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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
January 31, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Western, Arab States Pressure Syria as Russia Resists

Western and Arab states are pushing for the implementation of a UN Security Council Resolution that would call on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to step down and cease a nearly eleven-month violent crackdown on anti-government protesters and opposition forces. However, Russia continues to block UN action (al-Jazeera), warning that such a resolution would put Syria on a "path to civil war." At the same time, the Free Syrian Army, comprised of military defectors, continues to battle Syrian security forces in suburbs outside the capital of Damascus.


"Each side claims a monopoly on the truth, making it harder to really understand what is happening on the ground, especially journalists relying on unverifiable amateur footage from inside the country, government-escorted minders on the other side, statements from exiled opposition members and Syrian government officials who rarely grant journalists interviews," writes TIME's Ayman Mohyeldin.

"Military action would satisfy the understandable desire to do something--anything--in the face of terrible suffering. But it is unlikely to bring the conflict to a quick or satisfactory end, not least because opponents of the regime are divided. Dissidents have formed clashing camps and defectors follow rival officers," notes the Economist.

"The clich├ęd refrain that the Arab uprisings are about 'them' and not 'us' seems to treat Western powers as innocent bystanders, which they aren't and haven't been for five decades. International factors have been critical in the majority of countries facing unrest. In short, U.S. support for democracy matters and will continue to matter for the foreseeable future," writes Shadi Hamid at The Atlantic.



IAEA Approves Japan's Nuclear Stress Tests

The United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency said Japan has been adequately conducting reactor safety checks at its nuclear plants, but said companies need to develop "comprehensive accident management programs" (al-Jazeera) in the event of a nuclear disaster.

CHINA: A senior government official ordered tighter security at Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Sichuan province and a crackdown on anyone involved in "separatist, destructive, and criminal" activities (BBC). The move comes a week after a deadly clash between ethnic Tibetans and Chinese security forces.



Afghans Consider Direct Taliban Talks

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is looking to open direct negotiations with the Taliban in Saudi Arabia. The move is a response to allegedly being left out of U.S.-Taliban talks (NYT) over the war in Afghanistan, which are set to move forward in Qatar.

PAKISTAN: U.S. president Barack Obama acknowledged that the United States deploys unmanned drones (WSJ) in Pakistan to target suspected militants, but insisted the drone program has "not caused a huge number of civilian casualties."

Targeted killings have become a central component of U.S. counterterrorism operations around the globe. Despite pointed criticism over transparency and accountability issues, analysts say the controversial practice seems likely to expand in the future, explains this CFR Backgrounder.



U.S. Embassy in Cairo Shelters Three Americans

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo agreed to protect three Americans who were working in Egypt for a U.S.-based pro-democracy organization. Egyptian authorities barred them from leaving the country and said it would move forward with a criminal investigation into alleged foreign meddling (LAT).

In his blog Pressure Points, CFR's Elliott Abrams discusses how this incident is emblematic of evolving U.S.-Egypt relations.



China Urges Sudan to Free Workers

China called on Sudan to negotiate the release of twenty-nine Chinese construction workers (Reuters) being held by rebels in the Sudanese state of South Kordofan. Sudan's state news agency initially reported that fourteen hostages had been freed, but Chinese and Sudanese officials later denied the report.

SENEGAL: The government released opposition activist Alioune Tine (BBC) after holding him for two days in detention, as his supporters planned further protests against President Abdoulaye Wade over his decision to seek a third term in office.



EU Leaders Agree to Fiscal Pact

During a Brussels summit, twenty-five European Union governments--all but that of the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic--agreed to implement a fiscal compact (DeutscheWelle) mandating stricter budget coordination. EU leaders also agreed to introduce the permanent $656 billion European Stability Mechanism in June.

PORTUGAL: Yields on ten-year government bonds (NYT) hit a record high of 16.58 percent in a sign of rising investor fears over eurozone sovereign debt contagion.

Political and business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos this past weekend focused on the ongoing eurozone sovereign debt crisis, with some cautioning that Germany is not doing enough to resolve the crisis and facilitate growth, explains this CFR Analysis Brief.



Mexican Ambassador Briefly Kidnapped

Four armed men kidnapped Mexico's ambassador to Venezuela, Carlos Pujalte, and his wife in an upscale Caracas neighborhood, then released them in a poorer district (CBCS) of the capital hours later.

BRAZIL: President Dilma Rousseff arrived in Havana to discuss expanding Brazil-Cuba economic ties (MercoPress)--which hit $642 million in 2011--and human rights issues.


Campaign 2012

Gingrich and Romney Outline First Steps As President

The night before the Florida primary, Republicans Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney appeared separately on Fox News (National Journal) and outlined the first steps they would take if elected president. Both said they would repeal Obama's health care law; Gingrich said he also would repeal the Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley financial reform laws, while Romney said he would label China as a currency manipulator and prevent Iran from progressing toward development of a nuclear weapon.

President Obama participated in his first Google Plus hangout (Politico) Monday, fielding questions about foreign aid, jobs, and the economy. He replied to a question about a report that drones are upsetting Iraqi leaders (NYT), saying, "They've been very precise precision strikes against al-Qaeda and their affiliates, and we're very careful in terms of how it's been applied." Obama also offered his first confirmation of drone strikes in Pakistan, saying many had been in the country's Federally Administered Tribal Areas.



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