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July 8, 2015

Daily News Brief

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Afghan Delegation, Taliban Hold Peace Talks

A delegation of Afghan government officials and representatives from the Afghan Taliban held the first round of Pakistan-brokered peace talks (Dawn) near Islamabad on Tuesday. They agreed to meet again (International News) after Ramadan. Officials from the United States and China observed (Reuters) the talks. The meeting comes amid a series of attacks (Bloomberg) throughout Afghanistan since the Taliban launched its annual fighting season. The Taliban has called for the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan before it agrees to full peace negotiations.


"Peace begins on the battlefield: if the Taliban capture more ground, particularly provincial capitals, the Quetta Shura will see little reason to bargain, believing that an Afghan government defeat is imminent. The summer fighting season will be particularly critical to Taliban decision-making, as the leadership will take note of successes and failures on the battlefield to decide whether war will be more profitable than peace. A strong performance by the Afghan army could therefore deal a serious blow to the Taliban's confidence, pushing the peace process forward," write James Dobbins and Carter Malkasian in Foreign Affairs.

"The Afghan Government appears to be a strong purveyor of dialogue process. The incumbent Afghan President is clearly very serious and active in trying to bring the Taliban to the talking table. On the other hand, the Taliban have evolved from a group that adopted armed activities as their signature, since the ousting of their government in 2001, into a political movement using armed activities as a way to come back to power," writes Baker Atyani in Al Arabiya.

"By gambling his whole political capital on Pakistan's pledge to deliver peace in Afghanistan Dr Ghani has afforded the former a leverage bordering on veto power. Instead of regionalising and internationalising the conflict, Dr Ghani turned it into a bilateral issue and that too in a terribly lopsided relationship. While Dr Ashraf Ghani runs the risk of political isolation and even a potential debacle at home, he has also painted Afghanistan into a geopolitical corner," writes Mohammad Taqi in the Daily Times.


China's Market Continues Sharp Drop

Chinese stock markets have lost (Bloomberg) an estimated $3.2 trillion in value over the past three weeks, despite state interventions. The Shanghai Composite fell 5.9 percent on Wednesday, down 32 percent from mid-June. The market's regulator, China Securities Finance Corporation, expanded (Reuters) its rescue efforts, providing an additional $42 billion in credit lines to bolster stock prices.

MYANMAR: Authorities said Myanmar's general election (Irrawaddy) will take place November 8.  Democracy advocates hope that the election will be the nation's first credible vote in more than two decades.

This CFR Backgrounder provides a look at Myanmar's political evolution.


India Inks Deals With Kazakhstan

India and Kazakhstan signed (Hindu) five agreements on Wednesday, including a deal to boost military cooperation and a contract for Kazakhstan to sell uranium to India. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Astana on Tuesday to meet with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev ahead of back-to-back summits for the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.


Islamic State Claims Yemeni Bombing

Militants of the self-proclaimed Islamic State claimed responsibility (Al Arabiya) for Tuesday's bombing of a Shia mosque in Yemen's capital of Sana'a that killed one and injured five. Nearly two hundred people were killed (VOA) earlier this week in Saudi-led coalition air strikes and clashes between warring factions in Yemen.

IRAN: Negotiations between major powers and Iran to strike a deal on Tehran's nuclear program will continue (Reuters) to Friday, extending beyond a second self-imposed deadline. However, a source told Reuters on Tuesday that talks would have to conclude within forty-eight hours. 


South Sudan Rebel Leader Calls for Presidential Resignation

South Sudan rebel leader and former vice president Riek Machar called for President Salva Kiir to step down (Daily Nation) in order to pave the way for elections slated for 2018. Machar also blamed the leader for killings in South Sudan. Meanwhile, the UN Refugee Agency said that 730,000 South Sudanese have fled (Sudan Tribune) to neighboring countries since violence broke out in December 2013.

NIGERIA: President Muhammadu Buhari approved (This Day) a $2.1 billion package to help bankrupt states in Nigeria pay salaries and allowances. The Nigerian government's revenue, largely dependent on oil exports, has suffered in recent months because of the drop in oil prices.


Eurozone Leaders Issue Greece Ultimatum

European leaders gave Greece until Thursday to propose a new reform plan (Guardian), raising Greece's exit from the eurozone as a serious possibilty. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras made a plea (Politico EU) before the EU Parliament on Wednesday for a "sustainable" solution to his country's debt crisis. Athens made a request for assistance from the European Stability Mechanism, the first formal step for requesting more aid from eurozone partners.

CFR senior fellows break down Greece's referendum on a European bailout package in this Media Call.

TURKEY: Authorities announced plans to build (Hurriyet) a 55,000-person capacity camp near Turkey's southern border to address the influx of Syrian refugees. Nearly two million Syrians have entered Turkey since conflict erupted in 2011.


U.S. Army to Shed 40,000 Troops

The U.S. Army plans to cut (USA TODAY) 40,000 troops over the next two years due to budgetary constraints, according to a USA Today report. The troop reduction is expected to affect all domestic and foreign outposts.

CUBA: The United States government approved (Merco Press) plans to launch cruises between Miami and Cuba for Carnival Corporation, the world's largest cruise company. The plan awaits approval from Havana. On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department denounced (LAHT) the detention of one hundred activists in Havana on Sunday.

This CFR Interactive charts the evolution of U.S.-Cuba relations.


BRICS Summit Launches in Russia

Leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) kicked off the grouping's annual summit with the Business Council of BRICS members signing (Sputnik News) a declaration of investment cooperation. Gathered in Ufa, Russia, members are expected to launch the BRICS New Development Bank and establish a $100 billion liquidity reserve at this week's summit.

CFR's Stewart Patrick says the BRICS are forming multilateral bodies intended to reduce Western influence over the global financial system. Watch the video.