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NightWatch 20101115


For the Night of 15 November 2010

North Korea: For the record. A UN report released on Friday found that North Korea is supplying banned nuclear and ballistic missile equipment to Iran, Syria and "Myanmar" using "surreptitious" means to avoid international sanctions. A UN sanctions committee panel of experts called for heightened vigilance to stop the nuclear trade and for more detailed investigation into the sophisticated means used by North Korea to circumvent sanctions.

Since the last sanctions were imposed in June 2009, four "non-compliance cases involving arms exports" had come to light, the report said, according to Agence France-Presse. The report found North Korea used "masking techniques" including mislabeling containers, falsifying ships' manifests and destination details "and use of multiple layers of intermediaries, shell companies, and financial institutions."

The North is increasingly using foreign-owned ships and non-stop cargo flights so as to avoid checks.

The experts said the UN Security Council should consider ordering North Korea to declare all air cargos before countries grant overflight clearance.

Unidentified diplomats said China blocked publication of the report which has been ready for six months.

Comment: Weapons, missiles and dated nuclear technology are the top three hard currency earners for North Korea. The North is desperate. Defections because of dire economic conditions are at unprecedented levels, South Korean media reported today. North Korea has no alternative but to try to export the only items it makes that have a market.

As a final note, the North's ability to manufacture chemical weapons is beyond dispute. It probably is responsible for Syria's substantial chemical weapons capabilities, even if nuclear technology exports are somewhat dated.

Burma: Newly released from house arrest pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, said 14 November that if the people of "Myanmar" want sanctions to be lifted, she will consider asking Western nations for such a move, Reuters reported. Suu Kyi would not comment directly on whether she would ask for a rollback of sanctions, but said the country needs help from all nations, which should begin with dialogue. She spoke outside her National League for Democracy party headquarters.

(Note: The Department of State does not recognize the name Myanmar because it was imposed by the military junta.)

Comment: The government freed Aung San Suu Kyi on 13 November after the terms of the 18-month house arrest at her Yangon (Rangoon) residence expired, China Daily reported. Barricades were removed from the front of her residence.

Since her release, Suu Kyi has given multiple press interviews, but she has avoided comments that might provide grounds for the new government to arrest her again, at least for now. She said she is ready to hold talks with all groups to achieve reconciliation and relieve grinding poverty.

A commentary in The Singapore Straits Times made two points. There are now two avenues to political leadership in Burma; the populist and the authoritarian. While Suu Kyi retains widespread popularity, her party is outlawed and some members ran for public office in the tainted national elections this month.

The second point is that Senior General Than Shwe has used the elections to create an alternative avenue to national prominence. He is a national figure and the junta-supported government is an alternative to house arrest and perpetual political isolation. Tainted as it is, the junta-controlled electoral process is an outlet for political expression. Even politicians loyal to Suu Kyi are testing the new political climate.

Afghanistan: In a press interview, President Karzai said that the U.S. military should reduce the visibility and intensity of its operations in Afghanistan and end night special operations forces raids, The Washington Post reported on 14 November.

Karzai told reporters in Kabul that he wanted U.S. soldiers off the roads and to reduce their intrusiveness in the daily life of Afghans. He said the United States cannot sustain the current level of troops in the country, and that a large long-term presence is not good for the Afghan people. He also said he met with high-level Taliban leaders about three months ago that he believes are in contact with Mullah Mohammad Omar, but that talks are in the preliminary stages and were mainly about exchanging a desire for peace.

Today, Afghan Taliban leader Mohammed Omar encouraged Afghans to continue the fight until all foreigners have left the country.

Comment: Karzai's comments are consistent with Pashtun demands to limit foreign intrusions into Afghan daily life. They apparently confounded the US command, but should not have been a surprise because of mounting outrage over US special forces raids against house without any obvious sign of Afghan national authority.

The simplest solution would be for a few Afghan special forces personnel to lead raids against individual houses. US or NATO special forces acting alone would seem to lack any legal basis in Afghan law for unilateral intrusions. The US claims Afghanistan is a sovereign state.

