rule ended in 1992, but expanding commercial oil production that began in 2010 has raised stakes this year.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Congolese rebels and government officials prepared for direct peace talks (NYT) on Thursday in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, marking the first face-to-face encounter since the rebels relinquished Goma.
Expert Jason Stearns talks about Congo's weak peace process in this CFR interview.
Hillary Clinton in Belfast
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Belfast, where she will meet Northern Ireland's ministers to discuss the peace process and economic opportunities, as part of a four-day trip to Europe that could be one of her last foreign engagements at her post. Her visit comes amid a revival of sectarian tensions (Telegraph).
GERMANY: Germany's cabinet approved on Thursday a move to send German Patriot air defense missiles (DeutscheWelle) to Turkey to protect the NATO member against possible attacks from Syria, and will send up to 400 troops to the Turkish-German border.
Chavez Absent From Mercosur Summit
Mercosur summit host Brazil confirmed Thursday that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who traveled to Cuba for further cancer treatment a week ago, would not be attending (ElUniversal) the regional trade summit in Brasilia. Venezuela was recently admitted to the trade bloc as a full member.
PARAGUAY: Mercosur ministers announced on Thursday that the suspension of Paraguay (MercoPress) from the trade bloc will stand at least until the coming presidential election in April 2013.
Poll Shows Support for Higher Taxes for the Wealthy
A Quinnipiac poll released Thursday shows that 65 percent of voters—including 41 percent of Republican voters—support raising taxes (Politico) on those earning over $250,000 per year, a cornerstone of President Obama's fiscal cliff plan. Thirty-one percent of all voters and 53 percent of Republican voters oppose the idea.