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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
January 16, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Launch of French Ground Assault Heightens Mali Conflict

French troops are set for their first major ground combat (France24) with Mali rebels as they head north towards Diabaly, where France has been carrying out air strikes since Saturday after rebels seized the town. With the first units of an African force arriving on Wednesday to bolster the French presence, Nigeria will be leading the African intervention in the country, with the deployment of about 200 soldiers. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has admitted that Malian forces around Diabaly have been struggling to combat (BBC) the well-armed rebels, and that the war effort would be a long one.


"The political situation in Mali is also a complicated one. An interim government has held power in the country since a military coup d'├ętat last March. In recent days, government leaders have promised to hold elections in April, but it is impossible to know just how serious they are about democracy," writes Matthias Gebauer for Der Spiegel.

"Many Nigerians inside the government have maintained that Boko Haram has links with international jihad networks, especially al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), one of the leading elements among Mali's Islamic insurgency. Mali has used that claim as a basis of requests for outside help. If such links do exist on meaningful terms, it would seem likely that Boko Haram will escalate their attacks in northern Nigeria in solidarity with its Islamic brothers," writes John Campbell for CFR.

"The outcome could seal France's role in Africa for decades. At best, it is a chance to rescue a country destabilized by arms flooding in from the 2011 war in nearby Libya which France, under ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, helped to promote. But if it goes wrong, it could burden France with accusations of neo-colonialism on a continent which it wants as a trading partner to boost its own flagging economic vitality," writes Mark John for Reuters.



Japan, Vietnam Discuss Ties

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with Vietnamese PM Nguyen Tan Dung (Reuters) in Hanoi on Wednesday on the first leg of Abe's tour to Southeast Asia, where he will also visit Thailand and Indonesia. Trade, infrastructure projects and China's maritime ambitions are expected on the agenda.

This CFR Backgrounder outlines the territorial row in the South China Sea.

SOUTH KOREA: South Korea will make another attempt to put a satellite in orbit (AFP) at the end of this month. Following failed bids in 2009 and 2010, a successful launch is considered crucial to its commercial space ambitions.



Militants Bomb Afghan Spy Agency

Six suicide bombers attacked the gate of the Afghan intelligence agency (AP) in Kabul on Wednesday, reportedly killing several and wounding at least thirty civilians. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the incident, which marks the second attack aimed at the spy agency in two months.

CFR's Stephen Biddle talks about the looming stalemate in Afghanistan in this interview.

INDIA: Indian economic growth may rebound in 2013 (Bloomberg), although likely falling short of the government's 8 percent target as inflation risks limit the lowering of interest rates.



More Than Eighty Killed at University Bombing in Aleppo

At least eighty-two people were killed in two explosions Tuesday at a university in Syria's northern city of Aleppo (LAT), where government and rebels each control about half of the city. Activists speculated the attack was in retaliation to the school's protests against President Bashar al-Assad.

CFR's Steven Cook reflects on the events in Syria in the past year in this blog post.

SAUDI ARABIA: U.S. President Barack Obama met Saudi Arabia's new interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, to discuss security and regional issues (al-Arabiya). Nayef has garnered praise of Western governments for his efforts against al-Qaeda.



Foreigners Abducted in Algeria

Islamist militants in Algeria seized five Japanese nationals and a French citizen from a gas production facility in southern Algeria on Wednesday. Reports surfaced that Algerian troops had mounted an operation to rescue the hostages (Reuters).



Serbia Hints at UN Seat for Kosovo

Serbia suggested the chance of a seat for Kosovo at the United Nations on Tuesday in what would be a major concession (Reuters) to its former province as Belgrade tries to clear a path to joining the European Union.

UNITED KINGDOM: At least two people were killed after a helicopter in central London hit the top of a crane and crashed near MI6's headquarters, although a terrorist attack has been ruled out (Telegraph).



Chavez Names New Foreign Minister

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, still hospitalized in Cuba, named former vice president Elias Jaua as new foreign minister (LAHT). Jaua left the number two post last year to make an unsuccessful bid for the Miranda state governorship, which went to former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles.

ARGENTINA: Argentina and the United Arab Emirates signed a nuclear energy agreement (MercoPress) during the official visit to Abu Dhabi of Argentine president Cristina Fernandez.



Obama to Announce Gun Law

President Barack Obama's gun control proposals, to be announced on Wednesday, will include a new federal gun trafficking law that has long been sought by city mayors as a way to prevent out-of-state guns from entering cities (Politico). The package will also include a call for universal background checks for all new gun purchases and new bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.



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