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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
October 18, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Violence Breaks Out in Greece Over Austerity

Greek workers walked off the job for the second time in three weeks while hundreds of youths pelted homemade weapons at riot police on Thursday in the latest anti-austerity demonstrations (AP). Twenty thousand protestors gathered in Athens ahead of a two-day EU summit in Brussels, where no major decisions are expected to be announced regarding Greece's $17.7 billion austerity package. The coalition government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, which has said the country will run out of cash by the end of the month, has been holding negotiations with Greece's troika of creditors to secure loans needed to avoid bankruptcy.


"Germans must have a frank public discussion about what it means to be European, how good European citizens should behave toward other Europeans and why a strong Europe is good for German interests in a world dominated by the United States, China and emerging powers like India and Brazil. Without such a discussion, and real concessions to Greece, a Greek exit is inevitable — and with it the triumph of parochialism in Europe," writes Nicholas Sambanis for the New York Times.

"The severe austerity ordered on Greece by the troika of IMF, the EU and the European Central Bank was never going to improve the country's growth prospects; it has also failed in its own terms of reducing the national debt pile. No wonder then that the country is racked by regular protests, or that ministers are quitting the coalition rather than get pushed out of power by their constituents," says an editorial for the Guardian.

"Sooner rather than later, Greece or another peripheral country will say no to further austerity measures and economic stagnation. When the first country breaks free from the Euro, we really are in unchartered territory. There is a legitimate fear that this will set off a crisis as large as, or larger, than the 2008 financial debacle. The country or countries that leave will have a banking system in shambles and no access to foreign lending. Stay tuned; it's going to be a wild and bumpy ride," write William T. Dickens and Stephen J. Rose for Forbes.



China Angered Over Japan Shrine Visit

China condemned a visit by two Japanese ministers on Thursday to Tokyo's controversial Yasukuni shrine (NYT), seen by many as a symbol of Japan's wartime militarism, as tensions rise between the two Asian nations.

SOUTH KOREA: Korean President Lee Myung-bak made a surprise visit (Yonhap) on Thursday to an island near the DMZ that was shelled by Pyongyang two years ago, vowing to punish any further military provocation by the North.



Afghanistan Drawdown Unchanged, NATO Says

Making a surprise trip to Afghanistan on Thursday, NATO's top official Anders Fogh Rasmussen affirmed that the alliance would commit to helping Afghan forces assume full responsibility for security after 2014 (TNI), when coalition troops are due to pull out. The statement comes amid speculation that the U.S.-led alliance could accelerate its withdrawal plans.

PAKISTAN: Pakistan expressed worry (ExpressTribune) over the Afghan influence in the process of lifting of sanctions against Taliban leaders by the United Nations Security Council after Kabul was assigned a central role in the listing and delisting process.



Iran Issues Warning to Israel

Gen. Hossein Salami, the acting commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, warned Israel on Thursday that the country would face fierce retaliation (AP) if it attacks Iran's nuclear sites. The European Union recently imposed new sanctions in an effort to halt Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

CFR President Richard Haass discusses Israel, Iran, and the military option in this CFR Interview.

SYRIA: At least 28,000 people have disappeared in Syria (BBC) after being abducted by soldiers or militia, according to human rights groups that intend to submit a dossier of investigation to the UN Human Rights Council.



Malawi Considers EU Trade Deal

Malawi re-opened negotiations (IPS) on the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union, which have stalled since 2002 after former president Bingu wa Mutharika refused to sign the agreement on the grounds that more roads, health and education facilities had to be built before a deal could be struck.

SUDAN: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon demanded an investigation after one peacekeeper was killed and three others wounded (AlJazeera) in an ambush in Sudan's North Darfur state.



Russian Opposition Leader Detained

Russian investigators launched a criminal case (Guardian) against Sergei Udaltsov, a leading opposition figure and leftist who spearheaded mass protests in Moscow, for provoking mass unrest.

In this CFR Interview, Stephen Sestanovich discusses what's at stake in Putin's culture war.



Colombia, FARC Peace Talks Begin

Closed-door talks between Colombia and Marxist rebel group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) began in Norway on Wednesday in a bid to end almost half a century of armed conflict (Reuters). Topics will include drug trade, victim rights, land ownership, and FARC participation in politics.

In this CFR op-ed, Julia Sweig discusses Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos' policies.

PARAGUAY: Venezuela expelled Paraguay's remaining diplomats from the country (MercoPress), the latest move in a bitter dispute that began in June with the impeachment and removal of then Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, an ally of President Hugo Chávez.



China Issue More Complicated Than Currency Manipulation

While both President Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney have spent significant amounts of time talking about how to deal with China's trade practices, the reality of currency manipulation is far more nuanced, reports the New York Times. Candidates have also omitted any mention of how they would "handle the challenges China's burgeoning economic, diplomatic and military might pose to U.S. pre-eminence," according to the Associated Press.

Despite the candidates' competing statements on domestic energy production during Tuesday night's debate, oil and natural gas production has been roughly the same (WashingtonTimes) during President Obama's time in office as it was during that of President George W. Bush.



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