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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
January 17, 2014
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Syria Proposes Aleppo Cease-Fire

Syria's foreign minister Walid Muallem said the government is ready to offer a prisoner exchange with rebels and that he presented to his Russian counterpart a cease-fire plan for Aleppo. The move comes as the Syrian National Coalition, the country's main opposition group, is meeting in Istanbul to decide whether to join proposed peace talks in Switzerland on January 22 (BBC). U.S. secretary of state John Kerry urged the divided Syrian opposition to attend the conference, and in response to the Assad regime's attempt to reframe the focus of Geneva II on fighting terrorism, reiterated that the aim of the talks is to establish a transitional government in Syria (AFP). Meanwhile, after two years of hemorrhaging hard currency, Syria's central bank has bought at least $600 million from the domestic currency market, aided in part by the dollars pumped into rebel-controlled areas by President Bashar al-Assad's enemies (Reuters).


"There is a range of ancillary issues that presumably could be discussed. From the point of view of Moscow, these ancillary issues—like a cease-fire, discussions about Syrian territorial integrity, sovereignty, and so forth—are the central issues. Moscow does not want the discussion to get very deeply into political transition, because it's that discussion and subject that puts its client somewhat at a disadvantage," Frederick C. Hof says in a CFR interview.

"Rebel fighters are committed to a military victory. A large majority believe they should keep fighting until Assad is defeated rather than negotiate, and most consider absolute victory their top priority among foreseeable options. Our data suggest that the most important reason that they are fighting is to take revenge against Assad and his forces. The fighters we interviewed are neither mercenaries nor conscripts but committed volunteers on a mission to defeat Assad and to exact revenge on his supporters. The very idea of negotiations contradicts their primary reason for fighting," write Vera Miranova and Sam Whitt in the Baltimore Sun.

"The Syrian revolutionary forces, not the regime, are fighting Al-Qaeda, while the same forces are fighting the regime on a second front. A cease-fire in Aleppo would, therefore, not only be a blessing for the battered population, but it would also open at last the possibility for consolidating a zone liberated from Al-Qaeda. If this cease-fire holds, with the international monitoring that this requires, a local version of the TGA [transitional governing authority] could even be established to run the city. Aleppo would then become a laboratory for a bolder and wider political transition in post-conflict Syria," writes Jean-Pierre Filiu for al-Jazeera.


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Pacific Rim

Explosion Wounds Dozens of Bangkok Protesters

Dozens of people were injured on Friday after a grenade was thrown at antigovernment protestors marching though Thailand's capital, Bangkok. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban was in the procession but wasn't wounded (AP).

SOUTH KOREA: Seoul rejected a call from North Korea to halt military drills with the United States scheduled for February and March, saying that the drills aren't a threat to the North (Reuters).


South and Central Asia

Taliban Eye Victory Over NATO

Zabiullah Mujahed, a spokesman for the Afghan Taliban, said the group is "confident of victory" over NATO forces and that it controls large areas of the country. The spokesman said if the Taliban returned to power it wouldn't moderate its extremist tendencies and would govern the same way it did in the past (BBC).

This Council Special Report assesses Afghanistan's prospects after the U.S. military drawdown.

PAKISTAN: Three people were killed and fifteen were wounded after a train derailed as a result of an explosion on the tracks near Umerkot in Punjab (Dawn).


Middle East

Egypt’s Crackdown Mars Constitution Vote

Preliminary results of Egypt's constitution vote shows that more than 95 percent of ballots approved the revised charter, a sweeping victory for the military-backed government that was tarnished by a continuing crackdown on journalists, dissenters, and human rights advocates (NYT).

This CFR Backgrounder explains the origins and evolution of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.



UN Says Both Sides Committed Atrocities in South Sudan

Ivan Simonovic, a UN human rights official, said that government and rebel soldiers have committed atrocities in recent violence in South Sudan. He said the northern town of Bentiu has been looted and burned, while Bor, in the south, has been deserted (BBC).

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said the focus on the CAR mission is to reach the authorized strength of six thousand troops, and will consider expanding the force if necessary (All Africa).



Ukraine Parliament Passes Anti-Protest Law

Supporters of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich in the country's parliament passed a law that made the unauthorized installation of tents, stages, or amplifiers punishable by a fine of up to $640 or fifteen days in detention, a move that sparked outcry by protesters who oppose the president (al-Jazeera).

ESTONIA: Apartment values in Estonia have increased by roughly 20 percent in December from the year before, and prices in the capital may reach their pre-crisis peak this year, raising concerns of a new property bubble (Bloomberg).



Spending Bill Ignores IMF Overhaul

The Senate passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill on Thursday without including the funding needed to rebalance power at the International Monetary Fund in favor of developing economies (NYT).

This CFR Backgrounder explains the origins and development of the IMF.

UNITED STATES: The Minneapolis Fed president said the U.S. Federal Reserve has become complacent in planning for low inflation and that the Fed must do more to stimulate the economy (FT).



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