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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
November 19, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Obama in Cambodia After Historic Myanmar Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama made a historic trip to Myanmar on Monday (NYT), marking the first visit to the Southeast Asian nation by a serving U.S. president. While he hailed the progress of reforms sweeping the country and extended a "hand of friendship," Obama also urged Myanmar's people to acccept Muslim Rohingyas (BBC) after a spate of recent violence erupted between Buddhists and Muslims. Obama on Monday also became the first U.S. president to set foot in Cambodia (AP), a country formerly ruled by the Khmer Rouge, although the White House made clear that the trip was solely to for the purpose of attending the East Asia Summit and should not be seen as an endorsement of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government, which has led the country since the 1980s.


"Another goal – an unstated one – is to claw back some of the influence China has been able to exert over Burma during the years of isolation and sanctions. That is something even old-school Burmese military men will approve of. Their country has a historically uneasy relationship with its giant northern neighbour, and the high dependence on Chinese investment and military technology has been a source of discomfort," writes Jonathan Head for the BBC.

"The president should specifically urge the government to amend a 1982 law that makes citizenship unattainable for Rohingya Muslims unless they can present proof tracing their roots in the country back to the early 19th century. He should also call on the government to help humanitarian aid pass unhindered to poverty-stricken and displaced Rohingya as well as other victims of the fighting," writes a Los Angeles Times editorial.

"The journey's real significance for the region is that it comes less than two weeks after he was re-elected; that is all the proof Asians need that Mr. Obama takes them seriously. And for the confrontation-averse Southeast Asians, the balancing influence of America is welcome as tensions with overbearing China rise," writes Lewis Simons for the New York Times.



Tensions Flare at ASEAN Summit

Tensions over the South China Sea territorial dispute escalated at the ASEAN summit Monday as the Philippines publicly disagreed with Cambodia over the issue (Reuters), and Japan said that a row could directly influence stability in Asia. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda challenged efforts by summit host Cambodia to limit discussions on the territories, where China's claims overlap those of four Southeast Asian countries and of Taiwan.

CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick discusses ASEAN's future and Asian integration in this report.

SOUTH KOREA: South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said that his government would clarify its stance on Middle East issues (Yonhap) after being elected a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.



India Mourns Right-Wing Leader's Death

Indian police remained on high alert in Mumbai Sunday as hundreds of thousands of people mourned the death of right-wing leader Bal K. Thackeray (NYT), whose party Shiv Sena has been a major force in the city's politics.



Civilian Toll Mounts in Gaza

Ninety-two Palestinians have been killed as Israeli air strikes pounded Gaza (AlJazeera) for a sixth successive day and officials prepared for a ground offensive if truce talks failed. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was due to arrive in Cairo for peace efforts after an Israeli envoy was sent to Egypt for talks on Sunday.

This blog post by CFR's Robert M. Danin discusses the conflict's unintended consequences.

EGYPT: Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was absent at the installation ceremony of the new Coptic Pope Tawadros II on Sunday, worrying Christians who fear being sidelined (Al-Arabiya) in the new Islamist-led Egypt.



DR Congo Rebels Advance

M23 rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have advanced to within a few kilometers of Goma, the provincial capital, despite the group's claims that it has no plans to take the city (BBC). The UN Security Council condemned the rebel attacks this weekend and said its peacekeeping forces, Monusco, fought advancing rebels throughout Sunday.

SIERRA LEONE: Sierra Leone voted in a general election—the third since the end of its eleven-year civil war ending in 2002—that the chief EU election observer deemed peaceful and well-conducted (AEP).

CFR's John Campbell discusses the legitimacy of African elections in this blog post.



French Opposition Candidates Both Claim Victory

France's main center-right UMP party remained leaderless on Monday after both former prime minister François Fillon and his opponent Jean-François Copé claimed victory (France24) to the vote amid accusations on both sides of voter fraud. The vote comes six months after former UMP leader and president Nicolas Sarkozy was defeated by Socialist François Hollande.

: The European Union's foreign policy chief expressed concern (AP) about the mounting Gaza conflict, calling for a long-term solution at the start of a meeting of EU foreign and defense ministers in Brussels on Monday.



Colombian Peace Negotiators in Cuba

Colombian government negotiators arrived in Cuba for landmark peace talks (BBC) aimed at ending five decades of conflict with left-wing FARC rebels. Negotiations were set to begin last Thursday, but were pushed back by four days as both sides worked out "technical details."

LATIN AMERICA: Latin America pledged investment opportunities (MercoPress) at a two-day summit in Cadiz for recession-ridden Spanish and Portuguese companies, but warned austerity would only deepen the crisis.



Sequestration's Threats to Domestic Security Funds

Talk about sequestration budget cuts often focuses on defense issues, but it would also mean "fewer FBI agents, border patrols, meat inspectors, disease trackers, Secret Service agents, prison guards and National Guardsmen for storms like Hurricane Sandy," reports Politico.

President Obama and congressional leaders held their first post-election meeting on the fiscal cliff on Friday, after which both sides expressed confidence (CNN) that they would meet a January 1 deadline to avoid mandatory tax increases and spending cuts.



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