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NightWatch 20100603

NightWatch

For the Night of 3 June 2010

Japan: Update. Japan's upper house decided to name a new prime minister on 4 June and the lower house is expected to follow suit so as to enable a new Cabinet to be formed the same day, Kyodo reported 3 June. The new prime minister will deliver his policy speech on 7 June and take questions from ruling and opposition party representatives in the Diet on 9 June, according to a schedule the Democratic Party of Japan presented for coordination to opposition parties.

Note: During this Watch, Hatoyama and his Cabinet resigned en masse, in anticipation of the Diet vote for the next prime minister. Finance Minister Kan is most likely to win the election.

The Korea Confrontation

North Korea: The Korean Central News Agency reported today that mass rallies were held in at least four on the nine North Korean provinces denouncing the US, Japan and South Korea for waging a "smear campaign" against the North over the sinking of the Cheonan.

Comment: This is part of a popular indoctrination campaign of the type the North uses to raise national defense readiness during a crisis. In fact, it was used to goad the people to work harder to make North Korea prosperous while informing them that more sanctions might result. The speeches did not use the terms "increased combat readiness," or "threat of war" which punctuate speeches during a buildup to crisis. The language was not incendiary. At this point, the North is not preparing the populace for war so much as to expect more deprivation at the hands of the enemy.

North Korea-UN: Some US news outlets quoted the North's deputy UN permanent representative as warning that the situation on the peninsula is grave and war could break out at any moment. That is an apt summary of the situation for most of the past 57 years and a gentle form of saber-rattling.

The UN delegation is never North Korea's primary outlet for conveying new threats. Its role in the present confrontation is to counter South Korean plans by mounting a pre-emptive propaganda attack to discourage UN Security Council consideration of the sinking of the patrol ship Cheonan.

North Korea-South Korea-Japan: According to a report in Kyodo on 3 June, Ro Jong Su, a director-level researcher at the North Korean Foreign Ministry, said in an interview in Pyongyang that the South Korean ruling Grand National Party's defeat in local elections Wednesday showed the South Korean public ''turned its back on the administration of (President) Lee Myung Bak,'' partly for his handling in the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship.

Ro also repeated the North's threat that it will employ ''ultra strong'' countermeasures if the South refers the sunken ship case to the U.N. Security Council for punishing Pyongyang. He said Pyongyang regards a referral of the Cheonan incident to the Security Council and deliberations there as ''an infringement on the country's sovereignty and dignity of its people….The U.N. Security Council must not forget the lesson that its censure for our satellite launch in April last year led to our nuclear test'' in May the same year, Ro said.

On prime minister Hatoyama's resignation, Ro said, ''We are disappointed'' by Hatoyama's decision to move the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station within Okinawa Prefecture and his failure to pursue foreign policy that is more independent from the United States, so the resignation ''was his own fault.'' Ro also faulted Yatoyama for enacting more sanctions against the North.

Comment: It was the first time for a North Korean official to comment on the two latest political developments in Japan and South Korea. The rank commentator is unusually low to be making what appear to be authoritative comments on regional developments. Usually official comments are left to official party media outlets.

The remarks are signficant for two reasons.  They purport to establish that the North is watching closely political developments in neighboring states as it considers its responses to South Korean actions in handling the case of the Cheonan.

Secondly they make explicit that the North's leadership considers its response options do include testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. Only a low ranking official could convey that message with little risk of generating an immediate spike in the crisis atmosphere.

South Korea-US: The United States and South Korea are considering additional joint military exercises in response to the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said 3 June. After the Cheonan incident, officials in Washington and Seoul discussed holding special exercises, including anti-submarine warfare drills, Gates said.

A US Defense spokesman said no decision has been made to send an aircraft carrier to participate in the exercises. Citing unidentified military sources, CNN repeated the story that planning is in progress to deploy an aircraft carrier to the Yellow Sea, without stating when.

China-Russia: Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov will meet Chinese Foreign Minister Yang to discuss the crisis in the Korea peninsula caused by the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan, RIA Novosti reported 3 June. Lavrov also is scheduled to meet Chinese President Hu and State Councilor Dai Bingguo. Lavrov will discuss Iran's nuclear program, cooperation in Afghanistan and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit during his trip.

Comment: South Korea has succeeded in getting all the concerned parties to place attention on the case of the Cheonan. North Korea may be expected to stage some form of provocation soon in order to shift attention away from Gaza.

China-Burma: Prime Minister Wen Jiabao concluded a four-nation Asian tour by meeting with Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein and Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council Gen. Than Shwe to discuss bilateral relations, Xinhua reported 3 June. The construction of a China-Myanmar oil and gas pipeline began following an agreement made between the two prime ministers during the visit. The pipeline will run from the west coast port of Kyaukryu in Myanmar to Ruili in China's Yunnan Province.

