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NightWatch 20110726

NightWatch

For the Night of 26 July 2011

South Korea-North Korea: On 26 July South Korean President Lee Myung Bak said his country will seek "principled dialogue" with North Korea, according to a presidential spokesman. Lee spoke while at a Cabinet meeting earlier in the day.

North Korea accepted a third round of talks with the South about the assets at the Mount Kumgang resort on condition that the South's delegation includes private businessmen. But it threatened to confiscate South Korean assets in the resort if Seoul uses the meeting to hinder negotiations on asset settlement. South Korea has proposed a meeting for Friday for the next round of talks on the future of the Mount Kumgang resort.

North Korea-US: The Korean Central News Agency published an official commentary that said, "Concluding a peace agreement may be the first step for settling the Korean issue including the denuclearization … Being a curtain-raiser to confidence- building, the conclusion of a peace agreement will provide an institutional guarantee for wiping out the bilateral distrust.

Comment: At least three channels of communications are active. They are North-South talks about nuclear talks; North-South talks about the Mount Kumgang resort and North-US talks about nuclear talks.

Regarding the Mount Kumgang resort, North Korean authorities supposedly intended to confiscate the South Korean assets at the resort after the last round of talks ended two months ago. The North is bluffing because it is desperate for helps. Thus, as is the North Korean negotiating custom, it is maneuvering - or trying to maneuver -- South Korea to negotiate over the same ground that has already been negotiated twice. This would be a comedy, except that the US is encourage South Korea to cooperate.

The North's appeal for a peace treaty is standard fare for two decades at least. The theme of showing trust is also shop-worn, but the North never abandons a good negotiating line, even though it is the party that broke trust when it sank a South Korean patrol ship and shelled a South Korean island

The North's leaders count on American desperation for a political success to force modification of "principled stands." At least one assistant secretary of State understands the North's tactics but he gets overruled.

The key point is that the North has made no changes, nor made any promise of changes to its behavior or its nuclear program. Its agents have agreed to talk about talks after a year of stonewalling negotiating initiatives.

These are extortion initiatives, not offers of progress towards any goals the US or South Korea hold. The North is desperate for basic necessities of all kinds. That condition should afford significant leverage to the Allies, but once again they appear to be rewarding the North just for agreeing to talk. 

Readers would be justified in concluding that the US and South Korea have abandoned last year's conditions for talks, which included more responsible North Korean behavior, apologies for atrocities and provocations, and real signs of compliance in ending the nuclear weapons program. Only Japan seems capable of maintaining a hard line against North Korea.

China-US: In an op-ed piece published in the New York Times on 26 July, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff urged a more open dialogue between the United States and China to build a new era of 'strategic trust' and clear away the 'misunderstanding and suspicion' that defines the relationship between the militaries of the two nations. "A good bit of misunderstanding between our militaries can be cleared up by reaching out to each other," Admiral Mike Mullen wrote.

Comment: The Admiral stated the US point of view but the Chinese point of view is very different. For outreach to work to avoid misunderstanding, the two world views need to be congruent.  They are not and are not likely to become so.

In Colin Thubron's tedious book, Shadow of the Silk Road, on pages 48-50 the author relates a conversation with a Chinese friend - an English language professor -- who had become an associate dean at a university in Lanzhou, China. Thubron is fluent in Chinese national language, as well as Russian and several other languages.

The professor told Thubron, "The trouble is this. You can't relate Chinese life in English language. Because nothing really translates. (sic.) Not culture. Not politics or even the everyday. The words don't fit. The concepts aren't there…. The foundation of language is thought. How can we think in English?"

Lesson for new intelligence analysts: The American predilection to believe that everything is possible with good will is peculiar. It is undermined by language as a manifestation of culture, not just Chinese. Outreach and openness cannot by themselves remove misunderstanding and suspicion when the concepts are not translatable. 

Cross-cultural understanding is immeasurably difficult. It is a constant trap for new analysts who are tempted to say and actually believe they know how a target person in an alien culture thinks.

Outreach and openness have intensified Chinese suspicions of US intentions and Chinese determination to learn everything they can from the US in order to defend themselves. The professor in Lanzhou also observed that China must become like the US if it is to communicate with the US and the Chinese do not want to change that way.

India-Pakistan: On 26 July, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir met with Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao in New Delhi. Ms. Rao told reporters that the talks, which lasted a few hours, were essentially a preparatory round.

Other news sources speculated that the foreign secretaries' meeting focused on confidence-building measures including cross-border trade and visa protocols before the countries' foreign ministers meet Wednesday, 27 July.

Comment: Today's meeting was preparatory for the grip-and-grin meeting in which the new Pakistani Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, meets her Indian counterpart, Minister of External Affairs S.M. Krishna. Nothing of substance will transpire, especially considering the weakness of the Pakistani civilian government.

India deserves credit for working to maintain regional stability in agreeing to meet the new Pakistani minister so soon after the 13 July bombings in Mumbai.

Afghanistan: During this Watch, The mayor of the Kandahar, Ghulam Haidar Hameedi, has been killed in a suicide attack, officials reported. This is the third high-profile murder this month.

Afghan government forces will never be capable of protecting senior officials much less capable of taking responsibility for the security of cities or provinces. That is the message the Taliban are sending, persuasively.

The attacker detonated explosives in his turban as the mayor made an address in courtyard of the city hall, police told AFP news agency.

