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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Taliban and U.S. to Hold Direct Talks on Afghanistan

Yesterday, the Taliban opened a political office in the Qatari capital of Doha to help restart talks with the United States and the Karzai government – the first time the Taliban has undertaken negotiations since the war started. Their public statement contained two pledges crucial for negotiations to begin: they do not want terrorists using Afghanistan to threaten other countries and that they were committed to finding a peaceful solution. Both sides emphasized that the process would be lengthy, but would hopefully reduce attacks carried out by the Taliban against civilians. The difficulty and importance of reducing violence was underlined as the formal handover of all nation-wide security to Afghan forces today was marred by an explosion that killed 3 and wounded 30.

N.S.A. Chief Defends Surveillance Programs

Testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, General Keith Alexander argued that the N.S.A.’s surveillance programs – collecting the phone records of millions of Americans and collecting unlimited data on international email and internet traffic – had prevented over 50 terrorist attacks around the world. When pushed to answer how many domestic terrorist attacks had been prevented, he replied “a little over 10″. Between December 1st, 2012 and May 31st, 2013, the U.S. government made over 33,000 requests for American users’ data, but it is unclear how many requests were made for purposes of national security. Edward Snowden, who leaked the documents and was repeatedly referred to as a “criminal” and “traitor” throughout the hearing, insisted he has not disclosed any classified information to the Chinese government, and stated that Dick Cheney calling him a traitor was “the highest honor you can give an American.”

Mass Protests Sweep Across Brazil

Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians flooded into the streets in over 25 cities across the country to peacefully protest the status quo of high crime rates, government corruption, World Cup spending, and poor public services, among others. The protests began in response to a proposed hike in bus fares, then ballooned, in part a response to the initial, violent police response. The 2014 World Cup became a rallying point due to the stark contrast between the billions of taxpayer money spent on new stadiums and Brazil’s crumbling public infrastructure. In a televised speech, Prime Minister Dilma Rousseff praised the protesters, noting that peaceful demonstrations are healthy, a “part of democracy.” She assured them she has heard their grievances, supports their goals and remains committed to “social transformation.”

Group of Eight Summit Ends with Few Concrete Decisions Made

As violence surges in Syria, the G8 leaders took a united stance, calling for a ”united, inclusive and democratic” government and noted that peace talks between the rebels and the Assad regime should be held in Geneva “as soon as possible.” The peace talks are supposed to take place in July, but no timeframe was set, making it likely that the earliest they can now happen is August. There was also no consensus on Assad’s post-war role in Syria, with Russia refusing his ouster and the rebels’ supporters demanding it. The leaders also published a number of sweeping goals to crack down on international corporate tax evasion, but these remained aspirations, not binding commitments. The sole commitment to come out of the G8 summit was a pledge to give $1.5 billion to help Syrian refugees, which only covers part of the United Nations’ 2013 appeal for $5.2 billion.

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