Editor's Note: The following is reprinted with the permission of the Council on Foreign Relations.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denied any U.S. involvement (al-Jazeera) in a car bombing that allegedly killed an Iranian nuclear scientist on Wednesday. Iran, which blamed the United States and Israel for the attack, called on the United Nations to condemn the killing in the "strongest possible terms." The incident comes amid rising tensions between the United States and Iran over the latter's nuclear program, which the West contends is intended for manufacturing nuclear weapons.
"What has raised the world's suspicions is that Iran continues to produce 20 percent enriched uranium despite the fact that this exceeds its civilian needs and, as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad acknowledged in September, does not make economic sense," writes Olli Heinonen on ForeignPolicy.com.
"Covert action creates the time and space for pressure to build, while reducing the need for military action. Ultimately, covert action should be aimed at bringing enough pressure to bear on Iran's leaders so that they understand they will never reach their goal of being a nuclear power," writes Andrew Cummings in the Guardian.
"Whatever the moral considerations, there is no doubt that curtailing Iran's nuclear ambitions is a paramount goal for policy-makers and security services alike, and the covert campaign appears to be the most effective means of delaying the Iranians' progress," argues this Daily Telegraph editorial.
Assad Addresses Damascus Rally
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appeared in public for the first time during the ten-month-old uprising against his regime, addressing a rally of thousands in Damascus. Assad vowed to "defeat the conspiracy" (NYT) in the surprise speech.
More and more outsiders are calling for a humanitarian intervention in Syria to stop the violence of the Assad regime. 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.
Japan to Reduce Iranian Oil Imports
Following a meeting with U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Japanese Finance Minister Jun Azumi said Japan would continue to reduce its imports (al-Jazeera) of Iranian oil as part of a U.S.-led plan to sanction the country over its nuclear program.
The new sanctions regime places the United States' tactics and objectives - a negotiated end to Iran's nuclear ambitions - at odds. In effect, the administration has backed itself into a policy of regime change, an outcome it has little ability to influence, writes Suzanne Maloney in Foreign Affairs.
MYANMAR: Government officials negotiated a ceasefire with the Karen National Union (BBC), a rebel group in eastern Karen state that has been fighting for increased autonomy for over sixty years.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
U.S. Marines Investigating Urination Video
The U.S. Marine Corps is investigating a video that allegedly shows four marines urinating on the corpses (CBS) of three Taliban militants. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force condemned the video, saying it did not keep with the "high moral standards" of coalition forces.
PAKISTAN: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani fired his defense secretary (WSJ), retired Lt. Gen. Naeem Khalid Lodhi, amid mounting tensions between the civilian leadership and the powerful military.
Boko Haram Leader Defends Killings
In a video posted on the internet, the leader of Nigeria's Islamist Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, defended the group's recent killings of Christians (Reuters) in the north of the country as justifiable revenge.
Widening violence by Nigeria's militant Islamist group Boko Haram has caused concerns about its possible links to international terrorist groups, explains this CFR Backgrounder.
KENYA: Human Rights Watch claimed Kenyan security forces have been abusing civilians and Somali refugees (AFP) in Kenya's northeastern province. The crackdown has been in part a response to attacks by sympathizers of Somalia's Islamist al-Shabaab group on Kenyan police and military targets.
This CFR Backgrounder provides a profile of the al-Shabaab Islamist militant organization based in southern Somalia.
Mexico Updates Drug War Death Toll
The Mexican government reported that 47, 515 people had been killed in the government's war on drug cartels since late 2006. Officials say drug-related murders increased 11 percent (NYT) in the first nine months of 2011 compared with the same period in 2010.
Since 2006, the Mexican government has been in embroiled in a bloody drug war, which has failed to significantly curb trafficking. This CFR Backgrounder looks at Mexico's eradication efforts, along with U.S. policy options for one of its most important regional allies.
HAITI: Two years after a devastating earthquake, Haitian Prime Minister Garry Conille is implementing a new plan to kickstart the country's economy (Guardian) by partnering with the private sector. The multipronged plan includes combating cholera, housing the displaced, and improving infrastructure.
Yields Fall at Spanish, Italian Debt Auctions
Yields on Spanish and Italian government debt fell sharply during their respective bond auctions, sending European stocks and the euro higher (Reuters).
GERMANY: Chancellor Angela Merkel commended Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti (DerSpiegel) for rapidly implementing new budgetary reforms to rein in Italy's high public debt. The praise came during a meeting in Berlin over the ongoing eurozone sovereign debt crisis.
Investors have doubted EU leaders' ability to address the sovereign debt crisis, even as banks face a liquidity crunch, explains this CFR Analysis Brief.
Buffet Challenges GOP on Deficit
U.S. Billionaire Warren Buffet challenged Republican congressmen to make personal contributions to cut the country's deficit (TIME), pledging to match donations dollar-for-dollar. Buffet faced criticism from GOP members after suggesting the U.S. tax system favored the wealthy in an August 2011 NYT op-ed.
INFRASTRUCTURE: Amtrak will begin buiding seventy new electric locomotives and 130 long-distance cars this year. The total cost of the projects is worth $764 million (Bloomberg), with construction set to begin in 2013 with a $450 million grant from the U.S. government.