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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
January 29, 2014

Top of the Agenda

Obama Reinforces Diplomatic Path on Iran

President Barack Obama said Tuesday in his State of the Union address that he would veto new sanctions on Iran that could derail talks with Tehran on nuclear weapons, adding that he would "be the first to call for more sanctions" if diplomacy fails. The president also said a small number of U.S. soldiers may remain in Afghanistan after the end of 2014, and their mission would be limited to training Afghan forces and conducting counterterrorism operations to pursue al-Qaeda remnants (Politico). On the domestic front, President Obama boosted minimum wage for federal contractors to $10.10 per hour and used his executive authority to create a new type of retirement savings account called "myRA" (WaPo).


"The potential upside of legislating further sanctions is the hope that increased pressure might elicit more concessions or push Iran to conclude a more favorable deal. But this is unlikely. The potential downside is more likely and more dangerous: Iran's decision makers could conclude that the United States government was not negotiating in good faith—a view that Iranian hard-liners already espouse. This could prompt Iran to walk away from the negotiations or counter with a new set of unrealistic demands while redoubling its efforts to produce nuclear weapons," write Carl M. Levin (D-MI) and Angus S. King (I-ME) in the New York Times.

"The administration has argued that those pushing for more sanctions on Iran are putting the country on a path to war and new sanctions now will cause the interim deal with Iran to fall apart. After hearing that argument, poll respondents still favored proceeding with new sanctions by a 63-28 margin, including 56 percent of Democrats, with just 36 percent opposed," writes Josh Rogin in the Daily Beast.

"In earlier responses to proposed Iran sanctions legislation on Capitol Hill, Obama administration officials had accused the bill's backers of lending de facto support for what White House press secretary Jay Carney called a 'march to war.' Such talk has infuriated even some Democrats. Obama's tone was much softer Tuesday. Rather than make accusations—that 'risks of war' line was far more generalized than Carney's language—he struck a more defensive tone, assuring Congress and the country that he's not naive about diplomacy," writes Michael Crowley in Time.


Pacific Rim

Philippines Says Dozens of Islamists Killed in Army Offensive

At least thirty-seven Islamist fighters were killed in a two-day operation against insurgents opposed to a new peace deal between the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country's main Islamist armed group (al-Jazeera).

THAILAND: The government plans to deploy ten thousand police officers in Bangkok to secure the city during Sunday's election as protestors seeking to topple the prime minister promised to disrupt the vote (Reuters).

CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick explains in this blog post why Thailand is undergoing an "unannounced coup."


South and Central Asia

Outrage in India Over Rape Remarks

Asha Mirje, a female politician and member of a government panel for women, caused outrage after blaming a woman's "clothing and behavior" for rape. Mirje later apologized. Rape has come to the forefront of public attention in India, where the crime is recorded every 22 minutes (BBC).

This CFR Backgrounder explains women's rights in India.

AFGHANISTAN: More than half the members of the Afghan military and police are expected to remain illiterate even after the United States provides $200 million in tutoring (Bloomberg), according to an independent monitoring agency.


Middle East

Turkey Hikes Interest Rate to Stem Currency Slide

The Turkish lira gained 3.6 percent against the dollar after Turkey's central bank more than doubled the benchmark weekly repo rate from 4.5 percent to 10 percent. Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said he is against the hike and warned the central bank that it would be responsible for a potential dip in growth rates (FT).

This CFR Backgrounder explains currency crises.

EGYPT: Deposed president Mohammed Morsi made his second court appearance since the army took control of the country in July, where he faced charges of orchestrating a prison break in 2011 (LATimes).

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



UN Security Council Takes Action on Central African Republic

The United Nations Security Council approved a resolution that imposes a travel ban and freezes assets of people suspected of war crimes in Central African Republic. The names of the sanctioned weren't included in the resolution and will be taken up by the Security Council later (NYT).

NIGERIA: Members of Nigerian militant Islamic group Boko Haram are suspected to be behind two attacks in rural villages this week that killed 138 people (All Africa).

This CFR Backgrounder explains the origins and evolution of Boko Haram.



Russia May Review Ukraine Bailout

President Vladimir Putin said Russia may review the $15 billion aid package to Ukraine it approved last year if Ukraine doesn't carry out structural changes that were agreed to orally when the loans were signed (WSJ).

GERMANY: The European Union's financial services chief is facing a pushback from politicians over his plan to prevent the bloc's thirty largest banks from becoming "too big to fail" (Bloomberg).



Fed Expected to Further Cut Bond Purchases

The Federal Reserve is expected to further reduce its bond-buying program by $10 billion at its meeting on Wednesday, the last to be presided over by outgoing chairman Ben Bernanke, who will be succeeded next week by Vice Chair Janet Yellen (AP).



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