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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
March 6, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Israel's Netanyahu Addresses AIPAC

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted Iran is working to develop nuclear weapons, while defending Israel's unilateral right to launch an attack (Haaretz) on Iran's nuclear facilities. During a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Monday in Washington, Netanyahu warned the international community that a nuclear-armed Iran would provide a "nuclear umbrella" for terrorist organizations. The prime minister's AIPAC address followed a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, during which Obama pushed the case for combating the Iranian nuclear issue with sanctions and diplomacy. However, he said Iranian containment was not a policy option, and maintained that he would not take military action "off the table."


"By focusing on Iran, indeed by having some among Israel's top leaders seemingly obsessed about it, Israel is ignoring (or seeking an excuse to ignore) the real existential threats on and within its own borders--demographic, social, and economic. By allowing Iran to occupy too much bandwidth, American leaders have also taken their eye off the ball," writes David Rothkopf for

"There's no doubt in any quarter that Israel is reluctant to act alone in starting a potentially disastrous war in the Middle East. And at a tactical level at least, Israel has become isolated by the many months of saber rattling in the form of statements, leaks and military exercises designed to signal that it might be about to launch air strikes on Iran," notes TIME's Tony Karon.

The central fact of this past week, which seems to have escaped everyone's attention (which itself boggles my mind), is that Barack Obama, in his speech to AIPAC Sunday, as in his interview with Jeff Goldberg before it, all but made war someday inevitable. How? By saying that containment of a nuclear Iran was not an option," writes Newsweek's Michael Tomasky.



Markets Drop Amid China Worries

Asian stock markets dropped sharply on Tuesday as investors responded to news of a downward projection in Chinese growth for 2012 (WSJ), with commodity-linked firms being the most weakened.

CHINA: A Tibetan teenager died after setting himself on fire in southwest Sichuan province in protest of Beijing's Tibet policy, the third such self-immolation (BBC) to occur this week.



Afghan, U.S. Officials in Deadlock Over Detainees

Afghan President Hamid Karzai met Monday with U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker and Gen. John R. Allen, NATO's chief in Afghanistan, but failed to reach an agreement on putting U.S.-run detention centers under Afghan control (NYT). Meanwhile, a Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up outside the U.S.-run Bagram Air Base, killing two children and wounding six others.

The violence against U.S. troops in the aftermath of Quran burnings has raised fresh doubts over the U.S.-Afghan partnership and the mission in Afghanistan, explains this CFR Analysis Brief.

BANGLADESH: Police found the body of a murdered Saudi diplomat (al-Jazeera) at a street intersection in the capital of Dhaka.



Syria to Allow UN Visit

The Syrian regime is set to allow Valerie Amos, the UN's undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, to visit the country for three days starting Wednesday, while Kofi Annan, the newly appointed special representative to Syria for the UN and the Arab League, will visit Damascus on Saturday. Meanwhile, Syrian security forces launched an assault on the opposition (NYT) in the southern town of Dara'a.

In his blog From the Potomac to the Euphrates, CFR's Steven A. Cook discusses the uncertainties of a post-Assad Syria.



UN Issues Somalia Warning

The UN Security Council warned of a worsening humanitarian situation in Somalia, while citing the dual threats of al-Shabaab Islamist militants and Somali pirates (Reuters) operating in the Gulf of Aden.

SOUTH AFRICA: Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe insisted the African National Congress-controlled government would not move to nationalize the country's lucrative mining sector (BBC), a policy championed by ousted ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema.

In his blog Africa in Transition, CFR's John Campbell discusses Malema's controversial rhetoric and his subsequent expulsion from the ANC.



Hundreds of Demonstrators Detained in Russia

Thousands of Russians gathered in Moscow and St. Petersburg on Monday to protest against Vladimir Putin's victory (LAT) in the country's presidential election, which was allegedly marred with irregularities. Hundreds were detained by riot police in both cities, including prominent opposition leaders.

In his blog The Water's Edge, CFR's James M. Lindsay examines Putin's personal and political history as he prepares to once again take up Russia's presidency.

GERMANY: Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko responded to German criticism of his human rights record by saying of Germany's openly gay Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, "Better to be a dictator than gay" (DerSpiegel). The comment prompted a sharp backlash from Berlin.



In Mexico Visit, Biden Opposes Drugs Legalization

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. reiterated U.S. opposition to legalizing illicit drugs (NYT) as an approach to combating drug violence in Latin American countries, following a meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderón. Biden is a on a two-day visit to Mexico and Honduras.

COLOMBIA: President Juan Manuel Santos is set to travel to Havana this week for talks with his Cuban and Venezuelan counterparts over Cuba's potential participation in April's Americas Summit (LAHT), to be held in Cartagena. Cuba was suspended from the Organization of American States in 1962.

Under President Raúl Castro, Cuba has begun economic and political reforms while bolstering ties with Brazil and the Vatican. But Washington has failed to seize on opportunities for expanding relations, says CFR's Julia E. Sweig in this CFR Interview.


Campaign 2012

Candidates Speak at AIPAC Super Tuesday

GOP presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum will speak to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AP) as ten states (Tribune) hold their primaries and caucuses on Super Tuesday. Gingrich, Romney, and Santorum will likely showcase their strong support for Israel. According to a recent Gallup poll, 71 percent of voters view the country favorably.

In an op-ed Monday in the Washington Post, Romney said he would press for tighter Iran sanctions and take military action if necessary.

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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