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NightWatch 20110404

NightWatch

For the Night of 4 April 2011

North Korea-US: North Korea's Trade Ministry Director Yon Il ,with 11 delegation members, visited the United States recently for a special program. The program featured visits to US companies and lectures at Stanford University given by scholars, such as economics professor Gordon Hanson.

South Korean media reported six directors from North Korea's trade, agriculture, finance and industry ministries as well as a managing assistant director, a North Korean trade bank's financial research chief and two advisers from the Pyongyang-Washington private exchange program formed the delegation. They attended lectures on the market economy, consumer protection, multilateral economic cooperation in Asia, monetary systems, U.S. federal and state taxation systems, industrial-academic cooperation and an overview of Western legal systems given by three New York University of Law professors.

Comment: Special visits of this kind are rather frequent and do not signal any intention by the North Korean regime to adopt western economic or legal practices. There is no breakthrough of any kind in such visits. NightWatch is aware of three other such visits in the past ten years, none of which had the slightest impact on the North Korean economic system. The people selected to attend are the "American handlers" and unquestionably loyal.

The visits have helped understanding between systems in that they have helped improve the quality of North Korean negotiating skills when they press for aid and concessions. The North Koreans leave with a much deeper grasp of American legal terms and language usages which they put to good use in crafting their demands.

The North has been milking the goodwill of American companies and universities for decades. It is a racket, a free training program and they apparently think Americans are easy marks.

American groups need to get past the idea that the North Koreans would be less hostile if only they knew more about America. They know and resent the implication they are ignorant of the West. Top diplomats, at least once Vice Premier and economists speak fluent English and have been to the US surreptitiously, usually with the aid of South Korean church groups. If the North Koreans agree to send a delegation, it always means they see value in the activity for strengthening their national security. It never means they are seeking to explore fundamental changes to their system.

North Korea-Cambodia: Between 27 and 29 March, a high level North Korean delegation visited Phnom Penh for talks with the Prime Minister and his security ministers. North Korea's Vice Minister of the People's Armed Forces for External Affairs, General Pak Jae Gyong, led the nine-member delegation. The other members were not identified, but almost certainly were military.

Cambodian state-controlled media outlets reported that General Pak's visit was "unofficial." Telecasts of Pak's meetings showed him in militant uniform, but reported the two countries agreed to develop relations in the economic and trade sectors.

Comment: This visit apparently represents a new initiative in Southeast Asia to sell weapons. North Korean generals in uniform do not negotiate trade deals… ever. The way the government is organized makes it impossible.

No news services provided details of the discussions, but SCUD short range ballistic missiles are the one of the few weapons North Korea can and would be willing to sell that Cambodia cannot get from any other source. A SCUD capability would enable Cambodia to hold Bangkok hostage in border firefights, which the Thai usually win on the ground.

The North has been marketing weapons in Southeast Asia, succeeding in selling a SCUD factory to Burma. The last time a North Korean  military delegation visited Cambodia was in 1995.

Burma (Myanmar): For the record. Senior General Than Shwe last week disbanded the ruling junta. Today the regime announced his retirement from active duty. "The senior general and vice-senior general, General Maung Aye, have retired already," a Myanmar official told the media. "They are going to have a rest now," the official said.

Comment: An ex-general is the new president. Thus, the military will continue to control the government, as occurred for decades in Indonesia. Two of the world's most brutish men have relinquished day-to-day management of Burma.

Afghanistan: Special comment: The demonstrations over the burning of the Quran in Florida have lasted for three days and resulted in tens of dead and injured in at least three major towns. Some have blamed the deaths on an American for exercising his First Amendment rights, implicitly exonerating those who actually did the killing. 

A search indicates that no muslims have denounced the killings. The threat in Afghanistan is not from Quran burnings, but from people who use them or any incident to incite violence against foreigners and other Afghan muslims.  The Afghan leaders know that riots in Jalalabad and Kandahar are about control of those cities, not about protesting disrespect for the Quran. The book burning always serves as a pretext for violence already planned. US statements of condemnation about the exercise of a constitutionally protected US right always aid the Taliban.

Yemen: Update. On Sunday, one person was killed and some 830 were injured in government attempts to control thousands of demonstrators in multiple cities. On 4 April, 15 people were killed and hundreds wounded by government security forces in the town of Taiz.

Comment: Aside from the increased number of dead and wounded, the situation has not changed.

Egypt: A Muslim Brotherhood spokesman said the United States was interfering with the Egyptian revolution by trying to determine the political outcome in his country, Al Arabiya reported. The spokesman said the United States was biased, hypocritical and making fatal mistakes. The United States should listen to people, not regimes, he said.

Comment: The NightWatch hypothesis is that the Brotherhood and the Egyptian Army have made common cause to block any fundamental political changes in Egypt. Such an alliance explains the foreign policy shift towards Iran. The Brotherhood, for now, is the voice of the new Egypt that needs to be studied.

Egypt-Iran: Egypt is ready to re-establish diplomatic ties with Iran after a break of more than 30 years, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby said on 4 April. Elaraby's statement came after a meeting with Iranian official Mugtabi Amani, the first meeting between officials from both countries since the departure of former President Mubarak.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi called for developing bilateral cooperation, beginning with having Elaraby visit Tehran or having himself visit Cairo, an Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said.

Comment: What is unclear is whether the shift towards Iran is an idiosyncratic move by an unrestrained foreign minister, or whether it is the considered policy of the Supreme Military Council. If the latter, the armed forces leadership is putting at risk its supply line from the United States, which would seem suicidal, for no gain from Iran. No faction in the uprising of the past two months advocated closer ties to Iran.

Libya: Libya's acting foreign minister has traveled to Greece and Turkey on a diplomatic mission. The Libyan regime was "searching for a solution," Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas said, but he provided no details of his meeting with acting Foreign Minister Abdulati al-Obeidi. Droutsas added that his government would inform "all our partners and allies" about the Libyan proposals.

Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi arrived in Ankara on 4 April for talks with Turkish diplomats on the situation in Libya, Anatolia reported.

Two of Qadhafi's sons proposed that they head a new parliamentary government. The rebels rejected any peace deal that would result in Qadhafi's sons ruling the country. A Transitional National Council spokesman said Qadhafi and his sons have to leave before diplomatic negotiations can take place.

The battlefield situation has not changed.

Coalition Update.

Italy became the third nation to extend diplomatic recognition to the Benghazi government, after France and Qatar.

The Swedes announced they were deploying three fighters to help enforce the no-fly zone.

Ivory Coast/Cote d'Ivoire: Forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo kidnapped at least two French citizens from the Novotel hotel in the Plateau neighborhood of Abidjan, French media reported. The two French citizens were the director of the hotel and the chairman of the board of directors of the SIFCA agribusiness group. Three other people of unknown nationality were also kidnapped. A French helicopter immediately flew to the scene after the reported attack and kidnapping, but pro-Gbagbo forces had already left with the hostages.

The action by Gbagbo's fighters prompted President Sarkozy to reinforce the French force in Abidjan with another 150 soldiers and to order it to join the UN forces. UN forces immediately began to take action to protect civilians, including attacking military camps for Gbagbo's forces and Gbagbo's residence, which fell.

Comment: Gbagob's hold in Abidjan is weak and probably will not last the next few days. Hundreds, perhaps, thousands, have died in his bid to remain in power.

End of NightWatch for 4 April.

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