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NightWatch 20130911

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NightWatch

For the night of 11 September 2013

Japan-China: Update. Seven Chinese Coast Guard ships entered Japanese-claimed waters near the Senkaku island chain one day before the one-year anniversary of Japan's purchase of them.

Comment: The Chinese taunted the Japanese with this display: Japan owns the islands, but China rules the waves.

North Korea: According to 38 North at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, satellite imagery of the Yongbyon nuclear complex on 31 August shows white steam rising from a building that houses steam turbines and electric generators. The electric power generation building is located near the reactor hall.

The reactor generates electricity by using the heat from the nuclear reaction in the core to create steam that spins the turbines. The white color and the volume of the plume are indicators that steam is being vented because the electrical power generating system is about to become operational. That, in turn, indicates that the reactor is in or nearing operation.

Comment: With the Yongbyon reactor operational, North Korea should be able to produce plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) for use in nuclear weapons. The latest imagery report indicates that the North's line of parallel economic and nuclear development is genuine, at least for the nuclear industry.

Russia-Iran: Russian President Putin will offer to supply S-300 air defense missile systems to Iran and to build a second reactor at the Bushehr nuclear plant, according to Kommersant newspaper. Putin will meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on 13 September at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Kyrgyzstan.

Comment: The Russians canceled a prior sale of this system to Iran for geo-political and financial reasons. Today's news report is no guarantee that a new contract will be signed or that the system will ever show up in Iran. Even if a new deal is reached, an operational S-300 air defense system in Iran probably is years away.

The news leak is timed to influence the strategic calculations related to Syria. Russia is advancing its interests by standing by its associates. At the same time it is making itself consequential in the resolution of critical, potentially escalatory problems in the Middle East. Consequential in this context means that the problems cannot be solved without involving Russia.

That has not been the case since the so-called Arab Spring started. One view is that the Russians felt duped and deceived by the West in the Libyan operation in which a no-fly zone morphed into tactical bombing attacks that led to the death of Qadhafi. Their engagement in Syria is aimed at preventing a repeat of the Libya experience and the loss of an ally. In this theory, the Russians will not allow a US-led coalition a free hand in Syria.

Russia-US: President Putin's opinion piece which was printed by the New York Times is well-written, well-reasoned and insufferable. After their invasion of Georgia in 2008 and operations in Chechnya, the Russians have no standing to lecture anyone about international law and the use of force.

However, Putin helped reset the discussion about the 21 August attack. He admitted that "poison gas" was used without specifying the agent. He wrote that there is reason to believe that the rebels executed the attack to provoke western intervention. He also said that the report of a rebel chemical attack against Israel cannot be ignored.

In attempting to manipulate the US leadership, he spotlighted the unsettling prospect that the Syrian opposition groups are doing the same. The other side of the story that the Russians credit more than US is that the Syrian opposition groups are not gallant freedom fighters in any civilized sense.

Russia-US-Syria: For the record. Russian news agencies quoted a Russian source as saying: "We handed over to the Americans a plan to place chemical weapons in Syria under international control. We expect to discuss it in Geneva."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry and their delegations are scheduled to meet in Geneva on 12 September to discuss the proposal.

Comment: The Russians evidently do have a plan. Meanwhile, the UN Secretary General said the UN report of findings on the 21 August attack would be available next Monday, the 16th

If the Syrian government judged it needed chemical weapons to defeat the opposition groups, it would seem unwise to agree to place them under international control pending destruction. Asad's advisors apparently judge they can win without these weapons provided the US does not intervene. Hmm...

Egypt: Update. At least six soldiers were killed in a double suicide bomb attack in Northern Sinai. Another 10 soldiers and seven civilians were wounded by the blasts in Rafah.

The first suicide bomber drove a car at high speed into the two-storey military intelligence headquarters in the Imam Ali area of Rafah. Shortly afterwards, another suicide bomber blew up an explosives-filled car next to an army checkpoint.

Comment: Thus far well-publicized Egyptian Army operations seem to be having little effect.

End of NightWatch for 11 September.

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