-SAFE HAVENS FOR SYRIAN CIVILIANS?…According to Lebanon’s Daily Star, Turkey and Jordan, backed by Western and Arab powers, are preparing to set up two “safe zones” for civilians inside Syria, diplomats said Friday. The Western and Arab diplomats told The Daily Star that Syria’s two neighbors would press ahead with preparations to establish the two havens if President Bashar Assad did not sign on to an Arab plan aimed at ending a bloody crackdown on anti-regime protesters by Saturday. The diplomats said an international meeting in Paris would discuss later Friday the details of the plans to set up the zones in southern and northern Syria. On Wednesday, the Arab League gave Assad three days to agree in writing to allowing hundreds of observers into Syria to oversee the implementation of the Arab plan to end eight months of violence against protesters that has killed more than 3,000 people.
-CLINTON: ASSAD’S DAYS ARE NUMBERED…Jake TAPPER interviewed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today, covering many subjects, and on Syria she told Jake that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s days are numbered — since he is “not going to be able to sustain what is an unfortunately growing armed opposition apparently fueled and maybe led by defectors from his army…It’s probably too late for him to change course, but there needs to be a change at the top of that government and there needs to be an effort to engage in genuine dialogue and start on the path of reform.”
-SYRIA TO ALLOW MONITORS?…Syria has agreed “in principle” to let Arab League observers in, the AP reports. The French Foreign Minister said his country and others are ready to work with the opposition and sanctions must be strengthened against Syria. Russia’s position: “This is all looking very much like a civil war.”
-ECONOMIC WOES…Bloomberg reports that President Assad has been paying Syrians – via subsidies and higher government salaries – to stay loyal to his government and a new cabinet has increased subsidies on energy and other products. The regime may not be able to maintain that for long as civil service pay was raised by 30 percent and Syria has spent $3 billion from a $5 billion rainy-day fund defending the pound this year.
EGYPT: BACK TO TAHRIR SQUARE
As Alex MARQUARDT reports, thousands of Egyptians have gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to protest what they say are attempts by the country’s military rulers to reinforce their powers. Friday prayers have ended and the square is packed on what’s being called the “Friday of One Demand.” As MARQUARDT explains, that “demand” is an end to the so-called “supra-constitutional principles” — a list of articles giving any future administration little oversight over the military. Protesters of all stripes will also be calling for dates for the handover of power to a civilian government. Parliamentary elections are set to start on Monday the 28th in the first part of a three-step process that will end in January. Video of protests here
-CLINTON TO MAKE LANDMARK VISIT…The Obama administration announced Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit Burma next month, becoming the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit the reclusive state in 50 years. President Obama phoned long-time democracy advocate and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from Air Force One to get her approval for Clinton’s visit before it was announced late last night. “We want to seize what could be an historic opportunity for progress and make it clear that if Burma continues to travel down the road of democratic reform, it can forge a new relationship with the United States of America,” Obama said Friday during his mission to southeast Asia.
-SUU KYI TO RUN FOR OFFICE…Another major opening: Suu Kyi’s political party has decided to register to can take part in future elections. The National League for Democracy’s decision is thought to signal its confidence in the country’s new government which took power one year ago. In that year, the government has released Suu Kyi, relaxed restrictions on media, and established a human rights commission. Suu Kyi spent the better part of two decades in prison while pressing for political freedoms.
CLINTON ON CHINA
Jake TAPPER again: President Obama’s Pacific swing has been dedicated towards ramping up the US presence in the Pacific Ocean, at least partly to contain China. Through a trade deal that excludes China, a new permanent US military presence in Australia, and other diplomatic efforts, the Obama administration is pushing to assert itself in the region. Secretary of State Clinton Friday told ABC News that the moves are “not about countering anybody else’s power, it’s about asserting our own position as a Pacific power.” But when Chinese reservations to some of the moves were pointed out, Clinton acknowledged that the two superpowers have differences. “We’re not going to agree on everything,” she said. “We have disagreements about their political system. They have questions about our motives.”
OBAMA IN BALI
President Obama is in Bali, Indonesia today for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit. As Jon GARCIA reported, Obama has already met with the leaders of three U.S. allies in the region – India, the Philippines and Malaysia. During his meeting with Indian Prime Minister Singh, Obama reaffirmed ties with the world’s largest democracy. He then met with Philippines President Aquino to tout the 60-year-old security alliance between the two nations. Lastly, Obama met with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib to say he was happy to be working with Malaysia on the new Trans-Pacific Partnership.
