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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
March 29, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Arab League Meets in Baghdad to Discuss Syria

Arab League foreign ministers met in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad today for a summit, during which they backed a UN peace plan (al-Jazeera) to end Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's year-long crackdown on anti-government protesters and army defectors. The six-point peace proposal, which calls for a temporary cease-fire between government and rebel forces, was developed by the joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan. Syria's Assad formally accepted Annan's plan earlier this week, and faces growing international pressure (NYT) to implement the deal.


"There's no reason to believe he'd have agreed, on Tuesday, to accept Annan's plan if he didn't believe it offered him a possibility of ending the crisis while remaining in power. Still, for all its flaws, Annan's plan is the only game in town. And matching the strongman in playing it might be key to the opposition's prospects in the weeks and months ahead," writes TIME's Tony Karon.

"The hope is that when--not if--the proposals are effectively stymied by Syria, the unanimously approved UN 'statement' by which the Annan proposals were launched might then be passed as a 'resolution.' More 'progress.' But a feckless statement will not be any more effective for having become a resolution," writes Robert Grenier for al-Jazeera.

"The last Arab League Summit held in Baghdad was in 1990, just months before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Since then, Iraq has effectively been out of the Arab fold--on account of war, sanctions, occupation and sectarian strife. This week's event marks a major milestone for Iraq and is the most tangible sign of its potential re-emergence as a regional player," writes CFR's Meghan L. O'Sullivan in an op-ed for Bloomberg.


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U.S. Suspends Food Aid to North Korea

The United States suspended food aid to North Korea due to Pyongyang's planned missile launch (al-Jazeera) in April, a U.S. Defense Department official said. The United States had agreed last month to provide North Korea with food assistance in exchange for a partial nuclear freeze and missile test moratorium.

Pyongyang is grappling with whether to choose international legitimacy or domestic political consolidation, says CFR's Scott A. Snyder in this CFR Interview.

CHINA: The government approved new financial reforms (WSJ) in the southeastern city of Wenzhou, allowing private lenders to operate as investment companies to help provide financing to small and medium-size enterprises, a move that could be indicative of future national financial reforms.



BRICS Leaders Meet in New Delhi

The leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa are in New Delhi today for the fourth annual BRICS summit. The top priority for the five emerging markets is the creation of a new development bank (AFP) that could function as a counterweight to the World Bank.

CFR's Stewart M. Patrick analyzes the BRICS and their prospects for success on the world stage on his blog, The Internationalist.

PAKISTAN: Armed militants shot and killed eight people (Dawn) in two separate incidents in southwestern Balochistan province today, one of which targeted minority Shiites, and the other, UN workers.



Covert U.S. Strikes on the Rise in Yemen

Covert U.S. military strikes targeting alleged militants in Yemen have matched the level of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, a new report by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism found. There were five U.S. attacks in Yemen this past month, compared with three drone strikes in Pakistan.

Targeted killings have become a central component of U.S. counterterrorism operations around the globe, explains this CFR Backgrounder.



West African Leaders Travel to Mali

Leaders of the Economic Community of West African States are expected in Mali today to hold talks with Capt. Amadou Sanogo (BBC), who ousted President Amadou Toumani Touré in a coup last week. Mali's neighbors have called on Sanogo to reverse the coup, even as thousands of Malians protested in the capital of Bamako Wednesday against "foreign interference."

ETHIOPIA: Sudanese and South Sudanese officials (al-Jazeera) are meeting in Addis Ababa to negotiate an impasse to the "escalating security situation" over oil resources along the countries' shared border, the African Union confirmed.



European, U.S. Economies Decoupling

The European and U.S. economic trajectories will deviate (WSJ) in the first half of 2012 as the U.S. economic recovery accelerates, while European growth is hindered by strict budget cuts, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said in a new report.

SPAIN: Labor unions are carrying out today a general strike over labor law reforms (Guardian) proposed by the newly elected center-right government of Mariano Rajoy. The strike comes a day before the government is expected to unveil a contested austerity budget meant to rein in Spain's deficit.

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.



Pope Calls for 'Authentic Freedom' in Cuba

Pope Benedict XVI called on Cubans to "exercise" their "authentic freedom" (NYT), during an outdoor Mass in Havana's Revolution Square on Wednesday. At the same time, Benedict criticized the longstanding U.S. economic embargo on Cuba.

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.

BRAZIL: Former president Lula da Silva's treatment for throat cancer (BBC) was reportedly successful. Da Silva vowed to "return to political life."


Campaign 2012

Romney's Sharp Words on Russia

GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney was chided from afar (Reuters) by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for his repeated statement that Russia is the "number one geopolitical foe" for the United States. Romney made those remarks in response to a reported exchange between Medvedev and President Obama, in which Obama asked for "space" on missile defense until after the election.

In spite of recent positive economic news, U.S. voters continue to be worried about the economy more than anything else, a new Gallup poll shows. Out of fifteen issues currently facing the nation, the economy and gas prices lead the list for voters that say they personally worry "a great deal" about both.

On the campaign train in Wisconsin, Rick Santorum said he is concerned about the ability of small business owners to stay in business and remain competitive under the new healthcare law (WXOW).

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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