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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
March 26, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Obama in Seoul for Nuclear Summit

U.S. President Barack Obama urged North Korea and Iran (LAT) to abandon their nuclear programs, in a speech at Seoul's Hankuk University ahead of an international nuclear summit that begins today. Obama later condemned North Korea's planned rocket launch for next month, a move he suggested could put in jeopardy a recently agreed food aid deal between the two nations. The president vowed to work for a "world without nuclear weapons" (BBC), pledging to work with Russia to reduce the U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons arsenals.


"For the United States, continued North Korean long-range missile testing highlights the priority concern of North Korean vertical proliferation and underscores the concern expressed by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in December 2010 that North Korea's development of a long-range missile capability could become a direct threat to the United States," writes CFR's Scott A. Snyder in the CFR blog Asia Unbound.

"It's striking if you look at the numbers--the cost of this missile program and test. It's well in excess of what it costs to feed the North Korean people for a year. So while the world is being forced to save North Koreans from starvation, its government is pursuing these programs that will just bring further isolation. There's clearly a lack of certainty in Pyongyang both about where it wants to go and about what it can get away with," CFR's Michael A. Levi said in this CFR Interview.

"North Korea has perfected this cycle of provocations, negotiations, and concessions. And yet every time, the West falls into the trap. Both Washington and Seoul are well aware of Pyongyang's pressure points. Instead of countering the Kim clan with sustained financial sanctions and other measures though, they are enthralled every time the dynasty leaves open the window of opportunity for future talks," writes Sung-Yoon Lee in the Wall Street Journal.



UK Urges China to Launch Investigation Into British Death

The UK asked China to launch an investigation into the death of British businessman Neil Heywood in the city of Chongqing late last year. Heywood allegedly maintained close ties with the family of Bo Xilai (WSJ), the recently ousted Chongqing Communist Party chief.

Expert Minxin Pei looks at the political transition under way in China and discusses prospects for change in this CFR Interview.



U.S. Compensates Families of Afghan Victims

The U.S. government paid $50,000 to each of the families (LAT) of the sixteen Afghan civilians who were killed by a U.S. soldier in Kandahar province earlier this month, the Kandahar provincial council confirmed. The soldier, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, was charged with seventeen counts of murder, including for the death of an unborn baby.

AFGHANISTAN: A man wearing an Afghan army uniform shot and killed two NATO soldiers (BBC) at a military base in Helmand province before being killed by coalition troops.

This CFR Timeline examines the events that precipitated the U.S. war in Afghanistan as well as the history of the war.



U.S., Turkey to Give Syrian Rebels 'Nonlethal' Aid

The United States and Turkey agreed to provide Syrian opposition groups with "nonlethal" aid, including communications equipment and medical supplies (NYT), while Turkey announced today it would withdraw its diplomats from the Syrian capital.

Expert Joshua Landis discusses the fault lines in the Syria uprising in this CFR Interview.

IRAN: The Iranian government is set to increase the cash subsidies it provides citizens (al-Jazeera) by more than 50 percent, amid rising inflation and a depreciating currency.



Wade Concedes Defeat in Senegal Election

Longtime Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade conceded victory to rival Macky Sall (Reuters) in the country's closely watched presidential election, boosting the West African nation's democratic standing.

MALI: Capt. Amadou Sanogo, the leader of a military coup that overthrew President Amadou Toumani Toure last week, said he had solidified his control over the country, while offering peace talks with Tuareg rebels (BBC) that have been advancing in northern Mali.



Merkel Likely to OK Euro Rescue Fund Increase

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to shift course and drop her long-held opposition to increasing the size of the eurozone bailout mechanism ahead of a summit of eurozone finance ministers in Copenhagen (DerSpiegel) at the end of this week.

The eurozone, once seen as a crowning achievement in the decades-long path of European integration, is buffeted by a sovereign debt crisis of nations whose membership in the currency union has been poorly policed, explains this CFR Backgrounder.

FRANCE: Prosecutors charged the older brother of the man suspected of killing seven people in and around Toulouse with allegedly assisting in terrorist acts (WSJ), French prosecutors said. The suspected killer, who claimed to have ties to al-Qaeda, died following a standoff with police last week.



Pope Presides Over Open-Air Mass in Mexico

Pope Benedict XVI delivered an open-air Mass to half a million people in León at the end of a three-day visit, which is expected to boost support for the conservative National Action Party (NYT) of President Felipe Calderón. The Pope is set to travel to Cuba today.

Under President Raul Castro, Cuba has begun economic and political reforms while bolstering ties with the Vatican, says CFR's Julia E. Sweig in this CFR Interview.

VENEZUELA: President Hugo Chávez began chemotherapy treatment in Cuba (AP) over the weekend, one month after having a tumor removed. Chávez's time in Cuba will overlap with Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the country.


Campaign 2012

Louisiana Exit Polls Also Show Economy the Main Issue

Rick Santorum won the Louisiana GOP primary Saturday, where exit polls (CNN) show that not only is the economy the number one issue with voters, but that most of them think it is getting worse.

Newt Gingrich told conservatives who gathered Saturday at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference that not only would increased drilling lower gas prices, but U.S. energy independence would alleviate foreign policy problems (Politics PA), such as Iran's threat to close the Strait of Hormuz.

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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