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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
May 14, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Obama, Cameron Cautious on Syria

As U.S. debate heats up about whether to increase intervention in Syria, President Obama and visiting Prime Minister of Britain David Cameron expressed support for a proposed international conference on Syria (WaPo), but had little optimism that it would produce a political solution. Syria has asked for details on the U.S.-Russian plan (Reuters) before agreeing to attend.

Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy Reuters


"The Syria crisis has implications for other critically important strategic challenges, including our ongoing conflict with al Qaeda affiliates who have been entering the civil war, and especially our looming showdown with Iran over its nuclear program. No doubt, the Iran challenge casts a large shadow over the president's decision-making on Syria," says CFR's Matthew C. Waxman in this video.

"The lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan are to be humble about what can be achieved – and realistic about the extent of the commitment that may be needed, if the US ultimately decides that it has to act. The fact that Mr Obama is refusing to respond to calls for 'tough action' in Syria now is not a sign that he is a weak leader – it is a sign that he is a good leader," writes Gideon Rachman for the Financial Times.

"If we're going to debate intervention in Syria, let's also debate intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, countries where we have accrued grave moral obligations, obligations that don't end just because we've decided it's easier to focus our attention someplace else," Peter Beinart writes for the Daily Beast.



China Tour Company Offers North Korea Day Trips

A China-based tour company (AP) says it has received North Korea's permission for Westerners to make day trips into the country from the Chinese border.

AUSTRALIA: Australia's new budget projects a deficit of 19.4 billon Australian dollars (WSJ) instead of a promised surplus, with funding for health and education reforms. The Labor government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard blamed a strong Australian dollar and fading mining boom.



European, U.S. Retailers Split on Bangladesh Safety Reform

Several large European retailers, including H&M and Zara, signed a binding accord designed to improve safety conditions in Bangladesh's garment factories (WSJ) after a building collapse last month killed at least 1,127 workers and injured many more. Major U.S. retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and J.C. Penney Co., have not signed the agreement.

The United States has a strong interest in encouraging improved labor standards in developing countries like Bangladesh, writes CFR's Edward Alden.

MYANMAR: At least eight people died after several boats capsized near Myanmar's western coast (VOA), the United Nations reports, as residents of refugee camps were being evacuated ahead of a cyclone that could hit parts of Bangladesh and Myanmar later this week.



Turkey, Iraq Kurds Sign Energy Deal

Turkey agreed to an energy deal with Iraq's oil- and gas-rich north, a deal that the United States warns could further fracture the Middle Eastern state, but which Ankara sees as central to its own future.

Turkey's weak response to car bombs last week underscores that it is as much in need of rescue as many other neighboring countries, writes CFR's Steven A. Cook.



Libya Car Bomb Kills Four

A car bomb near a Benghazi hospital (NYT) killed at least four people and injured many others. The incident is the latest of several recent bomb attacks seen as a sign of increasing disorder as Libya struggles with its transition to democratic rule.

SOUTH AFRICA: Thousands of workers went on strike today at the Lonmin platinum mine (BusinessStandard) after a union leader was shot dead over the weekend.



Greek Workers Protest Ban on Teachers' Strike

State workers in Greece walked off the job Tuesday in protest of a government decision to prohibit a strike by high school teachers. The incident is the latest in a series of anti-austerity strikes since Greece adopted strict budget cuts as part of its 2010 bailout package. Meanwhile, a survey by the Pew Research Center shows increasing disillusionment with the European Union among respondents in major member countries, with the greatest dissatisfaction found among the French.

RUSSIA: An alleged U.S. undercover agent (BBC), said to be a secretary at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, was arrested for allegedly trying to recruit a Russian intelligence officer, Russian media report.



Justice Department Collected Reporters' Phone Records

The Justice Department secretly collected two months' worth of phone records for twenty Associated Press reporters and editors (NYT), likely related to the leak of information last year about the Central Intelligence Agency's foiling of a Yemen-based airline plot.

VENEZUELA: In an effort to counter soaring crime rates (BBC), Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro sent some three thousand troops to patrol the streets of Caracas.

This CFR Issue Guide looks at crime, economic distortions, and other challenges facing post-Chavez Venezuela.



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