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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
March 21, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Obama Warns Syria on Chemical Weapons

President Barack Obama said in Jerusalem that the United States was launching an investigation into reports that Syrian authorities used chemical weapons (FT) against rebel forces this week, pledging that any such use would represent a "game-changer" in American involvement in the civil war there. Both Syria's government and rebels have demanded an international inquiry (al-Jazeera) into an attack in Khan al-Assal, a town near the northern city of Aleppo, that killed twenty-six people on Tuesday. Syria's UN ambassador announced on Wednesday that he had requested the UN to form an independent mission (al-Arabiya) to investigate the incident, which, if confirmed, would be the first use of chemical weapons in the two-year-old conflict.


"It is not hard to imagine how, in the heat of battle, chemical weapons could be turned against government forces or used in retribution for past atrocities. Some might even see their use as a way to trigger outside intervention. Other wildcard possibilities involve terrorist groups like Hezbollah acquiring chemical weapons in various ways as the Syrian regime crumbles," writes CFR's Paul Stares in this Expert Brief.

"For now, it's unlikely Obama would authorize airstrikes on the known weapons depots and chemical labs. Instead, the hope is that Syrian officers can be persuaded to safeguard the material if the regime collapses," writes Eli Lake for The Daily Beast.

"While conventional weapons are the true weapons of mass destruction in Syria, the use of chemical weapons might just bring about a significant increase in international military support for the Syrian opposition -- if not overt military intervention on their behalf," writes Michael Eisenstadt for the Atlantic.



South Korea Cyberattack Traced to China

South Korea traced a hacking attack (Reuters) that shut down three broadcasters and two major banks to a server in China that has been used by North Korean hackers in the past. One South Korean official directly blamed Pyongyang for the attack.

JAPAN: Japan and the United States began planning joint operations (KyodoNews) for contingencies arising from conflict between Tokyo and Beijing over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.

Expert Yinan He offers her assessment on the ongoing crisis over the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in this blog post.



Resolution Passed Against Sri Lanka

The UN Human Rights Council passed a U.S.-sponsored resolution (HindustanTimes) against Sri Lanka that called for the country to hold a credible probe into alleged war crimes during its twenty-six year conflict with Tamil rebels.

MYANMAR: At least ten people were killed in riots in central Myanmar (BangkokPost) in the worst violence since Buddhist-Muslim clashes in western Rakhine state last year.



PKK Leader Calls for Cease-Fire

The jailed leader of Turkey's PKK rebels, Abdullah Ocalan, called for a truce (Hurriyet) after thirty years of war, urging his fighters to withdraw from Turkey after months of peace talks with the government. More than 40,000 people died in the fight for an ethnic Kurdish homeland in southeast Turkey.

This CFR Task Force report outlines a new partnership for U.S.-Turkey relations.



Sudan Offers Talks With Rebels

Sudan offered to hold direct talks (al-Jazeera) with Southern rebels on Wednesday, saying that Khartoum would be willing to have discussions provided the dialogue was based on protocols set out in a 2005 peace agreement with South Sudan.

CFR's John Campbell outlines an African agenda for President Obama in this blog post.

MALI: A suicide attack (BBC) killed a Malian soldier in Timbuktu, marking the first suicide bombing in the city since French-led forces drove out Islamist militants in January.



Russia Considers Cyprus Options

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Wednesday that Moscow was prepared to consider "various options" (FT) for providing aid to Cyprus under the condition that the EU and Cyprus must propose a new, workable plan.

ITALY: Italy's Five-Star Movement reiterated demands that a referendum (WSJ) be held on Italy's use of the euro as Italian President Giorgio Napolitano seeks to build a consensus in a divided parliament.



Venezuela Suspends Normalization Talks With U.S.

Venezuela said Wednesday it was suspending a series of high-level talks (LAHT) with the United States that were aimed at thawing bilateral ties. A minister said they would be paused, pending "a clearer message about what kind of relationship" the United States wants with Venezuela.

ARGENTINA: Argentina ratified its trade policy (MercoPress) during its review at the World Trade Organization, which had questioned Argentina's controversial inflation figures.



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