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NightWatch 20100609

NightWatch

For the Night of 9 June 2010

The Korea Confrontation

North Korea: Yesterday, 8 June, North Korea sent a letter to the UN Security Council rejecting claims it sank a South Korean patrol ship and warning the Council not to debate the issue. The letter also urged the Council to facilitate Pyongyang's own investigation into the incident.

North Korean state media published the text of the letter which insisted North Korea had "nothing to do with the incident" which it described as a "fabricated scenario" masterminded by the US. "The key to resolving the Ch'o'nan (Cheonan) ship incident lies in the DPRK, as the victim concerned, scientifically and objectively inspecting and verifying the investigation result."

"The UNSC's fundamental mission is maintaining world peace and safety; if it wishes for peace and safety on the Korean peninsula -- where a grave touch-and-go situation has been formed due to the Ch'o'nan ship incident -- it should take, first of all, measures that will be helpful in making the United States and South Korea receive the NDC inspection team, as already proposed by the DPRK, the victim concerned, and verify the investigation results."

"By doing so, the Council should give priority to objectively bringing to light the truth of the incident in an impartial manner."

"If the unilateral investigation results only, without the verification of the victim concerned, are submitted to the UNSC and their discussion is pushed for, our sovereignty and safety will clearly be infringed upon. By then, no one can guarantee what grave consequences would be brought about regarding peace and safety on the Korean peninsula."

Comment: What is missing is any reference to "all out war." The North has presented itself as the victim of the sinking incident. In the North's logic, the attacker becomes the victim, if the attacker is North Korea and if it gets caught.

The insistence on sending an inspection team seems to deserve more attention than it is getting. The North describes this as the "key to resolving the incident. " It is an unusual turn of phrase and an unusual step for the North to demand in order to try to prove its innocence. It also is unusual that the North's leadership has returned to this demand so often. Usually the North will dismiss any South Korean evidence as fabricated, automatically.

There are lots of possible explanations for this, all having to do with discrediting South Korea and the Allies in different fashions. But among the possible explanations worth a second thought is the one that the Pyongyang leadership might not know all the facts and might not trust the North Korean military version of the incident.

South Korea: Yonhap reported the following statement by the Unification Ministry.

"North Korea should immediately apologize to the Republic of Korea and the international society and punish those involved" in the sinking of the Ch'o'nan (Cheonan), Vice Unification Minister Um Jong-sik said at a meeting of overseas reconciliation activists in Seoul."

Um said that the government would "unswervingly" push forward with punitive measures, including a ban on trade and civilian exchanges, but that humanitarian aid for children would continue.

Earlier on the 9th, a Ministry spokeswoman said Seoul has approved two civilian shipments of baby food for North Korean infants in the first humanitarian aid to the communist neighbor since Seoul announced its punitive measures. Powdered milk and other items totaling US$320,000 will be sent to the northeast and near Pyongyang late this month by two civilian relief groups, she said.

Note:  The demand for an apology is the first step in an exit strategy.

China-South Korea: Returning home from a two-day trip to Beijing, South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Chun Yung-woo said he had "candid and constructive" discussions with Chinese officials about the sinking of the Cheonan. He had meetings with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai. They promised to work with Seoul toward "acceptable solutions" in dealing with North Korea's attack on a South Korean warship, although there were still areas where the two countries have not narrowed their differences, a senior diplomat said Wednesday.

Comment: The Chinese just want this incident settled without destabilizing northeast Asia. North Korea has apologized for security incidents in the past, but no apology seems likely without the inspection that the North has been demanding.

Pakistan: The Punjabi Taliban claimed responsibility for an 8 June attack on a NATO supply convoy near Islamabad, Xinhua reported. Militants reportedly fled the scene after the late-night attack; but police arrested 26 suspects. There was one security guard to protect the NATO fleet when the attack occurred, witnesses said.

A report on the attack has been ordered by Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik to be submitted within three days. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the attack destroyed only a small fraction of supplies transported into Afghanistan for U.S. and its allies' forces.

