1 | Seoul
Red Alert in the Yellow Sea
With tensions on the Korean Peninsula threatening to boil over, the U.S. urged China--North Korea's only major ally--to bring the wayward Hermit Kingdom to heel for its provocative actions. But rather than rein in Pyongyang, China called to resume the much belabored six-party talks among East Asia's key stakeholders. The talks are largely seen as a p.r. show that will do little to improve a deteriorating security situation. On Dec. 1, the U.S. and South Korea concluded four days of joint naval drills in the Yellow Sea, exercises Pyongyang said were a prelude to an invasion. South Korea's intelligence chief warned there was a high possibility the North would soon stage another provocation much like the Nov. 23 artillery attack on a South Korean island that killed four people.
2 | Iran
Nuclear Program Under Attack
As U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks revealed that Iran's Arab neighbors were increasingly concerned over Tehran's nuclear ambitions, two top Iranian atomic scientists were killed in daytime car bombings--which some allege were carried out by Israel's Mossad spy agency. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who blamed the U.S. and Israel for the attacks, acknowledged that a computer worm many believe was created in Israel had successfully damaged nuclear centrifuges used to enrich uranium. He vowed the program would go ahead even as Iranian officials announced they would rejoin stalled nuclear talks.
3 | Haiti
Chaos Swallows Vote
International observers certified Haiti's presidential and parliamentary elections Nov. 29 even as 12 of the 18 presidential candidates called for the results to be tossed out because of widespread allegations of voting irregularities. (Two candidates later changed their minds as they approached the lead.) Donor nations had pushed the country toward a vote in hopes that it would produce a government capable of expediting the rebuilding process to which they have pledged billions. A runoff is scheduled for Jan. 16.
4 | Kazakhstan
A Win for Nonproliferation
Belarus announced in a conclave in Kazakhstan's capital that it would eliminate its stockpile of highly enriched uranium, which could be used for nuclear weapons, by 2012. The former Soviet republic, highly dependent on Russia for its energy supply, is planning to build its first civilian nuclear power plant. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed the deal alongside the Belarusian Foreign Minister on the sidelines of a high-profile regional summit.
5 | Washington
Federal Pay Freeze Proposed
Keeping with a general mood of belt-tightening across the U.S., President Obama proposed a two-year halt on raises for nonmilitary federal employees. The move, which would be the first such hold since 1986, could save $28 billion over five years. The measure requires congressional approval, which could prove difficult: Democrats, who control the Senate, oppose the plan, while Republicans, who won the House in November, support it.
Salaries and benefits for federal employees far outstrip those for private workers