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NightWatch 20120904

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NightWatch

For the night of 4 September 2012

North Korea: North Korea's leadership has issued a directive to convene a second session of the Supreme People's Assembly five months after holding the first and normal annual meeting, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Wednesday.

"The Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People's Assembly Monday made public a decision on convening a session of the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA). According to the decision, the 6th Session of the 12th SPA is to be held in Pyongyang on 25 September."

Comment: The Supreme People's Assembly is the highest organ of government and the official legislature. It is ex officio not a Korean Workers' Party organization, though the membership in the two overlap, as in all communist systems. It convenes twice a year, in April and December, to more or less rubber stamp decisions of the Korean Workers' Party central organizations.

What is unique to this directive to convene is that no news services have reported that a Korean Workers' Party mass meeting preceded it. This seems to have none of the usual communist build-up.

That means it is important and is about the government. Not only are out-of-cycle SPA sessions rare -- bordering on unprecedented -- they are extraordinarily expensive because the hundreds of delegates must stop work and return to Pyongyang to vote.

This meeting probably will address the economic crisis in North Korea and its solutions. The requirement for approval by the SPA implies a change of direction or priorities. This might be Kim Jong Un's finest hour to date.

It is indisputable that the policies and priorities of Kim Chong-il have failed as guides for building a strong and prosperous state -- his stated goal. "Military first" has always been a policy for domestic economic disaster, even under Kim Il-song. Since 1996, if not earlier, it has been a policy of certain North Korean military disaster in any fight against the UN Command.

The new leadership apparently appreciates that it is time for changes, but is proceeding with caution. The SPA is not the forum for fundamental changes of policy. It is the appropriate for approving priority shifts, encouragement to work harder and limited experimentation with new ideas, such as local market experiments.

Pakistan: A suicide bombing targeted a US consulate vehicle convoy in Peshawar on Monday, killing at least two and injuring at least 18. Two US government officials and two Pakistani staff of the US consulate were injured and are receiving medical treatment, according to US officials.

Comment: US officials praised Pakistani security for its swift response. The questions NightWatch poses are how the attackers knew the timing, route and identity of vehicles containing US officials.

Usually there are three answers to the NightWatch questions. First is the attackers got lucky. Second is that incredibly incompetent US diplomatic security that puts American officials in Pakistan at constant risk. The third answer is insider dealings that betray US movement plans and routes … which also signifies incredibly inept US diplomatic security.

It is long past time for accountability. If State Department diplomatic security cannot protect the US Consulate in Peshawar, it must be closed.

Russia-US: Russian authorities blasted the US for a routine State Department criticism of Russia's compliance, or non-compliance with post-Cold War treaties limiting forces in Europe. This is a wake-up call to those who think US ties with Russia might be reset.

A Foreign Ministry press release said,

"It should be clear to everyone that there is and can be no return to the old schemes, and that one should talk about a fundamentally new accord which would take present-day realities into account. Nonetheless, unfounded reproaches are once again being hurled. We are in effect being accused of unwillingness to act to the detriment of our own interests."

This was the Russian Foreign Ministry's response to the 2011 Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments report published by the US Department of State on 31 August and the separate reports on compliance with the CFE Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the new START treaty.

"In its report, the US State Department continues to complain about Russia's noncompliance with the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). Our 2007 moratorium on compliance with the obligations under this treaty is described as "a wrong step", even though the US side itself, in the form of its previous administration, did everything it could to leave us with no other option," the Russian Foreign Ministry stressed.

"All this cannot but cast doubt on the sincerity of the assurances received from Washington about its readiness to proceed together with Russia towards agreement on all the issues relating to conventional weapons in Europe on a mutually acceptable basis."

The Russian Foreign Ministry also notes that the report mentions Russian military presence in Moldova and Georgia as an "unresolved issue". "If our US colleagues intend once again to weave the subject of conflicts into the fabric of new talks on conventional weapons, they knowingly doom them to failure; all the more so if US negotiating positions are based on the non-recognition of the new political realities in the Caucasus region," the Foreign Ministry says.

"On the whole, we regard the latest publication of the State Department report in which crusty old grievances are laid at Russia's door as counterproductive. We believe that it is more sensible to resolve issues that arise in the implementation of arms control agreements at bilateral consultations between experts, where one cannot get away with unfounded allegations," the press release said.

Comment: Today's statement represents the tems of any reset of US-Russian relations before or after the US elections. The Russia of 2007 and the US of 2007 are not comparable to the Russia and US of 2012. The Russians are preparing a conventional force breakout from the limits agreed in the past. They detect weakness in American negotiators.

Syria: Syria has begun mobilizing reserve officers and soldiers in increasing numbers, an indication that the Syrian army has come under increasing stress in the ongoing civil conflict. Reservists who fled the country said thousands had been called up, but many are instead failing to report to duty or joining the exodus from the country.

