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NightWatch 20111024

NightWatch

For the night of 24 October 2011

North Korea-US: Update. On Monday, 24 October, in Geneva, the US and North Korea began two days of talks whose purpose is to test whether substantive nuclear talks are worth pursuing. North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim traveled to the US mission for the first round of talks with an interagency team of American negotiators led by Ambassador Bosworth, the President's special envoy for North Korea.

Comment: Press reports last week indicated Ambassador Bosworth would introduce the parties, including his successor, and then withdraw.

The North's negotiating objectives seem rather clear: it needs money for the big bash in 2012. Preparations for the national celebration of the 100th birthday of  President Kim Il-sung are behind schedule. The North cannot and will not reach its national objective of achieving prosperity in 2012. It also might not have the resources to celebrate in the style it prefers without help from its enemies. Thus, it is looking to its enemies to help finance the birthday party.

North Korea has provided no signs of willingness to compromise on its nuclear program. Its requirement that talks be held without preconditions means that the North rejects the Allied stipulation that it show good faith in discussing nuclear issues before talks will be arranged. It also means that North Korean leaders reject any obligation to pay compensation for the South Korean sailors they killed in a ship attack last year or for the civilians they killed and the property their forces damaged in an artillery barrage against a South Korean island off the west coast. "No preconditions" means the North only needs to show up.

North Korean behavior tends to be counter-intuitive in another sense. The North's leaders do not accept that talks must be held in a peaceful environment. Historically, the opposite has been true, as during the series of negotiations leading to the Agreed Framework during the Clinton administrations. Thus, talks of any kind provide no assurance against North Korean provocations, missile launches or nuclear tests.

Talks mandate special vigilance by the Allies because the North's leaders feel compelled to use propaganda and provocations to communicate that their participation in talks is not a sign of weakness. This is a potentially dangerous form of paranoia in the leadership of a nuclear armed state.

North Korea-UN: The UN's top relief official said nuclear talks in Switzerland between the US and North Korea should avoid discussions of humanitarian assistance for the chronically hungry North Koreans. UN Undersecretary-General Valerie Amos visited North Korea last week for five days.

Comment: Amos told a South Korean press audience that malnutrition is chronic for six million North Koreans, but the North needs to do more to remove structural impediments to efficient agriculture and foreign investment. The UN tries to maintain the principle that humanitarian aid is separate from politics.

Afghanistan: Update. An Afghan presidential palace statement issued on 24 October said that President Karzai's comments that Afghanistan would support Pakistan in a war against the United States were misinterpreted and broadcast out of context. The correct context and accurate interpretation were not provided.

Meanwhile, an Afghan Loya Jirga, involving more than 2,000 delegates, will meet in Kabul between 16 and 20 November to deliberate the Afghan-US strategic cooperation pact and militant peace negotiations, Pajhwok news service reported. Attendees will include current and former lawmakers, provincial council members, civilian representatives, religious scholars and influential tribal elders, a spokesman said.

Comment: The timing of the Loya Jirga announcement suggests it was influenced by the announcement of the US withdrawal from Iraq. If so, the Loya Jirga manifests Afghan concern about the US end game in Afghanistan.

Turkey-Iraq: Early on the 24th a government spokesman said Turkish operations in northern Iraq had ended. Troops, tanks and other vehicles were headed back to Turkey. However, Reuters reported that Turkish tanks and armored vehicles crossed into northern Iraq on 24 October, heading for a Kurdish rebel camp about 12 miles from the border crossing point at Habur.

Comment: The Turks routinely maintain a regiment of 1,200 troops in northern Iraq to watch the Kurds. The latest incursion reportedly has involved 10,000 soldiers, roughly equal to a combined arms division.

The Kurdish rebels normally pull out of southern Turkey about this time to winter in northern Iraq. This Turkish operation appears crafted to destroy Kurdish rebel winter quarters as well as retaliate for recent Kurdish rebel attacks.

The requirement to provide extensive relief to the victims of the earthquake in eastern Turkey possibly has determined an earlier termination of operations than the General Staff might have preferred.

Kenya: Two terrorist or violent criminal attacks occurred in Nairobi on 24 October. An assailant hurled a grenade into a bar/nightclub early Monday morning, injuring a dozen people. Later there was an explosion at a bus stop that killed one civilian and injured eight.

Comment: Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the two attacks as retaliation for the Kenyan invasion of Somalia, but the culprits remain at large. The supposed al Shabaab retaliation looks puny relative to the amount of ground the Kenyan forces have covered thus far.

Kenya-France: French transport planes began flying supplies from Nairobi to an airport in northern Kenya, French Colonel Thierry Burkhard said on 24 October. Burkhard said the operation will be limited in scope and denied the 23 October statement from a Kenyan military spokesman that the French Navy attacked by sea a Somali town near an al Shabaab stronghold. The French Embassy issued a statement that there were no French warships in the vicinity.

Comment: At least the mystery of what Western country has been supporting the Kenyans has been solved, in part. The details of the French airlift remain secret.

The US announced today (24 October) that American drones also are supporting the Kenyans. On the other hand, the Somali government in Mogadishu announced, probably for public consumption, that it opposed the Kenyan incursion. It said it only wanted training and logistic support.

Over the weekend, US sources professed total surprise at the Kenyan operation. It is not credible that the French helped the Kenyans to prepare and execute a large military incursion into Somalia without US knowledge, liaison and support. A major problem would be language. The French role looks like a cover story to divert and defuse the international media.

Tunisia: A spokesman for the Ennahda Party, an Islamist party, claimed victory, meaning a plurality, in Sunday's elections and said it will form a coalition government with two secular parties. "We will spare no effort to create a stable political alliance ... We reassure the investors and international economic partners," Jlazzi said.