Comment: The pipeline is important because it provides China another route for importing oil and gas without relying on ships transiting the Malacca and Singapore Straits. It complements overland pipelines through central Asia. Thus, during a crisis in East Asia, Chinese oil and gas imports run less risk of disruption.

Burma-North Korea: US Senator Webb canceled his trip to Burma because of reports from a Burmese military defector who said North Korea is helping Burma build a nuclear program. The US also has accused Burma of buying weapons from North Korea in violation of UN Resolution 1874. That resolution prohibits members from buying North Korean weapons and was passed last June after the North's nuclear-test in May.

Comment: The North Koreans have no experience in using nuclear reactors for generating electricity. There are no credible peaceful uses of North Korean nuclear technology in Burma. The Yongbyon reactor is a consumer of electricity generated elsewhere. Its fuel rods have been reprocessed into plutonium for nuclear weapons. The North is believed to have a highly-enriched uranium program, but its location, if it has been found, is not in open source materials. It also is assessed to be for nuclear weapons production.

It is worth noting that Chinese and North Korean interests converge in Iran, Pakistan and Burma, all Indian Ocean states with strained relations with India.

Lebanon: For the record. Hezbollah will hold a rally in Beirut on 4 June and announce "serious measures" in response to an Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, Agence France-Presse reported 3 June. Hezbollah's chief, Hassan Nasrallah, said during a speech to mark the 21st anniversary of the Ayatollah Khomenei's death that the Israeli assault "necessitates serious stances and measures."

Israel: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told former British Prime Minister Tony Blair that he is willing to allow ships carrying humanitarian aid supplies to enter ports in Gaza after international inspectors check the ships for weapons, according to The Jerusalem Post.

For now, however, Israel will not allow any ships to reach the Gaza Strip and will direct the ship Rachel Corrie to the Ashdod port, Prime Minister Netanyahu said at a forum of top government ministers, Ynet reported 3 June. Netanyahu said the Rachel Corrie's civilian goods will be transferred to Gaza after a security check.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Barak told the US special envoy to the Middle East that Israel hopes to continue proximity talks with the Palestinians and eventually move to direct talks in spite of the recent incident involving an Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla. Barak said he hopes "all the players in the region, including our Palestinian neighbors, will meet these expectations."

Comment: Barak's statements come close to cheekiness, but, taken with Netanyahu's, they signify a deal is in the works. Israel will ease the naval blockade in exchange for promises of increased support for more UN sanctions against Iran, the main state backer of Hamas and Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, HAMAS continues to get a pass from the international media. Its leaders complained today that they are disappointed by the Arabs who are evading their responsibility by simply supporting a UN investigation instead of providing help. A statement published by HAMAS spokesman Sami Abu-Zuhri, said that "our people care about actions rather than words. It is no longer understandable for the siege issue to be submitted to the UN Security Council at a time when the Arabs themselves refuse to open the Rafah Crossing to Palestinians."

Somalia: Update. Clashes between Somali government forces and Islamist militants have killed at least 17 people and wounded about 60 in Mogadishu. The fighting appears to be the start of a government offensive using troops trained in Ethiopia, local analysts assessed.

Somalia-Puntland-the anti-piracy patrol: On 2 June, security forces from Puntland, one of the three mini-states of Somalia, freed the crew of a Panama-flagged cargo ship, Agence France-Presse reported.

The 15,000 ton MV QSM Dubai was sailing in a recommended transit corridor in the Gulf of Aden when it was seized by pirates early Wednesday, according to a report by the BBC. Puntland Ports and Marine Transportation Minister Mohamed Raage said security forces engaged the pirates today (3 June) after storming the ship. The pirates refused to surrender and there was a brief shootout. The pirates killed the ship's Pakistani captain before they were overtaken.

Seven pirates were arrested and two Somali troops were injured. The 24 freed crew members were from Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Ghana. This is believed to be the second rescue of this kind by Puntland security forces which have been cooperating with the Transitional Federal Government and NATO. Puntland forces performed a similar operation last October.

Ukraine: For the record. After first reading, parliament adopted the draft law on the fundamentals of the country's domestic and foreign policy, as submitted by President Yanukovych, Itar-Tass reported 3 June.

The resolution required a minimum of 226 votes and received 253. Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov said the unambiguous confirmation of Ukraine's non-bloc status is the key element of consistent foreign policy forecasting contained in the draft law. He stressed that Yanukovych suggested withdrawing the issue of Ukraine joining NATO, which is splitting the nation and is distracting people from a search for effective development of Ukraine.

No surprises here, just completion of the process.

End of NightWatch for 3 June.

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