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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
February 18, 2014

Top of the Agenda

Iran Nuclear Talks Begin in Vienna

Iran and six world powers began talks on Tuesday to reach a final settlement on Tehran's disputed nuclear program. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the process, which could span many months, "will not lead anywhere" (Reuters). Hardliners in Iran and the United States are suspicious of the talks, but analysts say that many leaders involved in the process are willing and capable of making a deal, especially as failure could renew a state of confrontation with Tehran (CSMonitor). Meanwhile, Iran's largest private lender, Bank Mellat, is suing the UK government for $4 billion in damages after the UK Supreme Court ruled that the government was wrong to impose sanctions on the bank, an action that's expected to be replicated by other Iranian companies seeking damages (BBC).


"There is no tolerable end to Iran's nuclear imbroglio other than a negotiated settlement. Given the disparity of power between the United States and Iran, Washington has an opportunity to craft a durable accord for arms control while preserving its coercive leverage. Such are the advantages of being a superpower with the world's largest economy and intact alliances. But for that to happen, the United States must stop underestimating its power and overestimating its adversary's resilience," writes CFR Senior Fellow Ray Takeyh in the Washington Post.

"American insistence on 'zero enrichment in Iran' is one reason for the failure of past talks. Last November's deal was only possible because the U.S. was prepared to be more realistic. A comprehensive agreement must offer something for both sides. Measures that go beyond the NPT may be required for a time to build confidence. But Iran cannot be expected to agree to them forever," writes Hossein Mousavian in the Financial Times.

"We do not strengthen such reformist voices as exist when we appear weak. The best argument such 'moderates'—if they exist—could make is that aggressive actions in Syria or support for terror overseas or refusal to compromise on nukes are dangerous for Iran and threaten its security interests. When we act in ways that undermine this argument and suggest that we will do anything to avoid a confrontation, we strengthen the hardest of hardliners," writes CFR Senior Fellow Elliott Abrams in the Weekly Standard.


Pacific Rim

China Rejects UN Criticism in North Korea Report

China said it rejected "unreasonable criticism" from a UN report on human rights abuses in North Korea that said Beijing may be "aiding and abetting crimes against humanity" by sending defectors back to North Korea to face torture or executions (Reuters).

THAILAND: Four people were killed and dozens were wounded after riot police tried to clear out antigovernment protests around Thailand's capital, Bangkok, on Tuesday (AP).


South and Central Asia

Pakistan Suspends Taliban Talks

A Pakistani government committee refused to meet representatives of the Taliban after a faction of the group claimed responsibility for the killing of twenty-three paramilitary soldiers who have been held hostage by the Taliban since 2010 (NYT).

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

AFGHANISTAN: The Obama administration will try to resume talks with the Taliban to trade prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay to win the release of an American soldier, the Washington Post reports.

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


Middle East

Islamists Claim Sinai Bombing of Tourist Bus

Islamist militant group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis said it a carried out a bomb attack on a tourist bus in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Sunday, killing three South Koreans and an Egyptian citizen (BBC).

This CFR Backgrounder explains the security challenges in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.



Nigeria’s Boko Haram Spills into Niger, Cameroon

Boko Haram, the violent Islamic insurgency in Nigeria, has taken up positions in neighboring Niger and Cameroon, prompting an air campaign by the Nigerian Air Force beyond its borders as it seeks to defeat the militant group (WSJ).

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

SOUTH SUDAN: Rebels claimed to have seized control of the capital of an oil-producing state, the first attack on a major town since the January 23 cease-fire deal (Sudan Tribune).



Police and Protestors Clash in Kiev

Antigovernment protestors clashed with riot police near Ukraine's parliament building in Kiev, with police firing stun grenades and rubber bullets and demonstrators reportedly using arms and hurling Molotov cocktails, as tensions continue in the three-month standoff (FT).

SWITZERLAND: An Ethiopian Airlines copilot hijacked his own plane and forced it to land in Geneva, an event that didn't trigger enough alarm for Switzerland's air force to scramble its jets outside of work hours (AFP).



Venezuela Expels U.S. Diplomats

President Nicolas Maduro ordered the expulsion of three U.S. embassy officials who he said were conspiring against his government by reaching out to dissident groups, a charge that the White House denied (al-Jazeera).

UNITED STATES: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in an interview with the Daily Beast that the U.S. government's collection of telephone records was kept secret for too long and should have been disclosed to the public.



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