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NightWatch 20100211

NightWatch

For the Night of 11 February 2010

China-US: For the record. China warned of damage to US relations if President Obama meets the Dalai Lama, as scheduled. The Chinese will perceive this as the second insult to Chinese sovereignty in a month. US relations will be troubled for a time.

Thailand -North Korea: Update. Prosecutors dropped charges against the five-man crew of an aircraft carrying 35 tons of weapons from North Korea that was intercepted in Bangkok in December, The Associated Press reported. A spokesman from the Thai Attorney General's Office said the five men from Belarus and Kazakhstan will be deported to face prosecution in their home countries. He said the decision was partly made to maintain a good relationship with the two countries.

The Thai are keeping the weapons.

Sri Lanka: Update. The brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa told the Singapore Straits Times that the government has evidence sufficient to convict retired General Fonseka, now in prison, of treason and plotting against the government. Gotabaya Rajapaksa said the General could be sentenced to five years in prison?? (Comment: five years for treason? That is a capital offense even in Sri Lanka. The government appears to have a weak case, based on today's interview.)

Fonseka has appealed for calm and to the Supreme Court to review the charges against him. The Court is set to hear his appeal on 12 February. This is a study in democracy.

Iran-China: Update. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said today China wants negotiations on Iran's nuclear program to be resumed soon and it plans to continue efforts on the issue, Xinhua reported. The spokesman said dialogue is the best way to resolve the situation, and that China is committed to nuclear nonproliferation.

This represents no change in Chinese policy, but the timing of the statement makes it a direct attack on US policy, which is aimed a building an international consensus in support of stricter sanctions on Iran.

Iran: Today Iranians celebrated the 31st anniversary of its Islamic revolution. Tight security and internet controls prevented an accurate assessment of the extent of protests against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadi-Nejad. The protests are significant in that they occurred in defiance of the government. On the other hand, the protests do not threaten the regime.

Ahmadi-Nejad announced in his speech that Iran is a nuclear power state, citing its success in enriching uranium 20 percent. This statement apparently is the devastating announcement that the Iranian government warned would shake the world. Most of the world seems under whelmed.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said the uranium enrichment production is going "very well," Reuters reported. Salehi said the country has the capacity to enrich uranium up to 100 percent, but has no intention of doing so. That level of enrichment would exceed the threshold for Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) for nuclear weapons.

He also said Iran's 20 percent enriched fuel will be used for a medical reactor in Tehran and that improved enrichment centrifuges will begin construction soon.

Some news services reported this week that unidentified diplomats claim Iran is having trouble with its enrichment process. Such reports always seem to appear whenever Iran makes a new announcement. Nevertheless, the program has made steady progress. Despite Iran's denial that it has a nuclear weapons program, the nuclear program remains open to producing weapons grade fissile material, by Salehi's admission.

Syria-US: The Syrian government approved a request by the United States to re-appoint an ambassador in Damascus, Kaleej Times reported Feb. 11. The Syrian Foreign Ministry was not available to confirm that approval was granted.

The US withdrew its ambassador in 2005 to protest Syrian involvement in the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri that year. The US is having some success in persuading Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to broaden his outlook and Syria's options, instead of aligning exclusively with Iran.

Syrian cooperation with Saudi Arabia in supporting the establishment of a functioning national unity government in Lebanon last November, after five months of deadlock, has facilitated the return to more normal relations with the US and an end to Syria' s international isolation over its meddling in Lebanon.

Yemen: Update. President Saleh and Abdul-Malik al-Huthi, the leader of Yemen's al-Huthi rebels, both have ordered cease-fires effective at midnight local time, according to press statements. President Saleh read a statement on state television saying that Yemen will halt military operations in the country's northwest at midnight, and al-Huthi issued his order after Saleh's statement, ordering his fighters in all locations to stop their attacks at the time proposed by the government.

The fighting has been winding down, though 12 soldiers and 24 al Huthi died in fighting today. The al-Huthi appear to have sustained significant losses in the fighting since last summer and need to stand down. Thus far they appear to have achieved no government concessions or promises to redress grievances.

The ceasefire should give the government relief in that one of the three serious internal instability problems is quiet for a time.

NATO: Lithuania and Latvia accused France of breaching good faith with its NATO and EU allies in the way it has handled the sale of the Mistral helicopter carrier and assault ship to Russia, EU Observer reported 11 February.

Lithuanian Defense Minister Rasa Jukneviciene said if France had discussed the intended sale within EU or NATO it would have boosted solidarity within both blocs. Latvian Foreign Minister Mari Riekstins said she wished France had consulted its allies beforehand. Jukneviciene intends to bring up the arms deal at an EU defense ministers' summit later in February.

Last week, the French dismissed Secretary Gates' stated misgivings about the pending, as not being representative of NATO's views. The statements by two of the three Baltic NATO members add poignancy and weight to the Secretary's comments.

The Mistral is a state of the art helicopter carrier-amphibious assault and command ship that can carry and land a tank battalion. It is more advanced than any surface ships in the Russian Navy. In a crisis with NATO, the Baltic States and Georgia would be likely targets for intimidation.

During this Watch, RT broadcast that France has approved the ship's sale for $2 billion. This is the first major arms sale by a NATO member to Russia. Reportedly, the Russians have an option for three more ships of this class.

Ukraine: Some 24 complaints by Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko of vote rigging in Ukraine's presidential election have been rejected, said opponent Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions, RIA Novosti reported on Feb. 11. "They were found to be groundless," said a party official. He said another 36 claims will be heard later.

The good news is that no rioting or other instability has been reported. Final election results are expected to be announced on the 17th.

End of NightWatch for 11 February.

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