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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
January 30, 2014

Top of the Agenda

Syria to Miss Chemical Weapons Deadline

Less than 5 percent of Syria's chemical weapons have been sent out of the country, and the government is expected to miss next week's deadline to send all toxic agents abroad for destruction, Reuters reports. The first round of peace talks between the Assad regime and its opponents concludes in Geneva on Friday, but few issues have been resolved, and the greatest accomplishment appears to be getting both sides in the same room (NYT). Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch released satellite images showing thousands of demolished buildings in rebel-held areas, and the group characterized the destruction as collective punishment by the Syrian government (Guardian).


"Had Geneva truly been an attempt to resolve the Syrian stalemate, influential nations would have insisted on the regime's adherence to the basic recommendations of the Geneva I talks in 2012, including the provision of humanitarian aid, the release of prisoners of conscience, and the cessation of Assad's relentless air strikes on civilians," writes Rime Allaf in the Guardian.

"So what does all this very preliminary evidence [data on torture practices] from Syria mean? First, that torture as a use of force is unlikely to go away, even as the regime consolidates its strength (including, potentially, in Islamist-held areas in the Kurdish north as opposition infighting continues). Second, torture is generally less prevalent in contested rural areas and is most common in urban areas under regime control," writes Lionel Beehner in the Washington Post.

"Sunni Islamists, particularly Salafis, have used six main terms to describe those that support, are on the side of, or are fighting with the Assad regime: Nusayri, rafidha, majus, Safawi, Hizb al-Lat, and Hizb al-Shaytan. Their Shiite Islamist foes have also adopted their own titles for their Sunni opponents, some of the main terms include: Nasabi, Takfiri, Ummayad, and Wahhabi. For both sides, these terms serve to paint their enemies as nothing more than infidels bent on destroying Islam. Consequently, there can only be one punishment: Death," writes Aaron Zelin and Phillip Smyth in Foreign Policy.


Pacific Rim

Thai Army to Deploy More Troops Ahead of Election

Thailand's army will increase the number of soldiers in Bangkok ahead of Sunday's election as antigovernment protesters said they would disrupt the ballot in their attempt to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (Reuters).

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

CHINA: The People's Bank of China is investigating a loophole that allowed companies to overcome liquidity shortages and gain as much as $1.6 billion from the transactions (Bloomberg).


South and Central Asia

Taliban Leaders Exploit U.S.-Afghan Rift

Afghan president Hamid Karzai's decision not to sign a security deal with the United States in November has created a rift between two countries that's being exploited by hardline Taliban commanders at the expense of more moderate leaders who are pursuing peace talk (WSJ).

The CFR Backgrounder explains the origins and resiliency of Afghanistan's Taliban.

BANGLADESH: Motiur Rahman Nizami, the head of Bangladesh's main Islamist party, and thirteen other people have been sentenced to death for arms smuggling ten years ago (Express Tribune).


Middle East

U.S. Congress Backs Off Iran Sanctions

Several Democratic senators who supported a bipartisan sanctions bill intended to keep pressure on Iran have publicly stepped back from the legislation following President Barack Obama's threat to veto new sanctions while diplomats seek a deal with Iran (RFE/RL).



Somali President Seeks Weapons to Fight Terrorists

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said he wanted the UN Security Council to extend a partial waiver of an arms embargo on his country so Somali troops can receive better equipment to fight al-Qaeda-linked groups such as al-Shabab (Reuters).

This CFR Backgrounder explains the origins and development of al-Shabab.

SOUTH SUDAN: Rebel leader and former vice president Riek Machar said he didn't plan a coup, and called on mediators to release four of his imprisoned allies who are charged with treason (BBC).



Ukrainian President Takes Sick Leave

Ukraine's president, Viktor Yanukovich, fell ill as he is coming under increasing pressure to offer concessions to the opposition, whose two-month protest movement is spreading across the country. Prior to the sick leave announcement, protestors rejected an offer of amnesty if they vacate local government buildings (FT).

RUSSIA: The United States told its NATO allies that Russia had tested a new ground-launched cruise missile, raising concerns that the test violates an arms control treaty signed in 1987 (NYT).



Argentines Adapt to Economic Turmoil

Argentines, who have gone through at least five severe economic downturns since the 1930s, are using their honed survival skills such as hoarding dollars, stockpiling goods, and buying real estate to cope with high inflation and a rapid 15 percent decline in the peso's value against the U.S. dollar (AP).

This CFR Backgrounder explains currency crises.

UNITED STATES: The Federal Reserve reduced its bond-buying program by $10 billion, bringing total monthly purchases to $65 billion, and provided a more upbeat outlook on the U.S. economy than in December (AFP).



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