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May 6, 2015

Daily News Brief

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Obama to Push for Gulf Regional Defense System

U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to push for U.S. support for the creation of a regional defense system (Reuters) in the Gulf to guard against potential Iranian missile strikes.  The move is seen as a bid to assuage concerns about a deal with Tehran on its nuclear program. Obama is set to host (WSJ) leaders from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. at the White House and Camp David next week. Meanwhile, regional tensions remain high, as Saudi-led air strikes continue in Yemen. An attack (Al Jazeera) on the southern Saudi city of Najran Tuesday by mortars fired from Yemen killed at least two civilians. Separately, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday that he will discuss a humanitarian pause (AP) to Saudi-led operations in Yemen when he arrives in Riyadh for talks with Saudi leaders on Wednesday and Thursday. 


"Even if the US security 'umbrella' is enhanced, most of the threats to the region are from destabilisation and chaos, not interstate wars. It is to tackle these threats to stability and security that the pan-Arab force is being created and for the same reason that Saudi Arabia and the GCC were swift to intervene in Yemen. The stability and prosperity of the GCC have been hard-fought and hard-won. A new security environment is needed to maintain that prize," writes the National.

"Concrete action speaks louder than words when it comes to resetting strategic relations between the two sides. There have been encouraging statements and deeds lately from the Obama administration, like challenging Iran and beefing up US naval presence to thwart Iran’s bullying in the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Aden. This is a good sign of standing up to Iran. But this has to be part of a comprehensive strategy, not a short-lived tactic," writes Abdullah Al Shayji in Gulf News.

"Affording all Yemenis, including the Houthis, the space to weigh in on the future of Yemen in partnership with their fellow Gulf citizens is the one crucial weapon at the disposal of the Saudis and their allies to gain the support of the millions of Yemenis silenced by the hard choices of this war," writes Sultan Barakat of the Brookings Institution. 

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China to Toughen Punishments for Pollution

The Chinese State Council said it will impose (SCMP) harsher punishments on officials whose policies are found to cause ecological damage. Local governments will be expected to ensure no further deterioration to air, water, and soil quality in their respective regions. Meanwhile Shanghai’s party chief announced new anti-corruption measures that limit (WSJ) local business activity by the spouses and children of high-ranking local officials.   

PHILIPPINES: Coast guards of Japan and the Philippines held (Reuters) joint anti-piracy exercises in waters off Manila Bay on Tuesday. The drill is the first since Japan and the Philippines signed a strategic partnership in 2012. Both countries are in maritime disputes with China in the South China Sea and East China Sea.

This CFR InfoGuide provides analysis and insight into China's maritime disputes.   


Four Men Sentenced to Death for Deadly Attack on Afghan Woman

An Afghan judge issued (TOLO) death sentences to four men for their role in the mob killing of a twenty-seven year-old woman in Kabul in March.  The victim, called Farkhunda, had been accused of burning the Quran (BBC), although witnesses say she did not. The judge sentenced another eight defendants to sixteen years in prison for committing violence against a woman; the remaining nineteen suspects in the attack will be sentenced on Sunday. Farkhunda’s death triggered protests across Afghanistan and sparked (RFE/RL) a movement to improve women's rights.

PAKISTAN: Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop arrived (Dawn) in Pakistan on Tuesday for a two-day visit. Both parties vowed to boost bilateral cooperation, including strengthening trade and economic ties, as well as enhancing cooperation to support Pakistan's fight against terrorism. 


Netanyahu Struggles to Form Governing Coalition

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a Wednesday deadline to form a governing coalition (Guardian), following the surprise resignation by Netanyahu’s foreign minister. The prime minister needs 61 seats in order to secure a narrow majority in the 120-seat parliament. If Netanyahu fails to meet the deadline, President Reuven Rivlin must ask another member of parliament to form a government. 


Kerry Makes Stop in Djibouti

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet (WaPo) with officials in Djibouti on Wednesday. The small coastal country has become strategically important to U.S. operations in Africa as both a launching pad for drone strikes against regional militant groups, but also as a site for people fleeing the deepening crisis in Yemen.

DRC: Two Tanzanian UN peacekeepers were killed (BBC) and another thirteen were injured in an ambush by suspected Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces, an Islamist rebel group, in northern Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday. The attack was the second on UN forces in two days. 


France Expands Spy Powers

Lawmakers in France's National Assembly voted 438 to 86 in support of a new surveillance bill (Deutsche Welle) on Tuesday that grants sweeping powers to French intelligence agencies, including the right to tap emails and telephones without judicial permission. The law has been criticized by civil liberties groups but has gained wider support in the wake of January's attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

EU: An EU policy paper released Tuesday calls for the creation of a global investment court (FT) to settle disputes between foreign investors and governments. The plan is seen as a move to diffuse controversy in the ongoing negotiations between the EU and the United States for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade deal.

This CFR Backgrounder sketches out the future of U.S. trade policy. 


United States Approves Cuba-Florida Ferry

The U.S. Treasury Department granted (Miami Herald) licenses for at least five companies to begin passenger ferry operations in the Florida Straits between Cuba and Florida on Tuesday. This is the latest step to improve bilateral ties following President Barack Obama's announcement last year to restore diplomatic relations between Havana and Washington.

This CFR Backgrounder provides an overview of U.S.-Cuba relations.

CUBA: President Raul Castro is set to hold "strictly private" talks (Merco Press) with Pope Francis at the Vatican on May 10, four months before the pontiff is to visit Cuba in late September. The Pope is slated to visit the United States following his visit to Cuba.