Iraq-Iran-US: Iran's increased arming of Shiite militant groups in southern Iraq is meant to create a "Beirut-like moment" by inflicting mass casualties on U.S. forces and send the message that they have expelled the United States from Iraq, U.S. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey testified to Congress on 26 July, citing his Iraqi contacts and other intelligence sources.

When asked what Iran should know about the plan, Dempsey said it would be a mistake on Iran's part to proceed without considering the U.S. response to Iran's aggression. Dempsey is the Obama administration's nominee to chair the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Comment: Tough talk. Strategists from Sun-zi to Liddell-Hart have cautioned against under-estimating an enemy. The Iranians have succeeded in installing the world's second Shiite-dominated government in Iraq, by not interfering with the application of US democratic precepts.

They are sophisticated and clever by any modern standards. They will do nothing to prolong the US military presence in Iraq. They need to send no message that has not already been sent resoundingly: Shiites control Baghdad.

There is zero probability that Iran would undertake at any time a "Beirut-like moment," considering that US forces will be out of Iraq in December 2011. Whoever credited and supplied such so-called "intelligence" did the US general a disservice and misunderstands Iran's goals and its appreciation of its achievements.

Syria-Israel: "Syrian leader Bashar Assad must step down," Israel's president declared Tuesday, sending his message to Israel's neighbor at an unprecedented news conference with Arab media. Israel's government has largely kept quiet as anti-government protests swept the Arab world in recent months.

Comment: The Israeli president needs to be careful what he asks for. A fundamentalist Sunni triumph in Syria would compound the threat from Iran exponentially. The destruction of Israel is a goal on which many Sunnis and Shiites, Arabs and Persians can come together.

The Sunni uprising against the Alawites in Syria has provided more security to Israel than anything since before the disastrous 2006 invasion of Lebanon. It has been a major setback to Iran and its proxies in Lebanon and Gaza.

The Israeli president no doubt wants to position Israel to be on both sides of the Syrian fight by showing sympathy for the Sunni activists or at least putting political distance between Jerusalem and Damascus.

Even Syrian experts recognize the Syrian opposition is too weak and the security forces too loyal for regime change to occur soon. Bashar al Asad is the figurehead for the Alawite military and political elite. A sock puppet would serve their purposes as well. If the Alawites fall in Damascus, the peril to Israel will be imminent, constant and close, with Persian support.

Egypt: Egypt's top reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei called Tuesday for the formation of a broad coalition of political forces, including the Islamists, to contest the first elections since the ouster of President Mubarak.

The call by the Nobel Peace laureate, whose supporters some have credited as important in Egypt's uprising three months ago, reflects growing concerns of less-organized opposition groups about a big win for the well-organized Islamists, primarily the Muslim Brotherhood.

Comment: For a generation, Egypt has had two parties, the government party and the outlawed Brotherhood. Before that there was the Nasser tradition. Egypt has no experience with democracy and no political culture of pluralism.

The government party is disbanded and that leaves only the Brotherhood and the military as organized mass political institutions, plus the professional government bureaucracy. El Baradei has not yet shown or been allowed to show the leadership skills to create broad coalition he advocates.

Only the Brotherhood seems capable of filling the political vacuum created by Mubarak's overthrow. The irony is that the Brotherhood is part of the Mubarak system -- the anti-Israel and anti-secular side.

Libya-Russia: For the record. A Russian Emergencies Ministry aircraft will deliver 36.2 tons of humanitarian aid to Tripoli, Interfax reported, citing the ministry. An Il-76 aircraft left the Ramenskiy airfield at 9 a.m. Moscow time carrying tinned milk products, baby food, sugar and rice for residents.

Comment: The Russians see profit in what US Admiral Mullen described today as a stalemate between Qadhafi and NATO, as if the US were not part of NATO? Russian action and Mullen's comment are extraordinary. Russia is working to ensure the survival of the Qadhafi regime, more to embarrass NATO than out of any affection for Qadhafi.

Libya-The International Criminal Court (ICC): The international criminal court dismissed suggestions by Britain and France that Colonel Qadhafi could be allowed to remain in Libya as part of a negotiated deal to remove him from power.

The Court insisted that a new government would be obliged to arrest Qadhafi under warrants issued by the Court. The ICC, which Britain and France have signed up to, said that Qadhafi could not be allowed to escape justice.

Comment: The timing of the Court's statement of its position is infelicitous for peace talks and adds new complications to Qadhafi's condition that he and his family not be held accountable for anything. It is probably best to ignore the Court and bring the fight to closure before NATO runs out of supplies.

Women's Rights in the Islamic World:

Egypt: Fifteen Egyptian groups called on 26 July for women's rights to be guaranteed in the new constitution. "We are not proposing a new constitution, but we want women's rights to be included," Amina ElBendary, a professor of Arab and Islamic Civilization at the American University in Cairo, told a news conference.

Saudi Arabia: Despite arrests, beatings and harassment by male officials, some Saudi women persist in driving automobiles. The BBC reported more than 1,000 women want to drive and nearly 200 are willing teachers. The women have the power to effect change in Islam, if they want it.

Afghanistan: Nine women and 60 men are members of the government delegation making contact with the Taliban to preserve the legal gains women have achieved because of the US intervention. The women delegates have come under criticism from Afghan women for not being assertive enough among the male delegates! The Afghan women never want to experience the Taliban again and are assertive about their feelings.

End of NightWatch for 26 July.

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