Editor's Note: The following is reprinted with the permission of the Council on Foreign Relations.
The Iranian Revolutionary Court sentenced to death an Iranian-American - a former U.S. Marine - on charges of spying for the Central Intelligence Agency (WSJ) and being an enemy of God. The twenty-eight-year-old Amir Mirzaei Hekmati had reportedly been working for a contractor company in Qatar when he visited Iran this past August.
The verdict comes amid mounting tensions between the United States and Iran over the latter's nuclear and military ambitions. The United States and the EU have ratcheted up sanctions against Iran's central bank and oil exports in recent days, prompting missile tests and threats from Iran to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a crucial passageway for global oil shipments.
"The [Iranian] leadership believes the bluster might help them on the domestic front. But in general, right now Iran is trying to convince others that it has a deterrent capacity and one element of that is its claim that it could close the Strait of Hormuz, which would be very costly economically to Iran," says Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in this CFR interview.
"The looming imposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran's Central Bank and by Europe and perhaps Japan and South Korea on Iranian oil exports might force Iran to have to sell its oil to its few remaining customers at a discount from market prices. To make up for this lost revenue, Iran might find saber rattling a useful way of boosting crude oil prices," writes Robert Haddick on ForeignPolicy.com.
"Regardless of the [Obama] administration's intent, the new measures, which are explicitly designed to throttle the Iranian economy, are being read in Tehran as further evidence that Washington's goal is to force regime-change. That's hardly likely to convince Iran's leaders that they don't need nuclear weapons; on the contrary, Iran appears to be bracing itself for war," writes TIME's Tony Karon.
Arab League to Send More Monitors to Syria
The Arab League said it would send additional observers to Syria to monitor a peace agreement (LAT) by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to end a nine-month-old violent crackdown on anti-government protesters. The Arab League mission has been criticized as highly ineffective.
Outsiders are increasingly calling for a humanitarian intervention in Syria to stop Bashar al-Assad's killing sprees. But for this to work, Syria's various opposition groups will have to first coalesce into a single, unified political and military force, writes Michael Weiss in Foreign Affairs.
Malaysian Opposition Leader Acquitted
The Kuala Lumpur High Court found Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim not guilty of sodomy (al-Jazeera) in a trial that was widely deemed to be politically motivated. Anwar vowed to compete in the country's next general election.
SOUTH KOREA: President Lee Myung-bak is in Beijing (BBC) for a three-day state visit, during which he and Chinese President Hu Jintao are expected to discuss policy towards North Korea.
This CFR Crisis Guide provides an interactive, multimedia guide to the dispute between North and South Korea.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Afghan Commission Accuses U.S. Military
An Afghan investigative commission accused the U.S. military of abusing terror suspects (AP) at a prison near Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, just days after President Hamid Karzai called for the facility to be put under Afghan control.
PAKISTAN: The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is expected to resume drone attacks (ExpressTribune) against militants in the northern tribal areas of Pakistan, potentially to be launched from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
Targeted killings have become a central component of U.S. counterterrorism operations around the globe. Despite pointed criticism over transparency and accountability issues, analysts say the controversial practice seems likely to expand in the future, explains this CFR Backgrounder.
Nigerians in Nationwide Strike over Fuel Prices
Nigerian unions launched a nationwide strike to protest against the government's elimination of a fuel subsidy (M&G), which is part of an economic program to cut government spending in Africa's largest oil producer.
SOUTH AFRICA: The ruling African National Congress–the liberation party of former president Nelson Mandela–celebrated its one-hundredth anniversary (NYT) amid leadership divisions, party in-fighting, and accusations of corruption.
U.S. Expels Venezuelan Diplomat
The Obama administration moved to expel Venezuela's consul general in Miami, Livia Acosta Noguera, following an investigation into allegations that she discussed launching cyber attacks on the United States (WSJ) with Iranian and Cuban diplomats.
VENEZUELA: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Caracas (MercoPress) on Sunday to meet with his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez, the first stop in a five-nation tour of Latin America.
Merkel, Sarkozy Meet in Berlin
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are meeting in Berlin to discuss the ongoing eurozone sovereign debt crisis (DeutscheWelle)–including a plan agreed upon last month for a new EU fiscal union–in preparation for an EU-wide summit on January 30.
GREECE: The crisis again turned back to Greece (DerSpiegel) after the release of an internal document by the International Monetary Fund that indicated the country is unable to service its debts–even under its current austerity measures–and that the EU may have to provide additional funding.
The eurozone, once seen as a crowning achievement in the decades-long path of European integration, is buffeted by a sovereign debt crisis of nations whose membership in the currency union has been poorly policed.
Auto Industry Shows Positive Trends
The U.S. automobile industry has grown relatively stable in the last three years (Reuters), in contrast to the uncertainty of the European and Chinese markets. U.S. auto sales are expected to climb up to 9 percent in 2012, though stiff competition is expected from the Japanese industry.
CAPITOL HILL: Though not expected back to work until January 17, a group of House Republicans met to discuss overlapping areas in both the House and Senate payroll tax bills (Roll Call), neither of which successfully passed. The payroll tax cut extension deadline has been set for February 29.
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