Falklands referendum results, UK-Russia talks, and a new Chinese President make for busy week ahead
By Jasper Wenban-Smith, international editor of ForesightNews.
Monday 11 March
On Monday, a two-day referendum on the political status of the Falklands Islands wraps-up, with the results due that evening. The referendum is largely symbolic, since the islanders overwhelmingly favour retaining their status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom. The Argentine government, predictably, has already said it considers the poll a farce and it that it will continue to pursue its claim to sovereignty regardless of the outcome. Expect some chest-beating in Buenos Aires.
Also Monday, the US and South Korea are scheduled to begin an annual joint military exercise called Key Resolve. The exercise, which runs until 21 March and involves about 13,500 troops from the two nations, comes at a particularly tense time in the peninsula following the 12 February nuclear test in North Korea and the subsequent tightening of UN sanctions against the secretive communist state, which were approved on 7 March.
Monday is also a big day at the UN Human Rights Council session taking place in Geneva. Reports on North Korea, Syria, Myanmar (Burma) and Iran are all due to be considered on Monday. There is a press conference with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria scheduled. It follows the announcement last week that the number of refugees from the conflict has surpassed the million-person mark.
EU Foreign Ministers are also due to meet Monday, with Syria a particular focus. Joint UN-Arab League Special Envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi will brief ministers at a lunch before the meeting.
Tuesday 12 March
Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, will host the leader of the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia for talks in Moscow. He is also due to meet today with the Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan who is making his first visit abroad since securing re-election last month. This choice of location for the trip is a clear affirmation of the close – and geo-politically significant – ties between Yerevan and Moscow.
Finally Tuesday, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde is scheduled to arrive in Algeria where she will pay a three-day visit.
Wednesday 13 March
On Wednesday, British Foreign and Defence Secretaries William Hague and Philip Hammond will be hosting their Russian counterparts Sergey Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu for talks in London, the first talks in this ‘2+2’ format. Syria is likely to be high on the agenda, although cynics might suggest the UK has little influence over Russia in this, or any, regard. Another topic that may be discussed privately is the ongoing inquest into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko (a procedural hearing in that inquest takes place on Thursday).
Finally, in the United States the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold what is expected to be a highly emotive hearing on sexual assault in the military, with three of the witnesses giving testimony at the hearing being victims of abuse themselves.
Thursday 14 March
EU leaders will descend upon Brussels again on Thursday for their second meeting of the year, and the first since the Italian elections that failed to produce a clear victor and threaten to derail what was looking like a significantly more positive year for the region. It will also be UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s first opportunity to meet with counterparts since his Chancellor George Osborne failed to extract any significant concessions on the proposed cap on bankers’ bonuses that is scheduled to take effect in 2014.
Finally, Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold talks with the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Moscow. Russia currently holds the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council and has said it wants to make progress in the Middle East Peace Process a priority of its presidency.
Friday 15 March
The Italian parliament is scheduled to reconvene on Friday following the elections held at the end of February. Discussions on possible coalitions will begin in earnest the following week – likely on 21 March – hosted by outgoing Italian President Giorgio Napolitano. Many fear further elections later in the year are inevitable.
Friday also marks two years since the start of the Syrian uprising which has since descended into a horrific bloodbath which the international community appears powerless to stop.
Saturday also marks the deadline for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a coalition, after he was forced to seek a two-week extension on March 2. Although both Israeli and US officials have issued public declarations suggesting a failure to form a government would not imperil the visit the following week by Barack Obama, others are not so sure.
Finally, as noted earlier, the 12th National People’s Congress closes in Beijing, with votes on draft resolutions and a closing ceremony, marking the culmination of the once –in-a-decade leadership transition in China.