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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
February 14, 2014

Top of the Agenda

Deadlock and Dismay Over Syria Peace Talks

Senior diplomats from the United States and Russia met with Syria peace talks mediator Lakhdar Brahimi in Geneva on Thursday in an effort to salvage the process as both sides have yet to agree to an agenda for negotiations (Reuters). Meanwhile, the UN Security Council remains deadlocked over voting on a possible resolution that would enforce humanitarian access to starving and besieged Syrian civilians (BBC). The UN relief operation in the central city of Homs has come to an end and won't resume until a new written agreement between rebels and the government can be reached (WSJ). The death toll, which is no longer tallied by the UN, has spiked since the Geneva talks began, with almost five thousand deaths since January 22, the deadliest period in the three-year conflict (AP).


"As the savage killings and stratospheric refugee numbers in Syria continue to climb, a key question emerges. When will the United States and other global powers experience a 'Srebrenica moment,' when they can no longer stand on the sidelines and resolve instead that they finally have to act?," writes Nicholas Burns in the Boston Globe.

"Putin has a point: All of Syria's atrocities cannot be placed solely at the feet of the regime. Nevertheless, when it comes to stopping these war crimes, the buck stops with Russia, Syria's chief backer at the United Nations. Moscow, however, has long opposed U.N. action to push Assad's government to meet its international obligations. Following last fall's chemical weapons deal brokered by the U.S. government and Russia, the council's silence on Syria's humanitarian catastrophe became increasingly untenable," writes Mark Malloch-Brown in Foreign Policy.

"Failure is imminent. The Al-Assad regime has no incentive to enter these negotiations with any seriousness; the opposition has no meaningful or effective leverage to convince the key actors to bring significant pressure to bear on the regime or to force its hand by military means. Unless there is a serious shift in the balance of power combined with new creative strategies, there is no hope of any agreement emerging from Geneva," writes Amr al-Azm in the Cairo Review of Global Affairs.


Pacific Rim

Thailand Scrambles to Sell Rice to Pay Farmer Subsidy

Thailand's government plans to sell almost one million tons of rice over the next two weeks despite falling prices in order to settle a nearly $4 billion debt to farmers under a subsidy scheme that threatens more financial and political damage to Yingluck Shinawatra's administration (FT).

CHINA: A new policy by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to protect whistle-blowers is expected to encourage employees to uncover more corruption at U.S. companies operating in Asia (SCMP).


South and Central Asia

Pakistani Taliban Claim Attack on Karachi Police

The Pakistani Taliban claimed credit for detonating a car bomb that killed twelve policemen on a bus in Karachi, as the group continues attacking the government while negotiating with it to end the seven-year insurgency (AFP).

This CFR Backgrounder explains the origins and evolution of the Pakistani Taliban and other terrorist groups in the country.

INDIA: Lawmakers in India's parliament broke out in a brawl on Thursday over the creation of a new state in the country. Four politicians were taken to the hospital because of the fight (Times of India).


Middle East

Iran’s Economy Improves as Tensions Ease

Iran's economy, still crippled by sanctions, is expected to start growing next year, as a new president and easing tensions over Tehran's nuclear program have helped stabilized the currency and boosted confidence (WSJ).



Turkey Stops Support for Somali Government

Turkey has stopped direct budgetary support for Somalia's government, cutting off a major source of funding as Somalia tries to rebuild after decades of war. Turkey's support for the government has drawn the ire of al-Shabab terrorists, who raided Turkey's embassy in Mogadishu in July (Reuters).

This CFR Backgrounder explains the rise of Somalia's al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabab.

SOUTH AFRICA: President Jacob Zuma called for an end to violent protests and mining strikes and warned that inflation may rise due to the weakening currency. Zuma is seeking a second term in the May 7 elections (Bloomberg).

CFR's John Campbell in this blog post writes on the issues and players in South Africa's upcoming elections.



Italy’s Prime Minister Resigns

Prime Minister Enrico Letta said on Thursday he would resign after his own Democratic Party, which is part of a weak coalition government, moved to replace him with the party's new leader, Matteo Renzi (NYT).

BELGIUM: The eurozone economy grew by 0.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013, up from 0.1 percent in the third quarter, and indicators show a broad-based recovery picking up pace (BBC).



Federal Judge Strikes Down Virginia Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Judge Arenda Wright Allen of the United States District Court in Norfolk, Virginia, ruled that Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, comparing the issue to the defunct anti-miscegenation laws that banned interracial marriages (Politico).

This CFR Backgrounder examines same-sex marriage in six countries.

VENEZUELA: A Venezuelan court ordered the arrest of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez on murder and terrorism charges linked to antigovernment protests organized by Lopez (al-Jazeera).



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