Iranian voters are casting ballots (al-Jazeera) in the country's presidential election on Friday, a process that will decide a successor to outgoing leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Observers say that all six candidates are seen as conservatives, although one of them, cleric Hassan Rowhani, has recently been reaching out to reformists. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei encouraged voters to turn out (Reuters), discrediting what he said were suggestions by the United States that the election would be unfair. The polls mark the first presidential election since the disputed 2009 contest that led to months of unrest. Observers say the outcome is unlikely to change tense ties between Iran and the West.
"The seventy-four-year-old Khamenei, with great political wisdom, hasn't yet even hinted which candidate he prefers. This is because Khamenei fears his support for a given candidate might actually undermine his favorite, especially after he threw all his weight behind Ahmadinejad in the last two elections and thereby saddled the country with a president who brought economic and diplomatic disaster down upon it," writes Zvi Bar'el for Haaretz.
"The Iranian elections may be pre-scripted, but during the two weeks that the electioneering actually happens, the script usually goes off the rails a little bit. The regime will look closely to see whether Rowhani can generate support for himself and whether his candidacy catches fire," says Ray Takeyh in a CFR interview.
"The new president will find his people's aspirations easier to realize if he harnesses those assets to make the country a pole of attraction rather than a source of concern. Other leaders should encourage that, with a focus on finding constructive outlets for the country's energies rather than on containing them," writes Mohammed Mahfoodh Al Ardhi for the Financial Times.
Japanese Cabinet Approves Abenomics
Japan's cabinet on Friday adopted two sets of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic and fiscal policy plans, part of his "Abenomics" scheme to lift Japan out of two decades of recession (JapanTimes). The plans have already drawn fire for a lack of specifics on how to achieve the set targets.
SOUTH KOREA: South Korean president Park Geun-hye met with a former top Chinese diplomat, who said that China won't recognize North Korea as a nuclear weapons state (Yonhap).
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Maoists Attack Indian Train
At least three people were killed in an attack by suspected Maoist rebels on a passenger train in the northern Indian state of Bihar (BBC). Maoists, whom Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described as the biggest internal security threat to India, have been operating for more than forty years in central and eastern India.
AFGHANISTAN: Six Afghan policemen were shot at a checkpoint in Afghanistan's south (al-Jazeera) while two others are missing, raising suspicions of an insider attack.
U.S. to Arm Syrian Rebels
U.S. president Barack Obama authorized the providing of arms to rebels fighting Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, marking a major policy shift (WSJ) after Washington confirmed that Damascus had used chemical weapons in the country's civil war.
CFR's Ray Takeyh weighs Syrian intervention in this op-ed.
Ethiopia Ratifies Nile Treaty
Ethiopia's parliament ratified a treaty intended to replace agreements that gave Egypt and Sudan the biggest share of the Nile's water (BDL), a move that comes after escalating tensions with Egypt over Ethiopia's plans for a hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile.
SOUTH AFRICA: South African president Jacob Zuma yesterday visited Nelson Mandela (Bloomberg) in a Pretoria hospital, saying his health was improving but that he still remained in serious condition.
Czech President Faces No-Confidence Vote in Graft Probe
The Czech Republic's leading opposition party announced Friday it would call a no-confidence vote on Prime Minister Petr Necas unless he quits over a corruption probe (Reuters) in which some of his closest colleagues have been charged.
FRANCE: France has rebuffed a last-minute concession over its cultural industries meant to overcome French objections (FT) to the launch of EU-U.S. trade talks at the G8 summit next week.
CFR's Stewart Patrick previews the G8 summit in this new blog post.
Nicaragua Greenlights Canal Project
Nicaragua's legislature, controlled by President Daniel Ortega, approved a $40 billion plan to build a sea-to-sea canal from the Pacific to the Caribbean that could bring increased trade to the country. A little-known Chinese firm is funding much of the controversial project (LAT).
URUGUAY: The next Mercosur summit scheduled for the end of June has been delayed until mid-July (MercoPress), ending speculation that it would be postponed further so that Paraguay, which remains suspended from the trade bloc, could attend.