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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
January 30, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Envoy Decries Syria's 'Horrors'

International uproar heightened on Tuesday as the bodies of more than seventy Syrian men and teenagers were found on the banks of a river (BBC) in Aleppo's rebel-held western district, with indications they were executed summarily. U.N.-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, whose tenure ends in February, criticized (al-Arabiya) the UN Security Council's Geneva Declaration for being too vague, saying the conflict has reached "unprecedented levels of horror." More than $1.1 billion has been pledged to aid civilians in the conflict that has so far seen 700,000 refugees (Reuters) flee to neighboring countries.


"Moscow, then, ultimately sees the West and Russia as having similar interests in preserving the status quo in Syria. Sadly, it has been the pusillanimous Western—and especially American—reaction to the popular uprising against the Assad regime that has contributed to this Russian misperception," writes Mark Katz for Syria Deeply.

"Washington had gone wobbly on chemical weapons. With the deterrent value of the president's remarks in question – and one unconfirmed report that Syria used a chemical agent in Homs on December 23 – the chemical specter remains. This raises the key question: Would Obama really stand by if the Syrian government gassed thousands of its citizens?" writes Bennett Ramberg for Reuters.

"In some ways, Washington's overt – and covert – support for the rebels is playing into President Bashar al-Assad's hands, allowing him to claim he is fighting foreign intervention rather than domestic dissent, while also giving him space to fight back as brutally as he wants with no immediate threat of military involvement by the US, NATO, or other western powers," writes al-Jazeera.



Australian PM Sets Early Election Date

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has called a general election for September 14, eight months in advance (SMH), with plans to dissolve parliament in mid-August. Analysts say the move relinquishes one of the biggest advantages of incumbency.

SOUTH KOREA: South Korea successfully launched its first space rocket (Yonhap) on Wednesday after two previous launches in 2009 and 2010 failed.

CFR's Sheila Smith addresses U.S. policy in northeast Asia in this Presidential Inbox series.



Pakistan PM Vows to 'Crush' Anti-Democratic Forces

Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said on Wednesday that the demand to dissolve the Election Commission of Pakistan was unconstitutional (Dawn), adding that the government will still hold elections in a few weeks and would "crush" anti-democratic forces trying to destabilize the country.

MYANMAR: Myanmar's government has lifted a ban (NPR) on public gatherings of more than five people, saying the law was removed because it violated the constitution.



Israel Boycotts UN Human Rights Review

Israel refused to send representatives to a United Nations review of human rights practices on Tuesday, becoming the first country to boycott the council meeting (Haaretz). In March, Israel stopped cooperating with the council after it launched a committee to investigate Israeli settlements.



French-Mali Forces In Kidal

French forces say they have taken control of the airport in Kidal (NYT), the last major northern Mali town still in rebel hands. French and Malian forces have been sweeping north, earlier taking Gao and Timbuktu with almost no resistance in their drive to push Islamic militants out of the country.

CFR's Stewart Patrick and Isabella Bennett discuss how Libyan weapons fueled Mali's violence in this blog post.

ALGERIA: UK Prime Minister David Cameron visits Algeria (Guardian) on Wednesday in an effort to forge an alliance against terrorism in north Africa.



Berlin to Host Talks With Egypt's Morsi

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi flew to Berlin on Wednesday for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel and to seek European support (DerSpiegel) for his embattled regime. Morsi will likely face tough questions from the country's third-largest trading partner over the violence and unrest in Egypt.

CFR's Steve Cook talks about Morsi's mistake and the error behind the uproar in Egypt in this Foreign Affairs article.

GREECE: Greece's central bank governor said that the worst of Greece's crisis is over (FT), as ten-year government bond yields dropped below ten percent for the first time in more than two years.



Senator John Kerry Confirmed as Secretary of State

The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved Senator John Kerry as the next secretary of state (WaPo) Tuesday afternoon, with only three Republican "no" votes, clearing the way for Kerry to formally take over from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday.

PARAGUAY: Paraguay, suspended from regional trade bloc Mercosur, has requested to become an observer of the Alliance of the Pacific (MercoPress), a group comprising Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Chile.



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