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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
November 20, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Clinton to Visit Middle East as Gaza Crisis Escalates

U.S. President Barack Obama dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Middle East on Tuesday in an attempt to defuse the escalating conflict (NYT) in Gaza, where UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is also set to visit this week for peace talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Clinton will meet with leaders in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Cairo, marking the Obama administration's most forceful engagement (AP) in the weeklong conflict that has killed more than 100 Palestinians and three Israelis. While Egypt has been trying to broker a cease-fire with the help of Qatar and Turkey, a decision on whether to launch a ground invasion (Haaretz) of Gaza was put off by at least a day after Israel decided Monday to give Egypt more time.


"For years Hamas has been in an axis with Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. Yet now it relies on strong alliances with Egypt, Turkey, and Qatar. Hamas will want these powers to back it in its new armed struggle. But these three states should push Hamas down the road of restraint and reconciliation," writes a Financial Times editorial.

"The recent call from some western leaders for a 'de-escalation' of the crisis by asking Hamas to stop firing the rockets and pleading with Israel not to wreck 'international support' only shows impotence. There is a clear lack of leadership from Western leaders, particularly the U.S. administration," writes Muhammad Abdul Bari for Al Jazeera.

"Those who refused to condemn the attacks on Israeli citizens have no right to condemn Israel's response to establish peace and quiet for its citizens. This is the basic obligation of any sovereign nation, and we will continue taking any action necessary to achieve this aim," writes Danny Ayalon for the Guardian.



South China Sea Dominates ASEAN Agenda

U.S. President Barack Obama urged Asian leaders on Tuesday to quell tensions (Reuters) in the South China Sea and other disputed maritime areas but stopped short of backing allies Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam in their disputes with China.

CHINA: China appointed Sun Zhengcai as Communist Party chief in Chongqing (AP), the city once led by disgraced politician Bo Xilai. The city's outgoing chief Zhang Dejiang was promoted to the Politburo Standing Committee.

This CFR Backgrounder tracks the Chinese Communist Party.



Hamid Karzai Orders Control of Prison

Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered forces to take over control (NYT) of the U.S.-run prison at Bagram air base, charging that American forces are continuing to detain Afghans despite a bilateral agreement in March to transfer all prisoners to Afghan authorities.

CFR's Max Boot discusses the United States' detention policy in the Afghan war in this op-ed.

PAKISTAN: Pakistan's high court dropped blasphemy charges (Guardian) against Rimsha Masih, a Pakistani Christian girl accused by her neighbors of burning sacred Islamic texts. Masih is believed to be one of the few people to escape prosecution under the country's religious laws.



EU Partially Recognizes New Syrian Coalition

Foreign ministers from the European Union partially recognized (DeutscheWelle) Syria's new opposition coalition at a meeting on Monday in Brussels, but stopped short of a previous move by France to recognize the organization as the sole representative of the Syrian people.



M23 Rebels Enter Goma

The rebel M23 group seized part of the regional capital of Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday, with news reports that both parts of the city and its airport had been occupied (AllAfrica). Rebels groups have been active in mineral-rich eastern DR Congo since the end of the war in 2003.

CFR's John Campbell delves into the international hand-wringing over the Eastern Congo in this blog post.

MALI: Militant Islamists in northern Mali say they have driven Tuareg-led rebels out of the desert town of Menaka, a charge the rebels deny. The Economic Community of West African States agreed last week to send 3,000 troops to reclaim northern Mali (BBC).



Former Sarkozy Ally Named Head of France Opposition

Jean-François Copé, a close ally of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, was finally declared the new leader (France24) of France's right-wing opposition UMP party on Monday after a controversial vote riddled with allegations of fraud from both sides.

CROATIA: Former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader was sentenced to ten years in jail (RFE/RL) for taking bribes from two foreign companies, marking him the highest-ranking former official to be convicted of corruption in Croatia.



Colombia Rejects FARC Cease-Fire

Colombia's defense minister said the country's forces will not honor a unilateral cease-fire (MercoPress) declared by FARC rebels as peace talks between parties opened in Havana. Ivan Marquez, the top rebel negotiator, declared a two-month cease-fire effective Monday night.

NICARAGUA: The International Court of Justice in The Hague on Monday upheld Colombia's sovereignty (LAT) over seven Caribbean islands, rejecting Nicaragua's ultimate claim to the territory.



Wyden and Murkowski Announce Partnership on Energy

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who is set to become chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the committee's ranking Republican, announced that they will work together to pass new energy legislation, something that hasn't happened since 2007, reports Politico.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) expressed interest in working with the Obama administration whenever possible on foreign policy, especially on issues like Syria and Libya. McCain "indicated that his real fight over the next two years on foreign policy will not be with the White House, but with members of his own GOP Senate caucus who want to steer Republican foreign policy toward a more isolationist and non-interventionist stance," reports Foreign Policy.



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