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NightWatch 20110512

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For the Night of 12 May 2011

North Korea-US: On 12 May the United States renewed its call for North Korea to release on humanitarian grounds an American citizen held for Christian proselytizing. "I know that our protecting power has been able to have access to him and to confirm his welfare. …We would just reiterate our call that North Korean authorities release him on humanitarian grounds."

A spokesman for the US State Department said Swedish diplomats have had consular access to the Korean-American on six occasions since March.

Comment: Today's statement coincides with the visit to North Korea this week by Rev. Franklin Graham to research food shortages and aid requirements. Graham already has met the North Korean Foreign Minister.

Obviously, if Graham returns with the detained American that would be a strong signal that the North is ready to do business with the US under some conditions. As yet no news services have reported that Graham will be accorded such an honor, as the North Koreans deem it.

The Rev. Billy Graham, Franklin's father, was admired by Kim Il-song for many years and was one of the last foreigners to see the late Kim alive in 1994. That connection explains Franklin Graham's access to North Korea and its leaders.

India-China-Pakistan: Indian intelligence agencies say they have credible evidence that several hundred Chinese working in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir are People's Liberation Army engineers, the Times of India reported 12 May.

According to the report, Indian intelligence agencies are verifying that the engineers are engaged with military construction projects, such as bunkers, and said the presence of military engineers in civilian construction activities carried out by China in other countries is "unusual," an intelligence source said. The information about the engineers was part of an assessment presented by the Indian Army to the Indian prime minister, defense minister and other senior officials weeks ago.

Comment: This is the first press report of Chinese military engineers in Pakistan's portion of Kashmir. Chinese engineers are working on road construction in far northern Pakistan which borders China, but no engineering agreements are known that cover Pakistani Kashmir.

India-Afghanistan: India has committed about $1.5 billion to Afghanistan for developmental assistance and plans to commit another $500 million over the next five years, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on 12 May. Priority areas for the aid will be social programs, agriculture and infrastructure, according to Singh

India strongly supports Afghanistan's peace and reconciliation efforts with the Taliban, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Afghan President Hamid Karzai during Singh's two-day visit to Kabul. Singh told Karzai and senior Afghan officials that New Delhi is Kabul's "neighbor and partner in development." He expressed support for Afghanistan's "unity, integrity and prosperity

Comment: The two news stores above help explain Pakistan's dogged support for the Taliban and other anti-Kabul movements and its anxiety about India. India supported the Northern Alliance of Uzbek and Tajik tribes against the Pashtun Taliban when Karzai still was working for the Taliban, before he switched sides.

The presence of Indian advisors and influence west of Pakistan confronts Pakistani strategists with the prospect of fighting on two fronts in a putative future war, with no strategic depth because Pakistan is so narrow. More importantly, the Indian Border Roads Organization (BRO) has thousands of workers and Indian Army engineers working on the "infrastructure" projects in Afghanistan about which Prime Minister Singh spoke. BRO seems to concentrate on improving the roads in Afghan provinces that border Pakistan.

Indian motives in helping Afghanistan are far from altruistic, just as are those of Iran. Both states have provided aid to the Northern Alliance and the Afghan government, based on their strategic calculations to restrain Pakistan and especially prevent it from annexing the Pashtun regions of Afghanistan.

Iran-Arab Spring: For the record. The head of the parliamentary Committee for National Security and Foreign Policy said on 12 May that the Iranian government was not dynamic in supporting regional uprisings. Alaeddin Boroujerdi said Iran's diplomatic system was not active enough initially but that the activity has started and Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has begun his regional visits. Although the government's steps to aid regional uprisings were delayed, Boroujerdi said it is good that such measures have started.

Comment: Iran was caught by surprise by the Arab cell-phone uprisings so much so that it was unable to support Shiite risings in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia as well as in Bahrain. Boroujerdi primarily was referring to these two regions, implying that Iran missed an opportunity to spread the dominion of Shia Islam to the western banks of the Persian Gulf.

