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Daily Brief: Kerry: U.S. Could End Syria Talks with Russia

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September 30, 2016

Daily News Brief

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Kerry: U.S. Could End Syria Talks with Russia

Secretary of State John Kerry said that the United States is "on the verge" of ending talks on Syria with Russia following an intensified bombing campaign on Aleppo that calls into question (Al Jazeera) Russia's "seriousness of purpose." Russia's foreign minister responded by saying that groups described by the United States as moderates did not adhere to a cease-fire earlier this month and attacked the Syrian military alongside terror groups (RT). The United Nations says that 600 wounded people need to be evacuated from Aleppo and that food supplies for the 275,000 people trapped in the city have run out (NYT). A London-based Syrian monitoring group said that Russian air strikes in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have killed 9,000 people since the campaign began last September (AP).


"Why on earth would Russia back out on a sweet deal with John Kerry that had allowed it to cash in on its Syria gamble and become the United States' senior partner in shaping Syria's future and in the coalition for the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS)? By trampling over the much-hyped US-Russia brokered ceasefire in Syria, Vladimir Putin has proved right Kerry's detractors in the Obama administration. Cynical as they may be, the Pentagon and the CIA have questioned Russia's seriousness about the ceasefire and the diplomatic process from the very beginning. Russia has taken advantage of Kerry's concessions, not to exercise influence over Bashar al-Assad, but rather to unleash him to 'retake the whole country' from the 'terrorists'," Marwan Bishara writes for Al Jazeera.

"Analysts say that Russia and Syria may be targeting civilians in Aleppo to erode the rebels? legitimacy by driving them into the hands of extremists. Such a move could give Russia more leverage in diplomatic talks and perhaps persuade civilians to stop supporting the rebels," Anne Barnard, Sewell Chan, and Rick Gladstone write for the New York Times.

?Russia could pay a price for Aleppo in its relations with Europe and the Arab world. The Russian economy is already suffering badly as a result of low oil prices, Western sanctions, and costly military interventions in Ukraine and Syria. Now, whatever prospects there were for the lifting of European sanctions or the expansion of Russian energy cooperation with Europe or Saudi Arabia will be greatly diminished, ensuring continued Russian economic pain. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries should consider their own economic sanctions on Russia to raise the costs and make clear their displeasure,? writes CFR?s Phillip Gordon in the Washington Post.


South Korea Chooses New Missile System Site

South Korea selected a golf course in the southeast as a new site for its U.S. missile defense system (AP) after an original location in a farming town faced local protests. The new location is expected to face protests for its proximity to a sacred Buddhist site (Korea Times).

THAILAND: A Thai health official confirmed (BBC) that the country had two cases of microcephaly, or infants born with abnormally small heads, related to the mosquito-borne virus Zika. The cases are the first instances of Zika-linked microcephaly in Southeast Asia.

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


UN: U.S. Air Strike Killed Afghan Civilians

The UN mission in Afghanistan said that a U.S. airstrike in the Afghan province of Nangarhar Wednesday killed at least fifteen civilians (NYT). U.S. and Afghan officials said the targets were part of the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

CFR's Micah Zenko argues that drone strikes are more likely to produce civilian casualties than traditional manned aircraft in this blog post.

INDIA/PAKISTAN: A U.S. State Department spokesman urged (RFE/RL) India and Pakistan to improve communication after India crossed the Line of Control to target suspected militants in Pakistan.

CFR's Alyssa Ayres writes about the escalation of cross-border attacks between India and Pakistan in this blog post.


Rights Groups Criticize Limited Inquiry into Yemen

The United Nations declined (Reuters) to set up an independent probe into violations in the ongoing conflict in Yemen, instead reaching a deal in which UN investigators will be attached to a team from the Yemeni government. A representative from U.S.-based watchdog group Human Rights Watch said the deal "fell short" of the independent inquiry rights advocates hoped for (Guardian).

CFR's Global Conflict Tracker follows the Saudi-led coalition fighting to support the Yemeni government against Houthi rebels.


Ethiopia-Djibouti Railway Could Run in October

Test runs of a railway linking landlocked Addis Ababa and the Gulf of Aden may begin as early as next week (Ethiopian News Agency). The $4 billion Chinese-constructed project comes as Ethiopia's cash crop-fueled economy posted (WSJ) annual average growth rates of 9.8 percent in recent years.

DRC: The United States ordered families of diplomatic employees to leave (VOA) the Democratic Republic of the Congo amid ongoing political unrest. An adviser to President Joseph Kabila said he does not intend to step down (FT) when his term ends in December since a successor has not been elected.

CFR's Global Conflict Tracker followsunrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


London Mayor to Probe Foreign Property Ownership

Mayor Sadiq Khan said his office will launch an inquiry into foreign ownership of London properties (Guardian) to better understand the effects of a flood of foreign investment on rising home prices in the city.

GREECE: The European Union is pressuring Greece to accept returning asylum-seekers from other member states (EU Observer) in addition to the more than 60,000 migrants currently in Greece, a frontline for Europe's migrant crisis.

CFR's Backgrounder discusses Europe's migration crisis.


U.S. Treasury Secretary Visits Brazil After Presidential Impeachment

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew became the first high-level U.S. official to visit Brazil after the ouster (LAHT) of President Dilma Rousseff. Lew said the fiscal reforms proposed by the new government led by Michel Temer, Rousseff's former vice president, would help Brazil realize its growth potential.

CHILE: In a bid to narrow budget deficits, the Chilean government's proposed budget for 2017 raises spending (Bloomberg) by the smallest amount in 14 years.

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