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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
January 9, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: U.S. Weighs Complete Afghanistan Withdrawal

U.S. officials have raised the possibility of a complete military withdrawal (Guardian) from Afghanistan for the first time as Afghan President Hamid Karzai arrived in Washington for three days of talks over military and economic ties. Some reports say that the Obama administration plans to slash forces by more than half (LAT) during the next sixteen months; Gen. John R. Allen, commander of the international forces in Afghanistan, had wanted to keep the majority of the 66,000 U.S. troops in place through the summer, traditionally the heaviest months of fighting against Taliban insurgents. On Friday, Karzai holds his first face-to-face talks with President Barack Obama since last year's NATO summit in Chicago.


"One of the preeminent fears that the U.S. and other Western countries have is the possible return of an al Qaeda safe haven, and a Kabul-based government that is busy buying off its foes in various regions won't be able to extend its writ throughout the country to prevent such a safe haven from reemerging," writes David Gartenstein-Ross for The Atlantic.

"A decorated Vietnam veteran acutely aware of the limits of military power, Chuck Hagel is likely to favor a sizable drawdown in Afghanistan, more frugal spending at the Pentagon and extreme caution when contemplating the use of force in places like Iran or Syria," writes Phil Stewart for Reuters.

"Any move to opt for exigency steps by undermining the fundamentals of power transfer will prove to be too costly. Obama, who in his first term dispensed with his promise of ending the Afghan war, has a responsibility to hand over a free and stable Afghanistan back to its sovereigns," writes an editorial for the Khaleej Times.



Chinese Publisher Resigns in Protest

Dai Zigeng, the Communist Party-appointed publisher of the Beijing News, resigned in the aftermath of a rare confrontation (SCMP) between Chinese journalists and censors on Tuesday night after a heated argument with propaganda officials over the publication of a controversial editorial.

NORTH KOREA: Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Wednesday that his private delegation is pressing North Korea to put a moratorium (AP) on missile launches and nuclear tests.



India Summons Pakistan's High Commissioner

India summoned Pakistan's high commissioner in New Delhi over the alleged killing (HindustanTimes) of two Indian soldiers along the countries' border in Kashmir. The Pakistani military has denied that the soldiers were killed.



Hamas and Fatah to Meet

The leaders of Fatah and Hamas are scheduled to meet in Cairo (al-Jazeera) with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in the latest round of reconciliation talks between the factions. Officials said Wednesday's talks would focus on setting up a unity government.

IRAN: Forty-eight Iranians held hostage by rebels in Syria since August have been freed (FNA), Iranian state TV reports. The Iranians were released in exchange for 2,130 prisoners held by the Syrian authorities, a Turkish charity said.



M23 Rebels Declare Cease-Fire

The Congolese M23 rebels have declared a unilateral cease-fire (NewTimes) ahead of the second round of negotiations with the Democratic Republic of Congo government in Kampala, Uganda, raising hopes that the conflict may come to a peaceful resolution.

SOUTH AFRICA: South African police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse striking farm workers (BBC) in the wine-producing Western Cape region. Talks between trade union and employer representatives broke down earlier this week.



French Students Take Twitter to Court

On Tuesday, France's main Jewish student organization asked a Paris court to order Twitter to reveal the identities of users (JTA) posting anti-Semitic comments. Tuesday's hearing came on the heels of a weekend of tweets using the hashtag #SiJetaisNazi, or #IfIWereANazi, which was one of the country's top five trending topics on Jan. 5. The court is expected to hand down a decision in the case on Jan. 24.

UNITED KINGDOM: Leading British business figures including Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group founder, and Chris Gibson-Smith, chairman of the London Stock Exchange, warned Prime Minister David Cameron not to "risk" EU membership (FT) in a letter to editor of the Financial Times on Tuesday.



Venezuela Postpones Inauguration

The Venezuelan government announced it would postpone the presidential inauguration of Hugo Chavez (MercoPress), originally scheduled for January 10, due to Chavez's continuing health problems after undergoing cancer-related surgery. The government did not specify when the swearing-in would take place.

COLOMBIA: The country's attorney general's office reopened a preliminary criminal investigation against former president Alvaro Uribe (AP), alleged to have been involved with far-right paramilitary groups during his tenure as state governor in the 1990s.



The National Security Shift

The nominations of Chuck Hagel, John Kerry, and John Brennan, known for being deeply suspicious of the wisdom of U.S. military interventions around the world, may indicate an attempt by President Obama to quell many of the internal administration debates that have played out in the Situation Room over the past four years, reports the New York Times.

In this blog post, CFR's Micah Zenko discusses Brennan's confirmation hearing.



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