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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
March 6, 2014

Top of the Agenda

U.S. Says Syria Refuses to Destroy Chemical Plants

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, accused the Syrian government of refusing to seriously negotiate the destruction of facilities used to make chemical weapons, a charge that came after Syria delivered about a third of its chemical stockpile for destruction (Reuters). A United Nations report found that the Syrian government and some armed opposition groups have employed siege tactics to punish civilians, and blamed the Security Council for allowing such war crimes to continue (al-Jazeera). The report also said that chemical weapons used in two incidents last year appear to have come from the Syrian military. Meanwhile, a string of bombings in Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon have increased the costs of the Iran-backed militant group's participation in Syria's civil war (Bloomberg).


"Syria represents a true 'spring' for the jihadi teachings of Abu Musab Al Suri. Non-jihadists might cheer continued infighting among these radical groups in the hopes that they will wipe each other out, but continued fighting in Syria also holds the potential for a far more dangerous outcome. The teachings of Abu Musab could spark the rise of a more formidable generation of jihadists, who spread beyond Syria's borders and defy any attempts to defeat them through military means," writes Hassan Hassan in the Abu Dhabi daily the National.

"The Western states' single-minded, exclusive pursuit of a negotiated settlement deprives opposition groups of substantial US military and financial support, without which they will not have the agency, capability, or incentive to negotiate a settlement with the regime. It is also signaling to regime allies the United States' disinterest in backing the rebellion, depriving it of leverage in negotiations with the regime," write Faysal Itani and Nathanial Rosenblatt of the Atlantic Council.

"Using force would make the president 'own' the Syrian tragedy. So far he has tried to pretend he doesn't have to. The fact is he owns it already. American inaction has strengthened Russia, Hezbollah and Iran. It has turned Syria into the next front in the war with Islamic extremism. And it has put in jeopardy the stability of Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey and risks leaving a failed state next door to Israel," writes Michael Ignatieff in the New York Times.


Pacific Rim

China Declares War on Pollution

Chinese premier Li Keqiang said the government will "declare war" on pollution by removing high-emission cars from the road and shuttering coal-fired furnaces (Bloomberg).

This CFR Backgrounder explains China's environmental crisis.

MALAYSIA: Human traffickers have kept hundreds of Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar captive in northern Malaysia, indicating a shift of trafficking gang operations from Thailand (Reuters).

CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick explains in this blog post the threat of rising hatred against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.


South and Central Asia

United States Holds India Trade Talks to Repair Ties

The United States is trying to improve trade relations with India (The Hindu) in order to rebuild ties, which have frayed after the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York who was suspected of fraud.

AFGHANISTAN: A NATO air strike in eastern Afghanistan unintentionally killed five Afghan soldiers, officials said. Although NATO apologized and vowed to avoid further mistakes, the incident is likely to worsen relations between Kabul and the U.S.-led coalition (al-Jazeera).


Middle East

Three Gulf States Pull Envoys From Qatar

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar, an unprecedented move within the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council that came after years of tension over the response to the Muslim Brotherhood, which Qatar supports (WSJ).



UN Eases Somalia’s Weapons Embargo

The UN Security Council extended an easing of a weapons ban in Somalia, but kept restrictions for heavy weapons and sensitive equipment for fear they would end up in the hands of Islamist extremists (AFP).

NIGERIA: The United States has frozen more than $458 million in assets stolen by the late Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha and stashed around the world (All Africa).



Russia-Ukraine Diplomacy Effort Fails

A U.S. effort to broker a face-to-face meeting between Russia and Ukraine over the Crimea confrontation failed on Wednesday, but the top diplomats from Washington and Moscow said there would be more discussions in the days ahead (NYT).

CFR's Michael Levi explains in this blog post why U.S. energy exports are unlikely to weaken Vladimir Putin's hand in Ukraine and Europe.

UKRAINE: Lawmakers in the Crimea region voted Thursday to hold a referendum on March 16 to decide whether Crimea should become a part of Russia (WaPo).



Venezuela Breaks Ties With Panama

President Nicolás Maduro has broken diplomatic relations and economic ties with Panama after the Central American country requested a meeting at the Organization of American States to discuss the crisis in Venezuela (BBC).

UNITED STATES: The Obama administration will allow a two-year extension for health insurance policies that don't meet the standards of the new law, a decision that could help defuse a political problem for Democrats in the midterm elections (AP).



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