TOP NEWS: Nat’l Security / Foreign Affairs: July 20, 2012
- Assad Troops Force Rebels to Retreat in Damascus Battle
- Euro Zone Approves Spain Bank Bailout
- Israel Blamed Hezbollah for Attack on Tourists in Bulgaria
- Kremlin building legal framework for authoritarian rule
- U.S. Says Iran Plans to Disrupt Oil Trade
Excerpts and more top stories
Neil MacFarquhar, Tim Arango, and Alan Cowell, NY Times – Government forces in Syria struck back on Friday, claiming to have retaken a pocket of Damascus a day after rebel fighters, building on the momentum gained by their brazen assassination of top security officials, seized all four border crossings with Iraq and one into Turkey. Rebels described the latest fighting across Syria as the bloodiest of the 17-month uprising.
Rick Gladstone, NY Times – Diplomatic efforts at the United Nations Security Council to address the Syria crisis suffered a potentially fatal blow on Thursday when Russia and China vetoed a British-sponsored resolution that would have punished the Syrian government with economic sanctions for failing to carry out a peace plan.
Liz Sly and Babak Dehghanpisheh, Washington Post – Heavy street fighting spread across Damascus for a sixth day Friday, as the military shelled residential areas and deployed helicopters to combat rebel forces. With thousands fleeing the Damascus violence, Syrian state television reported that Gen. Hisham Ikhtiyar, the country’s national security chief, died of wounds sustained Wednesday, when a bomb planted by rebels detonated in a meeting of high-level security officials.
Bruce Riedel, The Daily Best – The fighting and bombings in Damascus suggest the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is finally coming to an end. It will likely be ugly and dangerous. Some kind of international peacekeeping force is probably going to be needed, perhaps sooner rather than later.
EUROZONE/ SPAIN: Euro Zone Approves Spain Bank Bailout
Matina Stevis, WSJ – Euro-area finance ministers Friday released €30 billion (about $37 billion) of the €100 billion loan package set up for Spain to shore up its ailing banks.
EUROZONE/ GERMANY: German Parliament Backs Bailout for Spanish Banks
Jack Ewing and Raphael Minder, NY Times – Amid much griping, the German Parliament voted Thursday in favor of a plan to rescue Spanish banks, but only after the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel assured skeptical lawmakers that it was essential to survival of the euro and that the Spanish government would remain responsible for repaying the money.
Nicholas Kulish and Eric Schmitt, NY Times – American officials on Thursday identified the suicide bomber responsible for a deadly attack on Israeli vacationers here as a member of a Hezbollah cell that was operating in Bulgaria and looking for such targets, corroborating Israel’s assertions and making the bombing a new source of tension with Iran.
Joby Warrick, Washington Post – The suicide bombing of a Bulgarian bus packed with Israeli tourists has stoked fears of a deadly new phase in the long-running “shadow war” between Iran and Israel, with ordinary civilians now apparently replacing diplomats as primary targets.
ISRAEL/IRAN: Israeli officials says Iran will face retaliation for bombing that killed 5 in Bulgaria
Karin Brulliard, Washington Post - Israeli officials maintained Thursday that Iran was behind a suicide bombing that killed five Israeli tourists in Bulgaria and vowed to settle the score, but indicated that retaliation was unlikely to take the form of a military strike on Iran.
Economist – Despite signs of resistance from parties once deemed loyal to the Kremlin, the Duma is still under the control of the firmly pro-Kremlin United Russia party. As such, it remains a dependable instrument for Vladimir Putin, the president, in his struggle with the country’s opposition movement.
RUSSIA: Russia flood inspires unprecedented wave of volunteerism — and new government regulation
AP via Washington Post – A week after the unprecedented flood volunteerism emerged a Kremlin-linked body proposed a bill that regulates charity drives. Critics suspect the move is aimed at keeping a tight leash on popular movements that could snowball into anti-government protest.
Julian E. Barnes, WSJ – U.S. government officials, citing new intelligence, said Iran has developed plans to disrupt international oil trade, including through attacks on oil platforms and tankers.
