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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
August 21, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Syrian Activists Claim Chemical Attack

Bassam Khabieh/Courtesy Reuters  

Bassam Khabieh/Courtesy Reuters

Syrian activists accused President Bashar al-Assad's forces of launching a gas attack (Reuters) that killed more than 200 people on Wednesday in a government offensive against rebel-held areas of the Damascus suburbs. If confirmed, it would mark the worst reported use of chemical arms in the civil war, coming just days after a UN investigative team arrived in the country (al-Jazeera) to conduct tests. France and Britain said they will ask the UN Security Council to discuss the claim, which the Syrian government denies. The Arab League called on UN chemical weapons inspectors inside Syria to immediately visit (al-Arabiya) the site of the incident.


"To begin with, the team's objective is only to determine whether or not chemical weapons were used, not how and not by whom. Even under the best circumstances — unfettered access, immediately following the attack — the findings were likely to be disappointing," writes Aryn Baker for TIME.

"To hold off this new drumbeat toward another U.S. war in the Middle East, Mr. Obama is right to set aside his automatic 'red line' and substitute a new standard that calls for proof of 'systematic' use of chemical gases. This 'flashing yellow line,' however, won't stop the hordes for long," writes CFR's Leslie Gelb for The Daily Beast.

"Whatever the truth about who has used or not used chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict and whether the evidence will ever be found, the bigger issue is to prevent massive use—of the sort seen in Halabja twenty-five years ago. In addition, and not unconnected, the securing of the Syrian chemical weapons stocks in a post-conflict Syria is also of the utmost priority," writes Patricia Lewis for Chatham House.



Bo Xilai's Trial to Begin Amid Protest

Supporters of ousted Chinese politician Bo Xilai protested outside (Reuters) a courthouse in eastern China on Wednesday, the eve of his trial, denouncing what they said was politically motivated persecution. The trial is the culmination of one of the biggest scandals the Chinese Communist Party has faced.

This CFR Backgrounder describes the structure of the Chinese Communist Party and explains the Bo Xilai case.

JAPAN: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit four Middle Eastern and African countries on a six-day trip (KyodoNews) beginning Saturday. The tour includes visits to Bahrain, Kuwait, Djibouti, and Qatar.



Pakistani Officer Killed in Kashmir

A Pakistani army officer was killed (Dawn) after another exchange of fire across the country's de facto border with India, according to the Pakistani military, which claimed that Indian forces opened "unprovoked fire." Recent weeks have seen an escalation in tensions between the two countries.

INDIA: The Royal Bank of India announced that it would purchase $1.2 billion of long-dated government bonds (FT) and enact other measures to ease pressures on banks.



Mubarak Awaits Court Decision

Deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak could be freed from jail after a court reviews his case on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian liberal politician who resigned as vice president after the military's crackdown, will be sued for "breach of trust" (Guardian).

Jon B. Alterman discusses how to influence a polarized Egypt in this new CFR interview.



Kenya, China Sign $5B in Deals

Kenya has signed $5 billion in deals with China (BBC), including the construction of a railway line, an energy project, and improvements to wildlife protection. The deals were signed during President Uhuru Kenyatta's first visit to China since his election in March.

This CFR Backgrounder outlines expanding China-Africa oil ties.

LIBERIA: The UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone will hand down a verdict on ex-president Charles Taylor's appeal of his fifty-year prison term next month (NewDawn).



Germany Says Greece to Need Third Bailout

German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble said Greece will need a third bailout, indicating that the 246 billion euro international loan package pledged so far will not be enough (WSJ) to save Greece from bankruptcy.

UNITED KINGDOM: The partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, who published leaks about the NSA's surveillance programs, has filed a lawsuit (CNN) after being detained at London's Heathrow Airport on Sunday.



Bradley Manning Faces Sentencing

A U.S. military judge will announce (Guardian) the prison sentence on Wednesday morning for Bradley Manning, a former intelligence analyst in Iraq who passed reams of classified information to WikiLeaks. Manning faces up to ninety years in prison.

ARGENTINA: Argentina's ambassador to Britain, Alicia Castro, criticized David Cameron's handling of the Falklands Islands dispute (Telegraph), calling the British prime minister's decision to cite Pope Francis, an Argentinean, on the contested territory "stupid."



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