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NightWatch 20100709


For the Night of 9 July 2010

North Korea-US: North Korea today proposed to the US that it be allowed to send a team to investigate the sinking of the patrol ship Cheonan. The government in Pyongyang proposed working-level talks on 13v July at Panmunjom, with the possibility of high-level talks to follow. Working-level contacts signify talks between colonels. The North said it is interested in probing the incident in a fair and scientific way.

"This proposal is a manifestation of the unshakable will of the army and people of (North Korea) to probe the truth behind the 'Cheonan' case in an objective, scientific and fair way," the North's military said in a message sent Friday to the U.S. command in Seoul, according to the Korean Central News Agency.

Comment: Late last month, the U.N. Command proposed general-level talks with North Korea to discuss the ship sinking. The North rejected that offer but has now countered with one that starts a process that could achieve the same result but under bilateral national flags. The North officially no longer has a UN Mission at Panmunjom. Its presence is a Korean People's Army mission.

The North made the proposal just before the U.N. Security Council's approval of a statement that condemned the sinking of the corvette Cheonan, without blaming the North. The North Koreans continue to behave as if they really do not know what occurred.

North Korea-UN: Update. Today, the UN Security Council finally issued a statement that condemned the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan last March, but without assigning blame. The Council expressed "deep concern" over the findings of the international investigation team that a North Korean torpedo sank the ship. Again it did so without supporting the finding and while taking note of the North's insistence it had nothing to do with the incident.

The statement also praised South Korea's government for the "restraint" it had shown since the incident and called for "appropriate and peaceful measures to be taken against those responsible".

The anodyne, even-handed statement succeeded in not calling the North's bluff that it would retaliate violently in the event the Security Council named it as responsible for the sinking. Diplomats will tout as a success that the statement had unanimous support. Both China and Russia threatened to veto the statement, according to the New York Times account, had it blamed North Korea.

North Korean reaction. North Korea's Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Sin Son Ho, criticized today's Security Council's statement that condemns the sinking of a South Korean ship in March, The Associated Press reported 9 July. He said the council "failed to bring correct judgment or conclusion" to the situation that he says escalated tensions on the Korean Peninsula. He also said that the issue should have been resolved between North and South Korea, the United Nations should not have been involved and that North Korea is determined to find the truth behind the incident.

Comment: For now the UN statement has eased tension and reduced the likelihood of a violent confrontation. What remains is not conducive to stability. The North Koreans sank an Allied naval ship with impunity; used threats to brow-beat the UN into issuing an insipid statement; have avoided more sanctions; and have shown that China and Russia both will back the North in its most outrageous provocations. The Allies look outfoxed and impotent.

China-US: China has asked the South Korean government through a diplomatic channel to refrain from a joint exercise with the US in the Yellow Sea this month. The anti-submarine drill is planned as a response to North Korea's torpedo attack on the Navy corvette Cheonan.

South Korea and the United States plan to hold a naval exercise in the Yellow Sea, but the date and details have not been settled, Agence France-Presse reported 9 July, citing a South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman. A government official said the country will not consider canceling or changing the joint exercise plan. "A military exercise in our territorial waters is a matter of our own sovereignty," he said.

Comment: Chinese media have been slamming the planned exercise. The Global Times, a sister newspaper of the official People's Daily, published an unusually harshly worded front-page story on Wednesday accusing Seoul of having "delusions" of putting pressure on Beijing through the exercise.

In an editorial Tuesday, the same paper said the drill is a clear challenge to China's security. "Considering the growing economic, diplomatic, political and cultural ties the US has with China, the price the US has to pay for its irresponsible decision will be higher than it can envision now. If the US does not pay for this 'adventure' now, it will pay in the future," it added.

Chosun ilbo reported the Chinese military's deputy chief of staff, Gen. Ma Xiaotian, had already expressed opposition to the exercise in an interview with a Hong Kong TV on 1 July. So far the Chinese Foreign Ministry had complained only indirectly, saying countries concerned "should not do anything that will heighten tension in Northeast Asia and damage the security interest of the countries in this region."

On 22 June Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said he had seen the reports about the U.S. aircraft carrier joining the drill. "We're extremely concerned about these reports and will closely follow developments," he told a news conference. He said China was worried the show of naval force could unsettle the region. "Under current circumstances, all the parties concerned should exercise calm and restraint and do nothing to escalate tensions and harm the interests of countries in this region," Qin said

China's continuing reaction to the reports that exercises are planned is extraordinary. The series of comments implies Chinese leaders are concerned that the North Koreans might not be controllable. They also are consistent with China's new assertiveness in all ocean areas bordering China, especially the South China Sea. There is a pattern of China claiming sovereign rights beyond territorial sea claims and even beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone, usually 200nm from shore.

China-Pakistan: China and Pakistan signed four memorandums of understanding in health, power generation and the construction of two major highways in Gilgit-Baltistan, The Associated Press of Pakistan reported 9 July.

According to the road construction agreements, China will construct the 165-kilometer (103-mile) Jaglot-Skardu road and the 135-kilometer (84-mile) Thakot-Sazin road. The projects will cost $965 million with 85 percent financing by China and 15 percent by Pakistan. The memorandums were signed after Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari addressed the Pak-China Economic Cooperation Forum.

The significance of the road agreements is that the location of the roads is in the Himalayas, the most rugged regions of Pakistan that adjoin China. They will facilitate increased contacts to China. . It is unusual for there to be published in one week multiple new events about infrastructure projects in the same remote region of the Himalayas. It makes one suspect that the Chinese have found valuable mineral deposits about which they are not talking in public.

They also have a military dimension because they will improve the lines of communication in the fa4r north of Pakistan which was the setting for the Kargil War in 1999

Iran: An unconfirmed report states that Iranian security forces are "bombing" Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) camps at Mount Qandil in northern Iraq in conjunction with wide-scale border operations, Anatolia news agency reported 9 July, citing unnamed Iranian security officials. A senior military official responsible for border security said the operations will continue uninterrupted

. Three PKK militants detained during the operations have been sentenced to death by Iranian authorities, bringing the total number of militants sentenced to death to 30.

Most of the reporting on the PKK insurgency is piecemeal, based on individual national efforts. Looking with a broader lens, it is clear that Syria, Turkey and Iran, and possibly Iraq, are working together to suppress the Kurdish rebels. The number of coincidental operations is too large for pure coincidence. The Kurds are being squeezed.

Libya-Gaza Strip: Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, son of Libyan leader Qadhafi, has organized a relief ship carrying 2,000 tons of supplies to sail from Greece to the Gaza Strip to challenge the Israeli naval blockade, according to Haaretz 9 July. The Hope cargo ship was expected to set sail on 9 July, according to Agence France-Presse. Saif Qadhafi heads the Qadhafi International Charity and Development Association which is sponsoring the blockade runner.

The Qadhafis apparently sense an opportunity to try to become consequential in Middle Eastern political affairs.

End of NightWatch for 9 July.

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