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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
February 12, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: North Korea’s Third Nuclear Test Draws International Concern

North Korea confirmed on Tuesday that it had completed its third nuclear test (NYT) in defiance of existing UN resolutions, with preliminary estimates suggesting a test far larger than the previous two conducted by the North. The move drew international condemnation (Yonhap), including stern protest from its only major ally, China, which summoned the North Korean ambassador in Beijing. U.S. President Barack Obama labeled the test a "highly provocative act," pressing for new sanctions, while Russia urged the North to abandon its nuclear arms program and return to talks. The Security Council will meet on Tuesday to discuss its reaction to the test (BBC).


"To improve the strained relationship with the United States, Mr. Xi could start with getting tougher on North Korea, harnessing China's clout with the outlier government to help slow down its nuclear program. If Mr. Xi does not help in curbing the North Koreans, he will almost certainly face accelerated ballistic missile defense efforts by the United States in Northeast Asia, especially with Japan, an unpalatable situation for China," writes Jane Perlez for the New York Times.

"The US and its allies could push for measures against foreign companies doing business in North Korea, which include the Egyptian telecoms group Orascom and the Swiss hotel operator Kempinski. But such proposals would be resisted by Beijing: Chinese companies have been mining North Korea's abundant mineral resources on a growing scale, and the country's ports have potential strategic importance as China seeks to boost landlocked regions of its under-developed northeast," writes Simon Mundy for the Financial Times.

"[The] cycle of North Korean tests and international sanctions has clearly not succeeded in altering the trajectory of North Korea's nuclear program. The UN Security Council now faces the task of trying to punish North Korea for its defiance of prior resolutions while fashioning a response that prevents North Korea from moving closer to having a capacity to mount a nuclear weapon on a missile," writes CFR's Scott Snyder.



China Becomes Largest Trading Nation

According to its customs administration, China has become the world's biggest trading nation in goods (Bloomberg), with its combined total for imports and exports reaching $3.87 trillion in 2012. The United States registered $3.82 trillion, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.



Indian Police Shoot Tribesmen

Indian police killed eight people during a shootout of hundreds of tribesmen and women in the northeastern state of Assam on Tuesday after violence broke out during village council elections (Reuters). Rabha tribesmen opposed the elections, saying they infringed on tribal law.

KASHMIR: A young boy was shot by security forces during a protest of the hanging of Mohammad Afzal Guru (AFP), a Kashmiri Muslim convicted in a deadly 2001 attack on the Indian parliament.



Iran Converts Uranium

Iran's foreign ministry said the country is converting some of its higher-grade enriched uranium into reactor fuel (al-Arabiya), a process which, if expanded, could buy time for negotiations between Washington and Tehran on its disputed nuclear program.

CFR's Carla Robbins discusses the consequences of Iran's reluctance to negotiate over its controversial nuclear program in this interview.

ISRAEL: Israel has given approval for ninety new settler homes in the occupied West Bank (al-Jazeera), intensifying a rift with Washington ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit.



Sudan, Darfur Rebel Group Sign Cease-Fire

The government of Sudan signed a cease-fire (UNNS) with one of the main rebel factions in Darfur after negotiations began last month in Qatar. The agreement now lays the groundwork to launch talks on issues like power and wealth-sharing, and the return of displaced refugees.

MALI: A senior UN official said that Mali's government is "hesitant" over the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force (BBC), as it has yet to give the green light for such an operation.



France Urges Action on Euro

France on Monday called for action by the world's major economies to counter the strength of the euro (Reuters), fearing damage to economic recovery, but Europe's finance ministers said it was up to markets to decide the currency's value.

This CFR Backgrounder delves into the structure and role of the European Central Bank.

TURKEY: A bus believed to have been packed with explosives (euronews) detonated at a crossing point between Turkey and Syria, killing at least thirteen people.



Latin America Hopes Next Pope Among Them

After the surprise resignation announcement of Pope Benedict yesterday, Vatican officials said his successor could well be a Latin American, according to a MercoPress article. The region represents 42 percent of the world's 1.2 billion Catholic population.

MEXICO: Mexican government officials and trade executives are scrambling for ways to minimize damage to its tourism industry (LAT) as violence has called into question the government's ability to control crime.

This new CFR video goes in-depth into Mexico's drug war.



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