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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
September 12, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: U.S., Russia Seek Deal on Syrian Weapons

Secretary of State John Kerry and a team of U.S. experts arrived in Geneva for two days of meetings with their Russian counterparts, hoping to reach an agreement outlining plans to dismantle the Syrian government's chemical weapons program. A deal would likely cancel plans for a U.S. strike on Syria (AP). The UN is expected to release its report on the alleged chemical weapons attack within a week. Though it will not assign culpability, diplomats say the evidence will indicate that the Syrian government bears responsibility (Reuters). The CIA has begun shipments of light weapons to vetted rebel groups in Syria and the State Department delivered vehicles and other gear, ending months of delay in aid promised by the Obama administration (WaPo).


"No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack—this time against Israel—cannot be ignored," writes Russian president Vladimir Putin in the New York Times.

"By focusing on nuclear disarmament and New START, Obama's reset strategy remilitarized the U.S.-Russia relationship, while marginalizing issues that could have reoriented bilateral ties toward the future. In this sense, the initiative was doomed from the start—and the whole world has suffered as a result," writes Sergei Karaganov for Project Syndicate.

"Doing something in Syria may make sense on the merits, especially if it would help resolve the civil war. But using Iran as a justification would be disingenuous and even dangerous. It would be almost as irresponsible as the trumped-up intelligence that Obama's predecessor used to drum up support for the Iraq war a decade ago," writes Suzanne Maloney in Foreign Affairs.



North Korea May Have Restarted Nuclear Reactor

Satellite images of a newly reconstructed nuclear reactor in North Korea indicate that the country may have resumed production of plutonium for its nuclear weapons program (Yonhap). Analysts say the move may be designed to compel the United States into talks with Pyongyang.

JAPAN: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to increase the national sales tax to alleviate the country's large public debt, but will couple the move with stimulus spending (FT). A formal announcement is expected October 1.



Afghan Army Struggles Against the Taliban

As American troops withdraw from Afghanistan, their Afghan allies are struggling in their battle against the Taliban (NYT), raising concerns among coalition commanders that they may have to repeatedly intervene in areas that were previously turned over to Afghan control.

This CFR Backgrounder explains the origins and resiliency of the Taliban.

INDIA: A curfew was imposed in parts of Indian-administered Kashmir on Wednesday after a man was killed during a protest against Indian rule of the divided territory (Al Jazeera).



Suicide Bomber Kills 35 in Iraq

A suicide bomber killed at least thirty-five people on Wednesday at a Shiite mosque in a largely Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad (AP). The blast comes one day after bombings and shootings killed at least twenty-four civilians in Iraq.



Top Western Militants Killed in Somalia

Two Islamist militant leaders, from the United States and the UK, were reportedly killed by the al-Qaeda–linked group al-Shabaab (BBC). The U.S. State Department had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture or conviction of the American militant.

This CFR Backgrounder explains the origins and current status of al-Shabaab.

SOUTH AFRICA: Striking South African airline employees returned to work this week. Some attributed the move to the waning influence of union leaders as many citizens struggle to find jobs (Reuters).

CFR's John Campbell discusses labor unrest in South Africa in this blog post.



Catalans Stage Mass Rally for Independence

Hundreds of thousands of Catalans joined hands to form a 250-mile-long human chain (FT) that ran from the French border to Spanish resorts on the Mediterranean Sea on Wednesday. Catalan leaders, many of whom favor secession from Spain, renewed their call for a referendum on the region's status.

POLAND: Some twenty thousand people joined protests organized by Poland's three largest unions in Warsaw on Wednesday, picketing against government labor policies and changes to the pension system (Warsaw Voice).



Teachers Clash with Police in Mexico

Thousands of teachers on Wednesday protested controversial education reforms, and some clashed with police in Mexico City (AFP). Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto signed the measures, which require teachers to undergo performance evaluations, into law the day before.

UNITED STATES: Verizon has completed the largest corporate-debt sale in history, placing $49 billion in bonds to fund its purchase of Vodafone's stake in Verizon's wireless business for $130 billion (WSJ).



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