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April 21, 2017

Daily News Brief

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Attack Leaves France Tense Ahead of Election

President Francois Hollande said an attack that killed a policeman (NYT) on the Champs-Elysees boulevard in Paris on Thursday night, days ahead of the first round of voting in a tightly contested presidential election, appeared to be an act of terrorism. The self-proclaimed Islamic State claimed the gunman, who wounded two other officers (BBC) before he was shot dead, as one of its "fighters" (France 24). Right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen called for France to expel foreigners being monitored by the intelligence services (WaPo) while the conservative candidate, Francois Fillon, said fighting "Islamist totalitarianism" should be the next government’s priority. Centrist Emmanuel Macron called on France to "not yield to fear," calling it a "trap" by assailants, and leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon said he wouldn’t cede to “panic” (Bloomberg). Following French tradition, no campaigning will be allowed tomorrow, on the eve of the election.


"The presumed terrorist assault disrupted the climax of a tense election campaign in France’s most unpredictable election in decades, with a final push to reach voters having been expected today ahead of Sunday’s first round. France has been under a state of emergency for two years in the face of a string of attacks by Islamist extremists in Paris and elsewhere that have left more than 230 people dead. The Islamist terrorist threat has become a central element of the presidential campaign," writes the Financial Times.

"In the first round of its presidential election, to be held on Sunday, some three-quarters of the French electorate are expected to back candidates who stand variously for corruption, a 100 percent top tax rate, Islamophobia, Russophilia, Holocaust denial, the undermining of NATO and the traumatic breakup of Europe’s political and monetary union. France was once the cradle of the Western Enlightenment. Now it threatens to become a spectacle of decadent collapse," CFR's Sebastian Mallaby writes for the Washington Post.

"What makes this uncertainty different and truly consequential is that two of the four, National Front leader Marine Le Pen and far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, support policies far outside the French and European mainstream. If either wins the second-round run-off on May 7, it could mean the end of French membership in both the EU and NATO, raising existential questions for both organizations – and for all of Europe. Such scenarios were unimaginable until only recently. For decades, Europe has constituted the world’s most successful, stable, and predictable region, a place where history seemed to have all but ended," CFR's President Richard N. Haass writes for Project Syndicate.  

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CFR's James M. Lindsay, Robert McMahon, and Steven A. Cook examine what consequences the Turkish referendum will have on U.S. foreign policy.



Pence Vows to Reduce Trade Barriers With Indonesia

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said the United States will work with Indonesia to "reduce barriers to trade and investments and to create a truly level playing field" during a meeting with business leaders in Jakarta (Reuters). Pence traveled on to Australia, the last stop on his ten-day tour of the region.

CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick discusses Pence's visit to Indonesia.

VIETNAM: President Trump invited Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (Reuters) to the United States, Vietnam said. The invitation was delivered to Deputy Prime Minister Pham Bình Minh (Viet Nam News), who is meeting with U.S. officials in Washington this week.


Pakistani, Afghan Legislators to Meet

Pakistani legislators will travel to Kabul next week for talks with their Afghan counterparts on reducing tensions (VOA) between the two countries. Each country has accused the other of harboring militants.

CFR's Micah Zenko discusses U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan.

KAZAKHSTAN: Heavy floods in northern Kazakhstan (RFE/RL) prompted the evacuation of thousands of people and destroyed an estimated two thousand buildings. Locals reported six deaths, though authorities said no one has died.


United States Postpones Syria Talks With UN, Russia

The United States has backed out (VOA) of talks on Syria slated to be held with the United Nations and Russia next Monday, UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura said, adding that the United States indicated it would resume the trilateral meetings and he would meet with Russia in the meantime.

CFR's Gayle Tzemach Lemmon asks how the Trump administration will get to the peace table in Defense One.

EGYPT: A leaked video appears to show Egyptian soldiers executing unarmed captives (NYT) in the Sinai region and then staging the scene so that the deaths appear to have been from combat. The video, which was published on a channel affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, appeared as U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis met President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo.

CFR's Steven A. Cook writes in Salon that Egypt under Sisi is far from a democracy.


Cameroon Restores Internet to Restless Region

Cameroon announced it would restore internet service to the country’s English-speaking regions after a three-month blockage, saying that conditions there had “changed” (France 24). Internet service was ordered cut after Anglophone Cameroonians protested the central government's imposition of French in schools and courts (BBC).

MALI: Mali restored interim state authorities to the northern cities of Timbuktu and Menaka (Reuters) in northern Mali, five years after a takeover by separatists and jihadis prompted a French military intervention.


German Prosecutors Say Bombing Financially Motivated

Counterterrorism police arrested a German-Russian man accused of attempting to bomb the Borussia Dortmund team bus earlier this month as prosecutors said the suspect aimed to manipulate the club's stock price (NYT). Letters found at the crime scene suggesting links to the Islamic State (BBC) may have been an attempt to fool investigators, police said.


Trump Met Former Colombian Presidents at Mar-a-Lago

U.S. President Trump met former Colombian Presidents Andres Pastrana and Alvaro Uribe (McClatchy), the latter a critic of peace talks with rebels, at his Florida club last weekend. President Juan Manuel Santos is expected to ask for U.S. support implementing last year’s peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) while visiting the White House next month.

ARGENTINA: The European Union may no longer back British claims to the Falkland Islands (Reuters) once the United Kingdom exits the bloc, Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra said in Brussels.


Trump Announces Steel Dumping Investigation

Trump announced an investigation of alleged steel dumping (BBC) on U.S. markets on national security grounds (NYT), raising the prospect of new tariffs on imports.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that arresting Julian Assange (Guardian) is a “priority” as U.S. authorities reportedly prepared charges against the Wikileaks founder, who has sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.