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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
December 12, 2013
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Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: U.S., UK Suspend Aid to Syria's Rebels

The United States and the UK suspended nonlethal aid to rebels in northern Syria after bases controlled by the so-called moderate, armed opposition forces were seized by fighters from the Islamic Front, a new coalition of Islamist rebel groups in the country that doesn't include al-Qaeda (BBC). Prominent activists in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus have been kidnapped at gunpoint, adding to the scores of civilian activists and both Syrian and foreign journalists who have been detained by Islamist extremists in recent months (WaPo). Meanwhile, millions of refugees inside Syria and in neighboring countries are suffering through rain, snow, and freezing temperatures as a storm rips through the region (al-Jazeera).


"Contrary to claims made by observers of the recent mergers, the alliance of Salafi groups is bad news for al-Qaeda. The formation of this alliance has significantly halted the drifting of Syrian fighters by virtue of its Islamic rhetoric and pragmatism. These groups have already drawn Ahrar Ash-Sham, a long-time ally of Jabhat al-Nusra, towards them while avoiding a confrontation with the latter," writes Hassan Hassan for the National.

"International diplomatic efforts must therefore focus on achieving temporary cease-fires to bring in the most urgently needed help, such as polio vaccines for children. Aid should not be a mere side show to the seemingly endless peace talks taking place in Geneva; as United Nations emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos insisted, it must be central to those negotiations," writes David Miliband for Project Syndicate.

"Those who advocate a more assertive U.S. policy argue that the most humane option is to ratchet up the pressure on Assad. The sooner he falls, the argument goes, the sooner the violence will end and refugees will be able to return home. But that calculation is naive. An attempt by the U.S. and its allies to overthrow Assad by force would be bloody and protracted and could have disastrous side effects, including the empowerment of Islamist extremists and a rupture in negotiations with Iran, an Assad ally, on its nuclear program," the Los Angeles Times writes in an editorial.


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Former Thai Premier Indicted on Murder Charges

Thailand's former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was indicted on murder charges relating to the military crackdown on street protests in 2010 that left scores dead (WSJ). Abhisit's former deputy Suthep Thaugsuban, who is leading protests against the current government, faces similar charges.

CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick explains in this blog post the demise of Thailand's Democrat Party.

AUSTRALIA: The Australian High Court struck down a local law passed in October that permitted same-sex marriage, voiding almost twenty marriages that were held in recent weeks (Australian).

This CFR Backgrounder compares same-sex marriage laws in six countries.



Bangladesh to Execute Opposition Leader

Bangladesh's Supreme Court dismissed an appeal to review the death sentence of Abdul Quader Molla, a top Islamist leader convicted of war crimes during the country's 1971 independence war (Dawn). Molla could be hanged as early as midnight on Thursday.

AFGHANISTAN: The Obama administration is backing off its December 31 deadline for Afghanistan to sign a security pact with the United States after the threat did little to sway Afghan president Hamid Karzai (WaPo).



Kerry Pushes Israel-Palestine Peace Talks

Secretary of State John Kerry arrives to the Middle East on Thursday on his ninth trip of the year for closed-door talks with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to follow up on a security plan that could form the basis for a peace plan (AP).

CFR's Robert Danin explains in this interview the status of the talks to settle the Middle East's longest conflict.



Leaders Seek to Calm Tensions in Central African Republic

Religious leaders are seeking reconciliation between Muslims and Christians in the Central African Republic after fighters from both groups have murdered hundreds of civilians in the past week, drawing in African and French troops to stop the bloodshed (Reuters).

ZIMBABWE: Almost 2.2 million people in Zimbabwe will need food assistance over the next four months as donor fatigue and the government's lack of credit have pushed up the prices of staple foods (All Africa).



Ukraine Leader Intends to Sign EU Deal

Ukraine's president Viktor Yanukovich aims to sign a deal on closer ties with the EU, according to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, but she didn't say when she expected this to happen (BBC). Ashton also said Yanukovich assured her that any arrested protestors will be released.

EUROPEAN UNION: The European Union agreed to common rules to handle failed banks, which would lift the burden of bank failure from taxpayers (FT).

This CFR Backgrounder explains the eurozone crisis.



Obama Reportedly Considers Fischer for U.S. Fed

Stanley Fischer, the former Bank of Israel governor and IMF official, is said to be President Obama's leading candidate to succeed Janet Yellen as vice chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve (Bloomberg).

This CFR Backgrounder explains the role of the U.S. Federal Reserve.

URUGUAY: The International Narcotics Control Board, a UN entity, said that Uruguay's plan to legalize the production and sale of marijuana breaks international law (AFP).



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