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Top U.S. general: Fair to say Assad "won" Syrian civil war

General Votel
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

Appearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday, four star U.S. Army General Joseph Votel said it would not be "too strong of a statement" to say Bashar al-Assad has "won" the Syrian civil war with the help of Russian and Iranian forces, reports Reuters.

Why it matters: Assad's government has slaughtered thousands of civilians in an attempt to keep his hold on power. He now has the upper hand on the battlefield. When asked if it was still an element of the U.S. mission to remove Assad from power, Votel said, "I don’t know that that’s our particular policy at this particular point. Our focus remains on the defeat of ISIS.”

  • On Russia: Votel warned that Russia is playing the role of both "arsonist and firefighter" in the Middle East. "Moscow continues to advocate for alternate diplomatic initiatives to Western-led political negotiations in Syria and Afghan-led peace processes in Afghanistan, attempting to thwart the [United Nations'] role and limit the advance of American influence."
  • On Iran: The Iran nuclear deal "addresses one of the principal threats that we deal with from Iran, so if it goes away, then we will have to have another way to deal with their nuclear weapons program...Right now, I think it is in our interest” to stay in the agreement.
  • On Saudi Arabia and Yemen: Votel countered senators who want to end support for Saudi Arabia amid reports of civilian deaths in Yemen. He argued that by staying engaged, the U.S. can influence Riyadh toward limiting civilian casualties.
Zachary Basu 2 hours ago
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Maldives lifts state of emergency amid "terrorism" crackdown

Maldivian police arrest a man at a protest appealing for the release of opposition leaders held in jail in the capital Male. Photo: Ahmed Shurau / AFP / Getty Images.

Maldives President Abdulla Yameen has ended a 45-day state of emergency that he imposed after the Supreme Court lifted the convictions of nine of his political enemies, reports Al Jazeera. On Wednesday, the two Supreme Court justices who made the ruling were charged with terrorism, as were a top judicial administrator and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Yameen's half-brother.

Why it matters: Critics have accused Yameen of using the state of emergency to crack down on dissidents, including journalists, government administrators and members of the opposition party. And the moves come as Yameen has tilted the Maldives toward Chinese influence while it has been historically aligned with India.

Axios 6 hours ago
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In Mideast, democracy struggles to strike root

Mohammad bin Salman
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in the Oval Office on Tuesday. Photo: Kevin Dietsch / Pool via Bloomberg

"Egyptians go to the polls next week in what is essentially a one-candidate election considered by critics to be a return of sorts to authoritarian rule, after a 2011 revolution that sparked loftier expectations for the region," AP Middle East Editor Dan Perry writes.

The big picture: "[I]n the Middle East as a whole, democracy has largely failed to take hold."