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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
September 3, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Syrian Refugees Top Two Million Mark

Over two million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries and more than four million are internally displaced, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (AFP) announced on Tuesday. As a potential U.S. strike on Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons near Damascus raises tensions, Russia said it detected two ballistic "objects" in the Mediterranean Sea (Reuters), which Israel later said was a joint missile test conducted with the United States. In Washington, Obama administration officials are lobbying members of Congress to grant the president authorization to use force in Syria, but Secretary of State John Kerry said the president had the right to take military action even if Congress rejects such measures (Guardian).


"The real interests at stake in Syria include stopping a humanitarian nightmare that has claimed more than 100,000 lives; frustrating the designs of Iran and its partners; reinforcing the norm that chemical weapons cannot be used with impunity; and demonstrating that what the US says is to be taken to the bank by friend and foe alike," CFR President Richard Haass writes in the Financial Times.

"The American government has concluded 'with high confidence' that some 1,429 Syrians, including at least 426 children, were killed by toxic chemicals. What is the threshold for action? NATO should be part of an international effort to sharply punish the Assad regime, which poses a clear and present danger to the alliance — and the United States should lead NATO in doing so," writes retired admiral James G. Stavridis in the New York Times.

"[The Israeli leadership] is profoundly concerned that the president has set a precedent, in seeking an authorization from Congress that he had no legal requirement to seek—and that Congress was not loudly demanding—that may complicate, delay or even rule out credible action to thwart a challenge that dwarfs Assad's chemical weapons capability: Iran's drive to nuclear weapons," writes David Horovitz in the Times of Israel.



Japan Unveils Strategy to Deal with Fukushima Leaks

Japan's government unveiled its strategy to deal with the radioactive water leaks at the Fukushima nuclear plant (Japan Times) on Tuesday. The $475 million plan includes facilities to freeze soil and filter water.

NORTH KOREA: Former NBA star Dennis Rodman returned to North Korea on Tuesday to "hang out" with its leader Kim Jong Un (AP). The trip comes days after Pyongyang rejected a visit by a U.S. envoy seeking amnesty for Kenneth Bae, a jailed American missionary.

CFR's Scott Snyder explains why it's time to expect new provocations from North Korea in this blog post.



Disclosures Reveal Expanded U.S. Surveillance in Pakistan

So-called "black budget" documents leaked by Edward Snowden indicate that Washington has intensified its surveillance (Express Tribune) of Pakistan's nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, and is scrutinizing the loyalty of Pakistani counterterrorism agents recruited by the CIA.

INDIA: An Indian official called for a review of laws for juvenile offenders after a seventeen-year-old received a three-year sentence (Asian Age) for a brutal gang rape in December.

This CFR Backgrounder explains women's rights in India.



Egypt Shuts Down Four TV Stations

An Egyptian court ordered the closure of four television stations (BBC), including three Islamist channels and Al Jazeera's local network, which have been accused of sympathizing with the Muslim Brotherhood.

CFR's Robert Danin recaps last week's developments in the Middle East in this blog post.



South Africa's Zuma Urges Gold Wage Deal

As a mineworkers' union is set to begin a strike Tuesday evening, South African president Jacob Zuma urged laborers and employers in the gold industry to reach an agreement on wages (News24).

SWAZILAND: King Mswati III declared that his kingdom is now a "monarchial democracy" (Mail & Guardian). Africa's last absolute monarch decided to alter the country's political system after a vision he had over the weekend.



Microsoft to Buy Nokia for $7.2 Billion

Microsoft agreed to acquire Nokia's mobile-phone business for $7.2 billion (Reuters). Nokia was once the world's top handset maker, but its business was upended by makers of more powerful smartphones.

UNITED KINGDOM: Verizon Communications agreed to buy Vodafone Group's 45 percent stake in the U.S. carrier Verizon Wireless for $130 billion (Bloomberg).



Outrage in Brazil Over NSA Spying

Brazil said the United States violated its sovereignty by tracking the phone calls, emails, and IP addresses of President Dilma Rouseff (FT), a revelation that complicates relations as she plans the first state visit to Washington by a Brazilian leader in more than two decades.

UNITED STATES: The U.S. government is paying $6,600 a month to ground a 1960s turboprop plane previously used to broadcast an American-run TV station in Cuba (WaPo).



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