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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
May 17, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Obama Opposes Unilateral U.S. Action on Syria

Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters  

Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters

During a White House press conference with visiting Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Obama ruled out unilateral action (LAT) by the United States in Syria and said he has seen evidence, but not conclusive proof, of chemical weapons being used there. His announcement came as Russia, which has resisted U.S. and other Western nations' push for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's ouster, sent antiship cruise missiles outfitted with advanced radar (NYT) to Syria.


"Increasingly, it appears Syria is so badly shattered that no single authority is likely to be able to pull it back together any time soon. Instead, three Syrias are emerging: one loyal to the government, to Iran and to Hezbollah; one dominated by Kurds with links to Kurdish separatists in Turkey and Iraq; and one with a Sunni majority that is heavily influenced by Islamists and jihadis," Ben Hubbard writes in this New York Times analysis.

"What began in Syria as a revolt against an oppressive regime has evolved into a sectarian civil war and, more recently, into a proxy conflict. In the process, the struggle has become increasingly convoluted, with conflicting agendas among allies, together with deep-seated communal tensions, rendering the situation nearly intractable," writes Bernard Haykel in Lebanon's Daily Star.

"[G]iven the extent to which Syria has already plunged in the direction of state failure and widespread sectarian violence, it would be equally hard to sustain any agreement that might be reached. But it's worth the effort, because even if there's only a 10 to 15 percent chance of success, the alternative is just really terrible," says expert Frederic C. Hof in this CFR interview.



Cambodia Factory Collapse Kills Three

Three people were killed and at least six more were injured when the ceiling of a factory outside Phnom Penh that makes Asics sneakers collapsed (WSJ). The incident comes only weeks after a factory building in Bangladesh collapsed, killing at least 1,127 people, and further highlights problems with international garment manufacturing conditions.

The United States and other developed countries could do much more to pressure companies to put people above profit and protect workers in developing countries, writes CFR's Edward Alden.

PHILIPPINES: Filipino workers in Taiwan were advised to stay home in the wake of tensions stemming from a Filipino coast guard's shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman (AP) in disputed South China Sea waters last week, for which Taiwan has dismissed Manila's apologies.



Bomb Attack Hits Sunni Mosques in Pakistan

Bombs exploded outside two Sunni Muslim mosques in northwestern Pakistan (AP), killing at least thirteen people and highlighting the problems of militant violence facing the incoming government of Nawaz Sharif.

Having had its voice heard in the recent election, Pakistan's public has heightened expectations of government performance. If Sharif fails to deliver, public anger could set in quickly, writes Aqil Shah in Foreign Affairs.

BANGLADESH: Hundreds of Bangladeshi garment factories reopened after three days' closure following protests over pay and conditions (VOA) such as those that caused the deaths of more than a thousand people in a factory building last month.



Iran Candidate Vows Ongoing Resistance to West

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, a leading candidate in upcoming presidential elections, said he will continue to pursue policies of resistance to Western demands (FT) about the country's nuclear program.



Mobile Phone Service Cut in Northeast Nigeria

Mobile phone service was cut in areas of northeast Nigeria, currently under a state of emergency, where the government sent more soldiers to fight Islamic Boko Haram extremists waging an insurgency (AP) in the region.

This CFR interactive tracks the political, social and economic roots of Nigerian violence.

SOUTH AFRICA: Following a two-day strike at the Lonmin platinum mine, workers at South Africa's Anglo American Platinum mine (Reuters) planned to strike Friday to protest the company's plan to cut up to six thousand jobs in an effort to return to profitability.



Russia Considers Afghan Border Guards

Russia's ambassador to Afghanistan, Andrey Avetisyan, said Russia is considering sending guards to the Afghan-Tajik border (Reuters), fearing instability and the threat of narcotics traffic and terrorism after NATO troops withdraw.

FRANCE: French president Francois Hollande blamed eurozone austerity policies for a recession he says is eroding Europe's identity (Independent), and vowed to push for a political union within two years as well as for a eurozone economic government with powers to mutualize debt and harmonize taxes.

"Domestic demand in the euro area is now below the low point of the global crisis in 2009 in real terms. The recovery in European output since that time has come entirely from net exports. That is not sustainable for a region that accounts for one-fifth of the global economy," says Lael Brainard, undersecretary for international affairs at the Treasury, in this CFR discussion.



Obama Appoints Acting IRS Chief

President Obama appointed Daniel I. Werfel, the controller of the Office of Management and Budget, as acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (NYT) after the resignation of commissioner Steven Miller earlier this week.

BOLIVIA: The Lower House passed a bill allowing President Evo Morales to run for a third term next year (Mercopress), following a Morales-appointed court's decision stating that the bill does not violate Bolivia's constitution.



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