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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
February 28, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: U.S. Non-Lethal Aid to Syria Marks Major Policy Shift

In a significant policy shift, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday that the United States plans for the first time to provide non-lethal aid (Reuters), including food rations and medical supplies, to Syrian opposition fighters battling Bashar al-Assad's regime. The Obama administration will also provide an additional $60 million (BBC), adding to the $385 million of humanitarian aid already given and $54 million in equipment, medical supplies, and other non-lethal assistance. Speaking at an international conference on Syria in Rome, Kerry said that the decision was the result of "the brutality of superior armed force propped up by foreign fighters from Iran and Hezbollah" (AP).


"If the Obama administration is to lead on Syria, it must commit itself to steps that can bring about the early collapse of the regime and its replacement by a representative and responsible alternative. Only direct political and military intervention on the side of the opposition can make that happen," writes a Washington Post editorial.

"If Mr Kerry is to have any diplomatic force in discussions he must be able to threaten an alternative. Mr Assad has cynically exploited the west's reluctance to intervene to stay in power. This bluff has to be called. This applies equally to the EU, which last week rejected a UK call to lift its arms embargo to allow shipments to rebels. If western powers continue to stand on the sidelines, the war will drag on," writes a Financial Times editorial.

"[If] the past is prologue, and more arms proved insufficient, advocates of arming the rebels would soon argue for direct U.S. intervention. The only strategy that stands a chance—and not even necessarily a very good one—is for the United States, the post-Assad Alawites, and the secular Syrian Sunnis to focus relentlessly on the common goal: stopping the victory of Islamic extremists," writes CFR's president emeritus Leslie H. Gelb for the Daily Beast.



Thailand Signs Historic Deal With Militants

Thailand signed a landmark deal with the militant Muslim group Barisan Revolusi Nasional, agreeing to hold talks in a bid to end the nine-year insurgency (PTI) in the country's restive south that has claimed more than five thousand lives. The deal was brokered by Malaysia.

CHINA: China will likely appoint two officials with deep experience in the United States, Japan, and North Korea to its top diplomatic posts (Reuters), signaling its foreign policy focus.

This CFR Timeline takes an interactive look at U.S.-China relations.



Bangladesh Sentences Jamaat-e-Islami Leader to Death

A special war crimes tribunal in Bangladesh sentenced Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee to death for war crimes (bdnews24) during the nation's 1971 fight for independence against Pakistan. The politically charged decision sparked violent protests.

SRI LANKA: The UK Border Agency put a halt on the removal of Tamils who have been refused asylum (Guardian), pending an assessment of the risk they face upon return to Sri Lanka.



Turkey's Erdogan Labels Zionism Crime Against Humanity

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Zionism a "crime against humanity" at a United Nations conference in Vienna Wednesday. The remark (Haaretz) comes after months of diplomatic mediation by the United States, Germany, and the UK to ease relations between Israel and Turkey.

CFR's Steven Cook asks whether Israel's new coalition will be able to fix relations with Turkey in this article.



Blair Defends Rwanda's Role in Congo

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair defended Rwanda over its alleged role (BBC) in backing the Congolese M23 rebel group, saying the causes of the war were complex and Kigali should not be singled out for blame. Roughly 800,000 people have been displaced since May 2012.

SOUTH AFRICA: South Africa cut its growth forecast (FT) after violent strikes in the mining sector that exacerbated a wider-than-expected budget deficit. The economy grew 2.5 percent in 2012.



Bulgaria Announces Elections

Resigned Bulgarian President Boyko Borisov announced that the country will hold an early election on May 12 (euronews). Borisov resigned last week after nationwide protests against electricity prices in the European Union's poorest state.

SLOVENIA: Slovenian lawmakers elected Alenka Bratusek as its first female premier (Bloomberg), replacing Prime Minister Janez Jansa in a bid to quell a political crisis as the country battles the threat of becoming the sixth euro member to need a bailout.



Brazil's Rousseff Takes Charge on Economy

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said on Wednesday that Brazil must cut its high business costs (MercoPress) to become more competitive, vowing to keep inflation under control. Rousseff anticipated heavy infrastructure investments in roads, railways, ports, and airports for the year.

UNITED STATES: The Senate confirmed Jack Lew as Treasury secretary (WaPo) Wednesday as the country faces potentially severe budget cuts, a lukewarm recovery, and an incomplete overhaul of financial regulations.

This CFR Task Force Report calls for the Obama administration and Congress to adopt a pro-America trade policy.



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