"Fifty or 60 containers is not a small attack by any means, but you look at that in terms of its impact on our overall operations, it's not going to have an effect," he said

Comment: It is important to be upbeat but these attacks are having an effect… they always do. For one thing, US convoys are a magnet for every anti-American group that knows how to make bombs. The spillover effects of these attacks, even when no one dies, are significant in terrorizing the local population and deterring drivers. Rehman Malik has ordered a review of US logistics practices.

The final point is that the Punjabi Taliban are not Pashtuns. Any operations of theirs signify an expansion of the militant movement beyond the mountainous western region into the heartland areas of Pakistan.

The evident blindspot is Pakistan, the soft underbelly of the US operations in Afghanistan, to misquote Churchill. The convoy attacks are having effect there.

Afghanistan: An explosion in Arghandab District, Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan killed at least 39 people and injured 73 others, Afghan officials reported. The Taliban attacked a wedding party on Wednesday evening.

Comment: This attack is noteworthy for two reasons, in addition for its savagery. First is the Taliban still are fighting to control or to maintain their position in Arghandab District, after six years. The second point is there are no anti-Taliban demonstrations by the locals over the deaths of non-combatant civilians, as there would be if a NATO attack had killed the civilians. Such attacks violate Mullah Omar's code of conduct published last year, but there is no outrage or punishment mechanism, it seems, for rogue Taliban operations.

Another event reported today is that the Taliban executed a seven year old child in Helmand Province for cooperating with the Afghan government. Again, no demonstrations or outrage.

The US and NATO are paying lots for Afghan information operations specialists, who need to pay closer attention.

Kyrgyzstan: Interim Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva said her country must nationalize some industrial facilities, Kabar reported. She spoke at a June 9 meeting with the people of Kara Balta and Jayyl district in Chuy region. The interim president said 30 facilities need to be nationalized, including Aalam Service, which is accused of involvement in supplying fuel to the U.S. Transit Center at Manas Airport at inflated prices. Note: This looks like a giant step backwards into the future.

Iran-UN Security Council: The UN Security Council passed a resolution imposing a fourth set of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. The Council voted 12 to two, with one abstention.

The resolution contains 38 numbered paragraphs that attempt to isolate Iran. The resolution expands the arms ban to include all kinds of conventional military equipment and missiles. It also orders tighter financial curbs, includes an expanded list of embargoed Iranian companies and individuals, specifically members of the Revolutionary Guard Corps and provides a legal umbrella for enforcement actions that individual states might decide. It is not clear whether the new arms ban includes the advanced Russian S-300 system that Iran has purchased but has yet to be delivered.

China and Russia voted for it. Only Turkey and Brazil voted against it. Annex IV of the Resolution republishes the elaborate and detailed proposal for cooperating with and assisting Iran that was first presented to the Tehran government in 2008.

Israel-Gaza Strip: Update. Israel will allow snack foods and beverages into the Gaza Strip in a move it says is not related to its 31 May raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, Reuters reported 9 June. Potato chips, biscuits, canned fruit, packaged humus, soft drinks and juice will be allowed in, Palestinian officials based in the West Bank said. Calling the snacks the first course, Palestinian Economy Minister Hassan Abu Libdeh said in Ramallah that the "main course" has yet to come.

Somalia anti-piracy patrol: Reuters Africa published a report that European Union foreign ministers are expected to extend the bloc's anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia for another year next week.

Rear Admiral Peter Hudson, Commander of the European Union Naval Force Somalia, said he expected a new extension of its mandate which expires in December to be cleared at Monday's regular meeting of EU ministers. "Over the last two years, there has been real growth in the area the pirates are operating in, as they become more adventurous, more fearless and more determined to strike merchant ships in the Indian Ocean," he told a news conference.

Since December 2008, the EU's 'Operation Atalanta' has protected ships delivering food aid to Somalia and others passing through the Gulf of Aden and near the Somali coast. The task group normally comprises 13 ships, one submarine and four patrol aircraft from ten countries. It is separate from the US anti-piracy Combined Task Force, as well as ships of Russia, Iran and Asian countries.

Naval forces disrupted 59 pirate groupings in the Somali basin between March and May this year, one of the two main piracy seasons of the year, up sharply from last year. Pirates hold more than 350 sailors and 17 ships.

End of NightWatch for 9 June.

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