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October 5, 2015

Daily News Brief

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Assad Warns of Destruction in Middle East

In his first public comments since Russian airstrikes began, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said failure to defeat the self-proclaimed Islamic State could result in the “destruction” (Guardian) of the Middle East. Assad also said he would be willing to leave office if his departure was part of the solution, but he accused the West of supporting terrorism. Western states say Assad’s brutality is a chief reason for the rise of terrorist forces in his country. Assad's interview on Iranian TV comes as Russia vowed (Moscow Times) to step up its aerial campaign. Separately, Turkey accused a Russian jet of violating (AFP) its air space over the weekend. Meanwhile, militants of the Islamic State destroyed (Al Jazeera) the Arch of Triumph at the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, according to a monitoring group.


"For Moscow, the main risk in Syria is overextension. During the initial surge against ISIS, the coalition is likely to rally around their common goal. But as the campaign wears on, and especially if situation in the Assad-held parts of Syria stabilizes, the interests of coalition members may diverge. Iran and Syria may seek to take the battle further eastward and northward, hoping to fully restore Syria to Assad. Moscow may have more limited goals and will seek to switch to settlement and stabilization as soon as possible," writes Dmitry Adamsky in Foreign Affairs.

"If the West ignores the Middle East or addresses the region's problems only through military means (the US has spent $2 trillion in its Afghan and Iraqi wars, only to create more instability), rather than relying on diplomacy and financial resources to support growth and job creation, the region's instability will only worsen. Such a choice would haunt the US and Europe—and thus the global economy—for decades to come," writes Nouriel Roubini in Project Syndicate.

"Putin may be able to use Russia's military actions in Syria as important leverage. The presence of Russian forces in Syria ensures that any decision on Syria's future cannot be made without Moscow's participation. It is not a coincidence that in the 48 hours since Russia launched its air raids in Syria, the intensity of diplomatic contacts between Moscow and the West have increased. Yet if the West soundly rejects Putin’s initiative—paltry though it may be—the outlook for Syria could become even grimmer," writes Nicolay Kozhanov in Reuters. 


Deal Reached on Trans-Pacific Partnership

The United States, Japan, and ten other Pacific Rim countries reached an agreement (WaPo) on Monday on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, after five years of negotiations. The trade deal, which ties together 40 percent of the world’s economy, has been the cornerstone of the Obama administration's “pivot” toward Asia.

This CFR Backgrounder discusses the future of U.S. trade policy.

MYANMARSeven armed ethnic groups in Myanmar will sign (Irrawaddy) a long-awaited cease-fire with the government on October 15, although ten of the seventeen groups convened said they would abstain (VOA) from the accord. Negotiators had hoped to reach a nationwide cease-fire to end six decades of fighting ahead of November elections.

This CFR Backgrounder tracks Myanmar's political evolution.


MSF Withdraws From Kunduz After Bombing

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) ceased operations (Al Jazeera) in Kunduz, Afghanistan, after an airstrike it blamed on U.S.-led forces destroyed its hospital, killing twenty-three people. The U.S. Department of Defense is investigating (TOLO) the incident, and MSF has demanded an independent inquiry (BBC) into the bombing, claiming the strikes were war crimes.         

CFR's Micah Zenko looks at the causes of civilian deaths in Afghanistan in this blog post.

INDIA: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inked (Times of India) an agreement to fast-track business approvals that will make it easier for German firms to operate in India. The two leaders also signed eighteen memoranda of understanding to boost bilateral ties in defense manufacturing, trade, intelligence, and clean energy.


Iraq Opens Fortified Green Zone

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi opened (AFP) Baghdad's fortified Green Zone to the public for the first time in twelve years on Sunday. The Green Zone, a four-square-mile area that houses top government buildings and foreign embassies, was closed after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Separately, at least twenty-four people were killed on Saturday in twin suicide blasts (Al Jazeera) in northwestern Baghdad.


World Bank: Extreme Poverty Reaches Record Lows

The World Bank said that the world's population living in extreme poverty will fall (BBC) below 10 percent, a record low, by the end of 2015; half of that population lives in sub-Saharan Africa. The bank is using a new income figure of $1.90 a day, up from $1.25, to define extreme poverty.

This CFR Backgrounder provides an overview of the UN's new Sustainable Development Goals.

NIGERIA: Militants loyal to the self-proclaimed Islamic State claimed responsibility (Vanguard) for suicide bombings outside the Nigerian capital of Abuja over the weekend that killed at least eighteen people and injured forty-one others. Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the militant group largely based in Syria and Iraq in March.


Erdogan in Belgium Amid Migrant Crisis

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Brussels on Sunday, where he will meet with EU leaders. Erdogan's trip, officially a state visit, is expected to be dominated (Reuters) by the escalating migrant crisis and the conflict in Syria. Meanwhile, a German report said authorities are expecting 1.5 million asylum seekers (EU Observer) by the end of the year.

This CFR Backgrounder explores the European migrant crisis.

PORTUGAL: Portugal's center-right ruling coalition, lead by Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, won (Bloomberg) the country's general election over the weekend, securing 99 of 230 seats. The election results are widely seen as a vote of confidence after years of austerity measures.


Brazilian Authorities to Question Former President in Corruption Case

Brazil's top court ruled that officials conducting a corruption scandal investigation into state oil giant Petrobras will be allowed to question (LAHT) the country's former president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Lula will be questioned as a witness and not as a suspect.

UNITED STATES: The U.S. Supreme Court's new term opens (NYT) on Monday. The court is expected to decide cases on public unions and affirmative action in higher education.