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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
March 8, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: John Brennan Confirmed as CIA Director

The U.S. Senate confirmed John Brennan on Thursday as the next Central Intelligence Agency director by a vote of 63-34 after a thirteen-hour filibuster (LAT) by Senator Rand Paul generated extraordinary scrutiny of the administration's drone strike program. Analysts say the marathon filibuster scrambled the usual partisan landscape (WaPost) in Washington, with some Republicans attacking Paul for criticizing the president, while liberals and Democrats supported him. Brennan, a CIA veteran and former station chief in Saudi Arabia, has served as Obama's top counterterrorism adviser for the past four years.


"For an activity that has become the defining tactic of U.S. foreign policy, it is notable how little congressional members and staff members on both sides of the aisle know about targeted killings. They raise many concerns that go far beyond the statutorily limited oversight conducted by the intelligence and armed services committees," writes CFR's Micah Zenko.

"The White House appears to have misjudged the downside of its stances on transparency and how it could bend existing legal principles to justify the program — complicated by political miscalculations, fumbles by the attorney general and growing concern among some segments of the public," writes Josh Gerstein for Politico.

"What's more extraordinary: that the US Senate is repeatedly asking the Obama White House whether the president has the power to secretly order US citizens on US soil executed without charges or due process, or whether the president and his administration refuse to answer? That this is the 'controversy' surrounding the confirmation of the CIA director - and it's a very muted controversy at that - shows just how extreme the degradation of U.S. political culture is," writes Glenn Greenwald for The Guardian.



North Korea Vows to End Non Aggression Pact

North Korea vowed to nullify nonaggression pacts (LAT) with the South in defiance of the UN Security Council's new sanctions on the country. Earlier this week Pyongyang vowed to break the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War in 1953 and pledged a preemptive strike on the United States.

CFR's Paul Stares discusses three things to know about North Korea's nuclear test in this video.

MALAYSIA: The Sultan of Sulu ignored Malaysia's call for his extradition after his followers took over a village in a territorial claim (GulfNews) over the resource-rich Sabah region of Malaysia.



India to Halt Oil Imports From Iran

India is prepared to halt all crude imports (Reuters) from Iran, as insurance companies in the country have reported that refineries will no longer be covered due to Western sanctions. India is Iran's second-largest buyer, taking around a quarter of its exports worth around $1 billion a month.

PAKISTAN: Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf is scheduled to visit India on a pilgrimage (WSJ) to the shrine of a Sufi Muslim saint. Meanwhile, India's prime minister said that bilateral relations with Pakistan can't normalize unless Islamabad controls terrorism.



UN Peacekeepers Abandon Post in Syria

Eight UN peacekeepers left their posts (Haaretz) in the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria on Friday in light of continued fighting, and were brought into Israel by the Israel Defense Forces. A group of Filipino soldiers from the same battalion was kidnapped by Syrian rebels earlier this week.

KUWAIT: Osama bin Laden's son-in-law was captured (al-Arabiya) and is due to appear in a New York court on Friday on charges of plotting with the al-Qaeda leader to stage attacks on Americans.



Kenyatta Leads Kenyan Polls

Uhuru Kenyatta has been taking a lead in Kenyan elections (BBC) as vote-counting enters its fourth day, tallying just under the 50 percent mark with around 75 percent of constituencies declared. If he fails to secure more than 50 percent, he will face a runoff vote against rival Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

SOMALIA: The northwestern breakaway region of Somaliland expressed discontent (Garowe) over the UN Security Council's decision to partially lift the twenty-one-year-old arms embargo ban on Somalia.



Russia Won't Ask Assad to Back Down

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that Moscow won't press Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down (IBT), but maintained that a negotiated settlement needs to be reached to end the Syrian civil war.

The pitched battle for Syria's future could eventually pull the country apart, says Mideast expert Mona Yacoubian in this CFR interview.

VATICAN: The last of the 115 cardinals who will elect the new pope have arrived in Rome (AP), meaning a date can now be set for the conclave to choose a successor to Pope Benedict XVI.

The election of pope to lead the world's one billion Catholics stirs debate over the spiritual authority of the pontiff and the church's role in the world, explains this Backgrounder.



World Leaders Attend Chávez Funeral

Dozens of world leaders arrived in Caracas for the state funeral (VOA) of the late president Hugo Chávez, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Cuban President Raul Castro. The United States is sending a diplomatic delegation.

CFR's Julia Sweig gives an analysis of how Hugo Chávez saw himself as a transitional figure in Venezuelan history.



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