Today’s Top World News from The Washington Post:

Today’s Top World News from The Washington Post:



- Officials: Syrian rebels’ arsenal includes up to 40 antiaircraft missile systems--Syrian rebels have acquired as many as 40 shoulder-fired missile systems in recent weeks to counter assaults by Syrian military aircraft, introducing a possibly decisive new weapon into the conflict, Western and Middle Eastern intelligence officials say. The potential impact of the missiles on the 20-month-old civil war was demonstrated Tuesday with the dramatic downing of a Syrian helicopter, blasted from the sky near Aleppo by what military experts say was almost certainly a portable antiaircraft missile. The Obama administration has steadfastly opposed arming Syrian opposition forces with such missiles, warning that the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists and be used to shoot down commercial aircraft, reports Joby Warrick.


- Afghan women caught between modernity, tradition--KABUL — Just before she leapt from her roof into the streets of Kabul, Farima thought of the wedding that would never happen and the man she would never marry. Her fiance would be pleased to see her die, she later recalled thinking. It would offer relief to them both. Farima, 17, had resisted her engagement to Zabiullah since it was ordained by her grandfather when she was 9. In post-Taliban Kabul, where she walked to school and dreamed of becoming a doctor, she still clawed against a fate dictated by ritual. After 11 years of Western intervention in Afghanistan, a woman’s right to study and work had long since been codified by the U.S.-backed government. Modernity had crept into Afghanistan’s capital, Farima thought, but not far enough to save her from a forced marriage to a man she despised, reports Kevin Sieff.


- Qatar’s support for Islamists muddles its reputation as neutral broker in Mideast--UNITED NATIONS — For years, the tiny oil sheikdom of Qatar has been a reliable U.S. partner in the Middle East — as a host to the largest American military base in the region and as a diplomatic bulwark against Iran. It has backed the fall of autocratic rulers in Libya and Syria. Two years after the start of the Arab Spring, however, Qatar’s carefully cultivated reputation as a U.S. partner — and as a neutral broker in the region — is increasingly muddled. With billions of dollars in natural gas and oil revenue, it is bankrolling a new generation of Islamists across the Middle East, raising questions about its vision for the region and whether some of its policies are in direct conflict with U.S. interests. Those questions are complicated by the country’s apparent eagerness to retain influence in the West, reports Colum Lynch.


-The Root: Fighting AIDS in Obama's Ancestral Land--A chronicle of daily life in Kenya's Nyanza Province paves the way for medical breakthroughs.

  World AIDS Day is approaching, and it's time, once again, for an accounting. In the roughly 30 years since the disease was recognized, more than 25 million (pdf) have died from it. An estimated 34 million (pdf) are living with it; 2.5 million new infections are recorded each year. There has been progress. As anti-retroviral medications become more widely available, more of those infected live longer. The yearly rate of new infections has declined. Much of the research behind those successes takes place in sub-Saharan Africa, where 69 percent of those living with HIV reside. Few people know that many of President Barack Obama's Kenyan relations and hundreds of thousands of their neighbors in the Nyanza Province of western Kenya play a pivotal role in this research, in partnership with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reports Louise Lief.





- ‘Fiscal cliff’ talks bogged down by dispute over cost of retirement programs--Negotiations to avert the year-end “fiscal cliff” advanced at a glacial pace Wednesday, with a dispute over how to tackle the soaring cost of federal retirement programs emerging as the latest roadblock to progress. Democrats complained that Republicans have yet to name their price for enacting legislation that would preserve tax cuts for the vast majority of Americans next year while raising revenue from the wealthiest 2 percent. Republicans, meanwhile, insisted that it is up to President Obama to offer a plan to restrain the cost of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — the government’s biggest and fastest-growing programs — in exchange for GOP concessions on taxes, report Lori Montgomery and Rosalind S. Helderman.

OPINION by Dana Milbank: The Bare Truth about the “Fiscal Cliff”


- Fight over Susan Rice holds political risks for White House--The choice of a successor to Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state has turned into an unexpectedly nasty political fight that could cost the White House valuable goodwill with Republicans. Republican opposition to presumptive front-runner Susan E. Rice did not fade after the election, as White House officials and her supporters had predicted. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, did not win any public GOP support after meeting with two Republican senators Wednesday, her second day of unusual face-to-face sessions intended to blunt critiques of her role in explaining the fatal Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Libya. Even moderate Republican and onetime Rice supporter Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) declined to offer her backing after their 75-minute private session Wednesday, report  Anne Gearan and Steven Mufson.


