Top of the Agenda: Assad Says Syria Received Russian Arms
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad told a Lebanese newspaper that he has received the first shipment of an air defense system from Russia (Reuters), days before an EU embargo on the country expires. Russia had announced earlier this week that it would deliver the missile system to the Syrian government over Western objections, saying the move would stabilize regional balance. Assad also noted in the interview that Syria and the Lebanese group Hezbollah (BBC) were cooperating, with Hezbollah fighters deployed along the Lebanese-Syrian borders. Meanwhile, the Syrian National Coalition, meeting in Istanbul, set preconditions on entering international peace talks (al-Jazeera) in Geneva next month.
"In the current Syrian crisis, what protected Lebanon for more than two years from being drawn into the crisis was an understanding among key external actors. Yet the growing conflict over Syria among these actors has changed the givens; hence, Lebanon is slipping rapidly into the Syrian quagmire," writes Nassif Hitti for Al-Monitor.
"Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has explained his party's involvement in Syria by saying that it is an ad hoc effort by fighters from areas bordering the conflict zone to protect Shia villages within Syria. But the information coming to light about the dead belie that claim: Hezbollah's slain fighters come from a diverse set of locations within Lebanon, from towns in the central Beqaa to southern Lebanese towns on the Israel-Lebanon border," writes Phillip Smyth for Foreign Policy.
"Recent discussions over lifting the EU arms embargo may be seen to be going against the spirit of the US/Russian peace plan. Why would you support a peace proposal while suggesting you may soon start arming one of the sides in the conflict?" writes James Bays for al-Jazeera.
This CFR Backgrounder delves into Abenomics and its three-pronged approach to jolting the Japanese economy out of decades of stagnation.
MYANMAR: The Myanmar government reached a seven-point cease-fire accord with ethnic Kachin rebels (BBC). Among other things, the deal includes working toward an end to the violence and the redeployment of forces on both sides. Negotiations over the political status of Kachin would come later.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Pakistani Taliban Picks New Deputy
The Pakistani Taliban has selected a new second-in-command (Reuters) following the death of former deputy Wali-ur-Rehman in a U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan on Wednesday. The new number two is Khan Said, thirty-eight, who previously served under Rehman, according to Taliban militants.
New Bombings Rock Iraq
A string of bombings (AP) in the capital of Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul has killed at least thirteen and wounded dozens more. No group claimed responsibility for the attacks, but analysts say blame is likely to fall on al-Qaeda in Iraq.
In the wake of the U.S. withdrawal, a resurgent al-Qaeda in Iraq, allied with jihadist fighters in neighboring Syria, constitutes a considerable threat to regional security, explains this Backgrounder.
Ghana's President Warns of Threat to Regional Stability
Ghana's president, John Dramani Mahama, has raised concern that Islamist militancy could destabilize West Africa (BBC). Mahama pointed to recent unrest in Niger and Mali's struggle with insurgents, recently assisted by French intervention, and said the region needed to be able to respond collectively.
FRANCE: The first French same-sex marriage took place in the city of Montpellier on Wednesday. Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau wed (EuroNews) amid tight security to become the first married gay couple in France since the law reform last month.
Venezuela Protests Colombia Meeting of Opposition Candidate
Venezuela has ended its participation in Colombian peace talks after Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos met in Bogota (LAT) with the losing candidate in Venezuela's recent presidential elections. Henrique Capriles has called for a recount in the April 14 polls, which he lost to Nicolas Maduro, the favored choice of late leader Hugo Chavez.
UNITED STATES: A Chinese firm has announced the purchase of the world's largest pork producer, U.S.-based Smithfield Foods, for $4.7 billion. If approved, the deal would mark the largest Chinese takeover (WaPo) of an American brand.