Syria

The World Health Organization has declared a polio emergency in Syria.

After being free of the crippling disease for more than a decade, Syria recorded 10 confirmed cases of polio in October. Now the outbreak has grown to 17 confirmed cases, the WHO said last week. And the virus has spread to four cities, including a war-torn suburb near the capital of Damascus.

Representatives from the Syrian opposition and from President Bashar Assad's regime will sit down at a negotiating table for the first time on Jan. 22, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's office announced Monday.

The U.N. adds that:

Twin explosions Tuesday near the Iranian embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, killed more than 20 people, including Iran's cultural attaché, according to reports from The Associated Press and other news outlets. Dozens more people were injured.

From Beirut, producer Rima Marrouch tells our Newscast Desk that the blasts happened around 10 a.m. local time (3 a.m. ET).

A little over a week ago, Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines, leaving thousands dead and devastating the city of Tacloban. Suzette Grillot also talks with Joshua Landis about a so-called "wild card" in Syria's civil war - private funding by wealthy donors.

Later, Adriana Beltrán from the Washington Office on Latin America joins Suzette Grillot to discuss how clandestine criminal organizations infiltrate Guatemala’s judicial system.

Freedom House / Flickr Creative Commons

Private donors have contributed tens of millions of dollars to Islamist militias in Syria, dividing the opposition even further and forcing the United States to reexamine who it backs in the region.

The New York Times reports the practice is adding a “wild card” to the war in Syria.

"Militant Islamist rebels in Syria ... have asked for 'understanding and forgiveness' for cutting off and putting on display the wrong man's head," The Telegraph reports.

Earlier this week anti-American protests in Iran marked 34 years since the storming of the Embassy in Tehran, and the start of the 18-month hostage crisis. Suzette Grillot talks about the anniversary with Joshua Landis, who also provides a brief update on Saudi Arabia's frustration with the U.S. over Syria.

Later, a conversation with Boston University modern European historian Jonathan Zatlin. He says parts of Europe's debt crisis can be explained by religious tension between the Protestant North and the Catholic South.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro, U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations Martin Indyk, and Deputy Special Envoy Frank Lowenstein about Middle East peace negotiations before departing
U.S. Department of State / Flickr Creative Commons

Four world powers are dispatching their top diplomats to Geneva on Friday to add their weight to negotiations aimed at putting initial limits on Iran's ability to make atomic weapons.

The meeting comes shortly after the 34th anniversary of the start of the Iran hostage crisis, and the end of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Islamic Republic.

Joshua Landis, the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, says the election of Hassan Rouhani earlier this year marks a crossroads as the moderate leader tries to promote understanding with the United States.

A key deadline in the quest to rid Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime of its chemical weapons has been met, according to international observers.

Glen Carey

Kelly McEvers spent three years based in Baghdad and Beirut covering the Middle East for NPR. She started her assignment with instructions not to miss a day in Iraq as the 2011 U.S. troop withdrawal deadline approached.

“Then in late 2010, a guy set himself on fire in Tunisia, and everything changed,” McEvers told KGOU’s World Views host Suzette Grillot. “I was swept up with millions of other people in this thing called the Arab Spring.”

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