EURO-MESS: “CONTAGION” SPREADS
-LOOKING FOR ANSWERS…German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron are meeting in Berlin today to discuss changes to European Union treaties – changes that might strengthen the Eurozone’s finances, but would need all 27 member-countries’ approval. Their meeting comes amid worrying signs that the dreaded “contagion” is spreading to some of the bloc’s biggest economies, with France and Spain forced to pay higher costs to borrow money in recent days. Those higher costs were the symptom of a broad retreat by investors this week from European stock and bond markets as they worry Eurozone leaders are no closer to finding a lasting solution to the continent’s debt woes.
-POPE MEETS MONTI…Pope Benedict was greeted by newly-appointed Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti in Rome’s Fiumicino airport shortly before the pontiff set off on a trip to Benin. The two men, who were meeting for the first time since Monti’s appointment, talked briefly after the Pope disembarked his helicopter and then walked together across the tarmac to a waiting airplane, where they stopped briefly to pose for photographers.
ISRAEL V. IRAN
For much of the last decade, as Iran methodically built its nuclear program, Israel has been assembling a multibillion-dollar array of high-tech weapons that would allow it to jam, blind, and deafen Tehran’s defenses in the case of a pre-emptive aerial strike, The Daily Beast reports. A U.S. intelligence assessment this summer, described to The Daily Beast by current and former U.S. intelligence officials, concluded that any Israeli attack on hardened nuclear sites in Iran would go far beyond airstrikes from F-15 and F-16 fighter planes and likely include electronic warfare against Iran’s electric grid, Internet, cellphone network, and emergency frequencies for firemen and police officers.
AMERICAN GROUP HOPED FOR BIG PAYDAY FROM GADHAFI
Great read in the NYTimes: To a colorful group of Americans — the Washington terrorism expert, the veteran C.I.A. officer, the Republican operative, the Kansas City lawyer — the Libyan gambit last March looked like a rare business opportunity. Even as NATO bombed Libya, the Americans offered to make Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi their client — and charge him a hefty consulting fee. Their price: a $10 million retainer before beginning negotiations with Colonel Qaddafi’s representatives. ”The fees and payments set forth in this contract are MINIMUM NON-REFUNDABLE FEES,” said the draft contract, with capital letters for emphasis. “The fees are an inducement for the ATTORNEYS AND ADVISORS to take the case and nothing else.” Neil C. Livingstone, 65, the terrorism specialist and consultant, said he helped put together the deal after hearing that one of Colonel Qaddafi’s sons, Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, was interested in an exit strategy for the family. But he and his partners were not going to work for free, Mr. Livingstone said.
SOMALI FAMINE EASING?
AP is reporting U.S. and U.N. food security agencies are downgrading the famine rating in three areas of Somalia, but the devastating famine classification still holds in three other areas and aid workers warn the crisis is far from over. The agencies downgraded from famine to emergency status in three of six Somali regions but said that nearly a quarter million people still face imminent starvation. Save the Children credited the international aid effort with helping reduce the famine, but said the crisis is far from over and warned of high mortality rates among children in Mogadishu. The aid group Oxfam warned that conflict in Somalia continues to slow relief efforts and said international leaders need to refocus efforts on the hunger crisis.
BILLIONS OF LOST OLYMPUS FUNDS TIED TO CRIMINALS
The NYTimes obtained a memo prepared by investigators looking into the $4.9 billion Olympus lost which suggests the company may have worked with organized crime syndicates to obscure billions of dollars in past investment losses. It also suggests that investigators believe illicit payouts from Olympus went far beyond the roughly $1.4 billion in merger fees and acquisition payments that have come under recent scrutiny, potentially making it one of the biggest scandals in Japanese corporate history.
PUTIN ON “OCCUPY WALL STREET”
Not the first world leader to weigh in on what’s happening in our streets — but this comment from Vladimir Putin is, er, amusing. “Currently police in New York are actively dispersing Occupy Wall Street demonstrators. We hope that there will be no disproportionate use of force by law enforcement agencies.”
A runner in northern England has been stripped of his third-place finish in a local marathon after being caught hitching a ride on a spectator bus. Rob Sloan was forced to admit he dropped out at the 20-mile mark, only to hop on a bus and emerge from woodland in the final stages to make the podium. His time was given as 2 hours, 51 minutes — 21 minutes faster than his previous best in the race. Dave Roberts, one of the marathon organizers, condemned Sloan on Wednesday, saying “it’s as bad as drug-taking in my book