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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
December 4, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Bolstering Turkey's Air Defenses

NATO foreign ministers are expected Tuesday to approve Turkey's request for the deployment of Patriot missiles (AlJazeera) that would bolster Turkey's air defenses and counter a threat from Syria, shortly after Washington bluntly warned Damascus against the possible use of chemical weapons. Reports surfaced that Syria had begun mixing chemicals that could be used to make sarin (AFP), a deadly nerve agent, and could deploy the gas in an attack on advancing rebels. Ministers from the twenty-eight-nation alliance are expected to give their backing when they meet in Brussels for a biannual meeting in a move that Russia, a staunch ally of Syria, has firmly opposed.


"The risk is that a Western air campaign would not end the fighting in Syria, but simply change the direction of the conflict. To prevent that, the West might then feel compelled to send a large 'stabilisation force' into Syria. But any such talk immediately raises the spectres of Iraq and Afghanistan," writes Gideon Rachman for the Financial Times.

"While Patriot can reach into Syrian airspace, NATO is at pains to stress that this is in no sense a step towards establishing a no-fly zone over Syria. Nonetheless, NATO may also hope that there will be a deterrent effect that may dissuade Syria from operating its aircraft too close to the Turkish frontier," writes Jonathan Marcus for the BBC.

"It can easily be said that NATO is now extending its threat assessments further, and the Russian worry does have some basis. Plus, with NATO approval of Patriot deployment, Ankara has saved itself from a potential political trap that the civil war in Syria would turn into a bilateral matter. Instead, it is now an international one," writes Murat Yetkin for Hurriyet.



Vietnam Boosts Patrols in South China Sea

Vietnam is launching patrols in late January to guard its fisheries (Reuters) in the South China Sea after a state company accused Chinese boats of aggression and India said it was ready to deploy naval vessels to protect its interests in the disputed waters. The move dovetails with mounting tension in the region, where China has insisted on claiming sovereignty.

JAPAN: Official campaigning for Japan's December 16 elections kicked off on Tuesday (JapanTimes), with key issues including nuclear power, the struggling economy, and recent strained ties with China and South Korea at the top of the agenda.

CFR's Sheila Smith asks whether Japan is in decline in this blog series.



Bangladesh Islamic Party Enforces Strike

One person was killed when Bangladeshi police clashed with dozens of protesters of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party, which enforced a day-long strike (Dawn) to demonstrate against the trials of its top leaders accused of crimes against humanity during the 1971 war against Pakistan.

INDIA: The Chinese state councilor met with India's national security adviser on Tuesday in Beijing, where China discussed border issues and sought assurance (TimesofIndia) that New Delhi would not encourage "American interference" in the region.



Iran Claims It Captured U.S. Drone

The Iranian military said its Revolutionary Guards Corps naval forces captured an unmanned U.S. drone aircraft in its airspace over Gulf waters—a claim that was swiftly denied (NYT) by the United States Navy. Iran has cited to the United Nations at least eight violations of its airspace by American planes airplanes in the past month.



Rwandans React to UK Aid Freeze

Rights groups in Rwanda warned that the number of people living in poverty in the country could increase as a result of Britain's recent decision to freeze (TheNewTimes) around 21 million pounds of aid to Rwanda under suspicions that the country was backing the Democratic Republic of Congo's M23 rebels.

SOMALIA: A Somali convoy carrying three ministers was attacked, and fierce fighting erupted near the militant base of Jowhar (BBC), the country's largest town controlled by al-Shabaab Islamists.

This CFR Backgrounder explains the Somali Islamist organization.



Euro Group Head Jean-Claude Juncker to Step Down

Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg prime minister and head of the Euro Group, said he is stepping down (DerSpeigel) at the end of December after seven years at the post. While it is unclear who will succeed him, some point to French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici to fill his spot.

This CFR Issue Guide delves into the eurozone crisis.

ITALY: Pier Luigi Bersani, Italy's former minister for economic development, will become the center-left's candidate (Guardian) in the general election early next year.



Bolivia Targets Mercosur Membership

Bolivia will announce later this week at the Mercosur summit in Brasilia that it is willing to join to the trade bloc as a full member (MercoPress), a step up from its current position as associate member. President Evo Morales said he preferred Mercosur because the trade bloc does not have a free-trade agreement with the United States.

CUBA: A senior State Department official affirmed Monday that Cuba's offer (MiamiHerald) to swap U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross for five Cuban spies convicted in Miami is not acceptable to Washington, furthering the diplomatic standoff that has stifled US-Cuba relations.



Republicans Make First Fiscal Cliff Offer

In their first formal fiscal cliff offer, Republicans replied to the Obama administration's proposal of $1.6 trillion in tax increases by advocating steep spending cuts, but they gave no ground on President Barack Obama's call to raise taxes on the wealthiest. The White House dismissed the proposal, as Republicans did to its own offer last week, but "it could allow negotiators to begin work in earnest as both sides now have outlined their visions in concrete terms," reports Reuters.

A new poll shows that Obama voters agree that the deficit needs to reduced, but are split over how to do it, reports Politico. Forty-one percent advocate mostly spending cuts while 41 percent prefer mainly tax increases.



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