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NightWatch 20110414

NightWatch

For the Night of 14 April 2011

South Korea-North Korea: South and North Korean delegations held more talks this week about a potential volcanic threat from the peninsula's highest mountain, Mount Paektu, in northern North Korea.

Four South Korean experts met their North Korean counterparts at the border town of Kaesong for a second round of talks on ways to deal with any eruption at Mount Paektu, the South's unification ministry said. After a day of discussions they agreed to hold an experts' meeting next month in Pyongyang or another location. They also agreed to conduct a joint field inspection of the mountain, on the border between North Korea and China, in mid-June.

Comment: The scientific talks have been the most productive in several years. In addition to discussing Mount Paektu, the delegates very likely also discussed the near term potential consequences and radiation effects of the Japanese nuclear crisis.

Iran-US-Bahrain-Yemen: US intelligence agencies intercepted communications which indicate Iran is exploring methods to aid Shiite hardliners in Bahrain and Yemen to destabilize the countries.

According to chatter intercepted between Iranian officials and Bahraini and Yemeni opposition figures, Iranian contacts discussed sending cash and weapons to both countries, specifically a few dozen light weapons into Bahrain. Iran and militant group Hezbollah currently are focusing on propaganda to focus the opposition in both countries.

US officials said they had no concrete evidence Iran was behind the recent uprisings against US allies in the region or is planning large-scale military or financial assistance, adding Iran's aspirations might currently exceed their resources.

Comment: Today's allegations about intercepted communications do little to support the accusation that the Iranians are stoking unrest in Bahrain and Yemen. Worse, they increase skepticism because no government has provided the evidence, rather than claims that such evidence exists. Not the same.

Strong evidence of Iranian meddling in Bahrain's internal unrest would be public testimony by an agent of influence in Iranian employ. Such testimony might not be believable, but it would be far more probative than unsubstantiated assertions about intercepted communications. 

Nevertheless, international pressure for proof of Iranian meddling has succeeded in persuading the US to admit that the charges are based on intercepted communications of some kind at some time. That represents progress, albeit slight.

Iran-US-Syria: Iran is providing material assistance to the Syrian government in support of its efforts to suppress pro-democracy demonstrations. Senior U.S. officials said Iran provided Syrian authorities with equipment, advice and technical assistance to suppress the crowds. The aid included monitoring and curtailing protestors' communications, such as e-mail, texting, Internet postings and cellphone usage. Some equipment for suppressing crowds already has been delivered to Syrian security forces and more is expected. The officials said they believed Tehran secretly promised additional aid to Syrian President Bashar al-Asad in the event the protests intensify.

Comment: The report above appears to be based on the same kinds of intercepted communications as cited in the previous report.

The US appears to be supporting a narrative that Iran is responsible for unrest - as in Bahrain -- and repression - as in Syria. That narrative appears to be accurate in that it describes Iranian interests in the two countries. In Bahrain, Iranian interests lie in protecting the Shiite minority from repression by the Sunni monarchy. In Syria, the Alawite minority sect that governs the Sunni majority is an Arab offshoot of Shiism and is allied with Iran. Iranian leaders seem to have an accurate understanding of their best interests.

A Syrian Foreign Ministry official denied US allegations that Iran was helping to suppress protests in Syria. The official said that if the US State Department has evidence of Iranian involvement, it should present the evidence.

Libya: Forces loyal to Libyan leader Qadhafi have attacked and shut down the rebel-held port of Misrata, according to a rebel spokesman. More than 200 Grad rockets hit the port area and surrounding residential neighborhoods on the morning of 14 April, forcing the port to shut down.

Comment: International news services reported that Qadhafi forces have penetrated some neighborhoods of Misrata. They will be difficult to remove. Thus far, Qadhafi forces have been slowed but not stopped by NATO air attacks.

End of NightWatch for 14 April.

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