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NightWatch 20091117

NightWatch

For the Night of 17 November 2009

North Korea: The North Korean government said that it will continue to make improvements in relations with South Korea, Yonhap reported 17 November, citing an editorial in the Korean Central News Agency. North Korean leader Kim Chong-Il has called improving relations with North Korea an "urgent" matter. The report added that North Korea has taken a number of bold actions for reconciliation and cooperation, such as lifting border traffic restrictions and reunions of separated families.

The message behind the message is that the clash in the West Sea has not derailed the latest episode of opening. The NightWatch hypothesis is the North is desperate for South Korean help.

North Korea-China: For the record. Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping on Tuesday hailed the traditional friendly bilateral ties with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and pledged to further such relations.

"In the new era, China attaches great importance to the traditional friendly ties between the two peoples and military forces," Xi told Kim Jong Gak, member of the DPRK National Defense Commission.

The Chinese Party and government cherish the traditional China-DPRK friendship which was initiated and fostered by the older generation of leaders of the two countries, Xi said during the meeting at the Great Hall of the People in downtown Beijing.

"We always regard such a relationship a common treasure shared by the two peoples," Xi told Kim, also first vice-director of the General Political Department of the Korean People's Army.

Although Chinese political relations with North Korea ebb and flow, the military ties remain durable and consistent.

Pakistan: Security. One of the most wanted Pakistani Taliban leaders told the BBC that he has fled to Afghanistan and is planning new attacks on Pakistani forces. Maulana Fazlullah founded the Swat Taliban to enforce a hardline version of Islamic law.

The government at first accepted his demands, but later accused the militants of reneging on a peace deal and sent troops into Swat Valley. Maulana Fazlullah was said by officials to have been wounded or killed in July. I have reached Afghanistan safely," Maulana Fazlullah told BBC Urdu yesterday.

The significance of this is that it represents an admission that pressure from government forces is working to disrupt whatever passes for normal living conditions for some Pakistani Taliban leaders in the northwest. This tends to support government claims today of progress in the counter insurgency.

Today Major General Abbas, the top military spokesman, said Pakistani forces have captured most of the towns in South Waziristan and disrupted the rebel food supply by controlling the roads, "The myth has been broken that this was a graveyard for empires and it would be a graveyard for the army," Abbas told reporters.

Since the campaign began, Abbas said 500 Pakistani Taliban have been killed and 70 government soldiers. The next phase is to begin off-road sweeps.

Politics. Prime Minister Gilani said on Tuesday that President Zardari is ready to relinquish the powers to appoint services chiefs and to dissolve parliament under Article 58(2b) of the constitution. The prime minister made the comments while addressing reporters during a visit to Dera Ismail Khan, where he met internally displaced persons (IDPs) from South Waziristan. "The president is already willing to give up these powers," he said.

The powers mentioned were important elements in Musharraf's program to reshape the national executive authority by creating a strong President who took power away from the Prime Minister and the National Assembly (the lower house of the Pakistani parliament).

Zardari promised to relinquish those powers as a condition of his presidency, but has reneged for more than a year. His popularity is now so low that he is under pressure to honor his earlier pledge as a condition to remain in office and it might not be enough.

The chain of statements in the past several months about his readiness to accept a ceremonial presidency appears related to behind the scenes bargaining to allow him to remain in office. The National Reconciliation Ordinance expires on 30 November. This holdover from the Musharraf presidency suspended the ban on Zardari's participation in public office because he is a convicted criminal. But for the Ordinance, he could not constitutionally serve as president.

Thus, his few political supporters and the Prime Minister appear to be dangling the terms of a deal that would promote stability and continuity by allowing Zardari to remain president, but would removed him from most decision making. Meanwhile, he technically only has 13 days left.

Iran-IAEA: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors who gained access to Iran's newly revealed underground nuclear enrichment plant voiced strong suspicions that Tehran is concealing other atomic facilities, The New York Times reported today.

The IAEA appeared highly skeptical that Iran would build the enrichment plant without constructing other facilities to provide an alternative way to produce nuclear fuel if its main centers were bombed. IAEA officials, American and European diplomats and nuclear experts said the existence of the Qum facility makes little sense unless there is a network of covert facilities to feed it with raw nuclear fuel.

