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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
February 26, 2014

Top of the Agenda

Obama Threatens Full Afghanistan Withdrawal

President Barack Obama told Afghan leader Hamid Karzai in a telephone call on Tuesday that the United States is preparing contingency plans for a full withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 after it became clear that Karzai wouldn't sign a bilateral security agreement with the United States (AP). A Pakistani official warned that the "zero option," as the full withdrawal is known, will likely lead to a civil war in Afghanistan (Defense News). Meanwhile, the United States has intensified its campaign against the Taliban-linked Haqqani network as the clock winds down on the NATO combat mission in Afghanistan (Reuters).


"What the Americans, and indeed many Afghans, appear to be hoping is that even if Mr. Karzai must now be written off as hostile, his successor will want to sign the security pact. It looks a reasonable bet. According to Lotfullah Najafizada of Tolo News, the BSA is supported by most Afghan government ministers, the heads of the security forces and all the main presidential-election candidates," writes the Economist.

"A reduction in assistance levels is both inevitable and, many argue, even healthy. But a precipitous, unmanaged free-fall could undermine many of the gains made since 2001, and be highly destabilizing. This would be bad news for Afghans, the region, and the United States," write Michael Keating and Matt Waldman in Foreign Policy.

"Fraying government control at the edges should serve as a warning. An unraveling of the Afghan state can be avoided, but it will require the international community to stay involved. The mission has not been accomplished, despite what Britain's prime minister, David Cameron, has claimed. Afghan forces stand a fighting chance, but they need help," writes Graeme Smith in the New York Times.


Pacific Rim

China Plans New Holidays that May Rankle Japan

China is considering two new national days to mark the Nanjing Massacre and Japan's defeat in World War II, a move that may further escalate tensions after Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe's December visit to a controversial shrine honoring Japan's dead (Bloomberg).

JAPAN: MtGox, once the largest bitcoin exchange, has disappeared from the Internet after it revealed a theft of almost 750,000 bitcoins that went unnoticed for years (Guardian).

Gavin Andresen, chief scientist at Bitcoin Foundation, discusses the growth and challenges of the digital currency at this CFR meeting.


South and Central Asia

Pakistan Plans Major Operation in North Waziristan

The Pakistani government is planning to launch a major offensive in the North Waziristan tribal region along the Afghan border in response to brutal attacks by the Taliban and the failure of peace talks with the group (WaPo).

This CFR Backgrounder explains Pakistan's new generation of terrorists.


Middle East

Egypt’s New Prime Minister to Form Government

Egypt's military-backed interim president appointed Ibrahim Mahleb, an industrialist, as the country's new interim prime minister. Mahleb said he would form a caretaker government within a week, but didn't clarify the role of Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is favored to be Egypt's next president (WSJ).

SYRIA: The leader of Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, issued an ultimatum to splinter group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant to stop their infighting or face a war that "will terminate them" (al-Jazeera).

This CFR Backgrounder explains the origins of al-Qaeda in Iraq and its expansion into Syria.



Patients Shot Dead in South Sudan

Doctors Without Borders, the aid group known by its French initials MSF, discovered at least fourteen dead bodies in a hospital in the contested city of Malakal. Several were shot dead in their beds. The grisly find has forced MSF to examine its operations in South Sudan (AP).

RWANDA: The trial of a former Pentecostal pastor accused of genocide began in Kigali, making him the first suspect in a genocide case to be transferred from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Tanzania to the Rwandan court system (Deutsche Welle).



EU Weighs Its Options on Support for a New Ukraine

Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, promised to provide unspecific support for a new Ukrainian government, but urged it not to break off trade and cultural ties with Moscow (NYT).

Journalist Serge Schmemann says in this CFR interview that the EU and United States should join efforts with Russia to try to stabilize Ukraine.

RUSSIA: A Moscow court sentenced three opposition leaders, including Alexei Navalny, to jail for up to ten days for participating in an unauthorized protest near the Kremlin on Monday (Moscow Times).



U.S. Expels Three Venezuelan Officials

The United States has expelled three Venezuelan diplomats in response to the expulsion of three U.S. consular officials in Caracas. Venezuela accused the U.S. diplomats of having links to violent groups, claims that President Obama said were baseless (BBC).

UNITED STATES: Credit rating agency Moody's warned that non-bank mortgage servicers are likely to become the "next generation" of subprime lenders (FT).



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