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NightWatch 20120319

NightWatch

For the Night of 19 March 2012

Administrative note: This is an abbreviated NightWatch owing to the challenges of air travel.

North Korea: North Korea invited the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on 16 March to visit the country, an IAEA spokeswoman said 19 March.

North Korea's planned launch of the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite does not violate the country's agreement with the United States, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), on 19 March.

Comment: Taken together these two statements look like carrot and stick diplomacy. While North Korean leaders deliberately operate that way, they genuinely judge that they have the right to launch a satellite. Their emphasis is on the satellite, not the rocket needed to put it in space.

A useful riposte would be to approve the satellite program, but suggest that Russia or China put it in orbit. That would assure a much higher probability of placing a satellite in orbit. The North will likely reject that suggestion and will launch a satellite.

Syria: Opposition fighters using machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades fought regime forces in the al-Mezze district of Damascus on March 19, according to multiple press accounts. The rebel Free Syrian Army claimed 80 people were killed, including 50 government personnel.

Comment: Monday's fighting was the first report of gunfights in Damascus. The bombings on Sunday of key government buildings, including the criminal police headquarters and the air security intelligence center, displayed far better intelligence and operational effectiveness than previously. These attacks are indicators of a significant opposition infrastructure in Damascus about which the government apparently was unaware. These attacks were major security lapses.

The effectiveness of the government's responses and the ability of the opposition to sustain operations in Damascus will be key factors indicating whether this new front threatens the government.

End of NightWatch for 19 March.

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