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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
December 31, 2013
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Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Israel Releases Prisoners, Plans Settlements as Kerry Returns to Mideast

Israel released twenty-six Palestinian prisoners Monday night after its Supreme Court rejected a last-minute petition by victims' families. This is the third tranche of prisoner releases, which Palestinians made a precondition of peace talks in July in exchange for dropping a demand to halt settlement construction; a fourth, final one is expected in April (Haaretz). U.S. secretary of state John Kerry, scheduled to depart on New Year's Day for his tenth trip to the region to push for an agreement, will propose a framework for addressing core issues between the parties (AP). However, his visit may be undermined by an expected Israeli announcement this week of plans to build 1,400 new housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem (NYT).


"[The prisoner release], which in a rare occurrence in the history of the Israeli government's moves is likely not expected to yield any benefit in the future, is the big mistake made by Netanyahu, Livni, Ya'alon and their friends. They had a choice between a temporary settlement construction freeze and the prisoner release, and they picked the second option. They basically had to choose who and what they are more afraid of: the fury of rightists and settlers in Judea and Samaria, or the bereaved families' cry of despair. The prime minister is experienced, and he knows that the uproar over a prisoner release is very short, and disappears after a day or two," writes Eitan Haber for Ynet.

"'Don't delude yourselves. We don't have a partner on the Palestinian side for a two-state solution.' That was how Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon summarized his take on the peace negotiations. … Rejection of the Palestinian partner is a deception aimed to delude the public into thinking the Israeli government's hands are clean. It is amazing how Israeli politicians who are steadfast in their mantra of 'no partner' fail to comprehend a basic fact about negotiations between adversaries: Partners do not grow on trees, they are created through hard work; that building process is their job," Haaretz writes in an editoral.

"In politics and in life, there's often a fine line between self-delusion, commitment to any enterprise with long odds, and actual success. But Kerry has put himself in the middle of this mix and just doesn't seem willing to give up. This kind of commitment in a strange way creates an infectious reality that can help risk-averse parties to a negotiation actually believe in its viability," writes Aaron David Miller for Foreign Policy.


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Chinese Local Debt Surges to $3 Trillion, Government Reports

Local government debt in China has soared to nearly $3 trillion (Reuters) in recent years, spurred by credit-fuelled growth, according to a long-awaited report released Monday by Beijing's auditing agency.

ANTARCTICA: An attempted helicopter rescue of passengers and crew on a Russian scientific expedition ship that became trapped in ice has been put on hold until rains stop (Sydney Morning Herald). A Chinese icebreaker is standing by for the mission, expected Wednesday.



Kabul Dismisses U.S. Forecast as BSA Deadline Passes

A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai disputed the findings of a U.S. intelligence estimate that, barring a post-2014 international military contingent, the Taliban and al-Qaeda could be resurgent in Afghanistan. The spokesman said the report was a bid to get Kabul to agree to a bilateral security agreement by today, Washington's original deadline (Reuters).

In this roundup, five experts, including CFR's Daniel Markey, discuss Afghanistan's prospects as Western forces draw down in the coming year.

PAKISTAN: Eleven journalists were killed in Pakistan in 2013, five from covering bomb blasts and six in targeted killings, according to a Pakistani professional organization (Express Tribune). The Committee to Protect Journalists, in a separate report, said seventy worldwide were killed on the job this year, with the deadliest tolls in Syria and Iraq (AP).



Syria to Miss Deadline for Chemical Weapons Removal

The United Nations and global chemical weapons watchdog OPCW announced over the weekend that they would not meet the year-end deadline for removing Syria's most lethal chemical weapons due to volatile security and logistical concerns, including bad weather (WSJ). Under the plan, these chemicals will be brought to the port of Latakia to be destroyed at sea.



Claiming Victory in Bor, South Sudan Rebel Leader Agrees to Talks

South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar said his forces have taken the provincial capital of Bor and that he is prepared to begin peace talks (BBC). Meanwhile, the African Union said it will impose sanctions on those inciting violence (Mail & Guardian).

CFR's John Campbell explains the South Sudan conflict.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Government officials said calm has returned to Kinshasa after security forces killed at least forty-six fighters and detained twenty more (al-Jazeera), following coordinated attacks throughout the capital on Monday in an apparent attempted coup by supporters of an evangelical pastor.



Dozens Arrested in Russian Police Dragnet

Russian authorities arrested eighty-seven people amid a security lockdown in Volgograd following two successive attacks Sunday and Monday, the interior ministry announced, but none appear to be linked to the bombings or suspected of planning further attacks (Reuters).

LATVIA: The Baltic nation of two million will become the eighteenth country to adopt the euro tomorrow, and the fourth former Soviet republic to join the European bloc. But opinion polls show Latvians anticipate inflation and resent assuming the responsibilities of membership (Bloomberg).

Five experts, including CFR's Robert Kahn and A. Michael Spence, offer their expectations for the global economy in 2014.



U.S. Officials Announce Drone Testing Sites

The Federal Aviation Administration announced on Monday six sites across the country for testing commercial drones. Congress charged the FAA with developing regulations for the integration of drones into American airspace by 2015 (FT).

EL SALVADOR: A volcano eruption east of the capital that began Sunday and continued Monday has driven more than 1,600 people into emergency shelters (Reuters) in the country's coffee-producing region.



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