Editor's Note: The following is reprinted with the permission of the Council on Foreign Relations.
The European Union agreed in principle to impose an oil embargo that would ban member states from purchasing Iranian oil. The EU is the second largest consumer (DerSpiegel) of Iranian oil, with Greece, Italy, and Spain being the largest importers.
The decision comes amid an ongoing standoff between the West and Iran over the latter's nuclear program (NYT). Western leaders have called for Iran to cease enriching uranium, a process considered necessary for building a nuclear bomb. But Iran insists its nuclear program is only for civilian purposes.
The EU move follows fresh U.S. financial sanctions on Iran's central bank. Iran responded by threatening Western ships operating in the Strait of Hormuz, accelerating tensions in the Persian Gulf (WSJ).
Sanctions over Iran's nuclear program have triggered threats involving the strategic Strait of Hormuz and new debate over the methods chosen to pressure Tehran, explains this CFR Analysis Brief.
This CFR Crisis Guide traces Iran's history, its evolution as an Islamic republic, and its controversial nuclear program.
CFR's Captain Bradley S. Russell (USN) and Max Boot argue in this Wall Street Journal op-ed that Iran must realize that by initiating direct hostilities in the Strait of Hormuz, it risks U.S. retaliation against their covert nuclear weapons program.
Deadly Bombings in Baghdad
Insurgents launched a series of attacks on Shiite neighborhoods (NYT) in Baghdad today, killing at least twenty-four people. The bombings were thought to be carried out by al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni group.
As the last U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq in December, an emerging political battle among the country's top leaders has raised concerns over its stability. It underscores the difficult road ahead for the fragile democracy and potential for greater violence, says CFR's Ned Parker in this interview.
SYRIA: Anti-government activists accused President Bashar al-Assad's regime of misleading Arab League observers (al-Jazeera) by taking them to areas loyal to the government. The monitors, who arrived on December 27, conceded that Syrian security forces have continued to kill opposition forces.
North Korea Criticizes Japan
North Korea reprimanded Japan for showing a lack of respect (WSJ) by holding a security meeting in the wake of former leader Kim Jong-il's death last month, while calling Tokyo the "laughing stock of the world" for its many changes in government.
Following the death of leader Kim Jong-il, the transition of power in North Korea could see Pyongyang engaging in further provocative activities, says CFR's Paul Stares in this video.
AUSTRALIA: The government said it would not pay a ransom to suspected Muslim separatists (SMH) in the southern Philippines who took hostage Australian citizen Warren Rodwell last month. The kidnappers released a video of Rodwell asking for $2 million in exchange for his life.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Taliban Murder Pakistani Troops
The Pakistani Taliban, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, claimed to have killed fifteen Pakistani paramilitary soldiers (ExpressTribune) who were abducted last month, and dumped their bodies in North Waziristan near the Afghan border.
Pakistan has emerged as a terrorist sanctuary for some of the world's most violent groups–including al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and homegrown militants–that threaten the stability of Pakistan as well as the region, explains this CFR Backgrounder.
AFGHANISTAN: President Hamid Karzai said he welcomed the Taliban's decision (NYT) to open a political office in Qatar in order to explore peace negotiations with the United States, though doubts remained over his level of commitment.
Deadly Rebel Attacks in Congo
The Democratic Republic of Congo army said at least twenty-six people have been killed (BBC) in attacks by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR)–so-called Hutu rebels–on villages in South Kivu province since the start of January.
NIGERIA: Two bombs exploded in the northern city of Maiduguri, while a gun battle in a nearby town killed at least one civilian. Radical Islamist group Boko Haram (Reuters) is suspected of the attacks, the first since President Goodluck Jonathan imposed a state of emergency this past weekend.
Widening violence by Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram has caused concerns about its possible links to international terrorist groups, explains this CFR Backgrounder.
Obama to Unveil New Defense Strategy
U.S. President Barack Obama will visit the Pentagon today to announce the results of a strategic review of U.S. defense priorities (WashPost) that will likely call for a downsized military in light of anticipated cuts to the Pentagon's budget.
Lawmakers are considering sharp cuts to defense spending as part of mandated deficit-reduction efforts. This CFR Backgrounder discusses the effects of such major cuts and implications for U.S. military strategy.
MEXICO: Members of the rival Gulf and Zeta drug cartels (AP) clashed in a Mexican prison in the Gulf Coast city of Altamira, leaving thirty-one people dead.
German President Refuses to Step Down
German President Christian Wulff said he will not resign from his post despite being accused of attempting to halt the publication of a newspaper report (DeutscheWelle) that detailed his involvement in a home loan scandal.
Small Businesses Created 55,000 Jobs in December
Small businesses created 55,000 jobs (Reuters) and increased work hours for employees last month. The overall perception of the job market is improving, according to an online payroll system.
RAIL: California high-speed rail development is likely to be delayed (LA Times) by a public interest review panel. Though California Governor Jerry Brown has asked the state Legislature to issue a $9 billion bond for the state's bullet train development, the independent panel has declared the project to be financially infeasible.
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