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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
August 29, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Focus on Chemical Evidence in Syria

U.S. intelligence officials said that evidence tying Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to recent chemical weapons use is not a "slam dunk" (AP)—a reference to faulty intelligence prior to the Iraq war—but concluded that Syrian forces were most likely responsible for the attack that killed hundreds near Damascus last week. In London, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee said that the Syrian government is responsible for chemical weapons attacks (FT), but did not divulge any evidence. Prime Minister David Cameron's government agreed to hold a vote on military action in Syria (WSJ), which is expected early next week. United Nations inspectors in Syria are expected to complete their work on Saturday (NYT), but their mandate precludes them from identifying who is responsible for the alleged use of chemical weapons.


"I tend to be wary of the military toolbox, and I strongly opposed the Iraq war and the Afghan 'surge.' But in conjunction with diplomacy, military force can save lives. We saw that in Bosnia and Kosovo under Bill Clinton (who appears to favor a more forceful American approach in Syria), and we saw that just this year in Mali," writes Nicholas D. Kristof in the New York Times.

"Instead of worrying about U.S. credibility or the president's reputation, the administration should focus on what can be done to reinforce the longstanding norm against the use of weapons of mass destruction," writes Jonathan Mercer in Foreign Affairs.

"The President now has a very broad view of his unilateral war powers; this military action is being rushed, and formal congressional approval is not a priority in light of the President's self-induced credibility crisis and the overwhelming military and diplomatic demands of planning the intervention; the White House doesn't want to expend (or doesn't have) the resources that seeking and winning congressional approval would require; it doesn't want to suffer through the formal national debate; and it fears it might lose the debate," writes Jack Goldsmith on Lawfare.



J.P. Morgan's Asian Hiring Probe Expands

An investigation into J.P. Morgan Chase's practice of recruiting relatives of influential Chinese government officials, known as "princelings," in an effort to win business has been expanded to other Asian countries (FT). The conduct might violate the U.S. Corrupt Practices Act.

CFR's Jerome A. Cohen discusses corruption and the rule of law in China in this interview.

JAPAN: Ongoing pollution from the Fukushima nuclear power plant is raising domestic concerns about radiation hazards (Japan Times), delaying plans to restart other reactors under new safety standards adopted in July.



Dozens Killed in Afghanistan Violence

Seven people died in an attack on a base run by Polish and Afghan soldiers claimed by the Taliban (Reuters), while twenty others were killed in bombings around the country. Violence is on the rise as the Taliban seeks to pressure NATO forces before a planned withdrawal in 2014.

This CFR Backgrounder explains the history and prospects of the Afghan Taliban.

INDIA: The rupee recovered after India's central bank (Hindu) started a program to provide dollars to the country's three state-owned refineries.



Egypt Rolls Back Ban on Muslim Brotherhood

Egypt's interim prime minister said the government should not ban the Muslim Brotherhood (Al Jazeera), walking back calls to dissolve the group made earlier this month. The softened tone was seen as a sign that the interim government is seeking a political settlement.

CFR's Elliott Abrams explains the strategy and politics of the Muslim Brotherhood in this blog post.



UN Peacekeeper Killed in DRC

One United Nations peacekeeper was killed (BBC) and three were wounded in fighting with rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo. UN forces used attack helicopters to push back rebels near the eastern city of Goma in fighting that left more than eighty people dead last week.

GHANA: Ghana's Supreme Court is set to rule Thursday on a challenge (All Africa) to last year's election of President John Mahama.



German Unemployment Rises in August

German unemployment unexpectedly rose slightly in a sign that Europe's largest economy is slowing after growing in the second quarter (Bloomberg). Germany's labor agency chief said on Thursday that unemployment increased due to the summer break.

UNITED KINGDOM: Verizon Communications is in talks to buy out Vodafone Group's 45 percent stake in Verizon in a deal that could be worth well over $100 billion (WSJ).



Colombia Plans Peace Talks with Rebel Group ELN

President Juan Manuel Santos said his government is prepared to start peace talks (BBC) with the National Liberation Army, known by its Spanish acronym, ELN. The announcement comes a day after the rebel group—Colombia's second largest—released a Canadian hostage who had been held for months.

VENEZUELA: President Nicolas Maduro said two Colombian hit men, since detained, were hired to kill him when U.S. strikes against Syria begin (Universal) in order to "eliminate this wonder called Venezuela."



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