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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
October 24, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Syria Agrees to Eid al-Adha Cease-Fire

Syria's foreign ministry said on Wednesday its military command was still debating a proposal for a holiday cease-fire with rebels, contradicting UN and Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi's earlier announcement that Damascus had agreed to a truce (Reuters). Following his visit to Damascus, Brahimi originally told reporters that the Syrian government agreed to a cease-fire (AlJazeera) for the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, which begins on Friday and lasts four days, and that most rebel factions also agreed to observe a cease-fire. Brahimi will address the UN Security Council on Wednesday, a day before the Syrian government said it would make its final decision on the matter.


"There are so many different rebel groups it may be impossible to win unanimous agreement from them. It could also be true that the Syrian government actually has more interest in a ceasefire, while it remains in power," writes Jon Leyne, Middle East BBC correspondent.

"As soon as the elections are over in the US, Washington should redouble its efforts at changing the balance of power in Syria, if Assad does not begin to form a transitional government in earnest. He must come to terms with the most powerful rebel leaders or see his air force neutralized. Lakhdar Brahimi of the UN should be empowered to monitor and report on these negotiations, judging if they are sincere," writes Joshua Landis on his blog Syria Comment.

"UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon's call for a ceasefire and an arms embargo is a welcome challenge to the west's floundering policy. Britain, France and the US, as well as their allies, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, need to recognise that neither side is going to win the civil war engulfing Syria. Nor will the Turkey's call for western military intervention to halt the humanitarian disaster resolve the crisis. A political solution has to be the priority," writes Peter Hain for the Guardian.



Hong Kong Weakens Currency Again

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority weakened the value (BBC) of its currency again after it jumped in value, selling a total of $1.85 billion worth of Hong Kong dollars in four interventions to maintain stability in the local currency.

SOUTH KOREA: South Korea and fifteen other countries will launch negotiations next month on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (Yonhap), a free trade pact involving the ten ASEAN members.

This blog post from CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick discusses why ASEAN will remain weak.



Taliban Kills Ten Afghan Troops

Taliban insurgents killed ten Afghan troops in an ambush in western Herat province on Tuesday in the bloodiest incident (AP) for security forces this year in the area, where insurgents have been less active than in their strongholds in the east and west. Separately, an American service member was killed on Tuesday in an insurgent attack in the east.

INDIA: The Indian Home Ministry rejected the clemency petition (UPI) of Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, the Pakistani national facing a death sentence for his involvement in the Mumbai terror attacks.

CFR's Daniel Markey discusses the strategic importance of normalizing India-Pakistan relations in this video.



Israel Conducts Air Strikes in Gaza

The Israel Defense Forces carried out air strikes (BBC) over Gaza City early Wednesday, killing at least four Hamas militants and injuring several others in response to a night of rocket fire (Haaretz) from Gaza into southern Israel that injured at least three people.



Foreign Fighters Arrive in Mali

Between 60 and 100 Algerian and Sahrawi foreign fighters have arrived (BBC) in northern Mali after the region saw an influx of Sudanese Islamists over the weekend. Plans for military intervention are under way after the UN Security Council gave regional bloc ECOWAS the go-ahead to send 3,000 troops to the desert region.

SUDAN: Darfur peace talks involving the Sudanese government and a splinter rebel faction of the Justice and Equality Movement will begin on November 22 (SudanTribune).



Eurozone Debt Worsens

Official figures showed Wednesday that for the first time since the euro was launched in 1999, the total debt (AP) of the seventeen countries using the currency was worth 90 percent of the value of the eurozone's economy.

This CFR Issue Guide outlines the eurozone struggle.

: A draft deal between Greece and its international lenders outlines further wage and pension cuts and increased taxes, although if implemented, would also give Athens more time to meet budget targets (Guardian).



Mexico Asks WTO for Panel Over Argentina's Trade Restrictions

Mexico appealed to a World Trade Organization panel to adjudicate a dispute over Argentina's import licensing rules that critics say amount to a blanket restriction on imports (MercoPress). Mexico says it is joined by joined by Japan, the European Union, and the United States in its request.

: Panama's President Ricardo Martinelli said he will scrap plans (BBC) to sell off state-owned land in the duty-free zone of Colon after three people were killed in violent protests.



Obama Releases Twenty-Page Plan for Second Term

President Obama released a twenty-page booklet (Politico) on Tuesday that outlines his plans for a second term on issues ranging from energy to education.

GOP nominee Mitt Romney has been using support of the coal industry to try and woo voters in coal-producing swing states (USAToday) that have been vocal opponents of the Obama administration's clean-energy policies.



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