This is a powerful systems-based analysis.

Russia-Iran: Final adjustments on Iran's first nuclear power plant are being made and it will be launched on schedule, according to a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, as reported today by RIA Novosti. Moscow is committed to the Bushehr reactor project and that project is not affected by the international controversy over Iran's nuclear program. He said fuel has been supplied for the project.

Referring to a contract to supply S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran, the spokesman said in answer to a question that Moscow would only supply defensive equipment that would not destabilize the region.

Iran-Yemen: Iranian armed forces Chief of Staff Major General Hassan Firouzabadi said the killing of Yemeni Shiite Muslims by Saudi Arabia is the beginning of Wahhabi state terrorism, saying it poses a threat to Islam and the region, Fars News Agency reported 17 November.

He said the military actions in Yemen's Saada region is "a preliminary war game" meant to increase preparedness for attacks on other Muslim communities. Blaming British and U.S. governments for tensions between Muslims, he said religious leaders should not allow the West to succeed. Hunh….? All the enemies of Iran are to blame, apparently

Iran-US: Update. The Iranian judiciary will have the final say on three detained U.S. citizens facing charges of espionage, Reuters reported 17 November, citing comments from Tehran's chief public prosecutor. The semi-official Iranian Fars News Agency said it asked the prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, about the case. Dolatabadi said judiciary authorities will make the final decision but did not say when the decision will be announced.

Somalia anti-pirate patrol: The Associated Press reported a $3.3 million ransom was delivered by boat Tuesday to Somali pirates who thereupon freed a Spanish trawler and its 36 crew members. Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told a news conference "The government did what it had to do. … The important thing is that the sailors will be back with us. The first obligation of a country, of the government of a state, is to save the lives of its countrymen."

The trawler was seized 2 October with 16 Spaniards, eight Indonesians and 12 crew from five African countries.

Pirates attacked two ships Monday, capturing the chemical tanker MV Theresa and its crew of 28 North Koreans, the EU anti-piracy force said. In the second incident, pirates attacked a Ukrainian cargo ship with AK-47 rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. Guards aboard the Ukrainian cargo ship, the MV Lady Juliet, successfully fought off the pirates.

Pirates hold about a dozen ships and more than 200 crew, including a British couple who were taken from their 38-foot sailboat last month, according to the AP.

Chile: Too good to omit. The Foreign Relations Minister Fernandez affirmed that "the Chilean Government does not engage in espionage and refuses to accept accusations made by anyone relating to such affairs." The statement responded to the trial in Peru of a Peruvian air force technician accused of treasons and of selling classified information to Chilean intelligence.

Peru's El Commercio reported on 14 November that Ariza Mendoza gave Chile the list of purchases that the Peruvian Air Force had planned to carry out until 2021, a list of the names of Peruvian Air Force intelligence officers as well as codes and passwords to access information such as the plans and strategies accumulated within the framework of the National Strategic Plan.

Fernandez noted that in order to eliminate all doubt and obtain complete information, "we have meticulously reviewed every possibility, and I can say responsibly and very reliably that no institution of the Chilean Government or any official has been involved in such activities."

The Foreign Minister probably was mistranslated. In 2004, the infamous National Intelligence Directorate was replaced by the National Intelligence Agency, according to the Federation of American Scientists web site.

Honduras: The Honduran Congress has decided to vote on ousted President Manuel Zelaya's potential return to power on 2 December, three days after scheduled elections, El Tiempo reported today, citing Congressional president Jose Alfredo Saavedra. Congress members reportedly set the date to allow the Supreme Court and Attorney General to submit reports on the legality of Zelaya's return.

The US-brokered agreement for Zelaya's return to office stipulated the need for a Congressional decision and for legal opinions from the Supreme Court and Attorney General. The agreement apparently contained no time term for these actions.

The Honduran Congress has acted in such a way that if it decided to reinstate Zelaya for the sake of political harmony, he would head a caretaker administration pending inauguration of the president-elect who will have been elected on 29 November.

Today's Congressional decision probably explains Zelaya's announcement that he will not accept reinstatement under any terms. He obviously expected today's Congressional action.

End of NightWatch for 17 November 2009.

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