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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
July 24, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: White House Lobbies to Keep NSA Program


National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith B. Alexander attempted on Tuesday to slow Congressional opposition (NYT) to the NSA's domestic spying programs, meeting with Democrats and Republicans before a vote on a proposed amendment to a military appropriations bill that would block financing for the agency's data collection program. The Republican-sponsored legislation (BBC) is one of the first efforts to curb the agency's domestic spying efforts since they were leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The amendment, along with another that limits funds for the NSA, drew criticism (AP) from the Senate Intelligence committee, which argued that the surveillance programs were crucial to disrupting terrorist attacks. The House will likely to vote on those amendments Wednesday.


"Many libertarians are quick to condemn the NSA's collection of telephone metadata as an example of government overreach and encroachment into Americans' private freedom. But protecting the United States from foreign attack is the core mission of the federal government, and a catastrophic failure in that mission could threaten the liberties we all cherish," writes Steven Bradbury for the Washington Post.

"It is not the surveillance program per se that is concerning; we agree that authorized and monitored surveillance is necessary. It is the sheer magnitude of the program and the lack of debate that worry us," write Thomas Kean for Politico.

"Despite receiving bipartisan support, the Amash amendment will almost certainly not receive enough votes to pass in the House. Even if it did so, it's unlikely that the Senate would adopt it, and it's less likely that Obama would sign an appropriations bill with that contingency," writes Philip Bump for The Atlantic Wire.



China Bans New Government Buildings

China on Tuesday banned the construction of government buildings (NYT) for the next five years, marking the latest initiative in a series of moves by President Xi Jinping to tamp down corruption and enforce frugality. China has seen popular resentment against its bureaucrats.

This CFR Backgrounder explains China's Communist Party.

PHLIPPINES: Philippine protestors demonstrated in Manila on Wednesday against China's claims to the South China Sea (al-Jazeera), triggering Beijing to close its visa office there.

This CFR Backgrounder delves into the territorial disputes riling the region.



Afghan Bomber Targets NATO Convoy

A suicide bomber in Afghanistan rode a donkey into an Afghan and NATO military convoy (AFP) Tuesday, killing three Western soldiers and their Afghan interpreter.



UN in Syria Over Chemical Weapons

The chief of a UN investigation team looking into the use of chemical weapons in Syria's civil war arrived in the country on Wednesday to discuss the allegations (Reuters). His full team has been restricted from entering Syria due to diplomatic wrangling over access.

IRAN: A Russian report said that President Vladimir Putin will visit Iran in mid-August in a bid to restart talks on Tehran's nuclear program (AFP). It would mark Putin's first trip to Iran since 2007.



South Sudan Government in Power Struggle

South Sudan president Salva Kiir fired his entire cabinet (BBC), giving no clear reason, although analysts suggest Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar have been clashing in a power struggle for months. South Sudan's economic stability has suffered since it split from Sudan in 2011.

RWANDA: The U.S. State Department called on Rwanda to stop supporting M23 rebels (al-Jazeera) in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo after recent concerns arose over evidence from human rights groups that the rebels were responsible for executions, rapes and forcible recruitment.



Bulgaria Protests

Police escorted more than one hundred Bulgarian politicians and journalists out of parliament Wednesday after around two thousand anti-corruption protesters trapped them inside for eight hours (euronews). Bulgarians have been protesting for forty days against a government decision to name a media magnate as security chief.

GERMANY: Germany's Free Democratic party, a junior partner in the coalition government, broke ranks (FT) with Chancellor Angela Merkel with a pledge to abolish the unpopular "solidarity surcharge" that pays for the costs of unification.



Paraguay Ready to Return to Mercosur

Paraguayan ambassador Fernando Pfannl Caballero said in Washington that his country is ready to return to regional trade bloc Mercosur (MercoPress), but will look for other trade and cooperation opportunities with Mexico, United States, and the Pacific Alliance.

This CFR Backgrounder discusses the fractious South American trade bloc.


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