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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
February 16, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: U.S. and Afghanistan in Talks With Taliban

U.S. and Afghan officials have begun three-way talks with the Taliban, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. Karzai insisted the Taliban was committed to reaching a peace settlement. The negotiations follow a recent Taliban decision to open a diplomatic office in Qatar, which paved the way for preliminary talks with the United States. The talks also come amid efforts by the Obama administration to wind down the U.S. war in Afghanistan and begin withdrawing troops. Karzai, who arrived in Pakistan today, indicated Islamabad's cooperation (NYT) would be crucial in securing a peace deal with the Taliban.


"What we need is a political reconciliation in Afghanistan, and it's not clear yet that the Taliban want that. It is clear that the whole prospect of negotiations with the Taliban creates tremendous unease and uncertainty in the Karzai government and in the Northern Alliance of political parties [non-Pashtun parties] that back the Karzai government," says Middle East expert Bruce O. Reidel in this CFR Interview.

"Much of the space vacated by the U.S. should be filled by Afghanistan's neighbors. If they have any good sense about the threats they will face from Afghan refugees, drugs, and Islamic extremism, they will finally step up to their responsibilities," writes CFR's Leslie H. Gelb at the Daily Beast.

"As Afghanistan's alliances and power dynamics shift, the risk of civil, ethnic conflict breaking out in the country rises--endangering not only Afghans, but their Pakistani neighbors as well. And ironically, talk of peace and a U.S. withdrawal is contributing to a widening gap between key Afghan factions," writes Arif Rafiq on



Xi Calls on U.S. to Respect 'Core Interests'

Addressing business leaders, government officials, and academics in Washington on Wednesday, Chinese Vice President and heir apparent Xi Jinping said China and the United States should respect each other's "core interests," including Chinese sovereignty over Tibet and Taiwan (NYT).

As Xi visits the United States, CFR's Elizabeth C. Economy says Washington must address the trust deficit with Beijing as the top policy priority in this CFR Interview.

THAILAND: Police said three Iranians being held in connection with an attempted bomb attack in Bangkok on Tuesday were targeting Israeli diplomatic staff (al-Jazeera), indicating a link between the bombing of an Israeli diplomatic car in New Delhi and a similar botched attempt in Tbilisi on Monday.



Deadly U.S. Drone Strike in Pakistan

A U.S. drone fired two missiles in the northwest of Pakistan, killing at least five suspected militants (BBC), Pakistani officials said. The North Waziristan region along the Afghan border is considered a haven for Taliban- and al-Qaeda-linked fighters.

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.



Iran Offers to Return to Negotiations Over Nuclear Program

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, sent a letter to the EU on Wednesday (WSJ) expressing Iran's interest in reentering international negotiations over its controversial nuclear program, even as the country announced significant gains in its nuclear capabilities.

SYRIA: The military attacked the southern city of Deraa (al-Jazeera), along the border with Jordan, in the Syrian regime's latest crackdown on anti-government protesters and opposition forces. The UN General Assembly is set to vote Thursday on a new resolution condemning President Bashar al-Assad.

As the United Nations faces increasing pressure to end violence in Syria and resolve tensions with Iran over its nuclear program, former senior U.S. official William H. Luers discusses challenges in UN diplomacy and prospects for intervention in this CFR Interview.



UN Moves to Expand AU Somalia Force

A UN Security Council resolution that would expand by nearly half an African Union force that has been fighting the Islamist al-Shabaab rebel group (Reuters) in Somalia is expected to pass by next week, a senior Western diplomat reportedly said.

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

NIGERIA: Gunmen attacked a prison in the central state of Kogi, freeing nearly two hundred prisoners (BBC). Authorities said they did not think the separatist Islamist group Boko Haram was behind the jailbreak.



Greek Official Accuses EU of Shifting Bailout Terms

Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos accused EU leaders of changing the conditions of a $170 billion EU-IMF bailout plan, saying some eurozone countries wanted to push Greece out of the euro (Guardian). Athens must secure the new loan--and a debt swap with private creditors--ahead of a March bond redemption in order to avoid a default.

Even as Greek leaders agree to new austerity measures, the IMF is calling on Greece's official creditors to take losses on its bond holdings. Analysts and policymakers increasingly question the wisdom of EU-mandated austerity measures at the expense of growth, explains this CFR Analysis Brief.

EUROPEAN UNION: Credit rating agency Moody's placed on review for a possible downgrade 114 European financial institutions (WSJ) in 16 countries, with the most in Italy, followed by Spain. The announcement put further pressure on an already embattled euro.



U.S. Disregards Argentine Allegation Over Falklands

The U.S. State Department said it had "no concerns" (MercoPress) over Argentina's claim that the UK is militarizing the South Atlantic by sending forces to the Falkland Islands, a British overseas territory over which Argentina claims sovereignty.

HONDURAS: The death toll following a prison fire (BAH) late Tuesday at the Comayagua National Penitentiary rose to more than 350 people. Honduras, which is plagued by drug and gang violence, has the highest murder rate in the world.


Campaign 2012

Polls Show Voters See Iran as Major Threat

According to two polls released by Gallup and Pew, a majority of people surveyed across the U.S. political spectrum view Iran as a critical threat to the United States, and favor the possible use of force to prevent the country from getting nuclear weapons.

Those views generally align with those of GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich, who have suggested they would use military force to dismantle Iran's nuclear program. President Obama said that he would prefer a diplomatic solution (Reuters), and that any military action in the Persian Gulf would have a big effect on the United States both in terms of oil prices and U.S. troops still in Afghanistan, a country that borders Iran.

Editor's Note: For more information on the presidential election and foreign policy check out CFR's campaign blog, The Candidates and the World.



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