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NightWatch 20110307


For the Night of 7 March 2011

North Korea-South Korea: North Korean Red Cross officials proposed working-level talks with South Korea in the border village of Panmunjom on 9 March to "promptly resolve" the issue of repatriation of 31 North Korean nationals detained by Seoul, according to the South Korean Unification Ministry.

Seoul said it is willing to confirm to Pyongyang that four of the nationals wish to defect to South Korea "of their own free will." The Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang reported the friends and family of the four defectors testified the men have no reason to defect. North Korean Red Cross will bring the families to the meeting site and suggested Seoul should bring the four would-be defectors as well.

Comment: Last month South Korea took into custody 31 North Korean fishermen who drifted into South Korean waters off the west coast. Four asked to remain in South Korea. This has created another friction point between the two. A meeting would be the first contact since North Korea walked out on the military preparatory talks in February. If a meeting occurs, it would provide an opportunity for an attitude check.

Japan- China:  For the record. Japan complained to China after a Chinese helicopter belonging to the State Oceanic Administration approached a Japanese destroyer in the East China Sea, a Japanese defense official said on 7 March. According to the official, the helicopter appeared to be filming the destroyer, approaching within 230 feet of the destroyer, according to Japan's Defense Ministry.

Pakistan-US: Weakening of relations between the United States and Pakistan is not an option, Pakistani President Zardari told U.S. envoy Marc Grossman. Zardari said that both nations need to be focused on the long term and not be influenced by misperceptions and some isolated incidents. The two countries have to find ways of finding solutions to all problems, Zardari said.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said that Grossman told Zardari that the United States and Pakistan have a broad-based, mutually beneficial relationship and a common goal in having a democratic, stable and prosperous Pakistan. The spokesman said that Grossman stressed the importance of resolving the case of Raymond Davis, saying that Davis has full immunity from criminal prosecution.

Comment: US relations with Pakistan are in a downward pitch because of the Davis trial and the murder of the only Christian cabinet minister in the Gilani government. President Zardari's platitudes notwithstanding, on these two issues the Pakistani Taliban have dictated national policy. They threatened terrorist attacks should the government release Davis and claimed responsibility for killing the Christian cabinet minister. Davis awaits trial and there is no prospect that the murderer of the cabinet minister will be brought to justice.

For the record and for TV news personalities. Pakistan no longer has a presidential system of government. Zardari is the chief of state. Prime Minister Gilani is the chief of government. Last April the National Assembly passed the 18th Amendment which restored the primacy of parliament. The same amendment renamed Northwest Frontier Province as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

Libya: Libyan rebels on 7 March rejected an offer from leader Qadhafi to work out a deal to step down, according to a report from Al Jazeera. According to the report, Qadhafi sent former Prime Minister Jadallah Azzouz Talhi to meet the rebels in Benghazi and offer to hold a meeting of parliament to work out the details of such a deal. Rebel sources said they rejected the offer because it would offend Qadhafi's victims by being an "honorable" exit.

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported earlier on 7 March that Qadhafi offered to resign, transfer power to the Interim National Council in Benghazi and leave Libya if the council will guarantee his and his family's safety, provide funds for their departure as well as immunity from prosecution abroad.

Qadhafi reportedly sent a negotiator to the council in Benghazi on 6 March and said he would convene the General People's Congress to transfer authority if his demands are met. Sources said preparations for Qadhafi's departure had been made, including spreading rumors that he had suffered a stroke.

Comment: This is the first indication of this kind and is suspect, unless the pro-Qadhafi fighters have bolted, which does not yet seem to be the case. This looks like a test of rebel reaction rather than a serious offer.

It is doubtful that Qadhafi is ready to depart, but the reported offer is a reminder of serious problems associated with the demise of this regime. The aftermath of a Qadhafi departure, voluntary or not, promises to be difficult to control because of the nature and size of the personal patronage system he built over 40 years and the way he has ruled. There is a high risk of violent retribution once the regime collapses. That risk is increased by the lack of discipline in the rebel fighters and the recent fighting.

Libya-France: Qadhafi denounced France's backing of the rebel Interim National Council in Benghazi as interference in Libya's internal affairs. He asked what would happen if Libya interfered in the affairs of Corsica or Sardinia. He claimed he was a partner in the "war on terrorism" and that the "plot" in Libya was fueled by armed extremists and Islamist militant al Qaeda "sleeper cells."

He said the rebels bearing arms in Benghazi were members of al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb and had no economic or political claims, adding that the Benghazi National Council is part of an Islamist trend and does not believe in democracy.

Comment: Qadhafi's denunciation of France and description of the rebels reinforce the perception that he is delusional.

End of NightWatch for 7 March.

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