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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
August 5, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Washington Closes Embassies in Mideast, North Africa

Nir Elias/Courtesy Reuters  

Nir Elias/Courtesy Reuters

The U.S. State Department closed twenty-one embassies (BBC) and consulates across the Middle East and North Africa until at least the end of the week amid heightened levels of potential terrorism threats, saying the decision signaled an "abundance of caution" and was "not an indication of a new threat." Britain, France, and Germany have taken a similar approach (Reuters), closing their posts in Yemen. The State Department also announced a global travel alert, warning that al-Qaeda or its allies might target U.S. government or civilian interests. The move comes at a contentious time as the Obama administration defends recently disclosed surveillance programs that have stirred privacy concerns (AP).


"We have already muddied any message of fearlessness by turning our embassies into bunkers. Now, we are admitting that these bunkers aren't safe. What next? Virtual embassies on Facebook? Ambassadors who never leave Washington?" writes Jeffrey Goldberg for Bloomberg.

"The bulk of its members are Yemeni militants with a local, Yemeni agenda, but the group has also attracted experienced al-Qaeda operatives from Saudi Arabia with more regional and international ambitions," writes Frank Gardner for the BBC.

"For al-Qaeda, these diplomatic compounds are attractive targets because they symbolize American power and because their locations are widely known. Indeed, several of the embassies and consulates closed on Sunday have been attacked by al-Qaeda and affiliated groups before," writes Peter Bergen for CNN.



Philippines Seeks 'Tranquility' in China Relations

Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario said he is hoping for a "modus vivendi" with China, and is waiting for a "positive response" (SCMP) to an invitation for Beijing's foreign minister to visit Manila. Relations between the two countries have been strained over a territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

This CFR Backgrounder explains the origins and escalation of the territorial disputes.

JAPAN: A U.S. military helicopter crashed (KyodoNews) on Japan's southern island of Okinawa on Monday in an incident that could fuel anger over the presence of U.S. military bases on the island.



Bomb Hits Jakarta Temple

A bomb exploded at a Buddhist temple in Indonesia's capital of Jakarta, marking a protest (Reuters) against the violence against Rohingya Muslims in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, according to a government official. ASEAN has warned that continuing unrest in Myanmar could destabilize the region.

INDIA: The verdict of a Delhi gang-rape case, in which a twenty-three-year-old student died from her injuries, has been deferred (HindustanTimes) until August 19 due to a legal challenge. The case has sparked outrage over sexual violence in India.



Diplomats Meet Jailed Muslim Brotherhood Leader

Diplomats from the Gulf, the EU, and the United States met with Khairat el-Shater, the jailed deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, in a fresh bid (al-Jazeera) to end the crisis in Egypt. Shater held face-to-face meetings but refused to negotiate, insisting the delegation meet with ousted president Mohammed Morsi instead.

Economist Farouk Soussa outlines the limited options facing Egypt's interim government in this new interview.



Zimbabwe Opposition Alleges Attack

A group of people from Zimbabwe's opposition MDC party said they had been attacked (BBC) by supporters of President Robert Mugabe. The allegations come in the wake of official results from Wednesday's poll that gave Mugabe a seventh term in office.

CFR's John Campbell gives his take on Zimbabwe's elections in this blog post.

NIGERIA: Sheikh Abubakar Shekau, leader of the militant sect Boko Haram, was reportedly shot (Vanguard) and deposed by members of his own group. The group's Shura Council elected Abu Zamira Mohammed, who has been leading negotiations with the federal government, as its new leader.



Berlusconi Supporters Rally

Supporters of Silvio Berlusconi rallied in support (FT) of the former center-right prime minister in Rome as his conviction for tax fraud has jeopardized the fate of Italy's delicate coalition government. A senior official of his People of Liberty party warned of "civil war" if Berlusconi is banned from politics.

SPAIN: Spanish foreign minister José Manuel García-Margallo y Marfil has proposed a fee (Guardian) on every vehicle entering and leaving Gibraltar, prompting criticism from Gibraltar's chief minister.



Uruguay Ex-President Expected to Run

Uruguay's former president Tabare Vazquez is expected to announce his candidacy (MercoPress) as leader of the ruling Broad Front for next year's presidential election, when President Jose Mujica's five-year term ends. The country's fiscal deficit and recently approved legislation of marijuana will be his chief agenda.

CUBA: New Iranian president Hassan Rowhani met in Tehran with Cuban vice president Ricardo Cabrisas on Sunday, saying his country wanted to expand its relations (AgenciaEFE) with Latin America.



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