Karzai is requiring the US honor Afghan sovereignty and there are ways to accomplish that but they require changes to US tactics that will not be efficient and maybe not effective, as a modern military system measures effectiveness. The message is that the struggle to win hearts and minds of the Afghan people is eroded by the brutality of tactics that ignore Afghan cultural sensibilities.

Karzai simply said the US tactics do not match the coalition strategy.

Iraq: After talks on Saturday, the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc returned to the new government coalition. The walkout on Thursday was attributed to a "misunderstanding."

President Jalal Talabani confirmed to the media on 15 November that he will direct Nuri al Maliki and the National Alliance to form the government after the Id al-Adha Muslim holiday, to give him a chance to hold dialogues. Maliki received public congratulations from the members of the coalition today.

Comment: According to Arab analysts, the coalition agreement is the result of enormous US and Iranian pressure, more than a meeting of minds in Baghdad. Maliki proved to be the compromise prime minister that both countries could tolerate. Nevertheless, Sunni Arab political commentators assess that Iran is the big winner because of its influence with Maliki, the National Alliance and all the Shiite political groups. They also understand that the Sunni Arabs are the clear losers.

A government is on the way to being formed, but it is so fragile that it will be unable to solve basic problems such as equitable distribution of oil revenue, even if it survives, which is doubtful. This coalition will do nothing to reduce sectarian killings.

Lebanon: House Speaker Nabih Berri on Monday called on all Lebanese to prepare the suitable atmosphere needed to accompany the Saudi-Syrian efforts that are aimed at affirming stability in Lebanon on all levels. He told reporters that achieving the right atmosphere requires staying clear of tense political rhetoric that would serve to deepen the divide among the Lebanese.

Comment: At the center of the political tension in Lebanon is the investigation of the Special Tribunal into the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq al Hariri in 2005. The Tribunal is expected to report is findings in the form of criminal indictments. Last summer, leaks from the investigation indicated the Tribunal would indict members of Hezbolllah, which threatened violent reprisals were that to occur.

Lebanese analysts assessed that the contours of the Saudi-Syrian mediation would be reported by the end of this month. A Lebanese daily newspaper reported that the Syrian and Saudi efforts have produced a five-point compromise plan in which Prime Minster Saad Hariri will declare Hezbollah's innocence in the assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, after the indictments are announced. The Prime Minister and Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah will meet, as a gesture of national reconciliation.

The start of the presumed final phase of the investigation reportedly will be signaled by a visit to Damascus by Saudi King Abdallah's top advisor.

Comment: Berri's comment is one of the few in open source materials to highlight the significance of the behind-the scenes working of the Saudis and Syrians in easing tension over the work of the Tribunal. The mediation effort also is part of King Abdallah's program to dilute Iranian influence in Syria by engaging President Asad in a solution to a pressing Arab problem, namely, maintaining stability in Lebanon.

If the compromise plan is successful, major violence in Lebanon will be avoided; the Saudis will have engineered a significant political achievement; Syrian prestige as a moderating force in Lebanon will increase, and the Iranians will have been rendered inconsequential in the short-term solution of an Arab problem.

Algeria: At least one person died in a 12 November bomb attack against the security staff at a Canadian firm in Algeria, according to local media. The attack on the construction and engineering firm SNC Lavallin took place in Algeria's Tizi Ouzou region, 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) east of Algiers. Four people were injured in the attack.

Comment: The al Qaida franchise in northern Africa has engaged in kidnapping of foreigners, but not kinetic attacks. Most attacks in Algeria have been against isolated and vulnerable security outposts. The potential significance of this attack is that a foreign firm was the target. That suggests a change in the al Qaida targeting strategy.  In the past sefveral years, al Qaida attacks have targetted government security forces and isolated outposts almost exclusively.

A single attack is insufficient evidence on which to base an assessment, but it is enough to warrant increased vigilance by foreign investors in Algeria.

End of NightWatch for 15 November.

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