Top News: President Obama is expected to announce Monday that he will nominate Chuck Hagel, the former Republican senator from Nebraska, as secretary of defense and that he will tap his chief counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, as the next director of the CIA.
The two key personnel decisions -- in addition to the earlier nomination of Sen. John Kerry to head the State Department -- round out Obama's second term national security team, but the selection of Hagel is likely to set up a tough confirmation fight in the Senate. After backing down on his preferred candidate for secretary of state, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, after she came under withering criticism for her initial comments on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Obama will now have to take up the kind of battle in the Senate he shunned for his earlier nominee. Hagel has come under attack for his comments on the influence in Washington of the "Jewish lobby," allegations that he has been far too critical of Israel, and votes against some sanctions on Iran.
Obama's decision to install Brennan as the head of the CIA comes after he passed him over for the job in 2009, when human rights groups were able to torpedo his candidacy after arguing that Brennan had supported so-called enhanced interrogation techniques while serving as a high-level CIA official in the Bush administration. Brennan denied the charges but withdrew his nomination and took on a more low-key, if still highly influential, post in the White House. There he has served as one of the architects of the Obama administration's expanded use of drone strikes to target terrorist groups around the world and has become one of the president's most trusted advisers.
Syria: In his first public address in six months, Bashar al-Assad delivered a defiant rejoinder to his domestic and international critics, denouncing the country's rebels and offering a new peace plan that was immediately rejected as a non-starter by rebels.
- Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy reshuffled his cabinet and brought in additional Islamist politicians.
- Following partial recognition at the U.N., Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has decreed that 'State of Palestine' will now be used in official documents.
- Benyamin Netanyahu said he plans to build a fortified fence along Israel's border with Syria.
- A censored New Year's editorial at a southern Chinese paper has sparked a protest for increased media freedom.
- Chinese authorities plan to reform the country's forced labor camps, according to state media.
- Bill Richardson and Google chairman Eric Schmidt arrived for a four-day visit to North Korea.
- Silvio Berlusconi has allied himself with a controversial right-wing party in next month's Italian elections.
- Demonstrations in Belfast continued over the weekend in a dispute over the British flag.
- European bank regulators reached an agreement on minimum capital requirements for banks.
- John Mahama was sworn in as the president of Ghana.
- Rebels in the Central African Republic are headed toward peace negotiations with the government this week.
- The leaders of Sudan and South Sudan pledged to set up a demilitarized buffer zone along their disputed border.
- Venezuela's attorney general said that Hugo Chavez's inauguration could be postponed as a continues to battle complications from cancer surgery.
- Allies of Hugo Chavez re-elected his party's legislative boss.
- Arson attacks continued over the weekend in an ongoing land dispute in Chile between landowners and the native Mapuche Indians.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to Chuck Hagel as a former Democratic senator. He is, in fact, a former Republican senator.