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Daily Brief: Kerry Expected to Propose Syria Cooperation in Moscow

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July 14, 2016

Daily News Brief

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Kerry Expected to Propose Syria Cooperation in Moscow

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Moscow Thursday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. They are expected to discuss (RFE/RL) the five-year Syrian civil war, the future of President Bashar al-Assad, and the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. The Washington Post reported that Kerry is expected to propose increased coordination against extremist groups (AP), including  joint bombing operations, a command center for the two countries based out of Amman, and intelligence collaboration. Syrian and Russian planes have reportedly bombed civilian and opposition sites (WaPo) despite a cease-fire that took effect in February. Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed Islamic State confirmed (BBC) the death of commander Omar Shishani. The United States said he died from injuries sustained in a U.S. strike in northeastern Syria in March, but the militant group said he died in battle outside Mosul, Iraq.


"Overall, the proposal would dramatically shift the United States’ Syria policy by directing more American military power against Jabhat al-Nusra, which unlike the Islamic State is focused on fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. While this would expand the U.S. counterterrorism mission in Syria, it would also be a boon for the Assad regime, which could see the forces it is fighting dramatically weakened. The plan also represents a big change in U.S.-Russia policy. It would give Russian President Vladi­mir Putin something he has long wanted: closer military relations with the United States and a thawing of his international isolation," Josh Rogin writes for the Washington Post.

"In Syria, meanwhile, both rebels and extremist groups have ground down the defenses of President Bashar al-Assad. In turn, Iraq and Syria’s armies have had to rely on other forces to fight their opponents. In 2012, the Syrian state partnered with Iran to create the National Defense Forces, regime loyalists whom Assad depicted as patriotic fighters volunteering to support the state against 'terrorism'—which for the regime is a broad term that includes ISIS and rebels alike. Syria later added to the mix the Russian-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a primarily Kurdish militia that battles ISIS in the country’s northern and eastern regions. Assad’s use of non-governmental militias is not just about fighting ISIS. It is also about rebranding. The Syrian regime seeks to portray the state’s suppression of what began as an uprising as a popular effort to eradicate terrorism," Lina Khatib writes for Foreign Affairs.

"The State Department 'dissent channel' memo on the United States’ policy in Syria, leaked last month, is just the latest expression of a widespread belief in and out of government that American intervention in Syria is necessary and would be successful. After five years of brutal, grinding war, this view is understandable. The idea of the United States saving the Middle East from itself appeals to liberal hawks and neoconservatives alike. Unfortunately, when that notion has carried the day — as it did in Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011 — regional security and stability have worsened," Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson write for the New York Times.


China-EU Steel Deal Addresses Dumping Concerns

China and the European Union agreed to set up a platform to address European worries over China's steel dumping (FT), paving the way for China to be granted market economy status under World Trade Organization terms. The designation, which the European Commission will debate on July 20 (Global Times), would protect China from anti-dumping lawsuits.


Peshawar School Attack Planner Killed in U.S. Strike in Afghanistan

Pakistani Taliban leader Umar Narai was killed over the weekend in a U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province, according to military sources from the United States and Pakistan (Al Jazeera). Narai was wanted for his role in an attack on a school in Peshawar in northeastern Pakistan in 2014 that killed 150 people, mostly children.

CFR's Micah Zenko analyzes the Obama administration's recent announcement about civilian casualties in drone strikes in this blog post.

KYRGYZSTAN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev in the capital city of Bishkek in what is seen as a nod to Kyrgyzstan's democratic reforms (RFE/RL); Merkel will also visit Mongolia. 


U.S. Signs $415 Military Aid Deal With Kurdistan Regional Government

The United States signed a deal with the Iraqi Kurdistan government to provide select members of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces $415 million in aid as they battle the self-proclaimed Islamic State (Al Jazeera). A Kurdish government spokesman said (Asharq Al-Awasat) the aid included financial and military support in the forms of weapons, ammunition, and equipment.

This CFR InfoGuide looks at the history of the Kurds in a changing Middle East.

UAE: Abu Dhabi authorities announced launch of an emirate-wide network which they say will monitor traffic and "significant behaviors" in the city, such as "assemblies in non-dedicated areas" (Middle East Eye).


UN Criticized Over Response to Food Crisis in Northeast Nigeria

Humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders criticized the United Nations response to a growing food crisis in northeast Nigeria where attacks by the militant group Boko Haram have devastated food production (Guardian). The UN said 4.4 million people in the Lake Chad area are "severely food insecure" as hundreds of people are reported to be dying daily.

MALI: UNESCO warned that pre-Islamic, historic sites in the central Malian town of Djenné risk deteriorating amid various security threats, including Islamic militants and separatists (Reuters).


New UK Prime Minister Begins Cabinet Appointments

On her first day in office UK Prime Minister Theresa May appointed three pro-Brexit ministers (FT) who will be responsible for removing the UK from the European Union. She named former London Mayor and Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson as foreign minister (BBC).


CDC: Risk of Spreading Zika From Rio Olympics Low

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control said that risk of the Zika virus spreading after the summer Olympics in Brazil is low. The half a million expected visitors represent only one percent of global travel to Zika-infected areas (USA Today).

This CFR Backgrounder looks at the spread and risks of the Zika virus.

CUBA: More than 450,000 U.S. citizens or residents visited Cuba last year, when the number of visitors to the island rose 17 percent from the previous year (WSJ). U.S. tourists made up the second largest group of visitors to the island, following Canadians.

This CFR Backgrounder looks at evolving U.S.-Cuba relations.


Report: Incomes Stagnate in Advanced Economies

In twenty-five advanced world economies, two-thirds of the population have incomes that are the same or less than their peers a decade ago (WSJ), according to new research by McKinsey Global Institute.

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