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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
March 20, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Obama Arrives in Israel Amid Low Expectations

President Obama arrived in Israel on Wednesday for his first trip (WaPo) there as president, kicking off a three-day visit that observers say is mostly symbolic and will unlikely catalyze any new initiatives on the Palestinian peace process. Obama is due to hold talks with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu, then travel to the occupied West Bank on Thursday to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. While the U.S. president spoke of an "unbreakable bond" (Haaretz) upon landing in Tel Aviv, the president's relationship with Netanyahu has been strained, and analysts say the focus of the trip may be more centered around the threat posed by Iran (Reuters) and the war in Syria.


"The president has made clear that he is not carrying a peace plan, nor does he intend to launch a high-profile peace initiative when he is in Israel. That is the right posture for this trip. There is a new Israeli government and the groundwork has not been laid. The last thing that is needed now is a grand gesture that is an instant flop," writes Samuel Berger for Foreign Policy.

"He's coming to help convince the Israeli people that he actually is a friend of Israel. That said, there are issues to discuss with the Israeli government, and there are three key issues that he wants to talk about with the Israelis. First and foremost is Iran; second are the developments in Syria; and third are the traditional issues of peace with the Palestinians," says CFR's Robert Danin.

"The visiting president has no solutions. His visit will not bring about the end of the occupation, the dismantling of settlements, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank, or even the destruction of the Iranian nuclear program. He will seek to restrain the prime minister on two fronts: To prevent an Israeli attack on Iran and accelerated construction in the settlements," writes Aluf Benn for Haaretz.



South Korea Suffers Cyberattacks

South Korea said hackers caused massive computer network failures (Yonhap) at several major TV stations and banks Wednesday, but did not specify whether North Korea was involved. Pyongyang on Wednesday also released a propaganda video depicting the White House under attack.

CHINA: Chinese bloggers flooded Russia's embassy microblogs with nationalist (SCMP) comments demanding the return of territories ahead of President Xi Jinping's visit to Moscow this week.



NATO, Afghanistan Reach Wardak Deal

NATO reached an agreement with the Afghan government on the phased withdrawal of U.S. special forces from Wardak province (BBC), bringing an end to a bitter dispute over accusations of murder and intimidation by troops in the area.

Senator Carl Levin discusses developments in Afghanistan with CFR in this new video.

INDIA: India's Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, its second-largest party, announced its withdrawal (WSJ) from the coalition government over what it claims is failure to condemn Sri Lanka for alleged war crimes against Tamils.



Bombs Hit Turkish Ministry

Turkey's justice ministry and the offices of its ruling Justice and Development Party were bombed (Hurriyet) in Ankara Tuesday, days ahead of an expected cease-fire with Kurdish militants. A minister said the outlawed Revolutionary People's Liberation Party may have been responsible for the attack.



Al-Qaeda Executes French Hostage in Mali

Al-Qaeda's North African branch said it had executed (France24) a French hostage in Mali in retaliation for France's military intervention in the country's northern region. France now has more than four thousand troops on the ground in a bid to drive out Islamist extremists from the area.

This CFR Backgrounder provides insight into AQIM, or Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

SUDAN: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir announced his intention to step down (AP) in 2015 after more than twenty years in power. Bashir seized power in a 1989 coup.



Cyprus Holds Emergency Talks in Russia

Cyprus's finance minister held talks in Moscow (FT) on Wednesday to secure vital economic help after his country's parliament rejected a 10 billion euro EU-led bailout. The attempt to tap funds from Russia is an alternative to the originally proposed deposit levy that sparked outrage.

Cyprus must move quickly to renegotiate a bailout deal that protects insured depositors and fills a financing gap, says CFR's Robert Kahn in this blog post.

ITALY: Italian President Giorgio Napolitano held meetings with political leaders on Wednesday in a continued attempt to build a government (Reuters) after deadlocked election results last month left no party with a majority in parliament.



Venezuela's Capriles Vows to End Oil to Cuba

Venezuelan opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles vowed on Monday to end the country's shipments of subsidized oil (MercoPress) to the Cuban regime, accusing acting president Nicolas Maduro of being a puppet of Havana.

GUANTANAMO: The U.S. military disclosed Tuesday that the number of hunger strikers (MiamiHerald) in Guantanamo had risen to twenty-four. The prison currently holds 166 captives from the war on terror.



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