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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
April 3, 2012

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Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Syria Agrees to Peace Plan Deadline

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed to begin implementing a UN-Arab League peace plan (al-Jazeera) to end the ongoing government crackdown on opposition forces by April 10. However, the UN-Arab League envoy, Kofi Annan, reported Monday that the government had made "no progress" in implementing a cease-fire, as Western diplomats voiced skepticism over Assad's intentions. At the same time, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, is set to visit Damascus today. Kellenberger is expected to lobby the government to allow for a daily two-hour suspension of hostilities (NYT), allowing for the delivery of humanitarian aid.


"Annan's plan involves a cease-fire, demilitarizing the conflict and creating space for peaceful political opposition, but its key dimension is the recognition that the political negotiations over Syria's future will be conducted with the regime, rather than after it has been dispatched," writes TIME's Tony Karon.

"American officials like to depict this as a war of the 'Syrian people' against a dictator. They got the dictator part right, but as of now lots of 'Syrian people' are still on his side. That includes not just fellow Alawites, but Syria's two million Christians and no small number of Sunnis, especially the more affluent ones," writes the Atlantic's Robert Wright.

"The [Syrian] economy is crumbling quickly and although the poorest segments of Syrian society have suffered its inefficiencies, capriciousness, and impending collapse since even before the first protests, the middle class is finally starting to understand its own precarious position," notes an anonymous writer living in Syria, in a guest post for Nicholas D. Kristof's New York Times blog.



Myanmar Confirms Suu Kyi's Victory

Myanmar's military-backed civilian government confirmed that pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory in Sunday's parliamentary by-elections, capturing forty out of forty-five seats (WSJ).

The elections brought democratic forces into parliament for the first time in fifty years. But Myanmar's rapid reforms still must be viewed as small steps in a country where military forces retain considerable power, writes CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick in this Expert Brief.

CHINA: The senior Chinese leadership views the United States as a declining power (NYT) that has attempted to undermine China's inevitable economic and military rise, according to Chinese policy analyst Wan Jisi, co-author of a new Brookings Institution report on U.S.-China distrust.



U.S. Offers Reward for Suspect in Mumbai Attacks

The U.S. State Department announced a $10 million reward (TimesofIndia) for the capture of Pakistani militant Hafiz Saeed, who is accused of orchestrating the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Saeed is the head of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a U.S. designated terrorist organization.

PAKISTAN: No evidence has been found that shows the senior Pakistani leadership was aware (ExpressTribune) that former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was hiding out in Pakistan until U.S. Special Forces raided his compound in Abbottabad last year, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said in an interview with CBC television.

Pakistan has emerged as a terrorist sanctuary for some of the world's most violent groups, including al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and homegrown militants, that threaten the stability of Pakistan as well as the region, explains this CFR Backgrounder.



Israeli PM Calls for Eviction Delay

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Defense Minister Ehud Barak to delay the eviction of Jewish settlers (BBC) who took over a house in the West Bank city of Hebron last week, allowing them to "make their legal case." Around 180,000 Palestinians live in Hebron, along with 500 Israeli settler families.



West African Nations Close Borders With Mali

Mali's neighbors--part of the Economic Community of West African States--agreed to close their borders with the landlocked state in order to pressure the leaders of last month's military coup to step down (Reuters) and restore democratic order. ECOWAS leaders also said they would activate a regional military force.

SENEGAL: President Macky Sall was sworn into office (al-Jazeera) yesterday in the capital of Dakar, a week after longtime leader Abdoulaye Wade conceded defeat.



Eurozone Unemployment Rises

The unemployment rate in the eurozone increased to 10.8 percent (WSJ) in February, according to Eurostat, the EU's statistics agency. The Markit Economics Purchasing Managers' Index, a measurement of manufacturing output, fell to 47.7 in March.

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.

UNITED KINGDOM: British Home Secretary Theresa May defended the government's plan to empower the intelligence and security services to monitor the telephone calls, e-mails, and social media use of the public (Guardian), even as many British lawmakers and activists protested the move.



Colombian Rebels Free Prisoners

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC rebels, released yesterday four soldiers and six police officers (NYT) who were held hostage for up to fourteen years. President Juan Manuel Santos welcomed the development, but called on FARC to release all civilian hostages the group is holding for ransom.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation Army are Colombia's two predominant rebel groups. While both have been depleted in recent years, they remain destabilizing forces, explains this CFR Backgrounder.

UNITED STATES: President Barack Obama, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed to promote greater economic growth and trade, fight drug-related crimes, and focus on energy development, at a meeting of North American leaders (VancouverSun) at the White House yesterday.


Campaign 2012

Romney Wants to 'Simplify' Immigration

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney attempted to clarify his position (ABC) on illegal immigration ahead of today's Wisconsin primary, saying his policy would be both to secure the border and simplify legal immigration.

Romney's comments came on a day when the Obama administration arrested more than 3,100 immigrants residing illegally in the United States and who were convicted of serious crimes or otherwise considered threats to national security (AP).

Jobs, the economy, and a candidate's views on international affairs, including defense and terrorism, remain at the top of voters' important issues lists, says a new Gallup poll.

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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