Comment: Some news services have interpreted mobilization of reservists as a sign of weakness. In fact it is normal for a country that is engaged in conflict to replace losses. Thus it means the Syrian forces have sustained losses. It also means the government can still mobilize manpower, which is not a sign of terminal weakness.

The observation that many of the men recalled to service failed to report is tedious. That occurs in every army, including the US during unpopular wars. During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the Syrian Army issued calls for draftees and reservists to report twice, because no one responded to the first draft summons. Even the second recall failed.

Syrian doctrine is that the army should reach full mobilization strength in 13 days. It has never achieved that goal, despite Soviet assistance under Hafez al Asad. Thus, the failure of reservists and draftees to report is no big deal. The fact that the government needs more men is completely predicable. What is most noteworthy is the government has manpower reserves that it has not previously tapped.

A second sign of Syrian resilience is the government's defiant statement that it would not negotiate with protestors and opposition until the army and security forces restore order. This means it does not see the situation as bleak as western media portray it. The opposition's proposal for a Marshal Plan for Syria, i.e., more external intervention, does not strengthen its claims for holding its own.

Syria-Russia: Russian media reported today that Russian Navy plans for the mission at Tartus, Syria, include provisions for the possible evacuation of Russian specialists. "Large landing ships from a Russian Navy joint squad of warships did in fact enter Tartous (sic) for this purpose in early August, where they were fueled and stocked with supplies. However, they did not take any equipment or people aboard."

Under the plan, in case the crisis in Syria worsens further, people, weapons, documentation and most valuable equipment would be delivered to Novorossiysk. "All the rest would have to be destroyed by explosion or burned by a special squad," a source said.

After being loaded, the Northern Fleet's large landing ships Alexander Otrakovsky, Georgy Pobedonosets and Kondopoga were to head for Novorossiysk where they would unload the people and equipment evacuated from Tartous. The Black Sea straits, the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, were booked for August 11-12 well in advance.

Nevertheless, analysts from the Situation Center of the Russian Army General Staff assessed the developments and concluded that the military political situation in Syria, where government forces have managed to keep the situation under control, is quite stable and for now there is no threat to the naval base.

Comment: According to Russian media reporting, the Russian Navy base, N720, has existed in the Syrian port of Tartus since 1977 (an agreement on its opening was signed in 1971) and is currently the only Russian military asset outside the former USSR.

It consists of two floating berths, a couple of warehouses, a barracks, and several onshore buildings. The Black Sea Fleet has a permanent floating workshop there which rotates every six months. The coastal staff consists of no more than 50 sailors.

Apparently, the sailors are going nowhere, which is a minor vote of confidence in the Asad government.

Egypt: President Mohamed Mursi has so far deftly maneuvered Egypt into the mainstream of regional diplomacy, without simultaneously antagonizing the US or Gulf Arab states. Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center said, "He is playing a delicate balancing act in that he is giving different things to different sides and it has been quite impressive for someone who isn't tested on the world stage.

Comment: Shadi Hamid's comments are cheerleading because Egypt is an economic basket case that relies on Saudi generosity to make its monthly payments. As far as US interests are concerned, Mursi is not a dependable US ally, as was Mubarak. Some consider that progress, others disagree.

President Mursi has appointed 10 new governors, four of them leading members of his fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamist-led upper house of parliament, the Shura Council, also appointed ultraconservative Islamists as members of state-run human rights and media councils.

Comment: This week media outlets reported that three Egyptian female TV news personalities have decided to wear the hijab, Islamic head covering, while on the air. In NightWatch's experience around the world, the women may be relied upon to sense and manifest the direction of the country, from the Far East to the Middle East. Egypt is trending gradually towards an Islamist state.

Mali: The radical Islamists who control northern Mali appear incapable of managing basic services - including electricity, water and schools - and in some cases are asking for the return of state functionaries to run them."

The militants are incapable of running or maintaining any basic infrastructure. This became evident when a group of "concerned citizens" who recently met with them found themselves on the receiving end of "demands from the Islamists that the government in Bamako send back bureaucrats to run state services.

Comment: The Islamists with Al Qaida ties continue to abuse "the local population with a brutal application of Sharia, including public beatings, amputations and a stoning death. They have no interest in or idea about running a government. They simply want to tell others how to behave.

What is left of the Malian Army, divided by the military coup, has made no move to dislodge them after five months of occupation. A French-backed African Union force eventually will oust the Islamists, with overwhelming local support. The total ineptitude the Islamists indicates their dominance is a painful, but transitory interlude. Their fate, one way or another, is to die in the desert.

End of NightWatch for 4 September.

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