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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
February 13, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Obama Sheds Light on Foreign Policy in State of the Union

In a State of the Union address dominated by issues including the economy, gun control, and immigration, U.S. President Barack Obama offered what analysts called a rough sketch of foreign policy initiatives for his second term. On Syria (FP), he pledged to "keep the pressure" on the regime and "support opposition leaders"--a contrast to his remarks on the regime from last year's speech. The president chastised North Korea (TIME) for its nuclear test earlier in the day, saying the move "will only isolate them further." And on Iran, Obama stopped short of calling for direct talks, deferring to a "diplomatic solution." He also annouced the drawdown of more than half of the remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan--some 34,000--by the end of next year.


"This is the new American way of war: 'leading from behind' with smart bombs, surveillance, and logistical support in Libya and Mali; or 'advising and assisting' local armies waging their own fights against insurgents in Yemen and Uganda--but decidedly not sending tens of thousands of U.S. troops to launch an invasion or to rebuild societies afterward. In other words, no more Afghanistans," writes Fred Kaplan for Slate.

"Much of the foreign policy segment of the speech was defined by what he didn't mention: for the first time since the U.S. invasion a decade ago, a U.S. President did not mention Iraq in a State of the Union address. Obama was mum on the controversial Keystone-pipeline decision with Canada, Middle East peace, the pivot to Asia and closing Guantánamo. Most notably, he did not utter the words war on terror," writes Jay Newton-Small for TIME.

"President Barack Obama's speech Tuesday night further raised hopes that he is prepared to take action on climate change--but probably not right away. Instead, the president put most of the onus on an all-but-paralyzed Congress, with the threat that if lawmakers don't act, Obama will order agencies across his administration to come up with ways to address global warming 'for the sake of our children and our future,'" writes Darren Goode for Politico.



One Hundredth Tibetan Monk Self-Immolates

A Tibetan monk set himself on fire at a Kathmandu restaurant on Wednesday in the hundredth case (AFP) of self-immolation since the wave of protests against Chinese rule began in 2009. The cases are seen as a sign of desperation among Tibetans over perceived religious persecution.

THAILAND: A raid on a Thai military base killed sixteen Muslim insurgents (Reuters) on Wednesday in the deadliest violence in the country's south in nine years, marking a dangerous escalation of one of Asia's least-known conflicts.



NATO Air Strike Kills Afghan Civilians

A NATO air strike in eastern Afghanistan killed ten civilians (Guardian), five of them children, in an incident that could likely renew tensions between the coalition and Afghan president Hamid Karzai over civilian deaths.

PAKISTAN: The Pakistani Supreme Court on Wednesday threw out the petition filed by opposition figure Tahirul Qadri seeking reconstitution (Dawn) of the Election Commission of Pakistan.



Bahrain Police Break Up Manama Protests

Bahraini police fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse young protesters in Manama ahead of the two-year anniversary of the crushed uprising (al-Jazeera) against the king's uncle Prince Khalifa bin Salman, who has been prime minister for four decades.

SYRIA: Syrian rebels have captured a military air base (NPR) near the northern city of Aleppo a day after rebels in the northeast overran Syria's biggest hydroelectric dam.

Christiane Amanpour talks to UN Secretary of State Ban Ki-moon at CFR about Syria and other pressing international priorities in this video.



Zimbabwe Election Chief Resigns

Zimbabwe's election chief Simpson Mutambanengwe has resigned ahead of crucial polls this year, citing health reasons (BBC). The poll will mark the end of the shaky coalition he formed with President Robert Mugabe after the 2008 election, which was marred by violence.

AFRICA: Delegates for the Constituency for Africa met with outgoing U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, who is leaving after four years (CFA).



France Breaks Turkey's EU Deadlock

France reversed a block on Turkey's EU membership negotiations (FT) after a year of deadlock, relaunching Ankara's strained relationship with the bloc. Laurent Fabius, French foreign minister, told his Turkish counterpart on Tuesday that Paris had agreed to resume accession talks.

EUROPEAN UNION: The European Union and the United States agreed on Wednesday to launch negotiations on a free-trade and investment deal (WSJ) covering an economic relationship worth around $1 trillion.



Mexico Presents Crime Prevention Plan

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto launched a national plan on Tuesday to address gang violence (LAHT) blamed for 70,000 deaths in Mexico over the past six years, establishing a federal interdepartmental commission.

CFR experts take a look at the current situation in Mexico and prospects for a less violent future in this new video.



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