For the Night of 29 March 2010
Japan-US: Update: Foreign Minister Okada is in Washington to begin negotiations on alternative relocation sites for the US Marine air station at Futenma. The US insists Japan honor the 2006 relocation agreement. Okada reportedly is offering a mix of alternatives for specific functions at this time, according to Prime Minister Hatoyama
South Korea: Update. Government and media sources speculated that a naval mine detonation sank the patrol ship Cho'n an. South and North Korea laid mines in the area over the years.
During this Watch, The Associated Press reported President Lee ordered a military alert for any military move by North Korea after National Defense Minister Kim briefed parliament that a North Korean mine might have destroyed the ship, either deliberately floated or one left over from the 1950's.
North Korea: For the record. Xinhua reported today that North Korea plans to build a nuclear power plant with its own nuclear raw material, according to an item published by the Korean Central News Agency.
Security. North Korea has put its coastal military units on heightened alert and increased surveillance off the southwest coast, while South Korean ships and helicopters searched for their sunken ship and for missing sailors, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff told parliament in a report today. Coastal artillery units in the North also remained in a "fire-ready" position. "The North Korean military is keeping Yellow Sea coastal units on heightened alert while strengthening surveillance of our helicopters and vessels involved in the search-and-rescue operations," the JCS report said.
Diplomacy. General Secretary Kim Chong-il met and dined with the new Chinese Ambassador to North Korea, along with members of the National Defense Commission, Foreign Ministry and Korean Worker's Party Department heads.
Comment: The event carrying the most immediate diagnostic significance is the diplomacy. When North Korea initiates a provocation against the South, it always goes into a defensive crouch in anticipation of violent retaliation. Internal movement by civilians is restricted and routine diplomatic activities are cancelled, as examples of civilian defensive preparations that parallel military readiness increases.
The routine meeting with a new Ambassador from any country is a strong indicator that the North did not attack the South Korean ship and expects no South Korean attack. The forces on alert are a normal precaution and tripwire.
The nationality of the new Ambassador reinforces the point. The Chinese leaders in Beijing would not have permitted the dinner engagement had they any reason to suspect that the North sank the South's ship because it would appear to outsiders that China supported a North Korean provocation and the risk of escalation. Chinese national security policy is committed to maintaining stability in Northeast Asia as an essential condition for China's national development plans.
If South Korea concludes that the North recently and deliberately maneuvered a mine to sink the South Korean ship, the diplomatic dinner in Pyongyang will be interpreted justifiably by Northeast Asians as unconditional Chinese support for provocative actions by the North or as culpable ignorance.
Burma: The National League for Democracy (NLD), the party of Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma's main political opposition party, has announced it will not take part in the elections which the military junta is arranging. An NLD spokesman said the party decided not to register because of "unjust" electoral laws.
Comment: The five laws recently announced by the junta required the NLD to expel its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, because she has a criminal record. Its refusal to register means the NLD will have no legal status as a political party. It also means the elections will lack international credibility which is a condition for obtaining respectability and the aid and investment that goes with it and which the junta members seek.
No date has been set for the elections, but the military has pledged to hold them this year.
Pakistan: Politics. The Supreme Court on Monday gave the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) 24 hours to implement its ruling from last December that found unconstitutional the Musharraf-era National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). It directed the acting NAB chairman to reopen all corruption cases, including those against Asif Ali Zardari in Swiss courts, by Tuesday, 30 March, and file a report with the court.
"Take all the petitions and all the cases from 'A' to 'Z' and revive them by (30 March) ... the law has to take its course," said Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry while heading a six-member bench that was hearing a revived corruption case against Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Additional Director General of the Economic Crimes Wing Ahmed Riaz Sheikh. He was convicted on corruption charges in 2001, but was reinstated under the NRO in 2008.
The bench also served show-cause notices on the interior secretary, the additional interior secretary, the FIA director general, the Establishment Division secretary, the Establishment Division joint secretary and the NAB chairman and the acting chairman for failing to implement the NRO ruling. The bench directed the officials to file their replies to the notices by Tuesday.
