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NightWatch 20100204

NightWatch

For the Night of 4 February 2010

North Korea: Update. The state news medium Korean Central News Agency reported today that Robert Park will be released. "The relevant organ of the DPRK (North Korea) decided to leniently forgive and release him, taking his admission and sincere repentance of his wrong doings into consideration."

"What I have seen and heard in the DPRK convinced me that I misunderstood it. So I seriously repented of the wrong I committed, taken in by the West's false propaganda," KCNA quoted Park as saying.

Pubic repentance that embellishes the regime is a normal condition for leniency in North Korea's communist system. This is modest good news. That means only one American is now in custody in the North.

China-Iran-UN: Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said discussions about imposing sanctions on Iran complicate the situation and make it harder to find a diplomatic solution, Reuters reported 4 February. During Yang's visit to France, he said he wanted to see more direct talks between Iran and the international community over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Yang said China firmly supports international nuclear non-proliferation, adding that all countries, Iran included, have a right to peaceful use of nuclear energy if they obey the International Atomic Energy Agency's rules.

This represents no change in Chinese policy. There was no indication of change prior to the announcement of US arms sales to Taiwan and there is no change since that announcement. US arms sales to Taiwan are irrelevant to China's attitude towards Iran's nuclear program and the economic benefits from the Iran connection.

India: Home Minister Chidambaram disclosed for the first time that an Indian national by the name of Abu Jindal could have been involved in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Pakistan's Dawn News reported 4 February.

Chidambaram said voice samples from the suspect were absolutely necessary to establish his identity, and claimed that Pakistani authorities recorded Jindal's voice through phone conversations. Chidambaram asked the Pakistani government to provide phone records, but Pakistan refused. He said India suspected Jindal's involvement for several months.

The significance of this disclosure is that it opens an avenue for India and Pakistan to cooperate in the Mumbai investigation without indicting or embarrassing Pakistan. That could be a first step towards settling deeper differences over the Mumbai attacks. Relations will not return to a normal track until India completes its investigation of the Mumbai terrorists attacks and that will require continuing cooperation by Pakistani law enforcement agencies.

Pakistan: Intelligence sources were quoted as stating that there are reports of terrorist threats in Punjab province during the next 48 hours, GEO News reported Feb. 4. According to intelligence sources, some Punjab cities, especially Lahore and Rawalpindi, may be hit by terrorist activities. Officials said militants may hit markets, bazaars, schools and colleges, adding that law enforcement agencies are considered a special target

Afghanistan: General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said 4 February that while the situation in Afghanistan still is serious, it is no longer deteriorating, Reuters reported. McChrystal said U.S. and NATO forces in the country have not yet "turned the corner" on stability but that the situation has improved from last summer.

Comment: The NightWatch analysis reported months ago is that the Taliban have failed to expand beyond their Pashtun base. Detailed reports on combat in the past two weeks continue to reinforce the conclusion that the Taliban have failed to evolve into a revolutionary movement of broad appeal and, thus, have peaked.

There also is no sign of a large Taliban combat surge this winter, despite some ISAF predictions to the contrary in December, which have proven to be inaccurate. This winter is a lot like most of the past. The anti-government fighters appear to be riding out the winter, with the occasional sensational attack by the Haqqani syndicate. Most of the fighting in January appears to be NATO-initiated.

Iran-Russia: Update. Technical issues have held up delivery of advanced S-300 air defense systems to Iran, according to RIA Novosti. Iran's Ambassador to Russia said Russia has assured Tehran that Moscow will fulfill its obligations.

Ukraine: Today, President Yushchenko signed amendments to election laws just before the 7 February presidential runoff, the presidential website said, reported RIA Novosti. The amendments remove the need for candidates' representatives to supervise vote counting at polling stations.

The significance of the amendments is that they favor pro-Moscow candidate Yanukovich. Yushchenko's supporters are urged to vote "against all," which is a ballot option for disenfranchisement.

Prime Minister and presidential candidate Yulia Timoshenko -- the target of Yushchenko's action --has threatened to call mass protests, saying the amendments "open the way to election fraud." The amendments were proposed by Timoshenko rival Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions.

Yushchenko's disdain for Timoshenko appears to exceed his contempt for Yanukovich so much that he would take action to risk Ukraine's pro-western orientation, which he cultivated, to prevent Timoshenko's elections as his successor. If Yanukovich wins, Ukraine will move east in its security policies at least. This is a study in democracy.

Romania: Romanian President Basescu said 4 February that a U.S. antimissile defense system in Romania will be operational in 2015, Mediafax reported. Basescu said he accepted a proposal by U.S. President Obama to participate in the system and host elements of it. The offer was delivered by the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control in a 4 February meeting with Basescu.

The Romanian Supreme Defense Council announced today that it has approved the U.S. plans to place land-based ballistic missile defense (BMD) interceptors on its territory. After negotiations, the two countries need to sign agreements that must be ratified by the Romanian parliament.

The significance of this announcement is that Romania will join Poland as the hosts of the ballistic missile defense system. The Czechs lose out on the money and money appears to be the main attractor.

Terrorism: Too good to omit. Agents for Britain's MI5 intelligence service reportedly have discovered that Muslim doctors trained at some of Britain's leading teaching hospitals have returned to their own countries to fit surgical implants filled with explosives. Women suicide bombers recruited by al-Qaida are known to have had the explosives inserted in their breasts under techniques similar to breast enhancing surgery. The lethal explosives - usually PETN (pentaerythritol Tetrabitrate) - are inserted during the operation inside the plastic shapes. The breast is then sewn up. The explosive is activated with a syringe like those used by diabetics.

A similar procedure has been developed for men, with the explosive inserted into the buttocks or appendix region.

Thanks to feedback for this update.

End of NightWatch for 4 February.

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