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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
February 4, 2014

Top of the Agenda

Obama Aides Defend Syria Policy

The Obama administration defended its policy on Syria and disputed reports that Secretary of State John Kerry told U.S. lawmakers the policy was failing, as recounted by senior Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham (Reuters). Meanwhile, Russia confirmed that Syrian government officials will attend the next round of peace talks in Geneva, and Russia's foreign minister met Tuesday with the head of Syria's main opposition group, the National Coalition, in Moscow (al-Jazeera). Meanwhile, Wissam Fayez Sara, the twenty-seven-year-old Christian son of a prominent member of Syria's National Coalition, has died in a prison in Damascus (AFP). Separately, al-Qaeda's central leadership broke off ties with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a month after most Syrian rebels began fighting the group (AP).


"As a starting point, the administration could join an effort by allies on the UN Security Council to win passage of a resolution that calls on Syria to cooperate with the delivery of humanitarian supplies and authorizes UN agencies to operate in areas outside government control. Russia may resist the resolution, but with the Sochi Olympic Games about to begin, even Vladi­mir Putin may hesitate to be seen vetoing food deliveries to famished children," writes the Washington Post in an editorial.

"There are many reasons a secretary of state—particularly one who has been more inclined to intervene in Syria than many of his colleagues in the White House national security apparatus—might see this particular moment in the three-year-old Syria crisis as an inflection point. The utter failure of the Geneva peace talks is one reason. Reports that Syria is not complying with its promise to divest itself of its chemical weapons stockpiles is another," writes Jeffrey Goldberg for Bloomberg.

"This is the first time in al-Qaeda's history that the group has publicly disaffiliated itself with a group bearing its name—even though ISIS has not used the name 'al-Qaeda' since 2006. While it remains too early to know its effect in the Syrian context, the statement is significant nonetheless -- both historically and for what it means for the broader global jihadist movement," writes Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.


Pacific Rim

Rice Scheme Woes Increase Pressure on Thai PM

A subsidized rice program that costs taxpayers $6 billion per year and helped sweep Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to power in 2011 is struggling and may collapse, adding to pressure on Shinawatra's government as the opposition filed legal challenges to void last weekend's election (Reuters).

JAPAN: Stocks in Japan led a global selloff on Tuesday as investors worried about the economic recovery in the United States and the cloudy outlook for emerging markets (AP).


South and Central Asia

Karzai Arranged Secret Contacts With the Taliban

Afghan president Hamid Karzai has reached out to the Taliban about reaching a peace agreement without the United States, a move that undermines the remaining confidence between the United States and Karzai (NYT).

This CFR Backgrounder explains the origins and resilience of the Taliban.

PAKISTAN: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government plans to hold talks with representatives of the Pakistani Taliban, but many analysts doubt that a peace deal can be reached (WaPo).

This Council Special Report examines the reorientation of the U.S.-Pakistan strategy.


Middle East

Saudi Arabia Faces Dilemma on Economic Reform

In the wake of protests in the Middle East in 2011, Saudi Arabia announced $130 billion in spending to stave off unrest at home. Now the kingdom is grappling with reforms that are needed to put the economy on a stronger footing but risks reducing subsidies that placated the population (FT).



Rwanda Genocide Trial Opens in France

Pascal Simbikangwa, a former Rwandan army captain accused of inciting, organizing, and aiding massacres during the 1994 genocide that left 800,000 dead, is being tried in Paris, the first case of its kind in France (AFP).

GHANA: Investors have soured on many commodity-rich emerging markets, but many African countries that supply tobacco, oil, and cocoa to China have been spared in the global market rout (WSJ).



Parliament Seeks to Curb Ukraine President’s Powers

Opposition members in Ukraine's parliament are calling for changes to the constitution that would give the legislature more control over the forming of governments and curb the powers of the president (BBC).

UNITED KINGDOM: The chief executive of Barclays, the second-largest British bank by assets, said he will turn down his 2013 bonus due to regulatory penalties and lawsuits costs imposed on the bank (Bloomberg).



Treasury Secretary Urges Congress to Raise Debt Ceiling

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warned Congress not to delay raising the country's debt limit because it could rattle financial markets and damage the economy. The United States could face default on some of its bills if the debt limit isn't raised by the end of February (LATimes).

This CFR Backgrounder explains the costs and consequences of the U.S. debt ceiling.

UNITED STATES: Western Union will remain under the supervision of a monitor and may face new financial penalties after Arizona's attorney general said the company isn't doing enough to prevent money laundering (WSJ).



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