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NightWatch 20130610

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NightWatch

For the night of 10 June 2013

South Korea-North Korea: South Korea and North Korea agreed on 10 June to hold high-level talks in Seoul on 12 and 13 June, according to an official in South Korea's Ministry of Unification. They reached agreement after 17 hours of working-level talks at P'anmunjo'm.

The North Koreans broadcast a press release to domestic and international audiences.

"The North and the South held working-level contact between authorities of the North and South at P'anmunjo'm from 9 to 10 June 2013. "

"1. The talks between authorities of the North and South were agreed to be held in Seoul from 12 to 13 June."

"2. The talks were agreed to be named The Talks Between Authorities of the North and the South."

"3. It was agreed to discuss at the talks immediate and urgent matters concerning North-South relations, including the issue of normalizing the Kaeso'ng Industrial Zone, the issue of resuming Mt Ku'mgang tourism, the issue of reuniting separated families and their relatives and other humanitarian issues; the issue of jointly commemorating the announcement dates of the 15 June and the 4 July declarations; and the issue of working toward non-governmental visits, contacts, and cooperative projects."

"4. Each delegation to the talks was agreed to comprise five members, with the North side's delegation headed by a minister-level person in authority."

"5. It was agreed that the North side's delegation would travel via an overland route on the west coast."

"6. It was agreed that additional working issues would be discussed via a liaison channel in P'anmunjo'm."

Comment: The South Korean press release is substantially the same, but slightly less detailed as to the topics for discussion. These will be the first high level talks since 2007.

The North Koreans released the press summary in Korean and English. It is rare for North Korea to publicize to its domestic audience the results of negotiations. That suggests that the leadership wants the population to be prepared for South Koreans visiting the North and for the resumption of the joint projects suspended in late winter, especially the 123 plants at Kaesong.

Pakistan: In response to two US drone attacks since taking his oath of office last week, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif issued an official statement after his first cabinet meeting. "The policy of protesting against drone strikes for public consumption, while working behind the scenes to make them happen, is not on."

He told the cabinet that drone attacks were a violation of national sovereignty and the government "had chalked out a policy" to counter them. He said it was a matter of concern that after he took charge of the government' drone attacks were launched which was not acceptable in any way

Comment: Over the weekend, the new government summoned the US Ambassador to deliver an official protest. The statements at the cabinet meeting signify that the new government will go beyond issuing pro forma protests. Sharif has a policy in mind and changes are likely.

Sharif also ordered a 30% cut in the staff of the Prime Minister to set an example for the rest of the cabinet whom he ordered to cut 30% of non-developmental expenditures. He told the cabinet to set priorities consistent with his guidance and report back to him in two weeks on how to revive the economy. He also advised that those who fail will be replaced.

Afghanistan: Taliban fighters firing from atop an unfinished building attacked the NATO Command headquarters on the northern side of Kabul's international airport early Monday. Two attackers died from detonating suicide vests. After a four hour gun battle, Afghan security forces killed the remaining five attackers. Two civilians suffered minor injuries, but there were no casualties among the foreign troops on the base or the Afghan security forces. The attackers never entered the headquarters or the air base.

Comment: The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack whose target, they said, was the NATO headquarters. This attack was a poorly planned failure. The Afghans managed it without US or NATO assistance, according to the press reports.

Iraq: Monday was another surge day for attacks. A wave of car bombings and attacks in Mosul, Baghdad and other towns killed at least 70 people. Attackers targeted market-goers in the morning and police and army posts after sunset.

Comment: Knowledgeable local commentators attributed most of the attacks to Sunni militias. No group, however, has claimed responsibility for them.

Turkey: Prime Minister Erdogan will meet with a group of protesters occupying Istanbul's central Taksim Square this week, the deputy prime minister said Monday. Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the government would no longer tolerate 'illegal acts,' and indicated that the occupation of Taksim Square and Gezi Park would be over by the weekend.

Comment: Several local reporters said that most of the protests ended over the weekend, except in Istanbul. The unions went back to work. Erdogan's meeting does not signify a softening of his hardline policy against the protestors. He seems to judged the protests as a personal affront.

Syria: The Syrian Army has begun an operation to retake the city of Aleppo in northern Syria and its surrounding area from rebels, according to the pro-government news outlet al-Watan. Named "Operation North Storm," the effort began on 8 June with troops advancing toward the towns of Hraytan, Kafr Hamra and Atareb north, east and west of Aleppo.

Another operation was reported to have begun against Homs in west central Syria. Hizballah units support both operations.

Comment: The locations of the towns near Aleppo indicate government and Hizballah forces intend to encircle Aleppo. No details of operations near Homs have been reported.

Israel-Syria-Russia: On 7 June, President Putin suggested that Russia could replace departing Austrian peacekeeping forces on the Golan Heights, if all the regional powers are interested and the UN asked.

Defense and Foreign Ministry sources said Russia is ready to allocate a specially trained airborne-assault battalion of 300 men supported by Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters to a peacekeeping mission if ordered by the President.

The UN thanked the Russians but turned down the offer.

Comment: The Russian were offering to replace the 377 Austrian soldiers who are departing this week because of an engagement on the Heights on the 6th when a band of Syrian opposition fighters seized an Austrian checkpoint. Two UN troops were injured before Syrian government soldiers retook the checkpoint. The Austrians, like the Croatians in February, decided the security situation is too dangerous to guarantee the safety of their soldiers.

The UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Golan Heights is authorized 1,000 soldiers, but was reduced to just over 900 when the Coatians left. Indian and Philippine soldiers make up the remaining two thirds of the force.

The Russian offer appears to have been genuine. A Russian brigade has been formed to support peacekeeping commitment. However, President Putin knew it would be rejected because a Syrian and Israeli agreement prohibits peacekeepers from the armed forces of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. Putin was striking a Russian pose: Russia is willing to put boots on the ground to restore peace, but the West is not..

The offer is another manifestation of Russian aggressiveness in taking advantage of cheap opportunities to look consequential in international security affairs, in essence appearing to step into a great power vacuum. Last week, media covered the enlarged Russian naval force in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Libya: For the record. Effective 1 June, the "Cyrenaica", the eastern region of Libya, began functioning as a semi-autonomous state in a federal Libya. "Cyrenaica is a federal territory within the framework of the Libyan state, and as of Saturday June 1st, will start to run its own affairs," said Cyrenaica council chief Ahmed Zubair al-Senussi, speaking in the eastern city of Marj.

In late May 3,000 tribal and community leaders from eastern Libya agreed to separate from the Tripoli government and establish a semi-autonomous government responsible for eastern Libya, with Benghazi as the capital. The break-away council established its own bicameral parliament, news agency and military forces.

Comment: The national government in Tripoli still has forces in the east that are ostensibly responsive to its control. Local militias paid by the Tripoli government dominate Benghazi's security situation. Their lawlessness is one of the driving factors in the campaign to setup a separate government and defense force in the east…to disarm the militias who are primarily Islamist.

On Saturday, clashes involving a pro-Tripoli government militia and anti-militia protestors resulted in 31 dead, prompting the Libyan army chief of staff to submit his resignation.

The new eastern government exerted no control on Saturday's clashes. At least one central government official charged that the protestors were supporters of the campaign to declare Cyrenaica a semi-autonomous state.

It is unclear how much authority the eastern government has, but the Tripoli government has almost none in the east. The militias are unrestrained in Benghazi. Al Qaida associates have a strong enclave on the Cyrenaican coast and Libya continues to fragment.

End of NightWatch for 10 June.

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