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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
March 28, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Syria's Assad Accepts UN Cease-Fire Proposal

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accepted a six-point peace plan to end his regime's year-long crackdown (NYT) on anti-government protesters and opposition forces, said Kofi Annan, the joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria. The announcement came as Assad made a rare visit to Homs, an opposition stronghold that has sustained continued military attacks over the past months. But Assad's critics, including the United States, remained skeptical of his intentions. At the same time, Syrian soldiers targeted rebels taking cover along the border with Lebanon. Syrian activists claimed fifty-seven people were killed in clashes with government forces on Tuesday, while the UN estimated the total number killed in the conflict since last March to be more than 9,000.


"First, the diplomacy for which Annan is the point man is an agreed diplomacy, to which all the major powers, as well as the Arab League and Syria's neighbors, are committed. Since they have never managed to agree before, this fragile unity is in itself worth something. Second, if the conflict could be even partially and imperfectly demilitarised, that would be, given the terrible and continuing level of violence, a gain," says this Guardian editorial.

"Whether or not Annan's plan achieves a breakthrough remains to be seen. The Syrian leader has previously accepted deals in principle, only to cherry pick the elements he chooses to implement. Significantly, while Syrian state media focused on the president's tour of an area 'agonized by heavily armed terrorist groups which terrorized the inhabitants,' there was no mention of accepting Annan's plan," writes TIME's Rania Abouzeid.

"Russia and China, which have seen their standing in the region suffer from repeated vetoes in the Security Council, saw Annan's diplomatic overture as a way out of their isolation. And Western powers, reluctant to intervene militarily in Syria if diplomacy fails, are showing renewed interest in promoting a U.N. diplomatic effort to end the crisis," writes Colum Lynch for



Australia Calls for News Corp Criminal Investigation

The Australian government called for a criminal investigation (NYT) to probe claims published in a report by the Australian Financial Review asserting Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation had engaged in "high-tech piracy" to sabotage its competitors in the 1990s.

JAPAN: A damaged reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant contains radiation up to ten times the lethal dose (BBC), the Tokyo Electric Power Co. discovered. The finding could make it more difficult to decommission the plant, which was at the center of last year's nuclear crisis.

One year after the Fukushima nuclear crisis, Japan is facing a dilemma of how to clean up the disaster and how to meet current and future energy needs, says expert Charles D. Ferguson in this CFR Interview.



Afghan Soldiers Arrested in Alleged Suicide Mission

Afghan authorities arrested sixteen Afghan soldiers yesterday after eleven vests packed with explosives (al-Jazeera), allegedly for suicide bombers, were found inside the Ministry of Defense headquarters.

INDIA: A Tibetan exile in New Delhi (CNN), who set himself on fire in protest against Chinese President Hu Jintao's upcoming visit to India, died today. Hu is scheduled to arrive in New Delhi on Thursday for the BRICS economic summit.



Iran Announces Details for Nuclear Talks

International talks over the country's nuclear program could begin April 13 in Istanbul (NYT), Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi suggested, while welcoming Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Tehran.

Four nuclear nonproliferation experts provide a path for resolving the intensifying nuclear dispute with Iran in this CFR Expert Roundup.



UN Calls for Calm in Sudan

The UN Security Council urged the Sudanese and South Sudanese governments to exercise restraint as fighting flared for a second day in the disputed oil-rich border region, the worst clashes since South Sudan seceded from the north (M&G) last summer.

MALI: The Economic Community of West African States agreed to send a team of leaders to Mali to confront the group of soldiers that ousted President Amadou Toumani Touré in a coup last week, threatening sanctions and military force (Reuters) if they do not step aside.



Greece's Fringe Parties Gain Traction

Around half of Greek voters, angry at mainstream politicians over continued austerity measures mandated by a new EU bailout, are planning to vote for extremist opposition parties, ranging from far-left Communist to neo-Nazi groups (WSJ), according to recent polls. Elections are expected in April or May.

FRANCE: The head of the Ozar Hatorah network of Jewish schools in France, Jean-Paul Amoyelle, said he feared continued anti-Semitic attacks (BBC) after teenagers beat up a Jewish boy in Paris, calling him a "dirty Jew." That incident came about a week after a self-proclaimed al-Qaeda affiliate attacked a Jewish school in Toulouse.



Fidel Castro to Meet With Pope

Cuba's Fidel Castro said he would meet with Pope Benedict XVI while he is in Havana, even as government leaders rejected Benedict's calls for political reform (AP) in the Communist state.

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

FALKLAND ISLANDS: Five Nobel laureates, including South Africa's Desmond Tutu, called on British Prime Minister David Cameron to open negotiations with Argentina over the disputed Falkland Islands (MercoPress), a British overseas territory.



Economic Confidence Hits Four-Year High

U.S. voters' confidence in the economy is the highest is has been in four years, according to the latest Gallup poll. Despite high gas prices, economic confidence is one point higher than the highest weekly level Gallup has seen since January 2008.

Campaigning in Maryland, Newt Gingrich criticized the state's proposed 6 percent gas tax increase, saying the plan "shows as much political insensitivity as you can imagine" (DelmarvaDailyTimes). Gingrich said his plan for $2.50 gas would be undermined in Maryland if the tax was approved.

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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