The statement is an admission of an intelligence failure in Iran, coupled with hubris. No secular Arab uprisings, including in Syria, have looked to Iran for guidance.  Even the Alawite Baathists of Syria have little use for the wisdom of Persian ayatollahs. 

Bahrain: Update. Military Commander-in-Chief Marshal Sheikh Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said the Gulf Cooperation Council's forces will remain in Bahrain after emergency rule is lifted in June. He warned protesters of retaliation if they return to the streets.

Comment: The message behind the message is that the Sunni Arab monarchs will allow no Shiite takeover of Bahrain, no matter how much reform Bahrain's al Khalifa monarchs permit. Iran missed its opportunity. After Iraq, the Sunni Arab monarchs also apparently have decided to permit no further expansion of the Shiite apostasy and heresy, as they define it.

Syria: Update. Soldiers and tanks surrounded the central city of Hama on 12 May, a human rights activist said. President Bashar al Asad had a four-hour meeting with a delegation of Sunni clerics from the city, according to Syria's private Al-Watan newspaper.

Thirteen people were killed by army forces in Harra, a town near Daraa in southern Syrian, Al Jazeera reported. In addition, nine people were reportedly killed by a tank in Homs.

Comment: Press comments that 12 May was the bloodiest day of the uprising are naïve and inaccurate. The Alawite capacity for bloodletting is far greater than that. Up to 100 demonstrators were shot and killed on 22 April, the single day high reported in open source media.

Syrian authorities announced that they will not fire on peaceful demonstrators after prayers on 13 May. They did not say they would not fire on " terrorists" and "provocateurs".

Lebanon: Special Tribunal for Lebanon Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare acquired information that implicates Syrian officials in the 2005 assassination of then-Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. He has amended the indictment filed to the pre-trial judge, Hague sources said.

Bellemare held discussions with French officials several weeks ago asking for more cooperation with French security agencies and promised to provide the French information on the bombing attack on Beirut's seafront in exchange for access to the "Syrian masterminds" of the al-Hariri killing, French sources said.

Comment: This looks like a contrived effort to use the special tribunal to further delay formation of a Lebanese government under the leadership of Hezbollah, which would be strongly pro-Syria. It also takes advantage of Syrian preoccupation with internal instability problems, a ploy that does not advance respect for the tribunal. It could backfire by encouraging pro-Syrian groups to come to an agreement based on their common disdain for the special tribunal.

Egypt: The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's Abdel Moneim Abul Futuh announced he will run for president as an independent. Sobhi Saleh, a leading party figure in Alexandria, said Abul Futuh's decision runs counter to the Brotherhood's official stance on the race.

Comment: For months the Brothers have insisted that they would not field a candidate for the presidency, though they have announced candidates for at least half the seats in parliament. Their protests always seemed not sincere and not credible because this is the first time the Brothers have had any chance of stealing the Egyptian political system through the ballot box. The opportunity is too tempting to refuse.

Some polls indicate the Brothers cannot win the elections, though they are likely to make a good showing. Their electoral success will be a good benchmark of support for fundamentalist movements in the Egyptian electorate. If a Brother should become president of Egypt, the political landscape of the Middle East would change dramatically and become more hostile to the US and Israel.

Libya: For the record. NATO rejected Thursday claims it targeted North Korea's embassy in Libya during an overnight attack on a military compound in Tripoli. "Last night, NATO attacked a large command and control bunker complex in downtown Tripoli that was used to coordinate attacks against civilian populations and successfully hit the targets we were aiming at," an alliance official told Agence France-Presse.

"It has been alleged that NATO attacked the North Korean embassy; this is simply not true. In fact, the embassy is located some 500 metres (yards) from the target we struck."

"While we are aware of media reports that there was damage to the North Korean embassy, we have no knowledge of possible collateral damage" during the bombing, the official underlined.

Administrative note: Distribution of the 11 May edition was delayed owing to technical problems that now have been resolved. We regret any inconvenience.

End of NightWatch for 12 May.

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