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Daily Brief: Obama Makes First U.S. Presidential Visit to Laos

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September 6, 2016

Daily News Brief

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Obama Makes First U.S. Presidential Visit to Laos

President Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to visit Laos (NYT) on Tuesday, as heads of state and government arrived in the country to attend a regional summit hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Acknowledging U.S. covert operations in Laos during the Vietnam War, Obama pledged $90 million (WSJ) over three years to help clear unexploded bombs that remain from the millions dropped on the country. Meanwhile, Obama canceled a meeting (WaPo) with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte after Duterte used an epithet while referring to the U.S. president in a press conference on Monday. Duterte later expressed regret (Bloomberg) over his remarks.


"Washington has a dark past in the region—its air campaign during the Vietnam War made Laos the most bombed country per capita in history and it even laid the seeds for today’s dams with plans in the 1950s to “tame the Mekong.” The United States, with its strengths in science, technology, and entrepreneurship, has a brief but real opportunity to empower Laos to become a regional leader in twenty-first century energy planning and help it achieve its self-determined goals. By grasping it, Obama can leave behind the United States’ regrettable legacy and begin to deliver on the promises of the rebalance to Asia," write David Roberts and Jalel Sager in Foreign Affairs.

"To ensure smooth progress in his diplomatic outreach to China, the Duterte administration has de-emphasized the arbitration outcome and has sought to de-multilateralize the disputes by not vigorously raising the South China Sea disputes in the ASEAN. Obviously, improved ties between the Philippines and China aren’t necessarily inimical to American interests, since the Obama administration has welcomed diplomatic resolution of regional disputes. But Duterte's approach to the United States has certainly raised eyebrows in Washington," writes Richard Javad Heydarian in a guest post for CFR blog Asia Unbound.

"For now, it suits the great powers to court ASEAN, taking part in its forums and indulging its notions of centrality. Even China would hate to be blamed for the club's demise. And so ASEAN summits continue to proliferate. That is no disaster. For all their imperfections, they are the only game in Asia, a region with a heap of problems and a dearth of structures. They provide a rare opportunity for global leaders to build trust in bilateral meetings on the sidelines. And, for ASEAN, a scintilla of influence is preferable to none at all," writes the Economist


North Korea Fires Ballistic Missiles

North Korea test fired (Yonhap) three mid-range ballistic missiles that traveled approximately 600 miles and landed 250 miles inside Japan's air defense identification zone in the Sea of Japan, according to a South Korean official. U.S. President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye will meet (Korea Times) Tuesday on the sidelines of a regional summit in Laos.

This CFR Global Conflict Tracker examines the North Korean nuclear threat.


Afghan Security Forces End Kabul Siege

Afghan security forces ended an hours-long siege (Al Jazeera) on international charity Pamlarena in Kabul on Tuesday, where militants had taken hostages. The attack came a day after twin suicide bombings (Reuters) targeted the Afghan defense ministry, killing thirty-five and injuring more than one hundred.

INDIA: One person was killed and more than fifty others injured in clashes (Indian Express) between protestors and security forces in India-administered Kashmir during an all-party government delegation visit to the region. More than seventy-five people have died (Hindustan Times) in the latest spate of unrest in the past two months.


UN Delivers First Food Aid to Iraq's Qayyara in Two Years

The UN's World Food Program delivered supplies (AFP) to more than thirty thousand residents in Iraq's northern town of Qayyara. Tuesday's delivery was the first food assistance delivered in more than two years. Iraqi forces expelled militants of the self-proclaimed Islamic State from Qayyara last month.

SYRIA: The Islamic State claimed a series of bombings (AP) targeting strongholds of the Syrian government and Kurdish forces Monday, killing at least forty-eight people. The attacks came after Turkey claimed that the group has lost its territory (CNN) along the Turkish-Syrian border.


Gabonese Justice Minister Resigns Over Election Results

Gabon's Justice Minister Seraphim Moundounga quit his post (BBC) amid unrest over last week's presidential election results. Incumbent Ali Bongo won by a narrow margin but the opposition claims fraud, and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called for a recount (RFI). At least three people have been killed, one hundred injured, and eight hundred arrested in mass protests.

NIGERIA: The World Health Organization confirmed a third case of polio (Leadership) in Nigeria's northeastern Borno State. The virus has been circulating undetected in the area for five years, according to the WHO.

This CFR Backgrounder looks at how polio spreads and efforts to eradicate it.


Protests Against Migrant Camp Blockade Calais

Locals and truck drivers staged a protest in Calais (Guardian) against the migrant camp there, disrupting traffic near the Eurotunnel between France and the UK. The camp is home to more than seven thousand migrants. Separately, the Italian coast guard recovered (Reuters) the bodies of fifteen migrants and rescued another 2,700 off the coast of Libya.

This CFR Backgrounder looks at how the migrant crisis is testing the European Union's commitment to human rights and open borders.

UKRAINE: U.S. and European authorities denounced an arson attack (RFE/RL) on a television station in Kiev that protesters said is pro-Russia. Protesters are reportedly blockading (BBC) the studios.


Protesters Rally Against Brazil's Temer

Tens of thousands rallied (LAHT) against new Brazilian President Michel Temer in Sao Paulo over the weekend after ousted President Dilma Rousseff was impeached last week. Police used tear gas (WaPo) as the crowd dispersed.

VENEZUELA: Journalist Braulio Jatar was charged (AP) with money laundering on Monday after publicizing a protest last week against Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro. Press freedom groups and the opposition condemned the arrest.

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