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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Russia’s Putin “Not Preoccupied” With Syria’s Regime

Russian President Vladimir Putin said today in a press conference he is not worried about the future of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime, seemingly confirming a shift in Russia’s position on the war-torn country. “We are not that preoccupied with the fate of Assad’s regime,” Putin said. “We’re worried about something else – what happens next. We don’t simply want for today’s opposition, having come to power, to start fighting with the current authorities, who then become the opposition, and this continues for ever.” Russia has been one of Assad’s staunchest backers along with China, consistently blocking sanctions against the Syrian government at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). There are growing concerns among Western nations regarding the role of the Al Nusra Front, an arm of Al Qaeda that has been deemed a terrorist group by the U.S. last week, in the country’s uprising. The organization has grown more popular as the nation turned more religious with the advance of violence, recruiting Sunnis to its cause.

U.N. Approves Intervention in Northern Mali

The United Nations (U.N.) approved today a two-pronged plan for an intervention in Northern Mali led by a group of West African nations. The desert region of the country has been in the hands of Tuareg separatists and their Islamic allies since a coup against the central government in Bamako left a power vacuum last March. The U.N. authorized a military operation, though Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the parties to engage in peace talks before taking action. The resolution also requires elections to be held and security forces to be trained before military intervention. It is likely the troops will not be ready before September 2013, according to Italian former Prime Minister Romano Prodi.

Israel New Settlement Plan Goes Ahead

Despite strong condemnation by the U.S. State Department and a United Nations (U.N.) vote demanding it put an end to this plan, Israel moved forward with its project for new settlements in East Jerusalem. Israel also announced another 1,500 units will be built in other neighborhoods of the city’s quarter. Yesterday, 3,000 new units were granted preliminary approval for construction. The homes, which will be occupied by Israeli settlers, will be built on parts of the city Palestinians hope to make their capital. Israel’s plans were announced the day after a vote at the U.N. gave Palestine non-member status, implicitly recognizing its statehood. Analysts say new settlements are likely to hinder compromise on a two-state solution. “We are deeply disappointed that Israel insists on continuing this pattern of provocative action,” said State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. “These repeated announcements and plans of new construction run counter to the cause of peace. Israel’s leaders continually say that they support a path to a two-state solution, yet these actions only put that goal further at risk.”

Republicans Move Ahead with “Plan B” as Time Runs Out on Fiscal Cliff

House Republicans pushed ahead today with a plan to pass a bill that would extend tax cuts for all Americans but those who make over $1 million a year. The bill has no chance of getting through the Senate as Majority Leader Harry Reid said he will not put it for a vote, and President Barack Obama already warned he would veto it. If approved, it will put Republicans on record as supporting tax increases for the very rich, something they were reluctant to do even days ago. This may facilitate a compromise with the most recalcitrant Congressmen later on, analysts say. Obama’s second offer, presented earlier this week, outlined a fiscal plan with tax increases for incomes above $400,000, a concession from his initial proposal, which asked for higher contributions from those earning over $250,000. Republicans and Democrats have to reach a deal before the end of this year to stop $607 billion in taxes and spending cuts from being triggered.

Ecuador Central Banker Resigns Over Fake Degree

Ecuador Central Bank Governor Pedro Delgado resigned yesterday after admitting to lying about having a degree in economics. Delgado falsely declared he had graduated from Ecuador’s Catholic University in an application to the Incae business school 22 years ago. While he completed his master’s, Incae uncovered the deception and informed the government. Delgado, who is Ecuador President Rafael Correa’s cousin, had acted as the nation’s top banker since November 2011. “We confirm the issue with the degree and we ask for [Delgado's] resignation,” left-leaning Correa tweeted. “Pedro Delgado hurt the citizens’ revolution. He never should have exposed us to this.”

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