Sunday's vote was for an assembly which will sit for one year to draft a new constitution. It will also appoint a new interim president and government to run the country until general elections are held late next year or early in 2013. Official results are expected on 25 October.

Comment: Thus far, the Muslim nations continue to manifest two extremes of government. One variant is authoritarian government based on Islamic law. The other is monarchical

Turkey appears to hold the middle ground, but it continues to drift towards a more orthodox version of an Islamic republic, less extreme than Iran. Tunisia might be capable of formulating an entirely new model that tries to mix Islamic influences with secularism.

The Tunisian elections demonstrate that the role of Islam, or any religion or system of beliefs, in national politics may be determined by a plurality electoral victory by a minority party. This is a warning for Egypt because the Tunisian Islamists were the only nationally organized party, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Libya: Yesterday, 23 October, was Liberation Day in Libya, as announced by Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the Chairman of the Transitional National Council.

Comment: It is an important day, not only for its symbolism, but also because the declaration of Liberation Day activates the process for forming a new national government.

According to the 31 August Constitutional Declaration by the Transitional National Council, the declaration of Liberation Day starts the clock for the formation of the national government.

-within 30 days, the National Transitional Council must be installed in Tripoli, not Benghazi;

- 90 days after Liberation, the Council must establish procedures and set in motion the mechanisms for electing a Public National Conference;

- 240 days after Liberation, elections for a 200-member Public National Conference must take place. Upon the convening of the Public National Conference, the National Transitional Council is instantly dissolved, but the transitional government will continue to operate;

-30 days after its first session, the Public National Conference must appoint a prime minister and a new government plus appoint a Constituent Assembly for drafting a new constitution; and,

-60 days after the first session, Libya must hold a national referendum on the new constitution.

Concerning general elections, the Public National Conference is required to issue a general election law 30 days after its first session. General elections are to be held 180 days after that. Sometime in late 2012 general elections will be held, according to the Constitutional Declaration.

Nature of the new government. In English translation, the Constitutional Declaration is explicit that Sharia shall be the basis for Libyan law, but that leaves much room for interpretation. Yesterday, 23 October, Jalil provided some clarity and stated the priorities for the Transitional National Council.

In a speech to a cheering, flag-waving crowd, Jali promised to ban interest on housing loans and to scrap other laws that do not conform to Islamic jurisprudence.

"Any law that violates Sharia is null and void legally," he said, citing as an example the law on marriage passed during Qadhafi's 42-year tenure that imposed restrictions on polygamy, which is permitted in Islam. "The law of divorce and marriage... This law is contrary to Sharia and it is stopped," Abdel Jalil said.

In his speech, Abdel Jalil also announced the introduction of Islamic banking in Libya in keeping with Sharia which prohibits the earning of interest, or riba in Arabic, which is considered a form of usury.

Comment: Jalil seemingly has jumped the gun in making his proclamations because he appears to be usurping the authority of the political process detailed in the 31 August Constitutional Declaration.  

The blowback from Libyan women has been particularly strong and immediate. "It's shocking and insulting to state, after thousands of Libyans have paid for freedom with their lives, that the priority of the new leadership is to allow men to marry in secret," said Rim, a Libyan feminist . "We did not slay Goliath (Qadhafi) so that we now live under the Inquisition," she told Agence France-Presse.

The leaders of secular parties also expressed distress.

The timing of these announcements on Liberation Day raises questions about Jalil's judgment or the pressures he senses. The proclamations he made on Liberation Day -- about marriage and women's rights -- have no urgency in national life. The public media contain no explanations for his profession of faith.

More pressing issues include controlling and disbanding militias; surrender; collection and destruction of weapons; maintenance of order; restoration of the economy and the next steps in political development, according to many Libyan analysts and commentators.

Jalil is a Sufi follower, a sect that is tolerant of diversity in Islamic observance, which makes his fundamentalist announcement perplexing. He would set Libya on a path of Islamist observance in public life that is more fundamental than in Tunisia, Iraq or Egypt.

Potential Implications. Jalil's announcement is not the final word, but no group will be able to challenge the primacy of Sharia in Libya. Jalil is either more devout in his observance than he has led US diplomats to believe, or he is not a free actor. So, who or what group actually wields the political power in Libya?

The second implication is that Libyan republican democracy, in his interpretation, will be an atavistic male-dominated polity that will not respect women's rights or freedom of religion, as understood in the West. Jalil went out of his way to subject Libyan women to male dominance as prescribed by the Quran. His other proclamations would make Libya conform to the Iranian model of an Islamic republic more than to that of Turkey or Pakistan.

Third, extrapolating from Jalil's proclamations, Libya cannot help but be hospitable to Islamic warriors. Jalil's interpretation of Sharia would justify no government action to suppress Muslim jihadists. Libya might be on the path to becoming a state sponsor of international terror, again.

Finally, the revolution in Libya is a work in progress and Jalil's words are not the last words. His proclamations on Liberation Day do not represent what many Libyans and NATO were fighting for. A key indicator of Libya's direction will be the National Transitional Council's adherence to the provisions of the Constitutional Declaration, which is much more balanced than Jalil's proclamations.

Italy-EU: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said in a statement on 24 October that no EU nation can lecture another bloc member on how it deals with economic problems. Berlusconi's statement was his response to the EU deadline for Italy to enact credible austerity measures. He added that no one in the European Union could appoint himself commissioner and speak for elected European governments and citizens in order to give lessons to other EU members.

Comment: Italy is the 11th largest economy in the world, according to the CIA World Fact Book. It is one of the southern European dominos that could end up in default on sovereign debt, but not soon. Greece is in serious trouble, but a Greek default would be insignificant compared to an Italian default.

End of NightWatch for 24 October.

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