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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
March 28, 2014

Top of the Agenda

Obama Seeks to Narrow Rift With Saudi Arabia

U.S. president Barack Obama arrives Friday in Riyadh, where he will meet with his Saudi counterpart, King Abdullah, in an effort to smooth bilateral relations. Saudi Arabia has diverged from the United States' strategies in the Middle East, supporting jihadists in Syria, trying to contain rival Iran, and supporting the military-backed government in Egypt. Obama seeks to reassure Saudi Arabia that the United States remains committed to its security as it pursues a nuclear deal with Iran and reduces its regional military presence in the region (NYT). The kingdom faces domestic turbulence as well. King Abdullah, in his early nineties, decreed on Thursday that seventy-nine-year-old Crown Prince Salman will succeed him. Jobs and housing are in short supply for a rapidly growing population, and economists say reforms are needed for the oil-dependent economy (WSJ). Activists renewed calls to defy the ban on female drivers while advocating broader political reforms (AP).


"If the United States manages to secure a viable nuclear deal with Iran, it would reduce the risk of war and create pressures and opportunities to build more constructive relations—anathema to a grand strategy built around regional confrontation with Tehran. Still, the fact that Saudi Arabia has so publicly lambasted the Obama administration suggests that the Saudis don't actually fear abandonment all that much. If they did, they might be more keen to find ways to reassure rather than to confront Washington," writes Marc Lynch for the Washington Post.

"Two camps are emerging: one led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which maintains that political Islam is a perilous force that should be confronted; and the other led by Qatar and Turkey's ruling party, which believes in political Islam's ability to transform the region. 'This confrontation has not reached its peak yet,' [Tarek Osman] says. Saudi Arabia's policies might be pursued in the name of stability. But they could well achieve the opposite," writes Roula Khalaf in the Financial Times.

"Younger rank-and-file Brothers in Saudi, like those in other Brotherhood franchises outside Egypt, are starting to lose hope in peaceful political change. That frustration can lead to apathy. But it can also lead to violence—and if it does, the Saudi government's decision to declare the group a terrorist organization will have been a self-fulfilling prophecy," writes William McCants in Foreign Affairs.


Pacific Rim

After WTO Ruling, Rare-Earth Element Prices Expected to Drop

Rare-earth elements, which are critical in technologies such as smartphones, are expected to drop in price after China, which produces 90 percent of the world's supply, lost a dispute with the United States, European Union, and Japan over export restrictions at the World Trade Organization (SCMP).

SOUTH KOREA: South Korea repatriated the remains of 437 Chinese soldiers who died fighting on the communist side of the 1950-53 Korean war, a move expected to boost bilateral relations (Yonhap).


South and Central Asia

UN Approves Inquiry Into Sri Lanka War Crimes

The Geneva-based Human Rights Council on Thursday approved an investigation into allegations of human rights violations committed on both sides of a civil war fought by the government and Tamil rebels that ended in May 2009 (AP).

PAKISTAN: A Lahore court found a Pakistani Christian man guilty of blasphemy on Thursday and sentenced him to death in a case that touched off riots last year (NYT).


Middle East

Qatar Sentences U.S. Couple in Daughter's Death

A court sentenced Matthew and Grace Huang to three years imprisonment in the death of their eight-year-old adopted daughter. The U.S. State Department criticized the case, saying that "cultural misunderstandings may have been leading to an unfair trial" (National).



Mali Court to Hear Ex-President's Treason Case

A new high court was sworn in on Thursday to hear a treason case against President Amadou Toumani Toure, who was toppled in a 2012 coup after failing to put down a separatist movement that ushered in armed Islamist groups (Reuters).

GUINEA: Twenty laboratories around the world have stepped up production of antibodies to treat an Ebola outbreak (VOA).



Turkey Adds YouTube to Pre-Election Media Restrictions

The Justice and Development Party moved to block YouTube on Thursday after the leak of a recording in which senior officials allegedly discussed military intervention in Syria. The move follows a widely circumvented block of Twitter and pressure on local media in the run-up to municipal elections Sunday that are seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Today's Zaman).

Many have called on President Abdullah Gul to rein in Erdogan's authoritarian measure, but he is unlikely to do so, writes Steven Cook in Foreign Affairs.

UKRAINE: Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko announced her candidacy for the presidency on Thursday, joining a crowded field (Kyiv Post). Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress approved a $1 billion loan guarantee for Ukraine on the heels of an IMF bailout (Reuters).

Robert Kahn explains the IMF's program for Ukraine.



Cuba to Expand Foreign Investment

In a bid to attract fresh capital with expanded market reforms, Cuba's new foreign investment law will cut taxes, open new sectors to foreign investment, and allow investments by Cubans living abroad, state media reported (Miami Herald).

Despite Cuba's recent economic reforms, normalization in U.S.-Cuban relations is a long way off, this Backgrounder explains.

UNITED STATES: The Air Force sacked nine officers assigned to safeguard the U.S. nuclear arsenal after an investigation charged them with creating a command climate that condoned widespread cheating on exams (WaPo).



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