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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
February 1, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Pressure Mounts on Russia Over Syria

World diplomats gathered at the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday to hash out a resolution condemning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's nearly eleven-month crackdown against anti-government protesters and opposition forces. But Western and Arab countries continued to face stiff resistance from Russia, which opposes any UN measure that might enable the international community to pursue regime change in Syria (NYT). Moscow has been outspoken in its opposition to UN intervention in the domestic affairs of nation-states.

A Morocco-drafted Security Council resolution, which could be voted on as early as Friday, called for Assad to step down, while violence on the ground in Syria continued unabated.


"There are a lot of reasons why Russia may be contrary right now. They have presidential elections on March 4. Vladimir Putin, Russia's strongman, has his own protest movement to deal with, and the Russians have their close ties over years with Syria. And I'm sure that some of Moscow's resistance is due to spite," says Middle East expert Andrew Tabler in this CFR Interview.

"With the veto built into the structure of the UN Charter, we cannot expect the Council to function smoothly at times of great power friction. If in the case of Syria Washington ultimately deems decisive action imperative, it may need to act outside the United Nations, as it did in Kosovo and Iraq," writes CFR's Stewart M. Patrick in his blog, The Internationalist.

"Russia's pretentious support for Syria's beleaguered government cannot be explained solely by an earnest desire to help its long-time partner and biggest importer of its conventional weapons in the Middle East. Russia's stance also reflects a politically inspired eagerness to confront the West, as well as the Kremlin's fears of Russia's own fast-growing internal opposition movement." writes Michel Nehme in Lebanon's Daily Star.



U.S. Calls for Improved Inter-Korea Relations

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt M. Campbell indicated that Washington would be "open to diplomacy" with North Korea (NYT) if the regime of Kim Jong-un moves to mend ties with South Korea.

This CFR Crisis Guide presents an interactive multimedia guide to the dispute between North and South Korea.

SOUTH KOREA: A delegation of senior officials is set to visit the United States to continue discussions on U.S.-led efforts to sanction Iran (Yonhap) over its nuclear program as Seoul weighs reducing its imports of Iranian crude oil.



NATO Report Accuses Pakistan of Taliban Ties

A leaked NATO report alleges that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency has directly assisted the Taliban in Afghanistan (BBC), a claim Pakistan immediately rejected as "ridiculous."

Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, has faced persistent accusations of links to terrorism, despite repeated denials, explains this CFR Backgrounder.

AFGHANISTAN: The Taliban denied reports (Reuters) that it would negotiate directly with the Afghan government in Saudi Arabia, even as the group is poised to begin talks with the United States in Qatar.



Iran More Willing to Attack U.S. Targets

Iran is increasingly willing to carry out attacks on U.S. targets in the United States and around the world in response to U.S.-led efforts to isolate the regime in Tehran (NYT), U.S. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

In order to deal with Iran, President Obama needs to show the courage of offering a solid peace proposal instead of just drawing chest-thumping red lines, says CFR's Leslie H. Gelb in this Daily Beast op-ed.



Deadly Protest in Senegal

Thousands demonstrated in Dakar (al-Jazeera) against Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade's decision to seek a third term. At least one protester was killed in clashes with police.

SOMALIA: Islamist al-Shabaab rebels banned the International Red Cross (Guardian) from delivering food aid to famine-stricken areas of Somalia under their control, threatening to create a new humanitarian crisis. Around 250,000 people are at risk of starvation in southern Somalia.

This CFR Backgrounder provides a profile of the al-Shabaab Islamist militant organization based in southern Somalia.



WikiLeaks' Assange Faces UK Supreme Court

The founder of whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, will appear before the UK Supreme Court today to challenge his pending extradition to Sweden, where he faces charges of sexual assault (Telegraph). Assange has said the allegations are politically motivated.

EUROPEAN UNION: The European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, blocked the merger of stock exchanges Deutsche Börse AG and NYSE Euronext (WSJ) in order to prevent the creation of a "quasi-monopoly" in derivatives trading.



Argentina Criticizes Prince's Falklands Deployment

Argentina criticized the UK over Prince William's planned tour of duty with the Royal Air Force in the Falkland Islands, saying he would be wearing the "uniform of the conqueror" (Guardian), amid mounting UK-Argentina tensions over the sovereignty of the British overseas territory.

BRAZIL: State-run energy company Petrobras reported an oil spill (MercoPress) off the coast of Sao Paulo state, its second spill in Brazilian waters in less than a week. Brazil's energy sector, which has faced recent environmental challenges, is preparing to tap new underwater oil fields in the southeast Atlantic.



Romney Wins GOP Florida Primary

Mitt Romney won the Florida primary (Reuters), taking 46 percent of the vote. In a victory speech Tuesday, Romney said he would reduce the government's share of the total economy and balance the budget without raising taxes.

Newt Gingrich, in a speech responding to Florida's results, vowed on his first day as president to sign executive orders moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and reinstating President Reagan's "Mexico City policy," which banned funding for international groups that provide abortions.



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