Note: In Common Law-based legal systems, show cause notices, orders or motions are used to summon defendants to show why they should not be punished for contempt of court for failure to comply with a prior court order. The senior civil servants who had the responsibility and authority to execute the Supreme Court's ruling, but did not, are themselves in jeopardy of serving prison sentences for contempt of court. The sentence should run at least as long as it takes for the court's original order to be executed.
Zardari Legal Update. The Pakistani High Commissioner in London has handed over to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) the complete record of the Swiss cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, a NAB spokesman told Daily Times on Monday. The spokesman said NAB had acquired the record in line with the Supreme Court's ruling on the NRO.
He said the record was "completely safe and according to the inventory list". He said Additional NAB Director (Operations) Zahir Shah and Brigadier (r) Ishfaq Ashraf went to London three days ago, and had the record of the Swiss cases with them. He said NAB had filed some record with the SC on legal opinion sought from the Law Ministry to reopen the Swiss cases.
Note: This news release to the Daily Times seems part of the NAB's strategy to prevent its leaders from serving time for contempt. The Zardari case is one specifically mentioned in the Court's December ruling. If the "law takes its course," to paraphrase the Chief Justice, there will be a new President of Pakistan this year. Thus far, Prime Minister Gilani is safe, though his wife might not be.
The US government and press corps need to be ready for a transition of power back to parliament - the National Assembly, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. The ministerial composition of the Pakistani delegation who visited last week suggests both sides understand a power shift is in progress, away from presidential government.
Afghanistan: Power sharing. The Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan, led by Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, is ready for a second round of peace talks with the Afghan government to discuss its proposals.
A spokesman for the Hezb-e-Islami told the Afghan Islamic Press yesterday that the group had presented proposals to the government in the first round of talks. "In the first round of talks we came to know that all Afghans want the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, but more talks will be held to evolve a mechanism for the pullout of foreign forces from the country," the spokesman said. "The second round of the talks will begin in a couple of days in which some 15 proposals by Hezb-e-Islami will be discussed."
Iraq: The Accountability and Justice Commission, which was created to purge Iraq's political system of Baathist elements, announced it would contest the results of recent parliamentary elections because six of the winning candidates had been banned from running the day before the vote, The Washington Post reported today. The commission said it would appeal to the nation's highest court to throw out both the votes and the candidates, at least half of whom were from former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's al-Iraqiya List. Al-Iraqiya member and former Interior Minister Falah Naqib warned of "civil war" in the country if the candidates were purged.
Comment: The above action corresponds to one of the three scenarios al Maliki arranged in order to ensure he remains in office, as reported by the New York Times on Sunday. The al Maliki counterattack is proceeding precisely as it was briefed to the press, thus far.
Russia: Investigators have confirmed that the 29 March attacks on two Moscow metro stations were carried out by two women who detonated themselves Gazeta reported, citing a government official. One militant was found on the ground of a station, and the camera of the Lubyanka train station was salvageable. Investigators are reviewing the tapes. The bombings killed 38 people and injured more than 60, according to the BBC. Most news agency reports attribute the bombings to the Chechens. The Russian President and the Prime Minister have vowed vengeance.
Germany-Turkey: The BBC reported today that German Chancellor Angela Merkel restated her belief that Turkey is not suitable for full European Union membership. She said that Turkey should not view negatively her offer of a "privileged partnership" - rather than full membership
Turkey began negotiations to become a member of the EU in 2005, but France and Germany have vetoed membership, indefinitely. Merkel and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan also disagreed about Iran, Cyprus and educating Turkish children in Germany in Turkish.
Germany is Turkey's biggest trading partner, its biggest foreign investor, its biggest source of tourist revenue, and nearly three million Turks live in Germany. Turkish law and legal procedure is derived from German legal practice and jurisprudence.
A point seldom made is that EU terms for Turkish membership included a commitment that the armed forces would abandon its practice of acting as guardian of the state's secular legacy and promise to not overthrow the government. The General Staff has kept that promise, but the Erdogan government has exploited this EU entry condition to move Turkey towards an Islamist state. That is not a result the EU members intended.
Mexico: Update. Mexican soldiers have arrested a man in connection with the killing of two Americans and a Mexican in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, officials say. Local reports suggest the suspect is a leading member of a local drugs gang.
End of NightWatch for 29 March.
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