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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
November 20, 2013
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Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Syria's Chemical Weapons May Be Destroyed at Sea

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said destroying Syria's stockpile of poison gas and nerve agents at sea is possible if no country is willing to host the process (AP). The United Nations said that a peace conference, dubbed Geneva 2, could be held in mid-December, and Russia said that stopping "terrorists" in Syria should be high on the agenda (Reuters). Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency said 2,200 Syrian families have crossed into Lebanon over the past five days, as Syrian soldiers and the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah advance on rebel positions in the mountains near Damascus.


"International officials need help to rid Syria—the world—of these terrible weapons. Sending these chemicals over long distances is dangerous. This is a job that needs to be done closer to home. The most obvious candidate: Russia. The Russians have extensive experience in dismantling their own chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. But Moscow is reluctant, reportedly because it is behind schedule in destroying its own chemical arms," the Chicago Tribune writes in an editorial.

"Even as Damascus makes a show of handing over its entire chemical arsenal for destruction, U.S. intelligence believes the regime continues to hide weapons from international inspectors. Even if Assad is handing over the entire arsenal, he can always purchase new stocks of these weapons from North Korea, which maintains a robust chemical weapons complex. All he needs to do is hold on to power," the Wall Street Journal writes in an editorial.

"Although it is possible that the [Syrian] regime and Moscow are not always and entirely on the same page tactically, continued arms support from Russia to the regime suggests they are very much in the same place strategically in terms of regime survival. If they are, then the Obama administration's political transition hopes for Geneva—conference and process alike—would seem to be groundless," writes Fredric Hof, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.


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Indonesia May Scale Back Cooperation with Australia

Indonesia's police and immigration departments are preparing to suspend joint programs with Australia, including those addressing human smuggling and terrorism, in response to revelations of Australian surveillance of top Indonesian officials (SMH).

CHINA: Negotiations to expand a World Trade Organization pact to remove tariffs on information and technology products have stalled as China, the world's largest exporter of these goods, refuses to compromise (SCMP).



Afghans Demand That U.S. Admit Military Errors

President Hamid Karzai will reportedly end his opposition to U.S. counterterrorism raids on Afghan homes, the sticking point in negotiations over a long-term American military presence in the country, if President Obama admits that military mistakes have hurt Afghans (NYT).

PAKISTAN: Gunmen on a motorcycle killed a Shiite Muslim university director and his driver in a possible sectarian attack in the eastern city of Gujrat on Tuesday (WaPo).

This CFR Backgrounder explains the origins and evolution of Pakistan's terrorist groups.



Iran's Khamenei Supports Nuclear Talks, With Conditions

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech on Wednesday that Tehran supports the talks in Geneva to end the dispute over Iran's nuclear program, but wouldn't make concessions on the country's "nuclear rights" (AP).



Mozambique Votes Amid Tensions

Mozambicans headed to the polls on Wednesday to vote in local elections, but many citizens were nervous after Renamo guerillas threatened to disrupt the polls (Reuters). Renamo, the largest opposition party, is boycotting the elections, and its leader is hiding deep in the forest that served as his base during the civil war.

DR CONGO: Several armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo said they were ready to lay down their arms following the defeat of M23 rebels two weeks ago (All Africa).



Northern Ireland Prosecutor Calls for End to Troubles Inquiries

Northern Ireland's attorney general said police investigations and prosecutions of murders before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 should end (Guardian). Relatives of victims of the Troubles, and many politicians, have condemned the suggestion.

This CFR Backgrounder explains the Northern Ireland peace process.

BOSNIA: Ten Bosnian Serbs who were convicted of war crimes, including six who took part in the Srebrenica massacre, have been released from prison because of procedural errors (BBC).



Venezuela's President Granted Wide Powers

Venezuela's parliament granted President Nicolas Maduro the power to rule by decree, which the president argued is necessary to regulate the economy and confront corruption (Telegraph). Maduro's opponents labeled the move as a power grab.

UNITED STATES: The Justice Department finalized a record $13 billion settlement with JPMorgan Chase over the alleged selling of faulty mortgage securities, but the bank didn't admit any wrongdoing (Bloomberg).

This CFR Crisis Guide explains the 2008 global financial crisis and its aftermath.



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