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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
February 21, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Car Bomb Targets Ruling Baath Party in Damascus

At least thirty-five people were killed when a car bomb (AP) exploded near the headquarters of Syria's ruling Baath party and the Russian embassy in the center of Damascus on Thursday. Rebels have tried to push the front lines of fighting to central Damascus (Reuters), which has been relatively insulated so far from the civil war, and the latest bombings and the recent mortar attacks suggest they may be shifting to guerrilla tactics to destabilize the seat of Assad's power. The attack comes as the opposition Syrian National Coalition met in Cairo and said it was willing to negotiate a peace deal to end the conflict with the condition that any peace deal must be under the auspices of the United States and Russia (al-Jazeera).


"One of the central tenets of the opposition structures is that there can be no negotiation while Bashar al-Assad and his inner circle remain in power. If that is breached, the problem will be not just with political dissent from within the coalition, but also with fighters on the ground, where jihadist groups such as the Nusra Front have increasingly been making the running," writes Jim Muir for the BBC.

"The shocking development this past weekend of Moaz Al-Khatib, the new head of the opposition Syrian National Council, reaching out to talk to the Assad regime via the Russians and Iranians, Assad's closest allies, is an indication that the opposition leader now realizes that Assad cannot be defeated on the battlefield at this juncture, as many originally thought possible," says CFR's Ed Husain.

"Despite appearances, it would be remarkably straightforward to convene a peace conference for Syria that would have a good chance of negotiating an end to the conflict and initiating some kind of political process. The problem is that such a peace conference would have to be a Big Tent, to include Iran, Hezbollah, Russia, China, the Assad regime, as well as the Gulf states and the Western powers, among others," writes Tarak Barkawi for al-Jazeera.



China's Bo Xilai on Hunger Strike

Disgraced former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai has staged hunger strikes (Reuters) in protest of the Chinese government's investigation into him, Reuters reported. Bo, who was ousted from his post last year following his wife's murder of a British businessman, was at one point treated in a hospital.

SOUTH KOREA: South Korea and the United States will stage annual joint military drills next month amid heightened tension (Yonhap) on the Korean peninsula following North Korea's recent nuclear test.

This CFR video outlines three things to know about North Korea's nuclear tests.



India's Workers Protest

Millions of workers walked off their jobs on Wednesday in a two-day nationwide strike (HindustanTimes) called by Indian trade unions against high inflation and rising fuel prices triggered by what they say are anti-labor reforms.

PAKISTAN: A bomb that ripped through a CD shop in Peshawar killed at least one person after Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban, issued warnings (PakistanToday) to Internet cafes and shop owners to relocate.



Tunisia's Leading Party Could Give Up Monopoly

A Tunisian official said Wednesday that the ruling Ennahda Party could give up its monopoly (al-Arabiya) over select ministries, although the resigned government will continue its duties until a new prime minister is chosen to succeed Hamadi Jebali.



Confusion Around Cameroon Hostage Situation

Uncertainty surrounds the fate of a French family kidnapped in Cameroon after unconfirmed reports said they had been freed (BBC). A French minister confirmed the news before backtracking, while a Cameroonian minister denied it. French President Francois Hollande has speculated they were taken by the Islamist group Boko Haram.

MALI: Malian troops opened fire on the mayor's office in the northern town of Gao on Thursday in an attempt to dislodge the remaining Islamist rebels from the town (France24), which was retaken from al Qaeda-linked Islamists last month.



Rajoy Prepares Fresh Round of Reforms

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy pledged a second wave of reforms to stimulate the sputtering economy (FT) during a speech at parliament's annual debate on the state of the nation. Rajoy also revealed that Spain's budget deficit had fallen to below 7 percent of GDP in 2012.

Spain's corruption scandal is unlikely to have repercussions for the country's long-term economic outlook, argues expert Alfredo Pastor in this CFR interview.

ITALY: Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, warned Italians on Thursday not to back former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi at the ballot box (Reuters).



John Kerry Makes Case for Foreign Aid

John Kerry used his first major speech as U.S. secretary of state to defend Washington's role in international affairs and foreign aid, as well as the cost of diplomacy (WaPo). Kerry will begin his first foreign trip next week with visits to European and Arab capitals in a tour that will focus on Syria.

MEXICO: A Human Rights Watch report faulted Mexico's government for nearly 150 unaccounted disappearances (NYT) at the hands of Mexico's military during its drug war.

This new CFR video delves into Mexico's bloody drug war that has claimed thousands of lives.



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