1) After an entire week’s delay, Syrian opposition finally in Geneva for UN-run peace talks, despite a suicide attack by ISIS over the weekend which killed over 40 people. The UN hopes to find agreements on humanitarian aid and prisoner exchanges, but any progress, no matter how small, will be a victory at this point.
1) Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called for a new “Reset” with the West, erasing the previous U.S. Reset on Russian relations under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009. Lavrov made clear that the reset would take place on Moscow’s terms and would ignore many contentious issues with the U.S. such as the invasion of Ukraine, the takeover of Crimea and the war in Syria. Lavrov also claimed Clinton wanted the former reset to fail.
1) ISIS has claimed a suicide attack in Homs, Syria, which killed at least 24 people. The double explosion, caused by a jihadist wearing a suicide vest and a car bomb, wounded more than 100 people in the government-controlled city. The bombing is another example of continued violence in Syria despite the UN’s announcement of peace talks rescheduled for Friday.
1) Plans for a Russia/US-brokered peace talk for both sides of the Syria conflict is facing delays. The next round of talks should have started today. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he expected clarification on the process within the next day or two. The UN is running the talks but Russia promised to bring Assad’s government to the table, even though they continue their offensive advance inside the war-ravaged country, ignoring a ceasefire deal. The U.S., championing the side of the Syrian rebels, has run into problems choosing an appropriate spokesperson to represent the interests of the opposition. Some anti-Assad Syrians feel the U.S. is not fully supporting them.
1) Business and financial leaders are meeting this week for the 2016 Davos World Economic Forum held in Switzerland. As China’s economy slumps and the first weeks of 2016 markets are down, the outlook from the annual event is gloomy. A number of international financial leaders have used the event to push their country’s political agenda. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has made pleas for a reduction in austerity for Greece and Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif spoke out against both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
1) The Iraqi military has successfully retaken the city of Ramadi from ISIS forces. After a weeklong battle during the holidays, the Iraqi forces reclaimed central strategic locations, ending the seven-month long occupation. The Iraqi flag was again raised back over government buildings. While small amounts of ISIS militants remain, Iraq has declared the city “fully liberated.”
1) The Central African Republic (CAR) is attempting to bring its government back together despite fractions and hostile militia takeovers. The conflict-torn nation held a vote over the weekend regarding a new constitution in preparation for elections scheduled on Dec. 27th. The vote was extended through Tuesday after violence broke out in rebel-held regions. At least five people were killed on Sunday. The shootings brought out protesters (mostly Muslim) who marched to the capital, demanding that residents be allowed to vote. However, one of the faction leaders in Kaga-Bandoro, Noureddine Adam, has declared his region to be an autonomous state. The current transitional government has condemned the assertion of independence and UN peacekeepers threatened to use force if Adam does not respect the vote.
1) France’s far-right National Front party could not sustain its election gains in the second round of voting yesterday. The National Front did not win a single seat after other parties sacrificed representatives to block the far-right party from winning in any of the 13 regions. The second round of voting also saw an unprecedented surge in voter turnout for the second round, securing the victory for France’s conservative Republicans.
1) Venezuela held parliamentary elections over the weekend and the opposition coalition delivered a huge loss to President Nicolás Maduro’s Socialist party. Marudo has followed in deceased President Hugo Chavez’s footsteps, but has not maintained the same popular support. It will be the first loss in 16 years. The opposition has secured 99 out of 167 seats. But 22 seats are still undecided. If the opposition wins 112 seats they will have a super majority. The elections faced issues including voter intimidation, but the opposition still won the majority. The President may incite more aggressive measures to keep power after his loss.