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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
March 19, 2014

Top of the Agenda

Syria Conflict Stirs New Concern

UN investigators told the Human Rights Council in Geneva that they had expanded their list of Syrian individuals, military units, security agencies, and insurgent groups suspected of war crimes, and have collected enough evidence to substantiate indictments (Reuters). Meanwhile, the Obama administration ordered the Syrian government to suspend operations at its American embassy and consulates, requiring personnel who are not legal residents to leave the country (AP). As the conflict marked the third anniversary of the initial uprising that sparked the civil war this week, regional fallout has spread. The Lebanese military moved to break a blockade of a Sunni town in the Bekaa Valley that followed rocket attacks in the area (Daily Star), while Israel retaliated against Syrian security targets after a bomb wounded four Israeli soldiers in the Golan Heights on Tuesday (Haaretz).


"The Assad regime's recent successes are by no means sweeping -- its offensive operations sometimes progress very slowly or fail altogether, and in some places it has lost ground. But it is having incremental success on key fronts in Aleppo and the Damascus area. If it prevails there, the war's real and perceived direction would shift strongly in its favor -- Bashar al-Assad and his allies, buoyed by success, would press their 'military solution' harder and become even less inclined to negotiate," writes the Washington Institute's Jeffrey White.

"In the unceasing warfare between rival camps all around Israel's borders, Israel is a secondary player, and conventional wisdom has been that the main players are too busy battling each other to attack Israel. But the ongoing instability is gradually wearing down the security bubble in which Israelis have been living in recent years," writes Amos Harel in Haaretz.

"The best case for Syria and for the credibility of the United States would be one in which the president upholds the operational relevance and directive nature of his August 2011 step-aside language and permits the interagency national security system to go back to the drawing board in creating options for his consideration. The worst case would be one that continues to permit the strategic communicators to broadcast the inadmissibility of what is happening in Syria, but coupling that message with operational inaction justified by excuses ranging from someone else's civil war, to the purported failure of mass murder to achieve the definition of genocide, to the all-or-nothing argument that anything with a military dimension amounts or leads to the invasion and occupation of Syria," writes former ambassador Frederic C. Hof.


Pacific Rim

China Dismisses Uighur Connection in Missing Plane

Beijing dismissed any link between China's Uighur ethnic minority and missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. Two-thirds of the flight's passengers were Chinese (FT).

TAIWAN: Hundreds of activists opposed to a trade deal with China broke into the parliament Tuesday night and have refused to leave (BBC).


South and Central Asia

Karzai Nominates Opposition Leader for VP

Afghan president Hamid Karzai nominated opposition leader Younus Qanuni as first vice president to replace Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, who died of a heart attack this month (TOLO). Qanuni, an ethnic Tajik, is a veteran of the anti-Taliban resistance, the Northern Alliance, and his nomination preserves Kabul's ethnic balance (NYT).

This Council Special Report discusses the importance of multiethnic coalitions in Afghanistan's 2014 elections.

SRI LANKA: Police said they released two human rights activists Tuesday night whose arrests earlier this week under an antiterrorism law drew domestic and international condemnation. A third campaigner against political disappearances remains in detention (BBC)


Middle East

Iran Talks Not Hurt by Ukraine Crisis, U.S. and EU Say

U.S. and European officials said that the P5+1 negotiating bloc remained united in nuclear talks with Iran despite divisions within the camp sowed by Russia's move to annex Crimea. The talks in Vienna are slated to conclude on Wednesday (NYT).

CFR's Global Conflict Tracker explains the prospects for a nuclear standoff.



South Sudanese Forces Target UN Personnel

South Sudanese forces have impeded peacekeepers from providing humanitarian aid, conducting routine patrols, and de-mining areas, violating the Status of Forces agreement between the UN and South Sudan, according to a confidential letter from the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations sent to the Security Council (FP).

SPAIN: Some five hundred migrants, many from Senegal and Mali, jumped the barbed-wire border fence dividing the Spain's North African enclave of Melilla from Morocco early Tuesday. The monthly average of migrants attempting to enter Melilla in the first two months of 2014 is triple that of the year prior (El Pais).



Militias Seize Ukraine Naval Headquarters in Crimea

Pro-Russia militias backed by Russian forces seized Ukraine's naval headquarters in Sevastopol on Wednesday morning, the day after Russian president Vladimir Putin moved to annex Crimea. One Ukrainian serviceman was killed on Tuesday, but no other exchange of fire has been reported (Kyiv Post).

This Backgrounder explains origins of the crisis in Ukraine.

NATO: U.S. vice president Joe Biden, visiting eastern Europe, told U.S. allies there that the United States is considering holding military exercises in the Baltic states to deter further Russian aggression (Guardian).



Jurors in Terrorism Trial Won’t Hear From Accused 9/11 Mastermind

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is held at Guantánamo Bay, will not testify in the trial of Suleiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, Southern District of New York judge Lewis Kaplan ruled Tuesday (Reuters).

GUATEMALA: Former president Alfonso Portillo pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court in New York on Tuesday on money laundering charges, saying he took $2.5 million from the government of Taiwan in exchange for continuing to recognize it diplomatically (WSJ).



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