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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
April 4, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Syrian Opposition Accuses Assad of Escalating Crackdown

The Syrian political opposition accused President Bashar al-Assad of accelerating a military crackdown on four cities Tuesday, in defiance of Assad's pledge to begin implementing a UN-Arab League cease-fire. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, criticized the Syrian government, saying its actions were "not encouraging" (NYT). A team from the UN peacekeeping department is expected in Damascus within twenty-four hours to discuss the potential deployment of unarmed observers to Syria (al-Jazeera), said a spokesman for UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.


"In the Syrian opposition, it's no exaggeration to say that there are Saudi Salafis, as well as al-Qaeda elements. Given that we don't really know who the Syrian opposition is composed of in detail, how wise is it to then bring down another regime and put in its place yet another Muslim Brotherhood-led government?" asks CFR's Ed Husain in this CFR Interview.

"It is difficult to find a U.N. official or diplomat in New York who believes Assad will fully keep his word, since he has failed to keep all previous promises to halt his assault on pro-democracy demonstrators and rebels," writes Reuters' Louis Charbonneau.

"Western leaders have pinned their hopes on Annan's diplomatic pressure, with the U.S. and its allies unwilling to get deeply involved in another Arab nation in turmoil. Even though Washington has a clear interest in seeing Assad go, in part because it would be a blow to Syria's ally, Iran, the Obama administration is reluctant to use force," writes the Associated Press's Elizabeth A. Kennedy.



ASEAN Calls for Lifting of Myanmar Sanctions

Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations urged the international community to lift economic sanctions on Myanmar, during a two-day summit in Cambodia (BBC). The call followed Myanmar's parliamentary by-elections, in which the party of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi won by a landslide.

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.

AUSTRALIA: A group of 180 U.S. Marines arrived in Darwin (SMH) Tuesday to begin six months of training exercises with the Australian Defense Force, part of a U.S.-Australian agreement that will see 2,500 U.S. troops deployed there by 2017.



Afghanistan, U.S. Close to Night Raid Deal

Afghan and U.S. officials are reportedly close to signing a deal that would give Afghan forces the lead role in night raid operations, while allowing for Afghan judicial oversight (al-Jazeera). Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said that the U.S.-led night raids at times violated Afghan sovereignty.

AFGHANISTAN: A suicide bomber attacked NATO coalition troops (AFP) in northern Faryab province, killing up to twelve people.

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



Iran Under Pressure by Western Sanctions

U.S. and European economic sanctions targeting Iran's oil exports began to take a greater toll on the Iranian economy as leading oil companies in South Africa and Greece suspended imports (NYT) of Iranian crude. The sanctions are part of an effort to pressure Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities, which the West contends is for the production of nuclear weapons.

This CFR Crisis Guide traces Iran's history, its evolution as an Islamic republic, and its controversial nuclear program.



Suicide Bombing at Somali Theatre

Suspected al-Shabaab militants carried out a suicide bomb attack at Somalia's newly reopened national theatre in Mogadishu today during an event attended by Somali officials, killing at least ten people (BBC).

MALI: The military junta that seized power in a coup late last month defied calls by the Economic Community of West African States (Reuters) to step down, as both Tuareg rebels and radical Islamists continued to gain ground in the north of the country.



French Police Arrest Suspected Militants

French police arrested ten suspected Islamic militants (WSJ) across the country this morning, following a series of deadly attacks by a self-proclaimed al-Qaeda affiliate last month. This morning's raid came days after French authorities arrested nineteen suspects in a similar sweep last Friday.

SPAIN: Spanish borrowing costs rose following a bond auction (Bloomberg) today, as the impact of the European Central Bank's emergency lending policy to banks lessened, heightening worries that the ongoing eurozone sovereign debt crisis has shifted to Spain.

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.



EU Bans Venezuelan Airline

The EU banned Venezuela's state-run airline, Conviasa, from flying to countries in the twenty-seven-member bloc after finding "numerous serious safety deficiencies" (NYT), European officials announced Tuesday.

GUATEMALA: Police arrested suspected drug trafficker Horst Walther Overdick (AP) east of Guatemala City on Tuesday. Overdick, who is accused of aiding Mexico's Zetas drug cartel, faces extradition to the United States.



Economy Still Top Election Season Issue

Across the board, the health of the economy has remained the number one issue on voters' minds in Republican primaries, and Tuesday's contests in Maryland, Wisconsin (CNN), and Washington D.C. were no exception. In Wisconsin, 40 percent of voters polled said they think the economy is "getting worse," while 55 percent said they consider the economy the most important issue in the 2012 election. Half the Maryland voters polled said they think the economy is getting worse and that the economy is their top issue.

In his Wisconsin victory speech, Republican candidate Mitt Romney talked about corporate tax rate policy, saying that "taxes have to be as low as possible and in line with those of the competing nations around the world, designed to foster innovation and growth."

Editor's Note: For more information on the presidential election and foreign policy check out CFR's campaign blog, The Candidates and theWorld.



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