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Daily Brief: U.S. Officials Urge Strikes on Assad in Dissent Memo

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June 17, 2016

Daily News Brief

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U.S. Officials Urge Strikes on Assad in Dissent Memo

More than fifty U.S. State Department officials signed a memo urging the United States to carry out air strikes against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The memo, distributed through the department's dissent channel (NYT), represents a sharp break with the U.S. administration's policy in Syria, which has emphasized actions against the self-proclaimed Islamic State over the ouster of Assad. Washington and Moscow have publicly said they will work together to persuade the Syrian president to negotiate a settlement with his opponents (Middle East Eye). On Thursday, a U.S. defense official (Reuters) said Russian aircraft struck U.S.-supported rebels fighting the Islamic State in southern Syria. Russia's foreign minister responded by saying that the United States may be relying on groups like the al-Qaeda offshoot Jabhat al-Nusra to oust Assad (RFE/RL)


“The memo says that neither Assad nor Russia have taken past ceasefires and negotiations seriously and suggests a more robust military approach was needed to force a transitional government in Syria. President Barack Obama has resisted wading deeper into the Syria conflict, but officials familiar with the memo said the State Department officials could be trying to force a policy debate in the upcoming elections. Hillary Clinton has promised a tougher policy toward Assad, while Donald Trump has promised to get tough on ISIS but would work with Russia,” writes Elise Labott for 

“If the parties on the ground and key outside actors forgo overly ambitious political objectives and prioritize extending the ceasefire, humanitarian assistance, and local governance, there is at least a chance that the nightmare Syrians and their neighbors have been living for more than five years can be brought to an end,” write James Dobbins, CFR’s Philip Gordon, and Jeffrey Martini in a recent Rand report.

"Despite talk of a 'regime' and 'opposition,' Syria today is a mosaic of tiny fiefs. The government has ceded control of stretches of land to Iran, Russia and Hezbollah. Its opponents range from the apocalyptic Islamic State to a coterie of tiny insurgent groups led by local warlords reliant on foreign donors. On all sides of the conflict, warlords mark territory with armed checkpoints. These low-level bosses have tasted power; it’s hard to imagine they will readily submit to any national government," writes Thanassis Cambanis for the New York Times.

Weekly Podcast

Weekly Podcast

In this special edition, James M. Lindsay, Robert McMahon, and Elizabeth Saunders start off the summer with a list of books that they will be reading in the weeks ahead. Listen in for recommendations from their reading lists.



Manila Police Crack Down on Curfew, Drinking

Law enforcement rounded up hundreds of children and parents in a bid to enforce curfews and curb public inebriation (AP). The police sweep is dubbed Operation Rody, both an acronym for "Rid the Streets of Drinkers and Youth" and a reference to incoming President Rodrigo Duterte, who has promised to crack down on crime.

CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick writes about expectations for a Duterte presidency in this article for the Diplomat.  

VIETNAM: Vietnamese-American activists have petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug administration to thoroughly test fish imports from Vietnam (RFA). At least one hundred tons of dead fish have washed up on Vietnamese shores since April, leading to protests against the government and a steel plant believed to be polluting waterways. 


Pakistan Threatens to Deport Afghan Refugees

Pakistan has threatened to deport all 1.5 million documented Afghan refugees by the end of June (Bloomberg). It has not enforced similar deportation deadlines in the past.

CFR's Daniel S. Markey explains why the United States is reluctant to pull the plug on its relations with Pakistan in the Cipher Brief.

INDIA: A court gave life sentences to eleven of the twenty-four people convicted in 2002 riots in Gujarat state that killed sixty-nine people in a Muslim housing complex (TOI). Prime Minister Narendra Modi has faced scrutiny for having been Gujarat's Chief Minister at the time of the riots.


Iraqi Security Forces Take Fallujah Government Headquarters

The Iraqi commander of a four-week-old offensive to retake the city of Fallujah from the self-proclaimed Islamic State (Al Jazeera) said its forces had taken control of the main government compound in the city's center.  Also in Fallujah, an Iraqi federal commission is investigating allegations that a Shia militia member shot and killed seventeen civilians as they fled the Islamic State–held city (Middle East Eye).


African Leadership Prize Goes Unawarded

The foundation of Sudanese telecom entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim announced that its African leadership prize for former heads of state would go unawarded for 2015 due to a lack of candidates who met the committee's criteria (DW). The $5 million prize has been granted four times since it was created in 2006. 

KENYA: A court upheld mandatory examinations for persons suspected of same-sex relations (NYT). A law dating back to the colonial era prohibits "carnal knowledge" that goes "against the order of nature."


British Lawmaker Killed by Attacker

Labor MP and former Oxfam policy head Jo Cox was killed by a man armed with a gun and knife outside a public library in her constituency (Guardian). A U.S. research group that monitors extremism reported that the suspect arrested in the case had purchased books from U.S. neo-Nazi organizations (Guardian).

EU: The humanitarian organization Medecins Sans Frontieres announced that it would no longer take funds from the European Union in protest of the bloc's migration policy (BBC).

This CFR Backgrounder discusses Europe's migration crisis.


Guatemala's Former President, VP Charged in Corruption Scheme

Former President Otto Perez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti were charged with corruption and money laundering (BBC). Both are also facing trial in another corruption case that led to their resignations last year.

BRAZIL: Interim President Michel Temer's tourism minister became the third cabinet member to resign from Temer's month-old government following graft allegations (WSJ). Brazil is also awaiting the details of a plea bargain with the head of the country's largest construction company, who is expected to implicate many top figures in an ongoing corruption investigation (Bloomberg).

CFR's Matthew Taylor writes that Temer's first month in office "has not been the stuff of dreams" in this blog post. 


Sanders Looks to Continue Campaign

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), who trails Hillary Clinton in the pledged delegates needed to clinch the Democratic nomination, told supporters that his “political revolution” would continue (NYT) to the national convention next month.

Track and compare the differences in foreign policy positions of Clinton, Sanders and Trump with CFR’s interactive, The Candidates and the World.

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