FOREIGN POLICY: Where Obama Shines
David Brooks, Opinion, NY Times – It won’t help him win many votes this year, but it should be noted that Barack Obama has been a good foreign policy president. He, Vice President Joseph Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the rest of his team have created a style of policy making that is flexible, incremental and well adapted to the specific circumstances of this moment. Following a foreign policy hedgehog, Obama’s been a pretty effective fox.
Craig Whitlock and Julie Tate, Washington Post - In the latest sign of Washington’s deepening involvement in Yemen’s battle against an al-Qaeda affiliate, the U.S. military is preparing to give more than $100 million in counterterrorism and security aid to the Arabian country this year, according to newly obtained documents.
FOOD CRISIS: World braced for new food crisis
Jack Farchy, Gregory Meyer, FT – The world is facing a new food crisis as the worst US drought in more than 50 years pushes agricultural commodity prices to record highs. Corn and soybean prices surged to record highs on Thursday, surpassing the peaks of the 2007-08 crisis that sparked food riots in more than 30 countries. Wheat prices are not yet at record levels but have rallied more than 50 per cent in five weeks, exceeding prices reached in the wake of Russia’s 2010 export ban.
Richard Miniter, Opinion, Forbes – The rising Islamist tide may recede sooner than expected in the Arab world — if recent events in Morocco are any guide. Six months after a surprising win in that North African country’s first elections under its new constitution, the Islamist Party of Justice and Development (known as PJD) is in trouble with voters.
UK/ECONOMY: UK government borrowing overshoots forecasts in June, raising doubt over deficit target
Staff, AP via Washington Post – U.K. public sector borrowing rose more than expected in June, to 14.4 billion pounds ($22.6 billion), according to official data released Friday that raise doubts over the government’s ability to meet its deficit targets.
Sarah Lyall, NY Times – Asked “What do you feel about the Olympics?” the other day, a random sampling of people here gave answers that included bitter laughter; the words “fiasco,” “disaster” and “police state”; and detailed explanations of how they usually get to work, how that is no longer possible and how very unhappy that makes them.
SYRIA/SWITZERLAND/UAE: Swiss set up panel with UAE to probe whether exported hand grenades were sent on to Syria
AP via Washington Post – Switzerland says it has set up a joint commission with the United Arab Emirates to investigate whether hand grenades exported to the UAE were sent on to Syria. The Swiss government this month temporarily halted arms shipments to the UAE after a newspaper published a photograph indicating a Swiss-made grenade was found with Syria rebels.
MYANMAR: Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingyas being targeted as violence continues in west
Staff, AP via Washington Post – Communal violence is grinding on in western Myanmar six weeks after the government declared a state of emergency there, and Muslim Rohingyas are increasingly being hit with targeted attacks that have included killings, rape and physical abuse, Amnesty International said Friday.
CHINA: China, US to begin next round of human rights talks in Washington on Monday
Staff, AP via Washington Post – The exchanges have become a regular fixture in China-US relations along with recurring economic and policy dialogues. But they haven’t produced any significant narrowing of differences on human rights.
CHINA/ EU: EU Court Hands Trade Victory to China Firms
Matthew Dalton, WSJ – Europe’s highest court on Thursday handed a victory to Chinese firms seeking to defend themselves against charges of unfair trade practices in a case that has raised tensions between Brussels and Beijing.
CHINA/S.KOREA: Seoul says China has released 4 South Korean human rights activists detained since March
AP via Washington Post – South Korea says China has released four South Korean human rights activists detained since March for allegedly undermining China’s state security. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Han Hye-jin said the activists returned home Friday after a diplomatic push by Seoul.
N. KOREA/S. KOREA: North Korea Accuses South of Plot to Destroy Statues
Choe Sang-Hun, NY Times – North Korea said on Friday that it has arrested a man dispatched by South Korean spy agents to destroy statues of Kim Il-sung, the country’s late founding president and grandfather of the current leader Kim Jong-un.
SENEGAL/UN: UN’s highest court orders Senegal to prosecute former Chad dictator Habre on torture charges
AP via Washington Post -The United Nations’ highest court has ordered Senegal to prosecute former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre on torture charges “without further delay” if the country does not extradite him to Belgium.