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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
March 26, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Syrian Opposition Takes Arab League Seat

The Arab League kicked off a two-day summit in Doha, where Moaz al-Khatib, head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, represented Syria (al-Jazeera) for the first time despite announcing his resignation from the organization on Sunday. Khatib said he had asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for U.S. forces to help defend (Reuters) rebel-controlled northern parts of Syria with Patriot missiles, adding that the United States should play a bigger role in helping end the two-year-old conflict that has killed more than 70,000 people. The Syrian conflict, along with Afghan government peace talks with the Taliban, will be high on the agenda at the summit.


"Moaz al-Khatib was a unifying figure on the surface for the opposition. But while he was a universal figure, he also lacked the constituency of other groups within the Syrian national coalition, the more partisan groups," writes Andrew Bowen for Syria Deeply.

"While sources in the Syrian National Council (which preceded the coalition and formed the major part of it) reject the idea that Syria could split up if the war continues, they do not discount the possibility that a post-conflict settlement could be sectarian-based," writes an editorial for the Guardian.

"Some believe that the US, British and French may be developing a strategy to spearhead a move on Damascus before the Islamic Front and al-Nusra can capture it for themselves. But it is not clear how committed the US and the West are to manning up the opposition in the South of Syria to gain the jump on the growing Islamic tide washing down from the North," writes Joshua Landis for Syria Comment.



North Korea Combat-Ready

North Korea said its military was preparing missile and artillery units to be combat-ready (AFP), issuing fresh threats that it would strike the U.S. mainland, Hawaii, Guam, and South Korea. The statement comes as the country retaliates against UN sanctions for its latest nuclear test.

VIETNAM: Vietnam accused a Chinese vessel of firing at a Vietnamese fishing boat (WSJ) in the disputed South China Sea in the latest flare-up over the strategic waters.

This CFR Backgrounder sheds light on the ongoing South China Sea conflict that has roiled diplomatic relations in the region.



Australia to Shut Down Afghanistan Base

Australia's defense minister said it will close (GlobalPost) its main base in Afghanistan--Tarin Kowt, in Uruzgan province--and withdraw at least 1,000 of the 1,550 troops from the country by the end of 2013. Tarin Kowt had been under the command of Australians since 2005.

MYANMAR: Myanmar's government warned that religious violence (al-Jazeera) could threaten democratic reforms after anti-Muslim mobs attacked three more towns.

CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick discusses the recent episodes of ethnic violence in Myanmar in this blog post.



Turkey Plans Kurdish Solution

The Turkish government has begun drafting plans to realize a political solution (Hurriyet) to the country's Kurdish conflict after the recent declaration of a cease-fire by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party. Details include a deadline for the withdrawal of some 1,500 militants by October.

CFR's Steven A. Cook discusses the surprise cease-fire between Turkey and PKK insurgents and its implications in this interview.



Congo Warlord Appears in Court

Bosco Ntaganda, a Congolese warlord accused of murder, rape, and other crimes over a fifteen-year period of fighting, made his first appearance (Reuters) at the International Criminal Court after unexpectedly turning himself in to diplomats at the U.S. embassy in Rwanda last week.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Michel Djotodia, the rebel leader who seized the capital of the Central African Republic, said he was suspending the constitution and dissolving parliament (BBC).



Cyprus Banks to Remain Closed

Cyprus's government announced Tuesday that banks will remain shut (FT) for at least two more days after the country reached its ten billion euro bailout deal with international lenders. Monday's deal prevented a meltdown of Cyprus's financial sector that threatened the country's euro membership.

EUROPEAN UNION: The EU said it would lift some sanctions (Deutschewelle) on Zimbabwe in light of the country's successful referendum in March, although President Robert Mugabe will remain on the list.



Brazil Preps for BRICS Summit

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will attend this week's BRICS summit (MercoPress) in South Africa to discuss the creation of a joint development bank that would fund infrastructure and development projects in member states. The talks will also focus on security issues.

CHILE: A Chilean court rejected a request to indict former President Michelle Bachelet (LAHT) for deaths blamed on a botched tsunami warning in 2010. Bachelet has testified twice regarding her role.



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