- Narrowing field could leave stark choice in Va. governor’s race--Virginia’s gubernatorial races traditionally have been genteel affairs, featuring polite candidates extolling centrist views. But Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling’s decision Wednesday not to seek the Republican nomination for governor sets up an uncharacteristically partisan contest in an increasingly independent state. Barring unforeseen opposition, Virginians will probably be left to decide next year between two outspoken candidates with national profiles: state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R), a conservative firebrand, and businessman Terry McAuliffe, who headed the national Democratic Party in the 1990s. Neither is the kind of candidate Virginians have tended to support in the commonwealth’s off-year elections for governor, report Errin Haines and Laura Vozzella.


-VIDEO from The Fold: Ron Paul's exit interview--Blurb: The retiring congressman gives his list of the most damaging special interests in Washington and explains why he didn't run as an independent for president in 2012.


- White House is dressed in holiday style--This year’s official White House holiday gingerbread house is gray. But don’t panic — it wasn’t recycled from the deep freeze of White House Christmases past. The 300-pound replica of the presidential mansion, made for the first time of rye-, wheat- and white-flour gingerbread, replicates the original sandstone used in the building of the White House. “I went to the first lady’s office to present my idea, and they liked it,” says Bill Yosses, White House executive pastry chef. “We made it to look like it did when it was built with stone from Aquia, Virginia, before they painted it white in 1798.” First lady Michelle Obama welcomed military families at the annual unveiling of glittering holiday decorations that opens the season of entertaining at the White House, reports Jura Koncius.



-Mortgage-interest deduction could be on the table in ‘fiscal cliff’ debate--Of all the deductions woven into the sprawling U.S. tax code, few have been more fiercely guarded than the enormous tax break that lets homeowners deduct the interest they pay on their mortgages. But as Congress and the White House negotiate the first major rewrite of tax laws in decades, changing the generations-old mortgage-interest deduction — which costs the government roughly $100 billion a year — has gone from far-off possibility to part of the conversation. The outcome of that debate could have profound long-term effects on homeowners across the country — and particularly those in the Washington area, who tend to benefit from the tax break more than many other Americans due to the region’s hefty home prices and high incomes, reports Brady Dennis.


-Wonkblog: Sorry, Warren Buffett, Jamie Dimon probably wouldn’t make a great Treasury Secretary--Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor, thinks that J.P. Morgan chief executive Jamie Dimon would be a bang-up Treasury secretary when Tim Geithner steps down in the near future. There is a long list of reasons a Dimon appointment almost certainly won’t happen, and they go well beyond inevitable jokes about whether he would outsource the Treasury’s cash management function to the London Whale. He may be the most successful banker of his age, but Dimon has advocated a lighter touch in regulation of mega-banks, which does not seem to be the direction President Obama is inclined to go. Dimon relishes being in control and may not take well to having a boss, and he has himself said he isn’t interested in the job. By Neil Irwin


- High-powered ‘Fix the Debt’ group draws attention, scrutiny in Washington--In the discussions about the “fiscal cliff” consuming Washington, a powerful new group stands out, touting the virtue of bipartisanship and shared sacrifice. The business leaders who set up the Campaign to Fix the Debt appear nearly every day on network talk shows and have won coveted time with President Obama in pushing for increased tax revenue, reduced government spending, and changes to Social Security and Medicare. The group’s leaders met Wednesday with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and returned, yet again, to the White House. But the organization has an ongoing problem: convincing skeptics that it represents more than the self-interest of its chief executive members, whose companies have provided nearly all of the group’s $43 million budget, reports Tom Hamburger.


-Capital Business: LivingSocial plans to lay off hundreds in U.S., company sources say--LivingSocial plans to lay off as many as 400 U.S. employees, including some in the District where it is headquartered, according to sources inside the company.The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized by the company to discuss the layoffs. A LivingSocial spokesman declined to comment. The story was reported earlier Wednesday by the Washington Business Journal. The cuts would represent a sudden U-turn from earlier this year, when the online daily deals venture said it was hiring multiple people each day and was adding new office space every few months in the District, reports Jonathan O'Connell.


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