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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
February 22, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Syrian Army Shells Homs; Two Foreign Journalists Killed

Syrian security forces continued a violent crackdown on anti-government protesters and opposition forces in the central city of Homs for the twentieth straight day, killing nine Syrians and two foreign journalists (al-Jazeera). A U.S. reporter with the UK's Sunday Times, Marie Colvin, and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed when Syrian forces shelled a makeshift media center in the Bab Amr neighborhood. The opposition Syrian National Council said Wednesday that "military intervention" may be the only solution to ending President Bashar al-Assad's deadly, year-long assault.


"Opposition groups believe Assad's financial woes could intensify if they are able to mobilize one key group inside the country: business owners. The businesses have been crucial to keeping cities like Aleppo and Damascus functioning relatively normally through months of turmoil," writes TIME's Vivienne Walt.

"Military intervention in Syria is ill-conceived, short-sighted, counter-productive, and likely to generate more killings and massacres rather than stop them. Unlike any other Arab nation, Syria is home to varied and numerous assortments of religious sects, tribes, ethnicities and historic rivalries," writes CFR's Ed Husain at the Economist.

"What is being suggested is the establishment of designated 'buffer zones,' 'safe zones' or 'humanitarian corridors' that would serve the purpose of protecting civilian populations, ensure the flow of humanitarian assistance and--more controversially--help establish a beachhead for Syrian rebels from which to more effectively resist the Syrian regime," writes Brookings' Shadi Hamid at the Economist.



Australian Foreign Minister Resigns

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd resigned his post (SMH) at a press conference in Washington D.C., saying he did not have the support of Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Rudd was ousted as prime minister in June 2010 when Gillard contested his leadership.

SOUTH KOREA: President Lee Myung-bak called on China to respect "international norms" (NYT) by not repatriating a wave of recent refugees who fled North Korea.



Deadly Afghan Protests Over Koran Burning

Hundreds of Afghans took to the streets of Kabul and other cities to demonstrate against NATO troops for allegedly burning Korans at U.S.-run Bagram Airbase. At least five protesters were killed (AFP) and dozens wounded in clashes with police.

INDIA: Italy's junior foreign minister, Staffan De Mistura, is set to meet his Indian counterpart, Preneet Kaur, in Delhi today amid strained diplomatic relations between the two countries. Two Italian marines are being held in custody (BBC) by an Indian court over the deadly shooting of two Indian fishermen.



IAEA Barred From Iranian Weapons Site

The director of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, said Iran blocked nuclear inspectors from visiting the Parchin weapons complex, which the agency suspects could be related to Iran's controversial nuclear program (al-Jazeera).

CFR's Matthew Kroenig discusses the IAEA's November 2011 report on Iran's nuclear program in this CFR Video.



UN to Vote on Somali Peacekeepers

The UN Security Council is expected to vote today to expand the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia from 12,000 to more than 17,000 troops, as Ethiopian forces advanced on al-Shabaab Islamist rebels (BBC) holding the central city of Baidoa.

SOUTH SUDAN: The country's oil minister expelled the head of Chinese-Malaysian oil consortium Petrodar (Reuters) amid rising tensions between Juba and Chinese oil firms. South Sudan, which recently shut down its oil output, has accused the firms of helping neighboring Sudan steal its oil.

China has increased its economic ties with Africa as it seeks to fulfill its growing energy demands. But China's way of doing business has prompted international criticism, even as its policy of noninterference faces new challenges, explains this CFR Backgrounder.



Fitch Downgrades Greece

Credit rating agency Fitch downgraded Greece's debt to C from triple-C. The agency said the losses private bondholders must incur as part of a new EU-IMF bailout package will qualify as a "restricted default" (WSJ).

U.S.-based credit rating agencies have faced intense criticism by EU officials, who contend the raters have accelerated the European sovereign debt crisis, explains this CFR Backgrounder.

FRANCE: Police detained former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn (NYT) overnight in a Lille prison following questioning over his involvement in a prostitution ring. Strauss-Kahn, who was forced to resign from the IMF following rape allegations in New York last year, faces a second day of questioning today.



U.S. Supreme Court to Take up Affirmative Action

The U.S. Supreme Court said Tuesday that it would hear a case centered on the role of race-based affirmative action in the U.S. college admissions process (WaPo), a move that could potentially overturn a 2003 decision allowing race to be used as a factor in those decisions.

VENEZUELA: President Hugo Chávez confirmed he will have to undergo another cancer operation (MercoPress) in Cuba to remove a lesion found in his pelvis, from which doctors extricated a large tumor last year.



GOP Candidates Get Set for Tonight's Debate

GOP presidential candidates will square off in a debate Wednesday night (CNN) in Mesa, Arizona. According to GOP Governor Jan Brewer, Arizona voters are, like the rest of the country, worried about jobs and the economy. Immigration is likely to come up in the debate as well. The state's controversial immigration law, which gives enforcement power to local police and targets illegal immigrants, comes before the Supreme Court in April (LAT).

In remarks in Oklahoma (WashPost) Tuesday, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said he would focus on rolling back regulations that are hindering energy development. President Obama plans to defend steps his administration has taken to increase domestic oil and gas production (TheHill) at the University of Miami Thursday.

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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