Top of the Agenda: South Korea, U.S. Drills Begin Amid Peaking Tensions
South Korean and U.S. troops launched their annual joint drills (BBC) on Monday amid heightened military tension after North Korea threatened to scrap the peninsula's 1953 Armistice Agreement and launcha preemptive nuclear attack against the United States. Despite Seoul's new unification minister seeking dialogue (Yonhap), the North also announced Monday that it had carried out its threat of cutting off the Red Cross communication hotline (WSJ) with South Korea. The drills come days after the UN approved new sanctions on North Korea following its February nuclear test.
"While the chances of a major military provocation against the South are not considered to be very high, analysts believe it is more likely that we will see provocative behavior taking the form of pressure on the US to come to the negotiating table," writes Kim Kyu-won for The Hankyoreh.
"Chinese foreign policy experts fret that taking too hard a line against North Korea, or being seen as openly siding with Washington, could trigger either more bellicose acts from Pyongyang or even the regime's collapse – both scenarios which Beijing views as worse than the status quo," writes Kathrin Hille for the Financial Times.
"In the past, North Korea has raised the fear of accidental or uncontrolled military clashes along the border as a way to push Washington into bilateral talks. The North, officials in South Korea say, craves the prestige that such a dialogue would confer on it, but it would undoubtedly demand the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea," writes Rick Gladstone for the New York Times.
China Consolidates Ministries
The Chinese government announced Sunday it would consolidate a few cabinet-level ministries (NYT), including the Ministry of Railways, which has long been accused of corruption. Two agencies that manage health and family planning will also merge, as well as two censorship bodies.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Delhi Rape Suspect Found Dead
A suspect in the high-profile trial of the rape and murder of a student in Delhi was found dead (TOI) in prison, raising questions over the treatment and monitoring of inmates. Police say the suspect hanged himself, but defense lawyers and family suspect that he was murdered.
This CFR Backgrounder takes an in-depth look at sexual violence and women's rights in India.
AFGHANISTAN: U.S. officials cancelled a news conference (AP) due to a security threat during U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's visit with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Syrian Soldiers, Iraqi Guards Killed in Attack
Al-Qaeda's Iraqi branch claimed an attack on a convoy in Anbar province that killed forty-eight Syrian soldiers and nine Iraqi guards. Iraq's Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has long warned that Syria's increasingly sectarian war (al-Arabiya) may spill over the border.
IRAN: Pakistan and Iran inaugurated on Monday the construction of a delayed $7.5 billion gas pipeline (Dawn) between the two countries, despite warnings of economic sanctions from the United States.
Congo to Sign Peace Deal With Rebels
The Democratic Republic of Congo's government will sign a peace deal (Reuters) this week with the M23 rebels, who have been waging an insurgency in the east for the past year. In exchange for a handover of rebel weapons, Congo's government will speed up the return of ethnic Tutsi refugees from Rwanda.
KENYA: Uhuru Kenyatta, wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, won Kenya's presidential election (TIME) on Saturday by a sliver with 50.07 percent of the vote.
Turkey Hints at Lifting EU Arms Embargo
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Friday that anti-government fighters in Syria wereat a disadvantage because they weren't properly armed (Reuters), stopping just short of calling for a European Union arms embargo to be lifted.
VATICAN: Cardinals gathered one last day before the conclavebegins Tuesday at the Sistine Chapel, where Roman Catholic cardinals will select the next pope (CNN).
Falklands Vote on Sovereignty Referendum
The Falkland Islands began voting on Sunday in a sovereignty referendum countering Argentina's increasingly assertive claim over the British-ruled territory. Argentinean lawmakers called a special session to draw up a unanimous rejection of the referendum (MercoPress).
VENEZUELA: Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro and main opposition leader Henrique Capriles will register tomorrow for a special April 14 vote that will determine Huge Chávez's successor (Bloomberg).
This CFR Issue Guide explores some of Chávez's chief political and economic initiatives and his relationship with Cuba.