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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
February 26, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Italy's Deadlock Vote Roils Markets

Italy's final election tally resulted in a deadlock (FT), torn three ways between the anti-establishment Five Star Movement headed by comedian Beppe Grillo; Pier Luigi Bersani's center-left coalition; and Silvio Berlusconi's center-right alliance, raising the prospect of a second election within months. But both the center-left and center-right said they were not in favor of returning to the polls (GazettaDelSud); Berlusconi said he was open to working with Bersani, but ruled out striking a deal with the outgoing Premier Mario Monti. The results saw a spike in bond yields (WSJ) and a sharp sell-off in equities as investors faced political gridlock in the eurozone's third-largest economy.


"Italy is far more likely to deliver any serious piece of legislation on labour market reform, competition in the service sector, or regional reforms within a grand coalition than within a more normal partisan majority," writes Wolfgang M√ľnchau for the Financial Times.

"One unanswered question is whether Beppe Grillo will be open to a deal. Would his movement support, say, a centre-left coalition in exchange for widespread reforms of the political system? We don't know. Buoyed up by success he has only promised to clear out the political class. Sooner rather than later the country will hold another election," writes Gavin Hewitt for the BBC.

"So, far from producing a government that could continue or at least maintain the reforms implemented by Monti, which helped narrow the difference between country's borrowing costs and Germany's by more than half, the vote has made Italy appear ungovernable. It has raised the prospects of another election this year, where Grillo could be a contender for the top prize," writes Andrew Davis for Bloomberg.



South Korea's Park Meets Top U.S. Security Official

South Korea's newly inaugurated President Park Geun-hye met with U.S. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and other high-level delegations Tuesday, continuing a flurry of diplomacy a day after taking office. North Korea is expected to be a key topic (Yonhap) in the meeting.

CFR's James Lindsay delves into the identity and policies of South Korea's new leader in this blog post.

THAILAND: Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is meeting her Malaysian counterpart in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday and may seek his help to broker a peace deal (BangkokPost) with separatist rebel groups.



Myanmar's Thein Sein Begins First Europe Trip

Myanmar President Thein Sein is set to embark on his first visit to Europe (AFP), where he will hold both bilateral and high-level EU talks as the fast-reforming country deepens ties with the West. Sein will visit Norway, followed by Finland, Austria, Belgium and Italy.

CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick revisits the role of China in Myanmar in this blog post.

SRI LANKA: A new report says that Sri Lankan security forces committed crimes of sexual violence (Economist) against ethnic Tamils in state custody between 2006 and 2012. The country defeated the Tamil rebels in 2009 after twenty-six years of civil war.



Six-Party Talks With Iran Resume

Talks between Iran and six world powers over its nuclear program (NYT) resumed in Kazakhstan on Tuesday after an eight-month pause. With Iranian presidential elections in June, senior Western diplomats expressed skepticism that Tehran will be willing to compromise on this round.

ISRAEL: The militant Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade claimed responsibility for a rocket (Haaretz) fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel on Tuesday, marking it the first since Operation Pillar of Defense ended last November.



Kenya Holds Last Election Debate

Eight Kenyan presidential candidates clashed in a final debate (TheStar) a week before the general elections, discussing issues including the economy, corruption, election violence, and natural resources. The 2008 elections had seen violence that claimed more than 1,100 lives.

This Contingency Planning Memorandum outlines how the U.S. can prevent further electoral violence in Kenya.

MALI: A manifesto left by Islamists in Mali criticized militants (BBC) for implementing Islamic law too quickly and predicted France's intervention. The document is reported to contain advice by the head of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.



Little Progress in German Talks With Turkey

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Turkey's ascension to the EU failed to bridge differences (DeutscheWelle) on key topics like Cyprus, although both leaders hailed strong economic ties.



Syrian Opposition to Hold Talks With Kerry

Syrian opposition leaders agreed Monday to meet Secretary of State John Kerry at an international conference in Rome (AP) after first threatening to boycott the session that was hailed as the centerpiece of Kerry's first overseas trip.

BRAZIL: Brazil's 2014 election season (MercoPress) began last week with the unofficial launch of President Dilma Rousseff's reelection campaign by her predecessor Lula da Silva.



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