Today’s Top World News from The Washington Post

Today’s Top World News from The Washington Post

-Syria’s Assad is defiant in rare speech- In a rare public appearance Sunday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad dashed hopes that a negotiated settlement to the nation’s civil war would be feasible anytime soon, delivering a speech in which he offered no hint that he is prepared to surrender power, negotiate with his opponents or halt his crackdown on armed rebels. The uncompromising stand suggests the conflict, which the United Nations says has claimed at least 60,000 lives, is likely to continue to rage unchecked, despite signs that Assad’s army is losing ground and that even his closest allies are growing alarmed at the surging bloodshed in this strategically vital nation in the heart of the Middle East, reports Liz Sly.


-Now Portugal’s former colonies are performing much better than Portugal- This year’s list of fastest-growing economies, as ranked by the Economist Intelligence Unit, is mostly made up of what just a few years ago would have been considered a roster of economic underdogs, with most located in far-flung parts of Asia and Africa. Mongolia is the clear front-runner, its growth driven by China’s demand for minerals. In the first half of 2013, Mongolia is expected to reach full production in its “Oyu Tolgoi,” or “Turquoise Hill,” copper and gold mine near the Chinese border, which will eventually account for one-third of its GDP. The other economic superstars have had similar, fortuitous resource gains. Libya and Iraq are rich with oil. Bhutan has been bolstered by hydroelectric power, reports Olga Khazan.


-New Iran sanctions target industry in bid for deal curbing nuclear program- New U.S. sanctions have broadened the front in the West’s escalating economic conflict with Iran, targeting large swaths of the country’s industrial infrastructure even as Iranian leaders are indicating a willingness to resume negotiations on the country’s nuclear program. With Iran’s economy already reeling from previous sanctions, the new measures passed by Congress and signed by President Obama last week are intended to deliver powerful blows against key industries ranging from shipping and ports-management to the government-controlled news media, congressional officials and economic experts say, reports Joby Warrick.



- The Fix: Are ‘grand bargains’ still possible?- Here’s a radical idea: What if a “grand bargain” — or any sort of large legislative measure requiring significant bipartisan compromise — simply isn’t possible anymore? For much of the past decade (or more) in politics, the idea of our government coming together to solve debt and spending issues, the immigration conundrum, or that most forgotten of issues, a comprehensive energy solution, has always seemed within sight but slightly out of reach, reports Chris Cillizza.


- Obama to nominate Chuck Hagel for defense secretary- President Obama plans to nominate former senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican and Vietnam War veteran, to be secretary of defense, according to a person close to the process and a senior administration official. The White House informed the Hagel camp over the weekend that Obama intends to announce the nomination Monday. Hagel’s successful nomination would add a well-known Republican to the president’s second-term Cabinet at a time when he is looking to better bridge the partisan divide, particularly after a bitter election campaign, reports Scott Wilson.


-The Fix: Mitch McConnell: The ‘tax issue is behind us’- With looming deadlines on the nation’s federal borrowing limit and delayed across-the-board budget cuts, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Sunday that discussions about new taxes are off the table in upcoming fiscal debate, and that reining in government spending must be the focal point. “Are you saying that any discussion of revenue is completely off the table going forward? You will not accept any new revenues in any new deal?” asked ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos on his program, “This Week.”  “Yeah, absolutely,” McConnell said. “ The tax issue is behind us. Now, the question is what are we going to do about the real problem. … Now it’s time to pivot and turn to the real issue, which is our spending addiction,” reports Sean Sullivan.


- Capital Business: Contractors quietly optimistic following sequestration delay- While the two-month delay in planned federal spending cuts that Congress approved last week provides short-term relief for government contractors, many companies said the move does little more than maintain the uncertainty that has plagued them for months. Still, some are choosing to read the “fiscal cliff” deal, which pushed back the start of about $1 trillion in automatic cuts, as a sign that neither Congress nor the president has any intention of letting sequestration take effect, reports Marjorie Censer.


-Wonkblog: The next stage of the ‘fiscal cliff’ fight has officially begun- In the next stage of the “fiscal cliff” fight — news outlets are already calling it the “debt ceiling fight,” though the White House would probably prefer to think of it as a sequester fight — the debate will essentially boil down to two questions: What kind of entitlement and spending cuts will Republicans be demanding? And will Democrats manage to get revenue on the table? On the Sunday morning shows, leaders from both parties laid down their opening positions, reports Suzy Khimm.


-Rebound in construction hiring offers hope for economy- After five years of hemorrhaging jobs, the construction industry has become one of the bright spots of the labor market — a hopeful sign that one of the most damaged sectors of the economy may finally be starting to heal. Overall, the government’s monthly jobs report, released Friday, showed continued modest growth in December. The economy added 155,000 jobs, on par with the monthly average for both 2012 and 2011. The unemployment rate remained at 7.8 percent. But a closer look reveals that nearly one-fifth of the jobs created were in construction, marking only the third time since the recession ended in June 2009 that the industry has added 30,000 workers or more. The surge capped one of the largest three-month gains the sector has seen since the recession began in December 2007, report Ylan Q. Mui and Jim Tankersley.


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